What makes Frederica so appealing? I think it is a combination of several things: first of all, while it has a fairly large cast of characters, they are extremely well developed and it is easy to become fond of them (the Merrivilles are one of Heyer’s happy families, despite having lost their parents); second, most regency readers by the time they get to Frederica are familiar with and entertained by the theme of young women coming to London to seek a husband; third, as we will soon see, when Alverstoke decides to sponsor these respectable but obscure cousins he thinks he is playing a joke on his sisters and the ton but surprises himself by becoming emotionally involved with this family, so the joke is on him; and fourth, it is very funny.
Vernon Dauntry, the Marquis of Alverstoke, is rich and so indulged that he is often bored. His sisters think he is selfish because he is not interested in their offspring or in being obliging – to them. In particular, his middle sister, the disagreeable Lady Buxted, tells him she is bringing out her eldest daughter this season and asks him to hold a ball at Alverstoke House in Jane’s honor. She has a perfectly good home of her own but her brother’s house is more impressive and she is also hoping he will pay all the related expenses. Alverstoke declines, not very gently, which upsets his sister (and his niece, once she finds out). Lady Buxted says bitterly that she is sure he would have agreed had the ball been for his heir, their cousin Endymion Dauntry. She and their sister Lady Jevington resent Endymion, a pleasant if not very bright military officer, and have spent a lot of time unsuccessfully trying to find their brother a suitable bride so Endymion will not inherit the title.
Alverstoke is even bored by his mistress, who offends him not only by greedily demanding cream-colored horses to draw her barouche but also by drenching her written demand in ambergris (now that I am reminded it comes from whale sperm I am revolted too). He tells Charles Trevor, his serious but delightful male secretary, to pay her off. This is good timing because Alverstoke will soon meet his distant cousins, the Merrivilles, who have just arrived in London so he won’t have time for “a nice bit of game.” While he was visiting his sister, Miss Frederica Merriville and her beautiful sister Charis stopped by with a note and asked Charles if the Marquis could call on them at Upper Wimpole Street. Alverstoke is dubious of their relationship claim until he remembers a cousin by that name who was a bon vivant. That does not motivate him to make the acquaintance of these ladies, although Charles is rhapsodic:
Mr. Trevor seemed to find it difficult to express himself; but after a pause, during which he obviously conjured up a heavenly vision, he said earnestly: “Sir, I have never before seen, or – or even dreamed of such a lovely girl! Her eyes! So big, and of such a blue! Her hair! Like shining gold! The prettiest little nose, too, and her complexion quite exquisite! And when she spoke -”
“But what were her ankles like?” interrupted his lordship.
On second thought, Charles wonders if Charis might be better off not meeting Alverstoke, lest he break her heart. He knows Alverstoke would not seduce a respectable girl but he guesses that Charis is inexperienced and might misunderstand the rules of flirtation.
In the meantime, Lady Buxted calls on him with her daughter to beg again for a ball for Jane. Then Endymion’s mother, another widow, Lucretia Dauntry, hears that Jane might be getting a ball and comes to Alverstoke House to ask if her daughter Chloe, just 17, could share Jane’s come out (she points out oh-so-innocently that her pretty daughter would cast poor Jane into the shade). He says no to her too. Finally, his older sister, Lady Jevington, stops by to order him not to give in to Lady Buxted or Mrs. Dauntry, or she will wash her hands of him! Alverstoke says that almost persuades him to do it. Once she has departed in ire, he says to Charles, “And now . . .it only remains for your protegee to demand a ball of me!!”
Coming in Chapter 3, we will meet the Merrivilles!
In the meantime, here are some thoughts to begin our discussion:
Boredom is not an attractive quality but Alverstoke also possesses a highly developed sense of humor. Is this appealing or would you rather have a sexy hero like Damerel? Can a sense of humor be sexy?
Should someone who is rich endlessly support his relatives? Does Lady Buxted have a real grievance? After all, her brother only inherited Alverstoke House (and who knows what else outside of London) because he’s male, and it was her childhood home too. Down with primogeniture! (except in fiction)
Do you enjoy Heyer’s stage setting here or would you prefer that Frederica make an earlier appearance? How does this compare to the beginning of Cotillion where Kitty also ends up making her bow to society?
Frederica and Charis were lucky that they happened to run into Charles Trevor because he is one of the few people Alverstoke trusts. Would Alverstoke have ever bothered to visit them without Charles’ intervention?
Wimpole Street has several literary/artistic connections – I remembered Elizabeth Barrett Browning (perhaps because my friend Nicky walked me by her house two years ago) but was surprised by Paul McCartney!