08/10/2015

The Quiet Gentleman (by Georgette Heyer)

I love Georgette Heyer’s books. Her historical fiction not only paints a picture of upper-class life in previous centuries, it produces some delightfully different heroes and heroines, and often some very exciting stories. I’ve collected most of her works over the years and re-read them regularly.

The last time I read ‘The Quiet Gentleman’ was in 2006. I had a vague recollection of what it was about, but had entirely forgotten most of the details. The story features Gervase, seventh Earl of St Erth, who has sold out of the army to come and claim his inheritance, about a year after his father’s demise.

Gervase has a step-mother, the Dowager Countess, who considers herself a found of all wisdom, and who has rearer her son Martin to feel that he ought to inherit the sprawling and uncomfortable Stanyon Castle. His cousin Theo lives at the Castle too, and has acted as his agent and manager for many years. Theo is quite friendly with Gervase, but the Dowager and Martin are not at all looking forward to his return. Martin is quick-tempered and thoughtless, and gradually Gervase starts to wonder if Martin is trying to cause him a fatal accident…

There are other characters too, to give light relief to what could be a rather heavy plot. There’s the beautiful but naive Marianne, who has captured Martin’s heart, along with those of many other local young men. Drusilla is a practical young lady, whose parents are bohemian writers, and are away at present, so Drusilla is keeping the Dowager company. She considers herself to be plain, and full of common sense without any romance in her soul. And then there’s Lucius, Lord Ulverstone, a great friend of Gervase’s who comes to spend a few days at the castle.

There are also, of course, innumerable servants - valets, grooms, a housekeeper, and so on, who keep tabs on all that’s happening and offer their opinions on events. And the chaplain of Stanyon is there to offer platitudes now and then, although he’s not really significant to the storyline.

The first few pages of the book are slow-moving and - in my view - not very interesting. They recount, in Heyer’s lightly ironic style, the way that Stanyon Castle was ‘improved’ by its various owners over the centuries, leaving an uncoordinated and decidedly uncomfortable place that never really becomes warm, and requires the servants to walk miles between the various rooms.

However, the story quickly gets going with the arrival of Gervase, the ‘Quiet Gentleman’ of the title, who is so good-humoured and approachable that even his step-mother admits that he has some good qualities, and Martin, despite his jealousy, finds it difficult to argue with him. Which makes it all the more disturbing when incidents start to occur, and it seems as if Gervase’s life is in serious danger…

I had remembered the outcome, and most of the details of the final scenes of the book, which I must have read at least four or five times before now. But it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story at all; indeed, knowing how it ended, I was able to watch for ‘clues’ - or at least hints - of what was to come.

The style is dated, of course; I’m used to it, but someone unfamiliar with Heyer’s style might take a while to get into it. I believe it’s authentic; her biography explains how meticulous and thorough she was in her research, to ensure realism in both dialogue and description.

It’s not my favourite of Heyer’s novels, but I liked reading it again. It's a testament to her popularity that, in addition to being very widely available second-hand, this is almost constantly in print on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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