Thursday, November 2, 2017

Cousin Kate (Book Review) #1968Club

What is the 1968 Club, you ask?  It is a year mostly remembered for tragedy.  Simon from Stuck in a Book chose a year, 1968, and has encouraged other bloggers to read up and post on books published that year for the #1968 Club.  This is a fun way to be exposed to a lot of interesting books, some of which I have heard of and some not.   The last time I participated it was 1951 and I reread All-of-A-Kind Family.
Title: Cousin Kate
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publication: Dutton Hardcover, 1968; my edition is a Bantam paperback
Genre: Historical Romance/Regency/Gothic

The first copy I read
Plot: Kate Malvern is the intrepid but impoverished daughter of a deceased military officer who left nothing but debts. Trying to make her living as a governess, Kate has been dismissed from her position after her employer’s brother made improper advances (as my Latin teacher used to say, there is nothing new under the sun, nihil novi sub sole). Kate is lucky that she has somewhere to go in a crisis – her old nurse Sarah, now married into a family that runs a London inn. Sarah is worried about Kate’s future so writes to the aunt Kate has never met, and soon Aunt Miranda, Lady Broome, has arrived, full of affection, and brings Kate home to Staplewood, where she lives with her husband, Sir Timothy, and son, Torquil. Kate tries to adjust to a life of luxury but begins to suspect something is not quite right about her new home. In the meantime, Sir Timothy’s attractive nephew Philip is suspicious of her motives in accepting Lady Broome’s hospitality and Kate’s banter with Philip distracts her from her worries about Staplewood. Yet soon Kate finds herself at the heart of a diabolical scheme, cut off from Sarah with only her own good sense to protect her.

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)
Georgette Heyer
My Impressions: How I love a good orphan story! Kate is the perfect heroine: plucky, self reliant, loyal, full of humor, and attractive. As an unmarried young lady of good family, Kate has limited options which include the genteel occupations of governess or lady’s companion, or to be taken in as a drudge by distant family. While Sarah Nidd, her old nurse, is extremely fond of her, Sarah knows it is not suitable for Kate to live in a common inn. On paper, Kate is thus very fortunate to be rescued by her unknown Aunt Minerva. The mystery of the book is the secret of Staplewood, why Kate’s aunt is so eager to offer her a home, and whether Kate can withstand the forces working against her.
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.

3 comments:

Karen K. said...

I'm so impressed by your collection of Heyers! I'm especially fond of old books, I'll have to keep my eyes peeled next time I'm in a used bookstore. I love that Sourcebooks is reprinting most of her works but there is something wonderful about an vintage copy, isn't there? Some of those covers are so wonderfully lurid, as you put it.

I also read Cousin Kate for the 1968 club, it's my tenth Heyer and I enjoyed it, but I agree, not her best.( I think the romance between Kate and Philip is really undeveloped, though I did enjoy the secondary characters). My favorites so far are The Grand Sophie, The Quiet Gentleman and Sylvester. Since you've read all of them I'd love to know which you recommend!

Constance Martin said...

Thanks for posting! I did see someone else had reviewed Cousin Kate but thought I shouldn't read until I had finished my review! I do admire the Sourcebooks covers and bought The Nonesuch for a friend.

Hmm, what to read next? Regency Buck is great for feeling you are really *in* a regency world but some dislike the heroine (I think she is maligned). Cotillion or the Corinthian would be good to read next. I do love Sophy and Sylvester. I like the Quiet Gentleman more as an adult than I did as a teen when I felt cheated by the prosaic heroine.

Have you ever tried my other favorite, Elswyth Thane? The first book in her Williamsburg series, Dawn's Early Light, is back in print.

Susie said...

I love the Alistair-Audley books, including Regency Buck. These Old Shades and Devil's Cub were among my first Heyer reads. A teenager, I was too young to pick up on the dark, even abusive, threads. When I discovered Regency Buck, and then An Infamous Army, it continued the story. Love, love, love Mary Challoner as a grandmother. The history in AIA is fascinating as well. A Civil Contract isn't terribly funny, but the class elements are intriguing. Jenny really didn't need to be so humble. The Corinthian and The Convenient Marriage are favorites too. I really owe a lot to those colorful Bantam editions from the 60s.