Author: Georgette Heyer
Publication: Dutton Hardcover, 1968; my edition is a Bantam paperback
Genre: Historical Romance/Regency/Gothic
|The first copy I read|
Audience: Fans of the divine Georgette, regency lovers, gothic fans (however, she mostly disdained her fans - lucky for her she lived in an era where her publisher didn't urge her to go to romance conferences and bond with her readers)
|My Heyer shelves|
“You were going to say that you wonder why she did invite me,” [Kate] supplied. “Torquil said the same, yesterday, and I wonder what you both mean. She invited me out of compassion, knowing me to be a destitute orphan – and I can never be sufficiently grateful to her!”
He stammered: “No, indeed! Just so! Shouldn’t think you could! Well, what I mean is – Did you say, destitute, ma’am?”
“Forced to earn my bread!” she declared dramatically. She saw that he was quite horrified, and gave a gurgle of laughter.
“You’re shamming it!” he accused her.
“I’m not, but you’ve no need to look aghast, I promise you! To be sure, I didn’t precisely enjoy being a governess, but there are many worse fates. Or so I’ve been told!”
Cousin Kate is Heyer’s one gothic novel but is not as well executed or as convincing as her more traditional regencies. I can understand why some dislike it because of its unrealistic portrayal of mental illness. Moreover, I think her books got weaker towards the end of her life and this was one of her last four books.
What makes the book appealing to me is the minor characters, beginning with the Nidds, a vivid cockney family devoted to Kate, from the irreverent grandfather to the inarticulate grandsons. Lady Broome is not a sympathetic or convincing character as she plots to use Kate for her fell purposes but if you can suspend disbelief a little, it is not impossible to understand her quandary – having devoted herself to her husband’s family it is heartbreaking to her that the line might not continue. Her elderly husband, Sir Timothy, is also interesting: he welcomes Kate to his home and becomes genuinely fond of her, and loves his nephew Philip. But he turns a blind eye to his own son’s unhappy situation and does not interfere in Lady Broome’s or the doctor’s treatment of Torquil. Kate and Philip (well suited in an understated romance) are very fond of Sir Timothy despite his flaws.
Source: I own nearly every book Georgette Heyer wrote, and happen to have several copies of Cousin Kate – the edition I am rereading (above right) has a particularly lurid cover; I like the Fawcett one better.