A few weeks ago my partner, David, came down with the flu and I succumbed a day later. I suspect it was the dreaded H1N1 flu, although we cannot be sure. I was cooped up in bed for a few days which obviously led to me devouring one book after another. That is, one Georgette Heyer regency romance after another. To be absolutely precise, fourteen Georgette Heyer books. I'm in withdrawal as we speak. The curious thing is that I started to really get into the socio-economics described by Heyer. Usually she is praised for her knowledge of early 19th century fashion and her distinct language usage (la!), but as I was lying in bed reading one novel after one, I started paying attention to money. Who has money? Who hasn't? What do they do with the money? How does money flow through the novels? How does money connect and separate people? Gosh, I almost feel like a Marxist literary critic..
A Civil Contract sees an impoverished aristocrat marrying a wealthy trader's daughter and through the marriage attempt to improve his estate's farming conditions. It is not a wildly romantic novel (no passionate embraces; no swooning) but a rather pragmatic look at class differences and social aspirations. While the book is far from being Great Literature, I found it convincing and interesting. I'm not sure I will read it again (unless I discover an hitherto unknown passion for early 19th C drainage problems) but it is certainly one of Heyer's beefiest novels.
The Unknown Ajax is a straightforward read compared to A Civil Contract. The hero and heroine flirt, chase ghosts, encounter smugglers and fall in love. Lather, rinse, repeat. What I loved about the book, though, was the fact that the hero is a Yorkshire woollen mill owner(!) and Heyer devotes several passages to the discussion of fleeces, crimp, sheep breeds, and the economics thereof. Just the thing to read when you're in bed and too weak to knit.
At the end of it all David pondered if I like reading Heyer because of a) the fashion discussions (I am a costume history devotee), b) the Yorkshire sheep or c) the many, many dogs with distinct personalities? I like to think it's a combination of all three plus the sparkling wit, the often ludicrous language and the knowing use of literary references (like the Shakespeare, Pope and Byron quotations in Venetia, possibly my favourite Heyer novel).
Speaking of things Romantic, I have begun knitting the Percy (Bysshe Shelley) shawl in Old Maiden Aunt 2ply alpaca/merino in the Bracken colourway. I paged through my well-thumbed copy of Shelley's Collected Poems earlier today and was amused by the doom and gloom I encountered. I had forgotten how Gothic he can be..
Ah, and the title? Enjoy Chet Baker's version of it on YouTube..