Friday, June 28, 2019

Frederica by Georgette Heyer - Chapters 11-13

In which the Merrivilles please the ton, and Alverstoke’s friendship with Frederica deepens

Chapter 11

Charis is a huge success at the ball.   She is asked for every dance and, properly, won’t stand up with anyone more than twice.  However, Endymion who was immediately smitten, asks for two dances and escorts her to supper.   He is slightly outmaneuvered by a fellow officer, Lord Wrenthorpe, who is escorting Chloe and wants to make a party of four.   Endymion loses his tête-à-tête with Charis and has to dash to find Frederica who is with Lady Jevington’s son Gregory, another “cousin”.  We also learn that Mrs. Dauntry introduced Charis to Lord Wrenthorpe – she has already noticed her son’s infatuation, disapproves, and is trying to distract Charis.

Although the ball is magnificent and everyone who is anyone is there, Lady Buxted is infuriated that Alverstoke did it to launch the Merrivilles and that rival hostesses are urging her to bring them to their festivities.  Lady Jersey promises vouchers for Almack’s for the Merrivilles and oh-so-sweetly includes Jane as well.   Just as we saw Lady Jersey in the previous chapter complain about Louisa and Augusta snubbing her when she was their younger sister’s friend, Louisa remembers it differently:
When Lady Buxted remembered impertinent little Sally Fane, a wretched schoolroom-miss to whom she had administered a number of well deserved set-downs, the delicacies her brother’s French cook had prepared for the refreshment of his guests tasted like ashes in her mouth.
Alverstoke does not dance with his wards but does ask Frederica if she is satisfied.  She tells him she is delighted by Charis’ success, and he is amused that she spares no thought for herself.  Although Frederica assumes anyone being nice to her is hoping to get close to Charis, she does not realize two of the guests prefer her – Lord Buxted and Darcy Moreton, Alverstoke’s oldest friend.   In fact, Mr. Moreton quizzes Alverstoke on his real motives for taking the Merrivilles under his wing and says “[t]he elder sister’s the filly for my money.”   Alverstoke admits he did it to annoy Louisa.

After the ball, many of their new friends call on the Merrivilles at Upper Wimpole Street: Lord Buxted, Endymion, and even Lady Jersey makes a courtesy call, which she almost regrets.  Luckily, she decides to be charmed by Miss Winsham’s eccentricity, and her approval helps establish the Merrivilles in society.   Miss Winsham is made much of when she escorts the young ladies to Almack’s but she does not appreciate the attention, and afterwards is happy to delegate their chaperonage to Lady Buxted or Mrs. Dauntry.  Neither of those ladies is thrilled with the Merrivilles but can’t show it because each needs Alverstoke to pay her bills.   Lady Buxted is jealous of their popularity but doesn’t think her son could be seriously interested in Frederica, while Mrs. Dauntry is worried about Endymion’s infatuation with Charis, which includes escorting Chloe to spend time with her new friend.   Lady Buxted spitefully tells everyone that the Merrivilles have no fortune, hoping to spoil their chances, while Mrs. Dauntry, craftier, tries to introduce Charis to any possible prospect that isn’t her son.  She is so preoccupied with Charis that she does not notice Chloe and Charles Trevor becoming close.   The ton ignores Lady Buxted and observes Mrs. Dauntry’s hints about the family estates in Herefordshire, so there is a growing sense that the Merrivilles are better dowered than they are.

Chapter 12

Frederica begins to hear rumors about her and Charis’ alleged fortunes, and she is concerned about the misrepresentation and worried Alverstoke is responsible. She asks him – after he has taken Jessamy for a ride with the grays and complimented the boy on his skill – and he denies it but is amused, especially when he hears Mrs. Dauntry has been introducing Charis to some questionable prospects. 
Meeting her enquiring look, he said, “Who would have thought that your adoption of me would have provided me with so much entertainment?” 
“You did!” responded Frederica unhesitatingly.  “I didn’t know it at the outset, but I am very sure now that you adopted us merely to infuriate Lady Buxted!” 
“And can you blame me?” 
An involuntary chuckle escaped her.  “Well, perhaps not as much as I ought! But you did think it might amuse you!” 
“True – and so it did!”  
Alverstoke and Frederica confer about some of Charis’ would-be beaux and Alverstoke says he will take them driving in the park to send a quelling message to inappropriate suitors.  Frederica says he doesn’t need to include her but she is grateful for the attention to Charis:
She tried, unsuccessfully, to repress a mischievous chuckle, and added, with disarming candour, “You can’t think how much against the pluck it goes with me to administer to your vanity, cousin, but I haven’t spent all these weeks in London without realizing that your consequence is enormous!” 
“Viper!” said his lordship appreciatively. “I will endure the company of your beautiful but bird-witted sister, but on the condition that the tedium of these sessions will be relieved occasionally by your astringent quality."
Alverstoke reveals he has heard the rumors about Endymion’s passion for Charis, and Frederica reveals that Lord Buxted prefers her.   Alverstoke says this improves his opinion of Buxted.   Felix bursts in on their conversation to beg Alverstoke to take him to the New Mint.   Alverstoke says Charles Trevor deserve this treat and it is revealed that Mr. Trevor has been coming to the Merrivilles’ informal Sunday night suppers.  Puzzled, Alverstoke asks Frederica if Charles is pursuing Charis too; she says no and is too discreet to reveal the truth, but Alverstoke guesses that Charles is interested in Chloe Dauntry.
Chapter 13

Alverstoke demonstrates his active support of the Merrivilles by taking Charis driving in Hyde Park where they can be seen by the ton.   Unfortunately, although Charis has lovely manners and impresses him by her lack of coquetry to the admirers they encounter, she is not a great conversationalist and he is bored.   He politely asks her to drive out again and she surprises him by asking if he would take the whole family to visit my favorite place in England, Hampton Court!  Everyone enjoys this expedition, especially the boys and Charis who get lost in the maze, while Alverstoke (who somehow in pre-internet 19th century acquires the key to the maze) guides himself and her out of it.  She teases him about not taking his own nephews and nieces on such excursions and he says that would have bored him. 
“But why didn’t you send [Charles Trevor] to escort us today?” she asked, in an innocent tone at variance with the mischief in her eyes.  “You cannot have supposed that such an expedition as this wouldn’t bore you quite as much as the Mint!” 
He glanced down at her, half smiling, but with an oddly arrested expression in his face.  
She was puzzled by it, but after a minute, she said quizzically: “Are you wondering if you can bamboozle me into believing you won’t entrust your team to Mr. Trevor?” 
“No,” he replied slowly, “though it would be true! I was thinking how well that bonnet becomes you.”
They continue to joke until he asks her gently if she thinks Charis really wants the future Frederica seeks for her.   This distresses Frederica.  She explains that she doesn’t want a brilliant match for Charis, just an eligible husband who can provide the “elegancies of life.”   Alverstoke points out that Charis prefers the country to town which surprises and worries her sister.  She says she only wants Charis to be happy but the girl is so persuadable and falls in love so often she did not want Charis to throw herself away on someone in the country without ever having seen a wider range of suitors.  Frederica admits she doesn’t always understand her sister because she has never fallen in love herself, which astounds Alverstoke.  She tells him she is four-and-twenty and happy to be on the shelf, taking care of the family.   She says his reputation doesn’t reflect his kindness to her family, and asks what he thinks about an older gentleman in his 40s for Charis but Alverstoke says the man sounds too dull and wonders why she is so well disposed towards him.
“I was beginning to think you had a tendre for this paragon yourself, and that would never do: you wouldn’t suit, believe me.” 
“Readily!” she said, laughing.  “So perhaps I won’t, after all, try to cut Charis out! As if I could!” 
“I can think of more unlikely contingencies,” he said. 
"Can you indeed? Then either you must be all about in your head, or a bigger humbug than I am!” she said roundly.
Questions:

Is this conversation between Alverstoke and Frederica what is sometimes called a recognition scene – on his part, at least?   Certainly, Alverstoke enjoys Frederica’s easy conversation and lack of awe around him (no one else teases him).   I don’t think he is in love with her yet but he does recognize something special about her.

These chapters are also important because they show the way the ton embraces the Merrivilles (whatever their finances) but Alverstoke realizes before Frederica that Charis enjoys parties but doesn’t really like being the center of attention.   Charis tells him the country is nicer because people don’t stare.   For those down on Frederica, let me point out that she is distressed at his suggestion the season for Charis was not what her sister wanted.   She just wants Charis not to have to pinch and scrape if she marries someone of modest means and  hitherto, it is implied, Charis fell in and out of love readily.

Should Frederica have been spurred to have a serious talk with Charis after she has this conversation with Alverstoke?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Frederica - Chapters 9 and 10

In which Frederica and Charis prepare for the ball, then attend a pre-ball dinner party at Alverstoke House with many new “relatives”
This cover is dreadful
Chapter 9

While the Marquis is enjoying the races at Newmarket, the Merriville ladies are preparing for the ball while Felix gets into trouble by taking a steamboat to Margate without permission (where he makes friends with the crew and spends the night aboard before being returned to Frederica the next day). Afterwards, Frederica asks Jessamy to keep an eye on him so for a while they spend time exploring London and having a great time. When Jessamy wonders if he has been leading Felix into bad ways, Frederica calms him down and also asks him not to encourage their neighbor, Mr. Nutley, in his infatuation with Charis.
“. . . it would not do to become intimate with that family , or with their friends. To be plain with you, Jessamy, they may be good, worthy people, but they aren’t up to the rig! Mrs. Nutley’s patronage cannot give us consequence – in fact, it would be excessively harmful! Her manners, you not, are not distinguished, and, from what Buddle tells me, Mr. Nutley is a very ungenteel person.” 
“Buddle!” he ejaculated. 
She smiled, “My dear, if Budddle holds up his nose you may depend upon it he is right! Papa once told me that a good butler may be trusted to smell out a commoner in the twinkling of a bedpost! Young Mr. Nutley, I own, has more polish than his parents, but he’s an April-squire, Jessamy!”
Charis is looking forward to the parties and entertainments of the London season but is distressed that Frederica wants to spend money only Charis’ wardrobe instead of her own. They have gone to a modiste and a milliner recommended by Alverstoke, and name dropped Lady Buxted in order to get a discount.
“Well, wasn’t that famous?” said Frederica, her eyes sparkling with mingled triumph and mischief. “Three hats for very little more than one!” 
“Frederica, they were shockingly expensive?” 
“No more than we can afford. Oh, well, they were not precisely dagger-cheap, but hats are most important, you know!”
Frederica tries to get Charis excited about a new ball dress but Charis is unexpectedly stubborn: she doesn’t want an expensive dress they can’t afford and she wants to make her own. She shows Frederica what she has in mind – a three-quarter dress of white sarsnet fastened down the middle with rossettes of pearls, and worn over a white satin petticoat. Despite Charis’ talent for sewing, Frederica doesn’t want her to wear a homemade dress at the ball she has contrived so hard for but their aunt, Miss Winsham, says it will turn out well and will keep Charis away from the vulgar Mr. Nutley so she gives in.
Dinner and Walking Dresses, 1818 *
Chapter Ten

Frederica and Charis set out on the night of the ball in anticipation of a pleasant evening. Charis is so beautiful that people are always kind to her and Frederica is always self-possessed, concerned only for her sister to be a success. Alverstoke invited them to an exclusive dinner party before the ball, consisting “with a few exceptions, of persons whom he either avoided, or never noticed at all.” Guests include his sisters, their children, his oldest friend, Mr. Darcy Moreton, Lord and Lady Jersey, and Mrs. Parracombe, a handsome brunette whose name has been linked with Alverstoke (I already detest her). Charles Trevor pointed out the numbers were uneven and Alverstoke says it is because Charles is attending the festivities to support him. Alverstoke says he will keep the peace by inviting his sister Lady Jevington to be the hostess at the dinner party, as Lady Buxted and Mrs. Dauntry will jointly receive the guests at the ball. Charles works on the seating plan and has the ball room decorated.

On the night of the ball, everyone is initially in a good mood. Lady Jevington is gracious to Charles (whom she knows because his father is the vicar at Alver); Mrs. Dauntry looks handsome in lilac spider-gauze and her 17-year-old daughter Chloe is wearing primrose muslin which suits her (“a pretty child and may well improve,” says Alverstoke). Alas, Jane Buxted is wearing an over-trimmed dress and a pink wreath of flowers, along with an artificial titter. Lady Buxted is explaining to Lady Jevington about the Merrivilles seconds before they arrive:
“My dear Augusta, I felt it to be my duty,” said Lady Buxted. “There was Vernon, quite at a stand, as you may suppose! So like Fred Merriville to have cast the whole family on his hands! If I had not come to the rescue, I don’t know what would have become of the girls, because their aunt is quite eccentric – very blue, you know!- and detests going into society.” 
“Indeed!” said Lady Jevington, receiving this explanation with obvious skepticism. “How grateful Alverstoke must be! And what are they like? No doubt very beautiful!” 
“Oh, dear me, no! I have only met the elder: quite a good-looking girl, but I shouldn’t describe her as a beauty. I believe the younger is the prettier of the two. Vernon, did you not tell me that Miss Charis Merriville is pretty?” 
“Very likely,” he responded. “I think her so, at all events. You must tell me how she strikes you, dear Louisa!” 
At that moment, Wicken announced Miss Merriville, and Miss Charis Merriville, and there was no need for Lady Buxted to tell her brother how Charis struck her, for the answer was plainly written in her face.
Frederica creates an impression of elegance but Charis’ beauty absolutely strikes the assembly dumb (although she is also wearing a wreath of flowers which I suppose she carries off better than poor Jane) – “No man could be blamed for thinking that he beheld a celestial vision.” Alverstoke acts fatherly to the Merrivilles and Frederica hides a twinkle before politely introducing her sister to Lady Buxted. Lady Buxted has to hide her fury but she knows that Lady Jevington realizes Alverstoke hoaxed her. Lady Buxted thinks Mrs. Dauntry will be equally infuriated at her daughter being cast in the shade but Mrs. Dauntry is to clever to show it, and admires Charis and Chloe together, calling them the prettiest girls in the room, which insults both Jane and Lady Jevington’s daughter Anna. The last guest to arrive is Alverstoke’s block-headed heir Endymion. He starts to apologize for his lateness but then sees Charis and falls into a trance.

Lady Jersey is a high stickler but refrains from annoyance with Endymion because he is a good-looking and amiable young man and because she grew up with the Dauntrys (Lady Jersey is four years younger than Alverstoke so is in her early 30s, if anyone is wondering). She also wonders if Charis is his latest flirt but quickly guesses he sponsored the Merrivilles just to annoy Louisa. Mrs. Parracombe, about to be dumped, is sure he is interested in Charis and makes a snide comment to Alverstoke about cradle-robbing (that is not the way to keep a flame). At dinner, Endymion stares adoringly at Charis; she, well brought up, talks properly to those on her immediate left and right; Frederica listens to Lord Buxted bore on about estate management; and Lady Jersey tells Alverstoke the girls have good manners and she will get them vouchers to Almack’s, partly to oblige Alverstoke and partly to annoy Louisa (it’s a trend). Lady Jersey recalls how condescending Louisa and Augusta were to her when she was a scrubby schoolgirl, hanging out with Alverstoke’s youngest sister Eliza.
She sent another glance down the table. “The Beauty will become the rage, of course. The elder has more countenance, but – What’s their fortune, Alverstoke?” 
“Respectable.” 
She wrinkled her nose. “Ah, that’s a pity. However, one never knows. With that face the younger at least need not despair of achieving an eligible alliance. We shall see!”
That is the end of the chapter so we won’t see what happens at the ball immediately. In a different type of book, Alverstoke would get murdered by Louisa, Lucretia, Endymion or Mr. Parracombe in a secluded corner (think The Convenient Marriage).
Who would you like to dance with at this ball? Endymion, Charles Trevor, or Darcy Moreton? Not Carlton, please!

Does anyone feel sorry for Jane? She is being upstaged at her own ball (well, I know it’s also Chloe’s, Charis’ and Frederica’s ball, but that’s not how Louisa and Jane see it).

Heyer always approves of good manners (Frederica, Charis) and disapproves of bad manners (Tiffany Wield, Jack Westruther) and even those who are way of the Merrivilles approve of the way they carry themselves. And Lady Jersey decides to give them vouchers!

It is not until one is typing in one’s favorite quotes that one realizes how very many exclamation points our Georgette likes to use! Not that I object, although if I had to give up some punctuation I personally would keep the comma and give up the exclamation point. What do you think? Is it as noticeable when reading? Is it excessive or just part of the fun?

I think I mentioned previously that Elizabeth Gunning’s third son, who became the Duke of Argyll, married Caroline Villiers, sister-in-law of our Lady Jersey; but you already knew everyone in the ton is connected.

Does anyone else love looking at hats? One of my guilty pleasures is the website https://whatkatewore.com/ and I enjoy the Duchess of Cambridge’s outfits and especially her hats!

* For image, see https://calisphere.org/item/6992b5cd896b0733b0dc63353773cf51/

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Frederica - Chapters 7 and 8

In which Frederica meets Alverstoke's sister, Lady Buxted, and the Marquis becomes better acquainted with the two youngest Merrivilles, Jessamy and Felix.
Chapter 7

As the inestimable Charles Trevor deals with the aftermath of Lufra’s Green Park adventure, Frederica is suppressing laughter at the way Alverstoke dealt so masterfully with the situation, and also, somewhat ruefully, at herself for invoking his name like the Marquis of Carabas in Puss in Boots.*    Alverstoke is amused too but gets serious faster than she does and scolds her for walking alone.
“Whatever may be the accepted mode in Herefordshire, in London it won’t do.  Girls of your age and breeding don’t go about town unaccompanied.”
Frederica tries to say she is not a girl and that she is not accountable to him but Alverstoke reasonably points out that she asked him to launch her into society so she must follow the rules.  As someone mentioned, the Merrivilles have at least two housemaids, a cook, and Buddle, the loyal family butler; however, Frederica economized by not bringing a footman to town.   Alverstoke says he will have Mr. Trevor find her one and, when she tries to take her leave, suggests that Frederica allow him to drive her to Lady Buxted’s to pay a visit of ceremony.   Frederica wonders if it would be rude to do so without Charis, not realizing this is Alverstoke’s very objective.   Then she is worried that she is not adequately dressed for a social call.   His very astute comments on her outfit surprise Frederica but she says even if he is a rake she knows he is not a threat to her or Charis.  Lufra is given to a footman to bring back to Upper Wimpole Street while Alverstoke and Frederica drive to Grosvenor Place.   He asks why they brought Lufra to town and Frederica explains that he is part of the family and could not be left behind.   She goes on to explain that Lufra saved Jessamy’s life and vice-versa, and that Jessamy wants to be a clergyman and has been going through a very somber phase.   Alverstoke is relieved that she stops discussing her brothers:
He had missed neither Frederica’s hesitation nor the note of constraint in her voice, and he had thought it would not be long before she demanded his advice and even his active help, in the task of guiding her young brothers.  She was quite capable of it; and while he was just as capable of withering any such attempt with one of his ruthless set-downs, he did not much wish to do this.  He liked her.  She was unusual and therefore diverting; she was not a beauty, but she had a good deal of countenance, and an air of breeding which pleased him; and her sister was a ravishing diamond whom he was perfectly willing to sponsor into the ton.  There would be flutters in more dovecots that the one he was about to enter, and that would provide him with some entertainment.
Lady Buxted is at home with two of her daughters and is condescending towards Frederica, offering her “a hard stare, two-fingers, and a cold how-do-you-do.”   Frederica explains that Charis is ill and could not come but they appreciate Lady Buxted’s kindness in sponsoring them.   Lady Buxted thaws slightly when she realizes Frederica is not a raving beauty who has bewitched her brother, yet offers no refreshment although the visit lasts half an hour (which seems rude to Alverstoke even if she is conveying a message to her new “cousin”).  After they leave, Frederica who is no dummy, asks if Alverstoke is forcing Lady Buxted to sponsor the Merrivilles.   She knows that Lady Buxted would not want her daughter Jane to be compared unfavorably to Charis.   Alverstoke admits nothing and Frederica speculates that his indifference to what people think causes his boredom.  He escorts her to Upper Wimpole Street, then goes home, planning to take his new grays for a ride but is confronted by Lufra, tethered to the bannister in his front hallway, uttering yelps, barks, and whines.

(I have been puppy sitting the last few days and my brother’s Labradoodle puppy (see below) also yelps, barks, and whines when she thinks she is being abandoned – even if it is just for three minutes!)
Grosvenor Place where Lady Buxted lives
Chapter 8

Alverstoke is somewhat annoyed that his directions to take the dog back to Upper Wimpole Street were not carried out, but his butler explains that Lufra refused to go with either footman so they had to restrain him. Charles says he tried dragging Lufra down the street and even pushed him into a hack without success.
Meeting Alverstoke’s eyes with the utmost blandness, he added, “I believe these Baluchistan hounds are famous for their fidelity, sir.”
Alverstoke does not find that amusing but I do.  He is just telling one of the footmen to fetch Jessamy when the two young Merrivilles arrive – Jessamy who knew Lufra would refuse to go anywhere with a stranger and Felix to coax Alverstoke to bring him to see the pneumatic lift.    Wicken, Alverstoke’s starchy butler, succumbs to the boys’ manners and offers them lemonade and cakes.   Alverstoke introduces the boys to Mr. Trevor and tries to make him take over the pneumatic lift visit.  Jessamy is embarrassed by Felix’s pleas and tries to find out how much Mr. Trevor had to spend on Lufra’s critics.  Alverstoke offers Felix a ride with his grays instead of a dull foundry.  Felix won’t budge.  In the meantime, Jessamy has checked out the grays and is droning on about horses as tediously as Felix is about machinery.   It was more fun listening to the Marquis analyze Frederica’s outfit.
Alverstoke offers to take Jessamy out driving when he returns from the races at Newmarket but Jessamy insists on knowing how much was expended on Lufra first.

This declaration confronted Alverstoke at once with a novel situation, and a dilemma.  No other member of his family had ever felt it incumbent upon him (or her) to repay the sums he had from time to time disbursed: all too many of them demanded unlimited largess as a right; and not two hours previously he had registered a silent vow to decline to assume the smallest responsibility for Fred Merriville’s sons.  That was one thing.  He now discovered that it was quite another to allow a stripling to hand over to him, out of what he guessed to be a small allowance, whatever sum Charles Trevor had been obliged to spend on Lufra’s behalf.

Jessamy won’t give up, even if the offer of a drive with the grays is withdrawn.  Finally, in desperation, Alverstoke tells Jessamy that his father commended the siblings to Alverstoke’s care.   Jessamy is wary but accepts Alverstoke’s story.  He goes home with Lufra, dreaming of horses, while Alverstoke takes Felix to the foundry in Soho (on foot – you would have expected it to be farther away from upscale residences).   On the way, they run into acquaintances of Alverstoke’s who are surprised to see him with a child.   They even encounter Endymion Dauntry, Alverstoke’s heir, a handsome young military officer of only moderate understanding.   Endymion thanks Alverstoke for including his sister in the forthcoming ball and promises to be there.

When Alverstoke and Felix reach the foundry, they are welcomed with open arms.  The manager recognizes a kindred spirit in Felix and Alverstoke zones out of the conversation but realizes Felix really knows his stuff.  Alverstoke finds himself unexpectedly proud of Felix’s knowledge.   Felix is overjoyed by the tour and is incoherent with appreciation:
“J-Jessamy said you didn’t w-want to come but you did, sir, didn’t you?
To be sure I did!” replied the Marquis, perjuring his soul without hesitation.
“And even if you didn’t, you m-must have been interested,” said Felix, with a brilliant smile.
These chapters are interesting for several reasons:  Frederica actually jokes with the Marquis about his status and the toad eating that comes with it.   To make him into the kind of hero we like, we want him to be a little less detached and show more humor (and to appreciate, as he begins to, Frederica’s sense of humor, as this is how some of Heyer’s protagonists connect).   Here, also, he begins a relationship with Jessamy and Felix that is independent of Frederica.

Are children in Heyer depicted convincingly?   Edmund in Sylvester never seems very convincing to me and Arabella’s siblings are mostly off-stage but I do enjoy Jessamy and Felix.   Any others?   (I enjoy Patricia Veryan’s Georgian novels but despise her baby-talking children)

I am guessing some of us would rather go for a ride with the grays than tour a foundry but all the more reason to give Alverstoke props for taking Felix there and observing his acumen.   If you did not immediately warm to Alverstoke, does this chapter make you appreciate him more?

Endymion may be a block but he is very good-natured.  Informed that Felix was Fred Merriville’s youngest child, he said: “No, is he? Well, by Jove!  Fred Merriville!”  After that he somewhat naively added: “Got a devilish bad memory! - Who is Fred Merriville?”
Chloe and I encountered this car last night
* Does anyone remember an old Walker regency called The Marquis of Carabas by Elizabeth Brodnax?   Chapter 7 naturally reminded me of it.  I recall it as enjoyable.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Frederica - Chapters 5 and 6

In which Alverstoke tells his sister he will give a ball after all - but with conditions - and Frederica has an unexpected adventure in Green Park.
Chapter 5

Charles Trevor is astonished to learn that Alverstoke is interested in visiting a foundry.  He gets excited at the thought that Alverstoke wants to speak on the topic to the House of Lords (his ambition is politics) but it is a false hope – Alverstoke reveals that he needs the information on foundries (or pneumatic lifts!) for his young cousin Felix, and mentions that Charles was right about Charis’ beauty.  Charles is torn between bemusement at the sudden interest in mechanics and slight worry for Charis’ possible susceptibility:
It did not occur to him that his lordship had yielded to the blandishments of a persistent urchin; and if such a notion had crossed his mind he would have dismissed it as an absurdity.
Next, Alverstoke visits his sister Louisa, and delights her by saying he will give a ball, albeit “with conditions” and that it will take place in three weeks.
“April!  But you cannot have considered!  May is the month for the really tonnish parties!” 
“No, is it really?” he mocked.  “And does it occur to you that May is already overcrowded with balls, routs, and assemblies of every description?” 
“There is that, of course,” she agreed, frowning over it. “But in only three weeks the season will barely have begun!” 
“It will begin, then, at Alverstoke House,” he replied coolly. “And if you imagine, Louisa, that we shall find ourselves thin of company, let me reassure you!”
Lady Buxted is infuriated by his complacency but knows he is right.  However, she is not expecting his Big Reveal, which is that the ball will not be for Jane alone.  Alverstoke explains that Chloe Dauntry will also make her come out at the ball, and tells Louisa that their deceased and distant cousin Fred Merriville left his five children to Alverstoke’s protection.  Stunned, Lady Buxted asks why, and he uses the excuse Frederica provided:
“Well,” said his lordship, succumbing to the promptings of his particular devil, “he thought I was the best of my family.”
Alverstoke makes it clear he will help subsidize the expense of Jane’s entry to the ton if Lady Buxted cooperates by introducing the Merriville young ladies at the ball and securing them vouchers for Almack’s, and when she starts to refuse he implies he will ask Cousin Lucretia to act as hostess for the ball instead, causing Lady Buxted to give in reluctantly.   Two days later, Frederica has an unexpected adventure in Green Park when she takes the family dog, Lufra, for a walk.   Charis is home with a cold and Frederica, having ignored the need for a chaperone, finds herself in difficulty when Lufra charges a group of cows.
Chapter 6

Heyer observes that a lesser woman would have left the dog to his fate but Frederica is afraid the park attendants will impound Lufra or worse.   As the dog’s critics gain momentum, she says in desperation, “Take care!  This dog belongs to the Marquis of Alverstoke.  He is extremely valuable, and if anything were to happen to him his lordship would be very angry indeed!”  One of the park-keepers finds this unconvincing because he says Lufra is obviously a mongrel. In for a penny, out for a pound – Frederica follows her fib about the Marquess by stating that Lufra is pure-bred Barcelona Collie.   No one believes her but when she suggests they go to Alverstoke’s home to ask him, some of her tormentors are willing to bow out.  But the man in charge of the cows at Green Park (don’t ask why) and a hatchet-faced lady refuse to back down so the whole shebang of them head to Berkeley Square where there are no nightingales singing but a nervous footman admits them to Alverstoke House.   He doesn’t know what to make of Frederica or those accompanying her but is luckily rescued by his lordship’s butler Wicken, who knows about the Merrivilles by special servant osmosis (you know Charles hasn’t been gossiping).

Alverstoke, who dresses with elegance but is not a dandy, is tying his neckcloth by dropping his chin into the foot-wide muslin cloth, shows mild surprise when told of Frederica’s visit.  Wicken warns him about the dubious individuals who accompanied her, as well as a very large dog.
“Is there, by God!  I wonder what the deuce –” he broke off.  “Something tells me, Wicken, that danger awaits me in the book-room.” 
“Oh, no, my lord!” said Wicken reassuringly. “It is not, I fancy, a fierce animal.”
Lufra redeems his prior bad behavior by recognizing Alverstoke and bounding affectionately towards him (after a nervous second when the uninvited guests wonder if he’s about to attack).  Frederica quickly tells the Marquis that she will never offer to take his dog out again.  He catches the passed baton and asks for an explanation of what went down.  There is general chaos as everyone tries to explain but the hatchet-faced lady is the loudest and most determined not to be ahem-cowed.  The three men continue to whine about the dog not really being a Barcelona Collie but Alverstoke agrees, and explains that Frederica got it wrong – the dog is actually a Baluchistan Hound.  This saves the men’s pride so they are willing to be paid off by Mr. Trevor but the hatchet-faced lady is of sterner stuff.  Alverstoke won’t put up with her officiousness:
“. . . It appears to me that you have been indulging in a high piece of meddling. If I should be asked to give an account of this interview, I should feel myself bound to state that these men came, very properly, to inform me of my dog’s misdemeanor, and to request that he should be kept under restraint; but as they were accompanied, for whatever reason I know not, by an officious person, wanting in both manner and sense, who took it upon herself to usurp their authority, it was all too long before they were able to lay their complaint before me.”  He glanced towards the open door, where Wicken stood, his countenance graven, and his brain seething with conjecture. “Be so good as to show this lady out!” he said.  “And desire Mr. Trevor to come to me!”
Wicken is even more intimidating than the Marquis so the hatchet-faced lady leaves, raging and humiliated.  The park rangers and cowman slink out to receive largesse.  Frederica hides her laughter in her handkerchief.
This is one of my all-time favorite Heyer chapters, and in addition to providing light relief it serves several purposes: most importantly, it reveals Alverstoke’s sense of humor and ability to handle the unexpected with aplomb.  This impresses Frederica, who, you will recall, found him somewhat arrogant in their first meeting.  In addition, we learn that Alverstoke’s servants have been speculating about the Merrivilles so her unexpected arrival adds grist to the mill.  And, as we will see in the next chapter, this provides the perfect opportunity for Frederica to make the acquaintance of Lady Buxted solo!

  • So, do you like Alverstoke better now?
  • Do those who think Frederica too managing like seeing her at a loss?
  • Is this one of Heyer’s best ensemble chapters?
  • Should Frederica have dragged a housemaid along to chaperone?  It wouldn't have helped her deal with Lufra's behavior but would have sent a message as to her quality.
  • Is Lady Buxted cruising for a bruising?   Does she deserve it for her spiteful and grasping behavior (and, wait, it gets worse)?
  • Should a girl who looks terrible in pastels be allowed to wear pink at her come out? (and keep in mind (a) that it used to be easier to tell a young girl what to wear, and (b) her whole future might depend on the success of this event and, superficial though it may be, she will be judged on her looks and expectations)

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Frederica by Georgette Heyer - and the Gunning Sisters

The Gunning sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, are mentioned prominently in Frederica, and their brilliant marriages from an impoverished background were an inspiration to various heroines and their mothers – and certainly to many Regency authors.   Frederica tells Lord Alverstoke:
“You see, at Graynard she had as well be buried alive! There isn’t even a watering-place within our reach, so how can she form an eligible connection?  She – she is quite wasted, Lord Alverstoke!  You will understand when you see her, why I felt it to be my duty to bring her out in London!  She is the loveliest girl! She has the sweetest disposition imaginable, too, never cross or crochety, and she deserves to make a splendid marriage!” “I have it on the authority of my secretary that she is a diamond of the first water,” said his lordship dryly. “But splendid marriages, Miss Merriville, in general depend on splendid dowries.” “Not always,” she countered swiftly.   “Only think of the Gunning sisters!  Why, one of them married two Dukes, and I know she wasn’t a great heiress because Papa told me about them, saying Charis beat them both to flinders!” 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Frederica by Georgette Heyer, Chapters 3 and 4

(continuing the book discussion for the Heyer listserv) 

I agree that the situations of the four women in Alverstoke’s life are different:  Lady Buxted, a widow, definitely wants Alverstoke to pay for Jane’s ball but she probably does want a nicer event than she can afford (even if her son would prefer they pay for it themselves; Lady Jevington would not ask Alverstoke to pay for her daughter’s debut but it is clear she and her husband are very comfortably off; Mrs. Dauntry, another widow (his heir's mother and distant cousin by marriage), is not well off and does need Alverstoke’s help for even a moderate come out (but it is clear Chloe is young to make her curtsey to society and her mother is nearly as spiteful as Lady Buxted (just prettier and more subtle)) – and Frederica wants nothing for herself, just for her sister to make a comfortable match.  Can I just say that we eldest sisters are misunderstood?  All we want is what is best for everyone: is it our fault if we sometimes seem managing?
My back-up copy
Chapter 3 

Although Charles Trevor (who, it is agreed, we all like very much, even if we disagree on other characters) does not dare remind Alverstoke of his pending invitation, Alverstoke decides to visit Upper Wimpole Street.  He notices the house is shabby (can you imagine what it would cost to rent an entire house in London these days?) and is curling his lip when he meets Frederica.   She is about 24, with light brown hair and gray eyes (heroine alert!), and is attractively dressed but not “dashing or expensive.”  She has friendly manners, which Alverstoke, used to toadeaters, finds surprising.   She explains that she had been looking forward introducing her sister to society but discovered her aunt’s family is not sufficiently well connected (in fact, they are in trade).  Instead, she applied to Alverstoke for assistance.

“I am seven-and-thirty, ma’am, said Alverstoke, somewhat acidly, “and I should perhaps inform you that I am never of use to anyone!”

Rallying from this negativity, Frederica asks if he could introduce her to Lady Alverstoke, and eventually learns he is unmarried.  Not to worry, she says, we can contrive.  “We?” he asks ironically, but he is amused by her and his mouth twitches.   Frederica explains to him that her father died a year before and she knows they are distantly related, so would like him to introduce her sister Charis (and Frederica herself) to the ton.  She realizes that it is more customary for a suitable matron to provide such entrée but most creatively suggests they pretend Alverstoke is their guardian.   While Alverstoke recovers his breath, she tells him her family was happy although not affluent, and consists of her, Harry, Charis, Jessamy, and Felix, as well as their maternal aunt Seraphina, who is their chaperone.  She explains that she and Charis will have a dowry of £5000 and she wants Charis to make a good match like the Gunning sisters. She rented the family estate in Herefordshire and moved everyone but her brother Harry (at Oxford) to London.  Alverstoke politely tells her she is being too ambitious and might have better luck at in Bath or Tunbridge Wells where she and Charis could aspire to a lesser tier of society.

Chapter 4

Fortunately for the Merrivilles, Frederica and Alverstoke are interrupted by her younger siblings, the rambunctious Felix, serious Jessamy, and their irrepressible dog Lufra.   Felix immediately describes their unsuccessful outing to see a locomotive and, emboldened by Alverstoke’s response, goes into great detail about his mechanical interests and then Jessamy, who prefers horses, asks many questions about the Marquis’ stable.   Alverstoke participates in the conversation, to his own amazement, but is about to make his escape when Charis and her aunt arrive.  She is even more beautiful than he had expected and he is impressed.
  
[Her] words were spoken in a soft, placid voice; and the Marquis, under whose critical eyes the beauties of many season had passed, noted with approval that this one, the most stunning he had yet beheld, used no arts to attract, but, on the contrary seemed to be unconscious of her chares.  As one who had figured for years as the most brilliant catch on the Matrimonial Market, he was accustomed to meet with every artifice designed to ensnare him; and it was with approbation that he recognized the younger Miss Merriville’s unconcern.
March 1818 Ball Dresses, Ladies' Monthly Museum
When Alverstoke and Frederica are left alone, he contemplates an idea before making up his mind.   Then he tells her he plans to host a ball for one of his nieces and will include her and Charis, and that they will be presented by his sister.  Frederica, delighted, laughingly says how fortunate that Charis came home just in time to change his mind, and he agrees.   Astutely, Frederica points out that his sister may not like it if Charis’ beauty casts the niece into the shade (it is obvious no one would) but he just smiles.  He does not tell her the real reason for his change of heart but makes it clear he has not fallen in love with Charis.  Then they try to come up with a an ostensible reason why he would assist barely-known relations, and Frederica suggests he imply he was under an obligation to her father.

Curious about the household, Alverstoke asks her why her brothers aren’t at boarding school and she explains they have had tutors but the tutors eventually fall in love with Charis and have to be dismissed.  She says jokingly he could find a tutor if he is taking on family responsibility but he declines.   Still, Alverstoke is waylaid by Felix on his way out and finds himself agreeing to take Felix to visit a foundry in Soho.

Thus, by the end of Chapter 4, Alverstoke has agreed to sponsor the Merrivilles basically to punish Lady Buxted for her demands on him (be careful what you wish for, Louisa!).  Can you blame him?

Although Frederica and Alverstoke have easy and very candid conversation, she finds him too haughty, and “his eyes were cold, and unpleasantly cynical.”  Yet he is about to do her an enormous favor.   Is she too critical? 

As I said before, the Merrivilles are one of Heyer’s happy families.  Yes, Frederica is masterful but she lost her mother at a young age and had to assume control of the family finances to prevent her father from reducing the family to penury.  Even the trip to London was financed by cleverly renting out Graynard.   Can’t you give her credit for managing the family so advantageously?   She gets little help from her brother or aunt.

So, who wants to attend the ball at Alverstoke House?