HEYER TODAY EPISODE 8: ARABELLA WITH ROBERT & CAROLINE

Transcribed by Zoë Barraclough

Listen to this episode here.

SARA-MAE: Previously, on Heyer Today.

HARRIET EVANS: I’m smiling as I’m talking to you, because it’s just so joyful to talk about her. Because of all authors, she is the one who I and my friends re-read the most. There is no pleasure greater, I would say, than knowing you’re going to re-read her. The heroine I get on less well with is the ‘Arabella type’ who are big-eyed and guileless. They’re a bit more…I can take them or leave them a little bit. Oh God, this is just my idea of heaven, Sara-Mae, can we just do this all day?

SARA-MAE: Welcome to Heyer Today, a serial podcast in which we’ll be looking at 13 of underappreciated author Georgette Heyer’s regency romances. This is the fourth book club episode in which I try to convert (mostly willing) victims to Heyer’s work. This week, I’ll be talking to my mate Robert Scott, VP of Finance at impact, and the Right Rev Risdon, one of my favourite people, and the person who’ll be putting in a good word for me with the big kahuna, I’m talking of course about Beyoncé.

They have very different views on the book, which makes this a particularly piquant episode – don’t forget to let us know who you agree with via twitter @fable_gazers or Instagram @fablegazers.

But first here’s Beth to tell us what Heyer was up to when she wrote Arabella.

Psst, before we go ahead…if you haven’t read the book, do go and grab it from your local library or your preferred book retailer. Remember the book list is on our website fablegazers.com, so you can read along with us.

Oh, and before we begin, remember we discuss the book in its entirety, so there WILL be spoilers, ok?

Anyway, back to Beth.

[HISTORICAL SEGMENT]

BETH: In the early 1940s, Georgette Heyer’s detective and romance novels are mainly set in the English countryside. However, by 1942, Georgette and Ronald have moved into central London and are living in what are now grand, heritage-listed apartments.

Ronald is busy studying for the bar, and trying to get over the recent death of his mother. Meanwhile, they have inherited her dog – Johnny the bull terrier.

Georgette’s brothers, Boris and Frank, are both in the services and fighting in Europe. But they visit when on leave from the Army, too.

They are also joined by son, 9-year-old Richard, on his holidays from being safely away at boarding school.

The war years are the start of Georgette’s ‘Albany years’. The Albany – or simply ALBANY as those ‘in the know’ prefer – is a cosy group of prestigious ‘bachelor’ apartments, tucked away between Piccadilly and Mayfair.

The area holds its prestige today – with the flagship stores of Old Bond Street – Gucci, Prada, Chanel and Tiffany’s – a (gem)stone’s throw away.

Actually, Sara-Mae and I could have made a tidy sum if we’d been able to invest in Albany 20 years ago. Apparently a 2-bedroom apartment sold for a mere £715,000 (freehold) in 1999. Today Sotheby’s Realty tells us the same apartment would go for close to £5 million.

Today if you are wandering around Burlington Gardens, near Albany’s private rear exit, you could bump into some of its residents – which may include actor Bill Nighy – but we are giving away no secrets here!

Famous past residents include several former prime ministers, poet Lord Byron, writer Aldous Huxley, and actress Dame Edith Evans.

Also sealing the deal for Georgette on its literary heritage is Oscar Wilde’s Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest, and none other than Henry Austen of military finance agency, Austen & Co, a military payroll and banking agency which had offices in the most prestigious address at No. 1 The Courtyard, close to Piccadilly. Henry Austen is better known as Jane’s brother – and the one who supported Jane financially when their father died suddenly in 1805. This connection must have pleased Georgette no end.

Georgette and Ronald live at F3 Albany. They also lease a tiny attic room (F1) where Richard lives when he is older.

It must be Georgette’s ideal location. In one direction, she is a stroll from Fortnum & Mason’s, Hatchard’s bookshop – and a short taxi ride to Harrod’s. On the other side of Piccadilly is London’s West End and Covent Garden. 

As an aside, I think the extravagant Rougiers would have thoroughly approved of the current resident at F3 Albany – interior designer and gallery director Francis Sultana – who, fittingly, favours the Art Deco period.

On the Financial Times ‘How to spend it’ website, he says:

[MIKE SCOTT READS]: “If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose St James’s in London. I’m not a huge shopper, and I’m very loyal. Along with my Anderson & Sheppard suits, for 20 years I’ve been buying my shirts from Turnbull & Asser. On a Sunday after lunch, I’ll often spend an hour or so looking through books in Hatchards – it’s my local bookshop, so I make an effort to buy from there rather than online.”

I get the feeling that Georgette would approve – and I’d love to see what he’s done with F3.

During the Blitz, Albany wasn’t exactly the safest place to be. While most of the damage caused by Hitler’s bombs was initially felt in the East End – it wasn’t long before central London and even Buckingham Palace received its fair share of damage. Many landmarks were bombed or damaged by fire, and more than 1,000 City of Westminster residents lost their lives, with many more seriously injured.

So, you get an idea of the kind of place Georgette and Ronald central London was when they moved there in 1942. Ronald is working towards becoming a barrister and Richard is off at boarding school. Despite Albany’s strict ‘no children’ policy, the young man is allowed to visit his parents and stay during the school holidays.

So, apart from the war, the decade starts with yet more expenses for Georgette and Ronald – there is Richard’s schooling, their new London address – they would rent at Albany until the 1960s.

Of course, one of Albany’s main attractions is that it is home to her mentor and publishing director at Heinemann– Alexander Frere-Reeves – and his wife, Pat Wallace – Patricia Marion Caldecott Wallace.

While Frere is a fatherly figure at 10 years older than Georgette, Pat is closer to Georgette’s age. And, although Pat’s father, Edgar Wallace – reporter and writer of detective fiction – had died in Hollywood a decade earlier (while working on the script for his classic movie King Kong) – Georgette must have relished the connection to her own literary ambitions. (I wonder if she’d also heard that when Edgar Wallace died suddenly during the filming of King Kong in 1932, he owed hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses and horse racing debts. Sir Patrick Hastings, the Wallace’s family friend and barrister, stepped in to sort it all out, kept the estate solvent and had royalties rolling in from Wallace’s literary assets.)

As well as her literary heritage, Pat has her own credentials – she is a journalist, reviews books and theatre productions. In her mid-30s in 1942, when she was younger, Pat had worked for Women’s Journal editor (and Georgette’s nemesis) Dorothy Sutherland. They didn’t get on and Pat resigned. This may have been something they bonded over, as Pat and Georgette become firm friends!

I mean, what does it say about the editor when Georgette finishes Friday’s Child in December 1943 – only to have Sutherland turn it down? And yet, Friday’s Child goes on to become Georgette’s first instant bestseller – selling out its first 25,000 copies – with a further 250,000 over the next 3 years!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as we move through the war years, 1943 is the first year Georgette did not have a book published. This trend continues every other year until the end of the 1940s. And, despite tax burdens in the middle of the decade, and the fact that he won’t complete his studies to become a barrister for at least another 10 years (1956), Ronald fulfils his boyhood dream of owning a Rolls Royce!

Things start to settle back into some sense of normalcy towards the end of the war.

Alexander Frere returns to Heinemann after doing his bit for the war effort.

Boris is safely back in England after his time in the army. The allies may have begun to win the war, but that didn’t immediately relieve the strain. In May 1944, Pat Wallace’s younger brother is killed in action.

In fact, the war is ever-present. Ronald continues nightly duties with the Home Guard, along with other Albany residents, including J.B. Priestley.

The Blitz may be over, but other air raids and V-weapon attacks continue over central London during the so-called ‘Lull’ between 1941 and 1944.

But the catchphrase for locals is “London can take it!”  You can imagine the creative Albany residents – Priestley, GB Stern, Graham Greene, Margery Sharp, Harold Nicholson – withdrawing to the cellars – gamely taking part in their own underground salons, including recitations by Dame Edith Evans.

If only we could go back in time – the D-Day and VE parties of the Albany set would really be something to experience!

[AUDIO DRAMA]

INT. ALBANY BASEMENT – THE RESIDENTS ARE HUDDLED TOGETHER AS AN AIR RAID SIREN SOUNDS.

NARRATOR: JB Priestley wanders in in an odd-looking tin hat.

JB Priestley: 

I feel like something left over from the Thirty Years War.

[MUTED BOMB SOUNDS, PLASTER FALLS]

MARGERY SHARP: That Doodle Bug was close today, wasn’t it? I couldn’t believe we got off without even a shard of glass blown, nothing but a bit of plaster falling. It was one of Those Moments, wasn’t it?

GRAHAM GREENE:

Well, if a bomb hit here, half of London’s literary elite would be decimated. I’m rather honoured to be in such good company.

[LAUGHS NERVOUSLY]

 NARRATOR: No one has the heart to laugh at Graham Greene’s joke.

ANOTHER BOMB FALLS, A BIT CLOSER. RICHARD WHIMPERS.

GEORGETTE: Come here. (under her breath) Now, you must be a brave boy. You’re the only boy here. That’s because you’re very special, but you have to be strong, do you see? You have to act like a man…like all these gentlemen here.

RICHARD: 

But…father’s out there somewhere!

GEORGETTE:

He’s being very brave, and that’s why I need you to be brave too, just like him. 

[BOMB HITS NEARBY. THERE’S A PAUSE AS THE DUST SETTLES.]

NARRATOR: Dame Edith Evans stands up, and walks to the centre of the room.

EDITH EVANS: 

(starts declaiming a Shakespearean monologue)

 ‘Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France.’
Nothing in France until he has no wife!
Thou shalt have none, Rousillon, none in France;
Then hast thou all again. Poor lord, is’t I
That chase thee from thy country, and expose
Those tender limbs of thine to the event
Of the none-sparing war? And is it I
That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou
Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark
Of smoky muskets? O you leaden messengers,
That ride upon the violent speed of fire,
Fly with false aim; move the still-peering air,
That sings with piercing; do not touch my lord.
Whoever shoots at him, I set him there;
Whoever charges on his forward breast,
I am the caitiff that do hold him to’t;
And though I kill him not, I am the cause
His death was so effected. Better ’twere
I met the raving lion when he roar’d
With sharp constraint of hunger; better ’twere
That all the miseries which nature owes
Were mine at once. No, come thou home, Rousillon,
Whence honour but of danger wins a scar,
As oft it loses all, I will be gone;
My being here it is that holds thee hence.
Shall I stay here to do’t? No, no, although
The air of paradise did fan the house
And angels offic’d all. I will be gone,
That pitiful rumour may report my flight
To consolate thine ear. Come, night; end, day;
For with the dark, poor thief, I’ll steal away.

[THE GROUP CLAPS]

GEORGETTE: Which was that, Richard?

RICHARD (VOICE SLIGHTLY WOBBLY): All’s Well That Ends Well.

GEORGETTE: And it will. You’ll see.

BETH: The hub of creatives had proved that ‘London could take it’ – they’d supported each other through paper shortages, bombing, fires and, of course, tragic family news. 

Georgette was elated that both her brothers survived the war unscathed. She must have been looking forward to no more bombing raids or blackouts.

 After the war, Sylvia returns to South Kensington. Before the end of the 40s, Georgette would support Boris when he found it difficult finding post-war work. And she would pay for Frank’s wedding reception. 

While rationing continued in the UK until 1954, one place that was not suffering as much was Australia. Georgette had a particularly keen Aussie fan – 13-year-old Rosemary White – who wrote to Georgette from the countryside in Australia – worried that her favourite author would be weak from food rationing and wouldn’t be able to write. She offered to send a food parcel.

Rationed items included tinned fruit and dried fruit, meat and bacon, breakfast cereals, tea, sugar, butter, jam, biscuits, cheese, eggs, lard, and milk.

Sounds like a bake-off. And, actually in 1947, when Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip, Aussie Girl Guides supplied all the ingredients for the Royal wedding cake. They arrived in London in heavily stamped wooden crates – INGREDIENTS HRH PRINCESS ELIZABETH.

I can’t resist adding – for Sara-Mae’s benefit – that the South Africans contributed a rather stingy half bottle of brandy!

SARA-MAE: The least they could have done was send some biltong!

Rather than receive a similar crate, Georgette dissuaded her young fan. But she must have been touched by the gesture – it was one of the few fan letters she kept –But instead she replied to Rosemary –

“It is very kind of you to want to send me a parcel of food, but I think you had much better save the money to buy my next book! Then we shall both benefit! Things are difficult in England, but not desperate.”

And there was a growing income to enjoy – from royalties, she was earning about £1,000 a year (nearly £43,000 in today’s money), plus sizeable advances for new novels, and the same for serialisations. She has loyal fans in Australia, South Africa and America. Book club sales were also a valuable addition to her royalty income. So, you could imagine around £130,000 annual income.

Rent at Albany was only around £350 per annum. Remembering of course that Georgette had Ronald’s studies to consider, and her mother and brothers to look after as well.

So, for the time being, Georgette could enjoy shopping at Harrods and Fortnum’s, eating at the Savoy or Ron’s Club, and savour her friendships with fellow Albany residents.

She was also busy writing. Along with bestseller, Friday’s Child, before the end of the decade, she had published two romances: The Foundling (which Dorothy Sutherland DID agree to serialise in her magazine) Arabella, and two detective novels: Penhallow and The Reluctant Widow – which also attracted film company interest.  (Georgette is able to tell her young Aussie fan about it and send her an inscribed copy of the novel. She enthused: “It’s being filmed in technicolour next year!”)

Unfortunately, the filmed version in 1949 is not up to par and it’s not surprising that Georgette was not impressed.

And while they were anticipating a successful production, Georgette and Ronald employ a new accountant to take care of the increasingly complicated finances.

J.M. Rubens advises the couple to establish a limited liability company. Georgette and Ronald would benefit from dividends and bonuses from the writing contracts and copyright. Georgette would receive a wage from Heron Enterprises Limited for her services. And the company would also own the copyright in her works for the next 22 years.

It feels like a fresh start.

Georgette ends the decade looking to a new modern era – she has been given her first typewriter and has started using it to complete her manuscripts. Gone is the quill – on her desk at least; I’m sure her fictional heroines will continue to swirl in ink.

The 1950s are just about to arrive – will this affect readers’ taste? Will Georgette’s sales keep up?

Fittingly, we end the decade with the publication of Arabella in 1949.

With its scenes of travelling into London, and London’s High Society, you can’t help but feel that Georgette is using her keen observation skills of the past years to make London a central character in Arabella!

SARA-MAE: It’s fascinating to get a feel for how the war affected Georgette’s life. Perhaps it’s understandable that there were a few years there, where she didn’t produce a book. And now, for Arabella.

[ROB AND CAL INTERVIEW BEGINS]

SARA-MAE: Hi Cal, how are you?

CAL: I’m very well thank you, how are you?

SARA-MAE: I’m good. Can you tell me who you are and what you do?

CAL: My name is Caroline Risdon and I’m a full-time priest. I work at a church in London and I’m about to take maternity leave.

ROB: Why am I qualified to be on this thing?

SARA-MAE: That’s Rob – he’s an old friend of mine. He’s a little confused at being asked to read a Heyer because he rarely reads fiction, never mind Regency romance. If you’re thinking I’ve made my job of conversion difficult for myself…you’re right. But I wanted to select as random a group of people as possible. Maybe I’ll have better luck with my favourite vicar – after all conversion is kind of her jam, right?

ROB: So, OK, I’m man in the street who [laughs] is being asked to opine on Georgette Heyer I’m the epitome of white male privilege… which makes me perfectly qualified to read a women’s book.

SARA-MAE: It’s not a women’s book, it’s set in the Regency era, but that doesn’t preclude men from enjoying it.

ROB: Exactly, that’s the challenge to be addressed here.

SARA-MAE: Were you previously aware of Georgette Heyer’s work before you met me [laughs]

CAL: No, not before I met you, no.

ROB: I’d actually never heard of her before.

SARA-MAE: Have you read any Jane Austen?

CAL: Yes, I love Jane Austen, I’ve read all of her works and I watch any adaptation I see on TV or screen.

ROB: I tried and failed to read Austen when I was at university. I think it was all the airs of the aristocratic behaviour; the stiff upper lip and all the rules around etiquette that I found very difficult to suffer through and when you’re looking for a hero, you’re looking for people of action; there’s a lot of social tension that gets resolved by somebody raising an arched eyebrow.

SARA-MAE: Did you feel that there was a marked similarity between the two authors or…

CAL: Yes, it’s quite fascinating, the use of language and the descriptions of High Society and London and being in the countryside and the expectations [people had]. But also, I think there’s a similarity between the language they both use, their descriptions are so vivid and yet so succinct, and really just hilariously funny, for both of them.

ROB: There’s a little bit of Oscar Wilde in her? I really enjoyed Oscar Wilde when I was in that phase of reading fiction. I went through a phase in my twenties when I was reading a lot of fiction, and then I suddenly stopped.

SARA-MAE: Eh? How could you stop reading fiction? Fiction is my life blood. Why Rob? Why?

ROB: The witty banter and the great insults and coming across phrases that you wanted to write down and use and pass off as your own, it does appeal to me. It’s one of the parts that I enjoyed in the books.

SARA-MAE: Today we are doing Arabella.

ROB: The main character is Arabella who is the daughter of a vicar. She’s coming of age and there’s quite a lot of pressure on her to find a husband and preferably marry rich because the parents are… they’re not poor, but they’re not wealthy and there’s a perception that if Arabella can marry up then that will really help her family.

CAL: She has a rich godmother who is prepared to have her and host her and launch her in society for a season in London, which throws her and her siblings into a complete state of ecstasy… really planning and hoping what will happen.

ROB: The story is around that process of finding a husband and the pressures on Arabella; in a nutshell, what happens is she meets a man…

SARA-MAE:  Mr Beaumaris.

ROB:…By accident along the way to London and she happens to tell a lie.

SARA-MAE: When the book opens, I thought that there was a very funny scene introducing Arabella and her family, and I was wondering if you enjoyed the scene where they were describing [them]. I find it so hilarious when they show the youngest sister as a real pain in the neck. She’s a bit of a hypochondriac, she’s got an onion stuffed into her ear for some reason? Because she’s got earache? There’s the young brother who wants to be in the Navy… you kind of get the sense that this is a large rumbunctious family so that if Arabella can marry well, then all the other daughters can too.

ROB: Well, what is noticeable is that the father is spoken about in his absence. He’s referred to a lot in terms of the kind of person that he is and the way that he has raised Arabella.

SARA-MAE: Mr Tallant, his name is. What did you think of the vicar, her dad, and his part in the story?

CAL: [laughs] Yes, I liked him. He seems a genuinely very faithful and good man, but I found it amusing the way that his children constantly felt guilty about whether they could tell him anything about their real lives or…his conscience and his good nature actually weighed on them as a bit of a burden, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how my children will feel. [laughs] Not because I’m perfect, you know, but that there are high expectations of a clergy person, and perhaps they share those with their children.

SARA-MAE: A lot of times Arabella and her brother Bertram, when they do silly things, they kind of think about the effect on him. A lot of their actions are dictated by the way that he’s going to respond.

ROB: He’s chosen a life for himself that doesn’t bring him a lot of prestige in society. He doesn’t give his family a lot of material wealth and he thinks that those things are in a way beneath him so his family have to compensate around him.

SARA-MAE: Yes, the family who are more in touch with the realities of the day.

ROB: They are more pragmatic.

SARA-MAE: It’s funny how even his wife, she does little things behind his back. you know that she knows that he won’t strictly approve of but that they need to do like when they go and visit the uncle, because she’s kind of hoping that he’ll lend them his carriage. And it’s like, “best not to tell Papa”, you know? I mean he does seem wonderful and they all adore him.

CAL: In some ways, if he weren’t written about so generously or though the other characters’ warmth for him, you would think that he was either boring or hard.

SARA-MAE: Censorious, yeah.

CAL: Yeah, there’s a warmth that comes across.

SARA-MAE: Which is an amazing feat in terms of character description and development; because you’re right, it does sound rather difficult to live with someone like that.

CAL: He’s just a genuinely faithful man and that’s the priority rather than he’s shut off from his family in some emotional way.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, but they do do a lot of protecting of him. So, what did you think of her family, did you think that they were well drawn, did you sort of buy into their plight?

ROB: Yes, I did buy into their plight. I think you find that Arabella’s an immediately interesting character. it’s revealed further on throughout the book, that she has quite a kind heart and they’re in this spot economically where… they’re not dirt poor, but they’re not part of the rich and she aspires to live a good life but she’s very connected to the plight of people that are less fortunate than her. Which makes her really different from all the other characters in the book. All the other characters in the book are obsessed with behaving correctly and not doing anything that’s beneath you ,so that’s immediately drawn into the kindness of Arabella.

SARA-MAE: She has almost no regard for how people can respond [laughs] If it’s the right thing to do, she wants to do it. It puts at risk her social standing on a regular basis.

ROB: Yes, I think it’s very well done in terms of representing both the intimacy and frustration and bitterness that exists between brothers and sisters. So, you get the sense that they are really close, but are also really irritated by one another.

SARA-MAE: There’s like a lot of affection between them. They start fighting and the sisters are like “not in here” [quoting] “…shrieked the sisters in one accustomed voice, but as they had no expectation of being attended to, each damsel made a dive to snatch her own particular property out of harm’s way”, they’re all like… they’re so used to it! They know exactly what to do!

ROB: It doesn’t sort of sugar-coat it, it’s not as if they never fight. It’s quite a tender portrait of the interaction between brothers and sisters.

SARA-MAE: I really loved how they set up her family as well. You really get a sense of exactly who these people are, from the hypochondriac Beth…

CAL: Yes.

[they laugh]

SARA-MAE: …who is always saying these blighting things. Everyone is so annoyed with her, she doesn’t fail to delay Arabella’s going to London by coming down with a “putrid sore throat”. [they laugh] Her description of their family life is so wonderful, so you really are on Arabella’s side by the time she sets off.

SARA-MAE: I enjoy all the kind of fashion stuff as well.

CAL:  So did I as well, yes. It’s quite funny how they are all quite horrified by some of the things that her mother had worn [laughs] when she was in the height of fashion only, (whatever it was) 25 years ago. Now they are all thinking “gosh, what is this awful thing”. You know, it was ever thus, for mums and their daughters.

SARA-MAE: Exactly, although I mean, I think I’d quite fancy some of the stuff my Mum wore in the seventies.

[they laugh]

Maybe not the kaftan she wore on her wedding day but um…

CAL: I think they are quite comfortable, though!

SARA-MAE: So, you get this really warm sense, but also the sense of responsibility that she feels because there’s so many brothers and sisters. Poor old Bertram can’t go into the Army because you have to pay [a large sum for it]. She feels that it is her duty to go, especially since Mama has put aside money that they can ill afford to let her go off and have a bit of spending money. And also to be able to show herself to full advantage.

SARA-MAE: Rob brings up an interesting idea here, which has been a bit of a sticking point for those who are new to regency romances. The fact that many of the storylines revolve around the woman needing to find a man to marry. As a feminist, this is obviously something I’m a bit uncomfortable with… but most of the time the romantic in me tells that bit to shut up and just enjoy the romance.

ROB: Really early on there’s this theme that marrying the correct male will solve her family’s problems. For me it’s quite interesting. Obviously, it’s set well over a hundred years ago but you kind of get this real sense that, ok, the gender dynamic is really extreme and explicit, in terms of what a man can do and what a woman can do.

SARA-MAE: You’re absolutely right, It’s interesting.  Heyer manages to highlight this but also, all her heroines always buck the system, even though they set it up that this is how society is, how a woman’s main goal is to find a husband. This is their pathway for a safe stable life and a good respectable position. But all her heroines want to marry for love and actually that’s quite unusual in this kind of [book], even in Austen’s books.

ROB: I think it’s true for the first ninety percent of the book. I [actually] think the book has a dark ending.

SARA-MAE: Dun, dun, dun! All Heyer’s books have a happy ending – shut up feminist Sara. Yes, I know happy endings in romance and fairy tales are socialising us to have unrealistic expectations of relationships and love – just let me have this, OK? OK. it’s really interesting that Rob doesn’t see it as happy at all, though.

ROB: The ending of the book betrays that. Yes, you go along thinking “yes, she’s a rebel she’s sticking it to the man”, you certainly are led to believe that that’s what Arabella’s role in the book is initially –

SARA-MAE: Whoa, whoa, whoa. let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What happens next in the story?

CAL: Off she goes to London, and on the way her carriage breaks down. She seeks refuge at the house of Mr Beaumaris.

SARA-MAE: Ah, our hero. But what does Rob make of him?

ROB: It’s hard to describe him, but I mentioned Oscar Wilde, I picture him as a straight version of Oscar Wilde. Very fashionable, very witty, he’s very wealthy; he makes it very clear that he’s not interested in yet another woman who is pursuing him for his money.

CAL: Although he receives her somewhat frostily, his friend who is visiting him is captivated by her beauty and is very hospitable, and she overhears Mr Beaumaris say he apparently is such a catch himself because of his wealth. Women would do anything to force a meeting with him, including pretending that their carriage had broken down. And such is her anger, that she pretends to herself be an heiress, so as to put him in his place to show him that she’s not seeking after him.

ROB: Yes, Arabella makes the mistake here of telling a lie at this point which comes back to haunt her.

SARA-MAE: Her temper is what gets her into trouble in the first place and when they are checked in the doorway of the library, Mr Beaumaris has been essentially bragging to Lord Fleetwood about all these women who have pretended to break ankles just as he’s passing by, this just puts Arabella on her mettle, and she sails in… and it’s just such a fantastic scene, I don’t know if you enjoyed it as well, when she’s kind of like “oh, I had really hoped to be inconspicuous, you can just disappear in London”.

CAL: Yes, and I liked it when she said “yes, yes… THE Miss Tallant” As if he’s ever heard of her before. [laughs]

SARA-MAE: And she’s just going, “Oh, you know it is of the greatest mortification to me, being so rich, you can have no notion” and he says “I’ve always found, however, that a large fortune carries with it certain advantages”.

You know, he’s onto it almost immediately and that’s when he twigs that she’s not just a pretty face. It appeals to him, someone standing up to him for the first time probably in his whole life.

CAL: Yes, yes, I’m sure. It’s intriguing because it’s the opposite of what everyone else is doing; falling over themselves and I suppose, from the word go, he knows she’s not seeking his fortune, which makes her appealing and is probably quite a relief, it sounds as if [it’s] very unusual.

ROB: The evening ends with this idea that they have met each other, they’ve chatted, he’s slightly interested in her because she doesn’t fit the mould of all the other women [he’s met]. She’s interested in him although also frustrated by him and it’s left… you’re wondering what will happen with this encounter.

He’s won over by the fact that she’s quite different and he becomes more interested in her. In the beginning he’s not interested in even offering her dinner, in the end he’s willing to exchange the Georgette Heyer equivalent of exchanging phone numbers at the end of the interaction.

SARA-MAE: She sets off a chain of events which she obviously doesn’t anticipate. She asks them not to tell anybody, and Beaumaris, out of spite initially to put her in her place, vouches for her to Lord Fleetwood. And I love the way [Heyer] says, “Like most rattles, Lord Fleetwood thought he was the soul of discretion,” and of course, he’s the one that gets the word out , as Beaumaris knows very well he will.

CAL: Yes.

SARA-MAE: He goes, “Yeah, I’ve heard of her, she’s one of the richest heiresses in the north.” Of course, when she gets to London it gets out of her control almost immediately.

CAL: And off she goes to London. He helps to reinforce this rumour through his friend, and she starts the season off as the talk of the town and has a wonderful season.

SARA-MAE: Just a note here about the London season. It’s an intrinsic part of most Regency romances, made up of, seemingly, a lot of partying. It coincided with the sitting of parliament. During the months when parliament was in session, members of both Houses would come to London with their families. This influx of upper-class people meant entertainment was needed.

Parliament traditionally sat from late October or November through to May or June. As travel was difficult, there was little incentive to leave the capital once the winter weather had set in and so it was convenient for people to stay in London over winter.

However, as travel improved with the spread of turnpike roads and more investment in the infrastructure, fashionable folk travelled more easily to and from London during the winter months. According to historical romance author Rachel Knowles, on her blog, Regency History: “It was no longer necessary to become established in London before the winter weather set in and so the opening of parliament, and hence the season, shifted to January or February. The most active part of the season was the period between Easter and when parliament adjourned for the summer, in July or August.”

SARA-MAE: She’s staying with Lady Bridlington, who is her mother’s friend. I love the description of Lady Bridlington and I think that she’s one of those fools, very much like in Pride and Prejudice, [like] Lizzie Bennet’s mother, who is very pragmatic and commonsensical, but also very silly.

ROB: So, she’s also connected enough to all the right people, including not just being aware of Mr Beaumaris and his influence but  also able to invite him as well. She also knows that Mr Beaumaris is the make-or-break individual for her, if he has a favourable view of her, she’ll be set, she’ll be the envy of the town.

SARA-MAE: She thinks at the very least he won’t spread the story round, but then the story starts coming to her aunt’s ears.

SARA-MAE: She’s not her aunt, but her godmother, an old friend of her mum’s – please forgive the numerous mentions of her as an aunt…!

SARA-MAE: All these young men who are quite hard-up, who are turning up at the balls to become acquainted with her, and people who are noted guys who need to marry well, it kind of starts making her aunt a bit suspicious.

ROB: It’s also a really hard lie to come back from, because, pretending that you’re secretly rich, it becomes the more you deny, the more forceful it sounds.

SARA-MAE: Yes, and in fact her stuffy cousin…

SARA-MAE: Lord Bridlington is not her cousin, but her godmother’s son so…soz, lol.

SARA-MAE: …Does his best to stomp out the rumour. But because he’s such a pompous ass, most people are disinclined to believe it’s true, [they think] he’s trying to keep her for himself, that he’s just trying to put people off.

ROB: There’s also a fear Arabella has… Lady Bridlington sort of stokes it, that she’s going to be spoken of as a fraud and the whole thing is going to be end up as a shame[ful episode]. “Here’s this beautiful heiress, but actually it’s all a lie” and I think that fear kind of hooks in quite deep.

SARA-MAE: But she still manages to have a good time, doesn’t she?

CAL: Yes, you know, like any young woman, is she eighteen? Seventeen or eighteen in the novel?

SARA-MAE: Yes, eighteen, I think.

CAL: Yes, who is not going to enjoy dressing up, and having this different life and going out every day to just be in society and be seen in your carriage… or having a walk in these parks and going to the museum and whatever amusements are on.

SARA-MAE: She becomes the toast of society mainly because Mr Beaumaris, in such a way as to make anybody who is anybody pay attention… he’s one of those people who, just a look or a raised eyebrow can elevate you or destroy you in society.

ROB: He’s amused and attracted but she doesn’t fall for all his tricks.

SARA-MAE: Yes, which kind of makes her more attractive to him.

ROB: Yeah, the old ‘hard to get’ routine.

SARA-MAE: Actually, I don’t think Arabella is playing hard to get here. That implies a calculating factor in her personality which Heyer makes clear she doesn’t have. She is shrewd, in that, she knows not to take Mr Beaumaris’s blandishments seriously, but she’s not a flirt. In fact, this is what disarms Beaumaris and makes him want to get under her skin a little, in spite of himself.

SARA-MAE: Sometimes he’ll be paying her these elaborate flowery compliments and she’ll just cut him off and ask him, “Who is that funny man over there?” [laughs] Pointing to some guy who is really overdressed. I love moments like that where I almost feel like Heyer plays with the typical romance tropes, which you might not be aware of. Instead of this charming guy just sweeping her of her feet and her being this innocent flower, she actually sees through it and doesn’t have patience for it, really.

ROB: Yeah, she’s not following the script of how she’s supposed to be won over by him.

CAL: I feel like she is such a serious person as well, she doesn’t lose her roots, as in being well raised. You know, there is a lot of poverty around them in London, she’s clearly in the upper echelons but she sees all around her that people are not, and she doesn’t lose that thread of herself or her upbringing.

SARA-MAE: She’s not above having a laugh, and enjoying herself, but when it comes to the crunch, and there’s some injustice that she sees, then she will stop at nothing… which is also the source of a lot of the book’s humour. Each of these moments marks a turning point for her and Beaumaris because I think in the beginning, Beaumaris is intrigued by her, but what is great as well, is that she kind of has the measure of him. She’s… it’s not like she’s this innocent girl that gets manipulated by the people around her. She’s been warned off him, because he’s a notorious ladies’ man, who’s never committed to anybody.

CAL: Yes.

SARA-MAE: But she always keeps him at a distance even though she finds him very attractive because she’s aware that he’s probably not interested in her. And of course, this probably makes her more interested.

I’d like to talk about the instances of her social justice warrior…

CAL: [giggles]

SARA-MAE: …Streak coming out, the moment when the chimney sweep falls down [the chimney] into her room, and she takes charge of him. He’s got bruises and burns all over him. I just thought it was so fantastic.

CAL: Well, I mean, she was very compassionate, and captivated by him, the little boy Jemmy, from the word go. And, I think, also quite horrified. I thought it was really well written and convincing… how impassioned she was.

ROB: And there’s an amusing scene where he really doesn’t want to be bathed, and Arabella and one of the other helpers kind of forces this on him.

SARA-MAE: [Quoting the book] “Jemmy fought like a tiger to defend his person from the intended rape, was deaf alike to coaxings and to reassurances. But the two damsels had not helped to bring up their respective brothers for nothing. They stripped Jemmy of his rags, heedless of his sobs and his protests, and they dumped him, wildly kicking, in the bath and ruthlessly washed every inch of his emaciated small person.”

So, she takes this child who is not very well favoured and tries to get Lady Bridlington out of bed. And Lord Bridlington has gone off on a ride and the whole household is in disarray because no one can believe that she’s done what she’s done. And the scene where she’s telling off this abusive chimney sweep master is so funny, “conducted under the open-mouthed stare of a footman in his shirtsleeves, two astonished and giggling maids, and a kitchen boy, was worthy of a better audience.” (So, their confrontation) “…Mr Beaumaris for instance, would have enjoyed immensely.”

CAL: That was brilliant.

SARA-MAE: Yes, Lord Bridlington is the son of Lady Bridlington, who’s her hostess, and he’s such a…ugh, a mansplaining, kind of ponderous… [Quotes from the book] “his understanding was not powerful, but he was bookish and had only formed a habit of acquiring information by the perusal of authoritative tomes. By the time he’d attained his present age his retentive memory was stocked with a quantity of facts that he was too ready to impart to his less well-read contemporaries…”

[they laugh]

CAL: Yes, exactly.

SARA-MAE: And they don’t like each other, which is quite good because everyone suspects him of trying to… when he tries to quash the rumours of her being an heiress, everyone’s like “oh, right, so you can have her all to yourself” but they don’t really like each other and of course, he’s useless when it comes to this chimney sweep when she tries to rouse lady Bridlington, and tell her that something has to be done, we have to save this young chimney sweep, there’s a lovely contrast between her and the people around her and the people of the upper echelons, the way they just don’t want to know. They’re servants; you don’t see them, you don’t hear them, they just move around, do you know what I mean? Whereas, Arabella sees their humanity. And then enters Mr Beaumaris, and his friend Lord Fleetwood.

ROB: Yes, and I think this is one of the many instances where Arabella basically enlists Mr Beaumaris to intervene in one of her missions to improve people’s lives.

SARA-MAE: Just as Arabella is trying to force Lord Bridlington to do something for Jemmy, obviously Lord Bridlington is not having any of it.

CAL: No, he’s not.

SARA-MAE: But that’s where Beaumaris has his epiphany isn’t it? In looking at her, and how unconcerned she is at thinking about what people think, because he knows that she’s aware that he could blight her whole social career just by recounting the story… she doesn’t care at all, and he knows that she doesn’t care, and that’s what really brings it home to him. When it comes to doing the right thing, she’ll do it, no matter what the consequences are/what they’ll be for her. She doesn’t care about the social implications. And it really impresses him.

CAL: It does, and I think this is where you see the strength of her character. [It’s] the influence of her father, because at one point they say “oh we should give Jemmy to the Parish” and she knows full well that they will just put him to work in the same industry because that’s where he’s been working and she just longs for someone to speak on behalf of this child and to take him seriously and to take on his care. I did feel very sorry for Jemmy because they speak about him in very unflattering terms!

SARA-MAE: I think that she’s trying to make the point that it’s not because he’s a sweet little urchin that’s cute, her compassion is roused by his circumstances. Like, she sees his humanity despite the fact that he’s not cute or anything like that. You know, they’re talking, [laughs] when Lord Bridlington [says] “it’s not even as though he’s a prepossessing brat”…

CAL: [laughs]

SARA-MAE: As though that’s… that would make a difference.

SARA-MAE: This extract comes from the Naxos audio book, read by Phyllida Nash.

[AUDIO BOOK EXTRACT READ BY PHYLLIDA NASH]

Lord Fleetwood, who had been regarding Jemmy with frank curiosity, said: ‘Jemmy, eh? Er–friend of yours, Miss Tallant?’ ‘No. He is a climbing-boy who came by mistake down the chimney of my bedchamber,’ Arabella replied. ‘He has been most shamefully used, and he is only a child, as you may see–I daresay not more than seven or eight years old!’ The warmth of her feelings brought a distinct tremor into her voice. Mr Beaumaris looked curiously at her. ‘No, really?’ said Lord Fleetwood, with easy sympathy. ‘Well, that’s a great deal too bad! Shocking brutes, some of these chimney-sweeps! Ought to be sent to gaol!’ She said impulsively: ‘Yes, that is what I have been telling Lord Bridlington, only he seems not to have the least understanding!’ ‘Arabella!’ implored Lady Bridlington. ‘Lord Fleetwood can have no interest in such matters!’ ‘Oh, I assure you, ma’am!’ said his lordship. ‘I am interested in anything that interests Miss Tallant! Rescued the child, did you? Well, upon my soul, I call it a devilish fine thing to do! Not as though he was a taking brat, either!’ ‘What does that signify?’ said Arabella contemptuously. ‘I wonder how taking, my lord, you or I should be had we been brought up from infancy by a drunken foster-mother, sold while still only babies to a brutal master, and forced into a hateful trade!’

CAL: I mean it’s quite a powerful political statement for its time, anyway, because the trade was still around, wasn’t it?

SARA-MAE: It’s something that Jane Austen didn’t tackle, although we’re not looking for Jane Austen to tackle such instances for social justice as she’s a master of talking about these several families in a small village or whatever… It’s interesting how, maybe with the insulation of writing in the 20th century, Heyer is able to bring these things up, and use them as a kind of tool to show the different facets of her characters. She’s really good fun with Jemmy, because she has brothers, she really knows how to handle him when she baths him…

CAL: Yes. [laughs]

SARA-MAE: …With the maid: “Jemmy fought like a tiger to defend his person from the intended rape”. [laughs]

CAL: [laughs] I know, when he wants to well… basically “box” Mr Grimsby, she’s like, “well yes, you could do that, but what are you going to do for a living?” And they realise that she’s obviously used to boys and how they speak.

[AUDIOBOOK EXTRACT CONT.]

 Mr Beaumaris moved quietly to a chair a little removed from the group in the centre of the room, and stood leaning his hands on the back of it, his eyes still fixed on Arabella’s face. ‘No, no! Exactly so!’ hastily said Lord Fleetwood. Lord Bridlington chose, unwisely, to intervene at this point. ‘No doubt it is just as you say, ma’am, but this is hardly a topic for my mother’s sitting-room! Let me beg of you–’ Arabella turned on him like a flash, her eyes bright with tears, her voice unsteady with indignation. ‘I will not be silenced! It is a topic that should be discussed in every Christian lady’s sitting-room! Oh, I mean no disrespect, ma’am! You have not thought–you cannot have thought! Had you seen the wounds on this child’s body you could not refuse to help him! I wish I had made you come into my room when I had him naked in the bath! Your heart must have been touched!’ ‘Yes, but, Arabella, my heart is touched!’ protested her afflicted godmother. ‘Only I don’t want a page, and he is much too young, and such an ugly little thing! Besides, the sweep will very likely claim him, because, whatever you may think, if the boy is apprenticed to him, which he must be–’ ‘You may make your mind easy on that score, ma’am! His master will never dare to lay claim to him. He knows very well that he is in danger of being taken before a magistrate, for I told him so, and he did not doubt me! Why, he cringed at the very word, and backed himself out of the house as fast as he could!’ Mr Beaumaris spoke at last. ‘Did you confront the sweep, Miss Tallant?’ he asked, an odd little smile flickering on his lips. ‘Certainly I did!’ she replied, her glance resting on him for an indifferent moment. Lady Bridlington was suddenly inspired. ‘He must go to the Parish, of course! Frederick, you will know how to set about it!’ ‘No, no, he must not!’ Arabella declared. ‘That would be worse than anything, for what will they do with him, do you suppose, but set him to the only trade he knows? And he is afraid of those dreadful chimneys! If it were not so far away, I would send him to Papa, but how could such a little boy go all that way alone?’ ‘No, certainly not!’ said Lord Fleetwood. ‘Not to be thought of!’ ‘Lord Bridlington, surely, surely you would not condemn a child to such a life as he has endured?’ Arabella begged, her hands going out in a pleading gesture. ‘You have so much!’ ‘Of course he wouldn’t!’ declared Fleetwood rashly. ‘Now, come, Bridlington!’ ‘But why should I?’ demanded Frederick. ‘Besides, what could I do with the brat? It is the greatest piece of nonsense I ever had to listen to!’ ‘Lord Fleetwood, will you take Jemmy?’ asked Arabella, turning to him beseechingly. His lordship was thrown into disorder. ‘Well, I don’t think–You see, ma’am–Fact of the matter is–Dash it, Lady Bridlington’s right! The Parish! That’s the thing!’ ‘Unworthy, Charles!’ said Mr Beaumaris. The much goaded Lord Bridlington rounded on him. ‘Then, if that is what you think, Beaumaris, perhaps you will take the wretched brat!’ Then it was that Mr Beaumaris, looking across the room at Arabella, all flushed cheeks and heaving bosom, astonished the company, and himself as well. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I will.’

ROB: He takes this kid on as a way of perhaps winning Arabella’s heart. It’s the start of Mr Beaumaris changing his life for Arabella. He’s starting to take on some of these underdog causes. You kind of debate whether he’s doing this for Arabella or because he’s becoming a kinder person. It’s the beginning of him moving out of the superficial layer of his life to taking on these causes that Arabella keeps bringing his way.  

SARA-MAE: Rob brings up an interesting point here, as to whether or not Mr Beaumaris’ character really evolves through his encounters with Arabella, or if he’s merely faking it to win the girl. Personally, my reading of it was that he does change, that she reveals to him what a shallow, rather frivolous life he’s been leading…she’s so vivid in her passion for helping others that it makes everything and everyone else he knows suddenly seem pallid by comparison. To me, from this point on, the change in him is genuine. But what does Rob think?

ROB: To me it’s a little unclear what’s going on here. I mean she definitely has this pure heart and good intentions… for me Robert Beaumaris is a little more ambiguous.

She’s attractive to him because she’s different, which he’s attracted to, but it’s because she’s so different from everyone else. In a sense it’s quite an achievement for him to get this girl who is not obviously fawning over him. I think you can read him either way.

SARA-MAE: I mention to Rob about how Heyer uses hunting metaphors when talking about how Mr Beaumaris begins to pursue Arabella in earnest.  Once he’s agreed to take Jemmy into his service, he waits several days until he allows himself to bump into her, so as to build up her interest. This shows his experience in flirtation, yet she holds her own.

CAL: When Mr Beaumaris uses him as an excuse to bump into her and update her… How they describe how Jemmy’s unsettling the whole household with his behaviour…!

SARA-MAE: Yes, I thought that was hilarious.

[SARA-MAE Quotes from book…]

SARA-MAE: ‘As far as I have been able to ascertain,’ replied Mr Beaumaris carefully, ‘he is not only fast recovering the enjoyment of excellent health, but is achieving no common degree of felicity by conduct likely to deprive me of the services of most of my existent staff.’

‘But this is quite absurd, Mr Beaumaris!’ said Arabella severely. ‘You must have been indulging Jemmy beyond what is right! I daresay he is excessively ill-behaved: it is always so, unless their spirits are utterly broken, and we must be thankful that his are not!’ ‘Very true!’ agreed Mr Beaumaris, entranced by this wisdom. ‘I will at once present this view of the matter to Alphonse.’

SARA-MAE: I think this is something that makes you fall in love with Beaumaris, his sense of humour. That’s a very strong thread throughout all Heyer’s books. The sense of humour bringing all these characters together as opposed to just physical attraction. I think that a lot of the copycat books rely heavily on how muscly and how gorgeous [the heroes are], or conversely how beautiful the heroines are.

CAL: Yes.

SARA-MAE: Whereas, with Heyer, it’s very much about the special connection that they have. And then of course, it doesn’t end there, with his enforced good works.

CAL: He realises early on how tiresome this ‘life of philanthropy’ is going to be.

SARA-MAE: He can’t seem to turn Arabella down, you know, and that’s how he realises that he feels much more for her than just a fling or a means of punishing her in some way. He wants her to confide in him, but of course he hasn’t made it easy for her to confide in him. Everything she’s been told… “don’t trust him, don’t lose your heart to him”.

CAL: Yes.

SARA-MAE: She believes he has kind of maliciously allowed the word to get out. So, it’s understandable that she can’t fully trust him, despite feeling in her heart that she can, her brain is like “no”. But that doesn’t stop her from foisting a small dog on him!

SARA-MAE: Robert is a dog lover, so I definitely thought if anything could help convert him to Heyer’s work, it would be the description of Ulysses the dog, so named by Mr Beaumaris, because he looked well-travelled…

ROB: There’s an incident where they’re out for a drive when a really sad-looking dog is obviously having a tough time out there on the streets of London and there’s a repeated refrain where Arabella convinces Robert to take the dog in and Robert pretends to not really like this dog. But this lovable dog is really the hero of the story in some senses. Ulysses himself has a positive effect on Beaumaris himself and brings out the kinder nature in him. But it’s also an example of how Arabella is able to change Robert Beaumaris by throwing these things in his way. Yes, I know the descriptions of Ulysses… this heart-warming dog he’s obviously one of those types of dog that if you don’t fall in love with this dog then there’s something wrong with you. I think it’s the beginning of them really connecting.

SARA-MAE: He’s being forced to engage. He’s being forced to [get his hands] dirty; he’s being muddied up a bit. [Real] life is impinging on his perfect existence.

ROB: Yeah, and this is the quality of real life rather than parties and… what outfit you’re wearing and how impressive are your heirs. It’s sort of [about] can you take care of someone or something?

Then Bertram arrives in town with £100 of winnings.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

ROB: And he’s off to live it large in London.

SARA-MAE: Yes, he won a lottery, didn’t he?

ROB: Yes, and he thinks he’s on a hot streak.

SARA-MAE: I found him a little bit annoying, and I know that this whole thing is central to the plot because it puts Arabella in a position where she becomes desperate to save him…

ROB: Before you know it, he ends up in a gambling establishment that is, I think, owned by Mr Beaumaris?

SARA-MAE: Not owned, all the top figures in society have set up their own little establishments where they all will take turns in being the bank and on this particular night it’s Mr Beaumaris’ turn. He recognises Bertram because, even though Arabella and Bertram have been pretending to be distant acquaintances, as opposed to brother and sister, he’s put two and two together.

ROB: Yes, and he wants to see how this all plays out. What’s really going to happen here? How far will this go? Bertram starts to gamble here and before you know it Bertram is down a lot of money to Beaumaris.

SARA-MAE: And there’s all this honour stuff going on…

ROB: Yes, I think that what happens here is that Robert Beaumaris is half-amused by the situation here and thinks that it’s an opportunity to teach Bertram a lesson. Of course, he’s going to forgive Bertram once Bertram has had a night or two of anxiety about how the heck he’s going to pay this money back.

SARA-MAE: Because Mr Beaumaris says to him, “Right, come and see me next week and pay me back then.” He decides to go on a trip. He dashes off a letter to Bertram to say, “Listen, here’s some money,” but Bertram doesn’t get it because he gets totally pissed.

ROB: Bertram kind of just drinks himself into oblivion thinking how the heck is he going to get out of this situation and what is his family going to do.

SARA-MAE: I just want to take a moment here to appreciate some of Heyer’s marvellously researched Regency colloquialisms for alcohol and drunkenness. Most of the them spouted by Bertram’s wonderfully well-meaning but dim-witted friend, Felix Scunthorpe: flashes of lightning, noggins of blue ruin, bumpers of heavy wet. If you’re drunk, you’d been in the sun a trifle, shot the cat, swallowed balls of fire, or you’d look as queer as Dick’s hatband. I ask Rob if he enjoyed the language.

ROB: Yeah, it was definitely one of the immersive parts of the book where you felt that part of… ok, I’m learning about the culture and what it was like in that time. It was quite a rich part of the book.

SARA-MAE: Back to Felix Scunthorpe. I wonder if Cal found him as amusing as I did? I remind her of the exchange between Mr Beaumaris and Felix have when B is searching for Bertram in order to sort out his debt. [Quotes from the book]

“Have you any brothers?” demanded Mr B.

“No,” said Mr Scunthorpe, blinking at him. “Only child.”

“You relieve my mind. Offer my congratulations to your parents.”

Mr Scunthorpe thought this over with a knit brow, but could make nothing of it.  He put Mr B right on one point. “Only one parent,” he said, “father died 3 months after I was born.”

“Very understandable,” said Mr B, “I’m astonished that he lingered on for so long.”

[laughing]

SARA-MAE: So harsh!

CAL: Yes, and goes completely over his head!

SARA-MAE: He speaks in very dense Regency cant in some cases… it’s almost completely unintelligible, even to people of that time. He tries to help his friend, so he is a good friend but is, unfortunately, a bit of a dim bulb.

 [laughter]

After some persuasion and translation on Arabella’s part, Felix takes Arabella to the seamier side of London, where Bertram has ended up.

SARA-MAE: [laughing] “Leaky Peg” saves him, and takes him home to her boarding house. Of course, Arabella is really grateful to her. Bertram has like, pawned his clothes, his watch, next thing they’re all desperately trying to rack their brains about how to get him out of trouble. They can’t bear to tell Mr Tallant again (which I think is quite sad).

SARA-MAE: Here’s where Cal rises to the vicar’s defence. Them holy folk need to stick together!

CAL: I think it’s more that, because they know he will give them help and forgive them and be so disappointed, they can’t bear the burden of that shame.

ROB: This is where Arabella hatches a plan that if she marries Mr Beaumaris this is going to make the problem of Bertram’s debt disappear, even though it’s obvious that she hasn’t thought this through. What’s the moment where you bring up the fact that your brother owes your husband-to-be a load of money? I think they pretend to elope, but actually he takes her to his grandmother’s house.

SARA-MAE: He’s already proposed to her, but she turned him down. She thinks, that he thinks she’s an heiress. Because he hasn’t told her that he knows, hoping that she will confide in him. So, it’s kind of like this comedy of errors where he wants her to confide in him, because that will prove that she cares for him. And she feels that she can’t.

SARA-MAE: During a day trip to the British Museum, Arabella allows Mr Beaumaris to take her aside, and it’s here that she tells him she’s reconsidered his proposal.

ROB: He seems to be aware of the fact that she’s doing this for two reasons. For one thing, what’s caused her to change her mind is somehow money-related, but he also seems to believe that she genuinely does actually love him.

CAL: I felt very sorry for the whole engagement plot-line because he proposed and she is all a-fluster because she says no, but simultaneously realises that he’s the only person she’d like to marry, and now she’s in a state of conscience, where, she realises he’s the only one that she loves.

SARA-MAE: But she can’t trust him.

CAL: She also feels burdened by a family expectation that she ought to have accepted someone’s proposal by the end of the season in order to pave the way for her family and in some ways, [she’s] made it worse.

SARA-MAE: The gamble…

CAL: Yep, and then trapped by the fact that she’s lied and therefore, she doesn’t know whether she can actually come clean with Mr Beaumaris and whether he would love her because she’s lied. Then, of course, burdened by her brother’s debts, which she could see her way to fixing everything by marrying a very wealthy man. I felt very sorry that it couldn’t happen in a very straight-forward manner, but I mean that is the whole premise of the book. I felt for her when she got out of the carriage, saying “please take me back, I can’t do this”. Ultimately, she would always go with her conscience and her feeling of what is right.

The thing that didn’t really hang for me in the conversation that they had, which was generally, yeah, I liked it, but in the conversation, she’s sort of forced into a position where she has to tell him that it’s not quite like the other opportunities where they were in the museum, or talking in other circumstances where it was actually an act of trust.

SARA-MAE: Right.

CAL: For her to reveal the truth I felt like in that conversation everyone was coming clean and being frank with one another, so it wasn’t, necessarily that she sort of trusted him with it, but actually that she was in a kind of confession mode and it was all tumbling out.

He said I wanted you to tell me and you have, I thought well, I didn’t see it as an act of trust but more as an act of desperation!

SARA-MAE: So, Cal doesn’t seem to think Arabella’s confession was based on trust. At this point she’s said to Mr B he can’t possibly love her when he finds out she’s accepted his proposal only to save Bertram from a debtor’s prison. But he completely disarms her by telling her that that’s inconvenient as he’s already got her father’s consent. It turns out he’s known everything for a while. And he’s even visited her family, hobnobbing with the children and Reverend Tallant.

SARA-MAE: He was a bit high-handed, but I still get the feeling that she’s going to give him a run for his money.

CAL: I do too! [laughs] And maybe she’s changed a bit as well. She brings up Leaky Peg…

SARA-MAE: She backs down when he says no [to rescuing her]!

CAL: And she confines herself to the far more agreeable task of convincing Mr Beaumaris that his very obliging sentiments are entirely reciprocated. So, she’s able to pick the battles to be fought.

SARA-MAE: Did you get the sense there that they’re going to be a good match?

SARA-MAE: Now we come to Rob’s mysterious hatred of the final page of the book. Remember back in the beginning when he said he had a major beef with Heyer about the ending? Well, he’s about to let us know what exactly got up his nose about our seemingly perfect romantic ending…

ROB: So, the part for me that like, (I won’t say ruined the book) but it was like a real weird ending, and for me this is almost like the point of the whole book. And I feel like I have a totally different take on it from you. So, the Leaky Peg woman, right? [Beaumaris] says, I’ve known everything all along, all good, I spoke to your family, and she starts on about this Leaky Peg.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

ROB: And she’s saying, don’t you think she might learn to become a housemaid? In other words, here’s another charity case for you, and he says [quotes book]: “I only know two things, the first is she’s not going to make the attempt in any house of mine, and the second and by far the most important is that I adore you, Arabella”.

SARA-MAE: Yeah…

ROB: “She was so much interested by this disclosure that she lost interest in Leaky Peg and confined herself to the far more agreeable task of convincing Mr Beaumaris that his very obliging sentiments were entirely reciprocated.” So, I thought, all right. Now that she’s married, her struggle is over?

SARA-MAE: They’re not married yet.

ROB: Now that she’s got him.

SARA-MAE: It was that she was enjoying the kiss.

ROB: No, for me, that’s like a punch in the gut! It’s like Arabella’s like, betrayed everything.

SARA-MAE: I think that she’s just biding her time. It’s one of those things where she’s enjoying being kissed by him, she’s overcome with this happiness of being with him.

ROB: Naah, all of her fighting spirit is like, now she’s a housewife, done.

SARA-MAE: I don’t know, I think she’s got too much fire and spunk in her…Also, that’s the reason he fell in love with her. It’s the way she is and her kindness. There’s no evidence to suggest that he would try and squash that out of her.

ROB: He does, it says there like, kinda, “all right woman, enough of this”!

SARA-MAE: Obviously, you can choose to see that there, but it would seem to be quite strange, to have a light-hearted farce ending in a death-knell of drudgery because her spirit is crushed!

ROB: This is the part of the author that I don’t understand; is she being ironic here or not? Because if I read it literally, it IS like a punch in the gut.  It’s described in this way where I’m sort of puzzled and… is it saying, look how amazing these people are, wouldn’t it be so great to be part of this scene? Or is it “look how ridiculous these people are, [they’re] totally blind to the stuff that’s happening around them.

SARA-MAE: The discussion goes on a bit more like this, with me trying to convince Rob that if this were the case, Mr Beaumaris’ sinister intentions to crush her spirit would have shown themselves throughout the book, as opposed to it being very clear that he falls in love because of her generosity and empathy and not in spite of it…anyway.

ROB:  This might be part of why the books are struggling to break out of their community where they are a hit because when I read this it’s unclear to me whether it’s a critique or not. And I could just as easily…in fact, my interpretation of the way that Mr Beaumaris is courting her was that it’s like a wild stallion that you’re going to tame. It’s not that he celebrates her rebelliousness, but that it’s an achievement to tame her. And once he tames her, then she’s part of the hive mind.

SARA-MAE: The whole book and his journey is lovely because he gets broken out of this (what one suspects is actually quite a lonely) existence of being this social butterfly/whatever, but not having anybody who really knows him, or isn’t sycophantic towards him. And he sees her as well. He sees who she is and he doesn’t distain her. And the other thing about seeing her family, as opposed to how he was in the beginning about how he might have been snobby about people like the Tallants, his love for Arabella has softened him. So, he can be amongst them and really enjoy playing cards with her brothers and sisters. She, on her side, she learns her lessons. She has so much shame, even while she is enjoying herself going to parties and stuff you know, she does feel shame, she does feel that she’s going to let down her whole family.

CAL: Yes, it really weighs on her towards the end, doesn’t it? And when they keep saying that she wasn’t in her fullest bloom of health. But I think also another way it shows that he’s met his match in her, is that, he can see that she switches on and off from actual connection with him and then, when he says something that might be considered a bit more flirty or…

SARA-MAE: Frivolous yeah, like he’s trying to seduce her.

CAL: …she immediately switches and distances herself and returns to society conversation.

SARA-MAE: She’s a match for him in terms of being able to fend him off when she needs to protect herself. there isn’t a sense of an imbalance there.

CAL: Yes, exactly, for the time.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, she’s got a lot of agency, she’s strong, and decisive, she knows what she wants to do and she’ll do it in the teeth of other people’s disapproval. It’s a lovely quality.

SARA-MAE: So, Rob and Cal have very different perspectives on the book’s ending. But is there a chance that, in spite of his hesitations, Rob is a convert? Eh, doubtful. Still, I think his perspective is rather an extreme one for what seemed to be one of the most romantic bits of the book. Maybe you have to have read loads of romance to buy into it?

ROB: It’s sort of interesting, the idea of the hero of the story, or the heroine of the story. Normally when you look at say, other genres, the hero is a hero because of an action. Like, they’d slay a monster or win a battle, and here it’s sort of more psychological. It’s more, he didn’t know what was going on inside people’s heads. It wouldn’t be clear to you who’s obviously the hero or villain… it’s kind of [about] motives, and [how] the person is subtly changed, from… they were like this and now they’re like that, nobody’s like killed somebody.

SARA-MAE: I think Heyer does a wonderful job of putting us in Mr Beaumaris’ point of view, which for me makes it clear that he’s the hero we’re meant to be rooting for. And as for not killing someone, I feel like I should have recommended Devil’s Cub or The Tollgate to Rob as a first read, if he’s looking for more obvious… er, killing. Still, I’m not sure out and out murder is a prerequisite for a hero.

ROB: There’s a masculine tendency to want to be inspired by some character in the book and to say, I want to be like this person and this person is usually someone who has done something that is brave or does something heroic, it’s not necessarily that you want violence, but that you want some action, the person couldn’t do and now they could. Where you’re sort of saying all this stuff that is inside a person’s head, they’re changing their view on something or they’ve changing their opinion about something and to present that as a movie is challenging.

SARA-MAE: I mean that’s the same with the Austen books.

ROB: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: It’s more about the dialogue, the unspoken things that cause the tension. It seems you’re not so familiar with this whole oeuvre? I feel like I’m explaining why this stuff is romantic! That’s interesting to me, because it’s a hard thing to nail down.

ROB: This is the comment about, just how accessible are these books for men.

SARA-MAE: There are men who really enjoy it.

ROB: Yeah, no, exactly.

SARA-MAE: Well, I think Rob was pretty heroic to read this book, not only his very first Heyer, but also his first regency romance. He brought up some really interesting points and made me think about certain things in the book that usually just flow over me. Still, I’m in favour of keeping that last page. Now it’s time for the moment of truth…have Cal and Rob been converted?

SARA-MAE: Are you a convert then?

ROB: No, I’m not a convert. I think it was a good experience, reading something that wouldn’t ordinarily be in my reading list. But yeah, I’m kind of happy to have experienced it, but I’m not sure that it’s converted me.

SARA-MAE: Aaargh! Bummer. Fair enough.

ROB: Good effort.

SARA-MAE: Would you say that you are a Georgette Heyer convert?

CAL: Absolutely!

SARA-MAE: Yaaaasssss!!

CAL: And I can also tell you that I’ve already gone to the library and asked for other books in then catalogue so I’m really looking forward to reading them.

SARA-MAE: Thanks so much for doing it.

ROB: It’s a pleasure to do it

[Outtro]

SARA-MAE: Well, that was an interesting discussion. My goal was to try and pick people who genuinely hadn’t been exposed to Heyer or even regency romance so that the podcast would have as much scientific integrity as possible…lol. And although I’m disappointed that the book wasn’t Rob’s cup of tea, I’m really glad that at least with Cal I was preaching to the choir, so to speak. 

If you’re keeping score, we’ve currently got 3 convertees out of 6, so neck and neck. Not too bad considering the converts will probably be fans for life.

In the meantime, it always does one good to take a more critical look at a much-loved book. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

Next week, we’ll be talking to Andy Paterson, producer of Girl with A Pearl Earring and The Railwayman. He’ll be chatting about his work on Heyer’s book, The Grand Sophy. We’ll also be checking in with Peter Buckman, Heyer’s literary agent, who’s been enormously helpful and generous with his time. Both gentlemen will be talking about the difficulties of trying to get a book adapted for the screen – it’s a fascinating episode for film and literary buffs alike.

And remember, if you want to join the book club, we’ll be reading The Quiet Gentleman in two weeks’ time, so devour it now.

Don’t be a tallow-faced twiddle poop, rate and subscribe!

Till next time! Bye!

[Credits]

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott for laundry and production assistance. Michael Mandalis edited and recorded Beth’s bits and he did a marvellous job.

Our fantastic voice talent includes Cathy Tuson, Helen Davidge, Beth Crane, Hedley Knight and the delightful Holly Golding as young Richard – I’ll be putting info about them in the show notes.

Thanks also to Geraldine Elliot, Talitha Gamaroff and everyone who supported me in creating this work. Suzy Buttress in particular, but the podcast community at large for so much inspiration and encouragement.

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, Chapter I as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast, by myself and Tom Chadd.

Special thanks to the Naxos team for allowing us use an extract from the book. Do go out and buy it, it’s a marvellous listen.

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media, we’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

Heyer Today is a Fable Gazers production.

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