Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer

I’ve never read a Regency romance novel before, but I did indulge in an orgy of Harlequins and Barbara Cartlands once when trapped in a country house for a week with no other reading material available. I must say that Ms. Heyer’s version of the romance novel is without doubt a cut above Cartlands and Harlequins even though Heyer used much the same formula here: tall, dark, and mysterious meets independent, spunky, and beautiful. The two spar and eventually fall into one another’s arms in passionate embrace. The language, the setting, and the characterization distinguish Heyer’s romance novel from others of the genre. Here’s an example of the Austen-esque nature of the book’s characters:

“She thought it would perhaps be as well if she didn’t discuss his character with her sister-in-law, for she had made the disconcerting discovery that however much she herself criticized his faults, an almost overmastering impulse to defend them arose in her whenever anyone else did so.”

And another:

“He was ruthlessly blunt, too often brusque to the point of incivility, paid her no extravagant compliments, and showed no disposition to go out of his way to please her. A very odd courtship–if courtship it was–and why he should have seriously disturbed her tranquility, which, since she was too honest to deceive herself, she owned that he had done, was a problem to which she could discover no answer.”

Lady of Quality is a book all about “the bubble reputation” and how easily it can be burst. And it’s about the attractiveness of a man who’s “rag-mannered”. The Mr. Darcys and the WIlloughbys of the world are somewhat fascinating, especially if they’re rich and intelligent and self-assured. Why are “good girls” attracted to “bad boys”? Why are the perfect gentlemen sometimes rather boring? Why do we sometimes enjoy playing with fire?

“The only fit place for any female crazy enough to consider becoming his wife for as much as a second was Bedlam.”

Nevertheless, you know how it ends, and as a reader I was somewhat captivated despite my better judgement. I may even find myself in the mood again someday.

Oh, by the way, one of the more intriguing aspects of the book was all the Regency slang I picked up.

Several words were used to describe a talkative person or a gossip: prattle-bag, forty-jawed, gabble-grinder, rattle, regular jaw-me-dead, gabster.

Someone who was depressed was blue-deviled or downpin. If a female indulged in silly crying she was a watering pot or a wet goose. If she were ill, she might be out of curl or in queer stirrups. If she was in bad skin or cantankersome, she was feeling grouchy. But if she was feeling fine and dandy, she was in plump currant.

To cut line was to shut up; to bullock was to bully. To rake down or set down was to put someone in their place with some well chosen words. If you were moped, you were bored, but if you were milky, you were wimpy. A man who was foxed or bosky was drunk. Incognitas were paramours or mistresses. A here-and thereian who was racketting about was a man about town who spent his time in somewhat disreputable pursuits.

A hubble-bubble female was silly, and a shuttlehead was an idiot. I deduced all of these definitions from the context, so I may be a shuttlehead myself. However, I never did figure out the meanings of the following slang terms from the book: muftiness, ames-ace, on the jaunter, fustian, and mawkish. If you know what any of those words meant in Regency England (early 1800’s), please do tell. But don’t attempt a hum (lie), or else you’ll be in the suds (in trouble).

I wonder what it would take to bring one or two of those words or phrases back into vogue?

P.S. Ah, thanks to Deb who left a link in the comments, here’s a webpage of Heyer slang terms with translations to modern English.

9 thoughts on “Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer

  1. I have not read Georgette Heyer before – but I have heard wonderful things about her and I know will at some point.

    I generally do not enjoy romance novels – although I very much enjoy Jane Austen and her regency time period. That is why I would like to try at least one of Heyer’s novels.

  2. Deb

    Hi, I am an Austen-reader and have not read any Heyer until recently, and though formulaic, I agree that I am smitten each time “despite my better judgment” as you say! [I just posted a review of “Regency Buck” on my blog] Your compilation of the regency slang is wonderful – there are 2 places to find this information (in a very quick perusal I find a few of the ones you did not figure out, not all) – at the Heyer list at http://www.heyerlist.org/slang.html and the Regency Lexicon at the Nonesuch site: http://www.thenonesuch.com/lexicon.html

    and I agree, we should all make an effort to use these terms in our daily communications! It would clarify so much! But alas! too many will think it all a “bag of moonshine”…!

    Thanks for a nice review of “Lady”
    Deb

  3. I love Heyer’s books. I use them for comfort reading. You know, because they are romance novels, that things are going to turn out ok. But along the way, you get witty dialog and gorgeous parties. The interactions between the characters, the banter, does often remind me of Jane Austen.

    And yes, some of the Regency slang should definitely make a resurgence.

  4. I’ll admit that I’m not much of a romance reader, but I might have to give these a try!

  5. “within an ames ace” is sort of like saying “within an inch” as in, “I was within an ames ace of giving his a good set down!”
    Fustian is the same as bombast, and can actually be found in the dictionary: “inflated or turgid language in writing or speaking: Fustian can’t disguise the author’s meager plot.” If someone’s telling you a tall tale of how they’ve been insulted, you might reply, “Fustian!”
    Mawkish means sentimental.

    Heyer is fantastic. I recommend Faro’s Daughter, and The Grand Sophy, as well as The Black Moth and These Old Shades, which are actually Georgian rather than Regency. But pretty much all of Heyer’s historical fic is awesome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *