“Spare your tears for my next news.”
She paused in her dance across the room, and looked at him anxiously.
“I have to inform you, infant, that your father is dead.”
The colour returned to her cheeks.
“Vraiment?” she said eagerly. “Did you kill him, Monseigneur?”
Title: These Old Shades
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Arrow Books (Random House)
Date of publication: 1997
What am I to say? I had read four of Georgette Heyer’s novels before picking up These Old Shades (set in the Georgian era) and I’d believed myself smitten with her prose. Now, I must admit that I have passed the point of no return: I am completely in her power.
After reading the first few chapters, I had my suspicions about where the story was headed, and it made me wonder what could still happen during the remaining pages that could possibly prevent the release of tension. What could happen? Everything happens. Deception. Misunderstanding. Kidnapping. Fighting. Death. And la! there comes the happy end.
But you know what? I enjoyed it immensely! These Old Shades is a typical Heyer novel in the sense that it is heavenly witty. The story is created by and centred on dialogue, and I know for sure that I shall have to borrow Léonie’s expression, and refer to the most unpleasant man I know as a “pig-person.”
Léonie would be the heroine of the novel if Georgette Heyer had written it later in her writing career. As it is, Léonie is a delightfully artless creature, and one cannot help loving her, but she is not really the central figure of the story, even though she plays a crucial role. Her character is a mixture of innocence and experience, blind trust and shrewdness. She is wild – and utterly charming in her wildness.
Monday came and went with no sign of Gaston or his charges. His Grace frowned, but Léonie danced with delight, and offered the suggestion that Madam Field had died of agitation.
“It does not seem to worry you over-much,” said Avon.
“No, Monseigneur. I think we are very happy without her.”
The true protagonist of the novel is the Duke of Avon (whom Léonie only calls Monseigneur). His Grace is everything one could wish for in an literary hero. He is an intelligent, cynical, coldly revengeful man with a scandalous past, which characteristics explain his omnipotence. The main role, without doubt, belongs to him. His claim to it is unrivalled.
“Before he came I was assailed by doubts, but faith, the sight of him is enough to end them! The sheer force of his personality should carry the day.”
Such a strong protagonist could render all the other characters ridiculous in comparison, but Heyer’s mastery is well-exhibited in her handling of them. From the antagonistic Saint-Vire to Avon’s brother, every character adds something entertaining to the story.
So, is this book silly? Some will say so, I’m sure. Is it melodramatic? I daresay it is. But then there’s melodrama in highly acclaimed novels like Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, or even in Alexandre Dumas’ Marie Antoinette romances. We don’t like or dislike these books because there is a romantic plot, death or action in them. Those are important elements if wisely used by the writer. Yet in the end, it’s style that decides whether a story shall stand the test of time.
And Georgette Heyer definitely has a distinctive style.
Have you read any of Heyer’s works? How does the writer’s style influence your opinion of a book?
Feel free to leave a comment below.