Release Date: March 19, 2019
With a Foreword by Jennifer Kloester, acclaimed author of Georgette Heyer’s Regency World and Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller
Bright, lively and incredibly detailed, this exploration of Powder and Patch, Georgette Heyer’s third novel — which takes us to Georgian England and pre-Revolution Paris — exults in the novel’s wit and historical nuance while also deploring the novel’s heroine, and wondering at its authors ability to make us care so deeply for such completely unlikable people.
Think they’re not unlikable? Read on to find out why you’re wrong…
We begin in the village of Little Fittledean, in the county of Sussex, where we are told three houses were built, pre-book. One by a Mr. Winton, who possesses two children named James and Jennifer. And another by a Sir Thomas Jettan, way back in the previous century (seventy years ago from the commencement of our tale, in fact, when Charles II was on the throne – a nice The Great Roxhythe callback there, let us assume). Sir Thomas was extraordinarily fond of his home, and the locals took to mocking him by calling it “Tom’s Pride.” So he officially named it “Jettan’s Pride,” because he was just that sort of man.
To Sir Thomas were born two sons, Maurice and Thomas, both of whom led the merry existences of gentlemen of their time. They traveled to the Continent, dressed with exquisite, bewigged care, and pretty much lazed their days away being drunk and well-dressed. When their father died, the newly-minted Sir Maurice was given to understand that if he did not marry and settle at the family home by the time he reached fifty (he was then thirty-five), the Pride would pass to the younger Thomas, a gamester who emphatically did not want it. Maurice decided he would marry, for they “must have heirs,” but Tom reminded him of the family curse:
A rakish youth, says the Jettan adage.
Marriage for love, and a staid old age
Not quite ready to give up his rakish youth, Maurice spent another four years gadding about until he met and fell for one Maria Marchant; he wed her, had a son with her—and then she died, all in the space of a few paragraphs.
It is the son, of course, with whom we are most concerned here. His name is Philip, and although Sir Maurice had entered into raising him with the best of intentions, determined to stay in touch and be down with the kids so as to teach his boy to become a manly man’s man of manliness (by, er, wearing make-up, tripping around in high-heeled shoes and manicuring his nails), he fails to impress upon Philip any sense of style, and so the youngster reaches the age of twenty-three never once having even worn a wig.
What a sore trial to a father.
First of all, who else wants a family adage? That just could not be cooler, and its existence really gives a sense of venerable ancientness to this Jettan clan, don’t you think? Unfortunately, I am sure mine would go something along the lines of this:
Such is life, says the Hyland adage
Too much TV, and minimum wage
But I digress.
“Marriage for love” is the part of the Jettan adage that I would like to pinpoint here, if for no other reason than this exchange, while Maurice and Thomas are discussing potential brides for the elder:
“… what do you think of Jane Butterfield?”
Thomas pulled his lip, irresolute.
“I’m not decrying the girl, Maurice, but Lord! Could you live with her?”
“I’ve not essayed it,” answered Maurice.
“No, and marriage is so damned final! ‘Tisn’t as though you could live together for a month or so before ye made up your minds. I doubt the girl would not consent to that.”
“And if she did consent, one would not desire to wed her,” remarked Maurice. “A pity. No, I believe I could not live with Jane.”
Thomas sat down again.
“The truth of it is, Maurry, we Jettans must marry for love. There’s not a one of us ever married without it, whether for money or no.”
“’Tis so unfashionable,” objected Maurice. “One marries for convenience. One may have fifty different loves.”
“What! All at once? I think you’d find that a trifle inconvenient, Maurry! Lord! Just fancy fifty loves, oh, the devil! And three’s enough to drive one crazed, bruise me if it’s not.”
Maurice’s thin lips twitched responsively.
“Gad, no! Fifty loves spread over a lifetime, and you’re not bound to one of them. There’s bliss, Tom, you rogue!”
Thomas shook a wise finger at him, his plump, good-humoured face solemn all at once.
“And not one of them’s the true love, Maurry. For if she were, faith, she’d not be one of fifty!”
The Brothers Jettan cover so much ground here that it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s begin with the living-in-sin part of the conversation, in which the very sensible idea of giving your future spouse a test run is brushed aside in a very “why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?” kind of way. Also, let us examine the words “marriage is so damned final!” Because, really, as a product of this modern, licentious age (and thank goodness for it), I don’t consider either of those things true, and yet when you think about it, this is only a very recent development, sociologically speaking. Even when Georgette Heyer wrote these words in her early twenties (and in the early twenties) the idea of living together before marriage, or of generally available quickie divorces, would have been pretty much unthinkable. How far we’ve come! Whether for the better or the worse, I feel unqualified to say, but at least I live in a society in which my father cannot arrange for me a marriage of convenience, and I can indeed have fifty loves across my lifetime, or even just the one, it’s entirely up to me.
Then again, I am not of the aristocracy, nor even of the landed gentry (as are Maurice and Thomas), and so who knows what goes on among their hallowed halls, even now? Perhaps out there somewhere a modern-day Maurry is fretting about the succession and discussing which well-bred debutante might make a suitable match for him, while a modern-day Thomas is exhorting him to hold out for true love. (Regardless, if he doesn’t live with the girl before popping the question, he’s an idiot.)
Also, let us quickly make mention of the simple Philip and his lack of suitable refinement. The current full title of this book is Powder and Patch, or the Transformation of Philip Jettan, and that just makes me cross. Spoiler much? Who knows, I may have thought that Philip would remain unsophisticated throughout the whole novel! Thanks a lot for ruining the surprise for me, alternate/original title.
Oh well. Onto Chapter II, I guess.
Returning to Little Fittledean, we now meet the builder of the third house mentioned: his name is Mr. Charteris, and he has a daughter, Cleone (pronounced “Clee-oh-nee”), who is the member of his family with whom we will be chiefly dealing from now on. She had been a playmate of Philip’s when both were children, as had Mr. Winton’s James and Jennifer, but after returning from a “slight education” gained at a convent, Cleone is now utterly beautiful and the object of every man’s desire.
She is also, however, very young and silly, and sadly susceptible to the studied flattery of her society’s more accomplished flirts. She loves Philip for being “masterful and handsome” but also finds him “distressingly boorish,” thinking his compliments too unpolished and his clothes too dowdy, not making him at all a suitable husband.
And this is why teenagers are not to be trusted to choose a life partner.
Returning from a visit to London to see his Uncle (and, his father hopes in vain, to fall in love with Town Ways), Philip pays a call on Cleone and his compliments seem fulsome enough to me – “It has been years! Ten years, Cleone!” he laments of his absence from her side, when it has barely been more than a week – but are not apparently in the correct vein for this spoiled miss. There, he hears of the impending return to the village of Mr. Henry Bancroft, a man some years Philip’s senior who has been involved in a scandalous duel of which Philip manifestly disapproves. Back home, he discusses the matter with his father, who bemoans the fact that Philip has never had cause to enter into a duel himself (despite hearing that Bancroft’s recent opponent is likely to die from his injuries) nor do anything else remotely interesting. He delivers himself of a speech on correct gentlemanly behavior, saddened that his son exhibits none of the customary savoir faire that he believes denotes a true Jettan.
Philip remains unmoved.
Let us discuss, here, the style of story-telling in this novel, which is something of a departure for Heyer in this, her third attempt. One gets the feeling she may have been reading up on her Austen and the like while writing it, because she addresses the reader directly herein, which I hadn’t realized I found quite so off-putting until just now. To wit, the beginning of Chapter II:
“A while back I spoke of three gentlemen who built their homes round Little Fittledean. Of one I said but little, of the second I spoke at length and to the tune of one whole chapter. It now behoves me to mention the third gentleman…”
I don’t know about you, but for me, unless the story is told first-person, I don’t like for the author to insert themselves into the work. Jane Austen, with all of her “dear reader”s, is, of course, the exception that proves this rule, and that is no doubt the style Heyer was emulating. But it’s not like we’re sitting around a campfire listening to Homer, here, or engaged in a correspondence about our friend Georgette’s neighbors, the Jettans, Wintons and Charterises. The charm of a third person narrative is that it is big-picture: you can see the entirety of the world, can see inside the heads of all of the characters, can make judgments of them based on—admittedly fictional—empirical data, not on someone’s also fictional impressions. But add the concept of the individual story-teller into the third-person tale and suddenly it becomes less, well, authoritative. More…well, fictional, if you see what I mean.
Of course, I know these are all made-up stories, but having their creator present in them makes them feel more so, and takes me out of the story itself. Happily, this is a literary convention that has largely fallen by the wayside – they continue to make some 19th Century fiction a bit of a trial, though – and Heyer does not employ it again (either in this book, or elsewhere; and hardly even in this book, she tires of it pretty quickly), so I can forgive her lapse this one time.
But it’s funny, how you might not even notice you have a particular preference for, or aversion to, something until you are confronted with it, all of a sudden and out of context, and must stop and really think about it.
There’s also some stuff we can discuss here about the newly-introduced Mistress Cleone and her general unlikability, and unworthiness. But we’ll get to that later. And A LOT.
Meanwhile, what further revelations might be in store for us in the ensuing chapters? Will Thomas dispense more wisdom, and Maurice despair more of his virtuous son? Will Philip perhaps buy a wig? And what kind of mischief might this already-despised Henry Bancroft get up to? Let’s forge ahead and find out in Chapter III!
22 000 words
Release Date: March 19, 2019