In April, Miss Bates followed a discussion about the question of a romance canon. The debate began with a thorny Salon article which, nevertheless, inspired interesting responses. For Miss Bates, said article was of minimal regard: its noblesse oblige attitude towards the genre ensured she stop reading by first paragraph’s end. The responses, however, were a boon: the always fearlessly incisive Vacuous Minx, no-nonsense sharpness and smarts of Wendy the Superlibrarian, perspective of Love In the Margins, take of Romance Novels for Feminists, and Jody at Momentum Moonlight. Miss Bates, though agreeing with these points of view, found Jody’s stance the most helpful because it summarized the problematic nature of canon setting/launching/exploding and offered an alternate term and means of pointing to seminal texts in the genre. Jody defines “iconic” texts as those which “affect the genre in a meaningful way.” Simple, direct, flexible, and workable. Miss Bates borrows Jody’s term “iconic” to identify “affective/effective” romance texts, such as Heyer’s, subject of her present post. Jody’s definition implies that iconic romance texts are those to which other romance texts accrue. They represent something important to the genre, not that they are necessarily meritorious in and of themselves, though they may very well be. They’re a hub; other texts are the spokes. They’re texts around which discussion occurs. (Sometimes, they may be denigrated, or rejected texts, representing things we don’t want to see in the genre, such as elements found in Old Skool romances.) They may change; more may be added, or forgotten, as the genre develops, grows, or regresses. Time is the only given. Miss Bates also thinks that the genre benefits more from pointing to an author, rather than individual texts, to identify an iconic moment in it. Heyer would certainly be present in such company.
When Miss Bates read her first Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades, she wasn’t aware of Heyer’s iconic status for romance readers. On reading her second, Devil’s Cub, published 1932, a sort of sequel to Shades (not 50!), educated somewhat in the genre (though by no means is she done, nor does she purport to be an expert), it’s evident that Heyer contributed iconic texts. Heyer’s tropes echo in every duke, rake, and plain-Jane; nonetheless, reading Devil’s Cub was alienating. That may be because of a narrative shift in more recent romance that Miss Bates’ refers to as the main characters’ endless internal ruminations. In that sense, Heyer appears quaint vis-à-vis character development and an excess of madcap plot; she forewent modernism. Yet, Miss Bates found something refreshing about a romance narrative where reader has to decode gesture and pose rather than thinker-tells-all of characters’ internal worlds in close point of view. Ye shall know them by their gesture … this is her subject. Bear with her: bodies in Heyer, what do they tell us? How does she establish character through the physicality of gesture, pose, tone, and gaze?
The “devil’s cub” is Dominic, Marquis of Vidal, son of Justin, Duke of Avon, and Léonie of These Old Shades. Vidal inherited his parents’ worst qualities: his father’s arrogance and mother’s impetuousness. He’s wild, wealthy, privileged, amoral, and too handsome by far. He’s smarter than any of his opponents at cards, or dueling. He can drink any man under the table, seduce any woman he fancies. At novel’s start, Vidal is at his worst, near lost to dissipation. Bad cards and blood conspire to exile Dominic to France (he duels at his club and kills a foolish antagonist, though we learn later he survives). Before setting sail on his yacht, he sends a note to his latest almost-seduced, Sophia Challoner, to join him in his exile. His missive, however, is intercepted by her wiser, older, plainer, more sensible, more cultivated, more intelligent sister, Mary, who, under cloak and darkness, meets Vidal as his future paramour in her sister’s place! Enraged at being foiled, Vidal kidnaps Mary and carries her to France. His attempted seduction results in one of the most outrageous and memorable scenes in romance … she shoots him! She conquers his heart, mind, and body because, though it goes against her nature, she is as bold, daring, and smart as he.
Vidal is wild, but upbringing ensures he value and uphold honour. Once he realizes that Mary isn’t a flibbertigibbet, but a girl with education and upbringing to match his own, he decrees they are to marry. Mary refuses him: she won’t marry a man who doesn’t love her, nor one she’d bring down in the world … she loves him. He loves her too, but doesn’t know how to name love, only that he can’t live without her. Much of the novel is farcical: Mary runs away from Vidal; he chases after her. There is a secondary romance chase, as well as false proposals and various madcap adventures. In the mean while, Léonie and Uncle Rupert arrive in France in search of Vidal and the scheming female who’s trying to ensnare him. Justin, the Duke of Avon, makes a marvelously delicious appearance; our rake is tamed, and our irrepressible, loveable heroine gets her man. What was of especial interest to Miss Bates is how characters’ personalities are conveyed through mannerism and gesture. The dialogue is a strength, but Miss Bates will save that for another Heyer post.
The narrative device that struck Miss Bates initially is Heyer’s propensity to telescope appearance to tell us, most economically, everything we need to know about character. Vidal is introduced in chapter one:
There was only one occupant of the coach, a gentleman who sprawled very much at his ease, with his legs stretched out before him, and his hands dug deep in the capacious pockets of his greatcoat … light from an occasional lantern … made a diamond pin or a pair of very large shoe-buckles flash … His long body swayed … his chin was sunk in the folds of his cravat, and not even the worst bumps in the road had the effect of making him so much as grasp the strap that swung beside him … raised his head, yawning, and leaning it back against the cushions … a gun spoke sharply, and a stabbing point flame flashed in the darkness … crushed the charred and smouldering portion of his greatcoat between very long white fingers … His lordship had raised a pinch of snuff to one classic nostril … A gleam, possibly of amusement, stole into his eyes …
What is conveyed via Vidal’s physicality? Vidal’s size, so tall he has to stretch his legs, even his pockets are “capacious.” His wealth: a diamond pin, or shoe buckles flashing. His body projects size and ease; he is languid, controlled … until his leonine nature is aroused (very much like his mother; the son’s body language echoes the parents’). We never see a whole man, but we learn him in his parts and possessions. He appears lackadaisical, lounging or yawning, but he is lethal, wild, and powerful. Though the coach sways on rutted roads, he is able to remain still where an ordinary man would clutch the strap. He is dangerous and without a conscience: the “point of flame” is indicative of his ability with firearms, killing the highway robber in cold blood, concerned solely with damage to his greatcoat. We have a glimpse of large white hands and long legs. In society, later that evening, we glimpse “one classic nostril” and espy a “gleam of amusement.” Parts are pieced together to make a whole. Body is puzzle pieces; it is up to the reader to mix and match to assemble for the entire picture.
Heyer introduces heroine’s, Mary Challoner’s, physicality in contradistinction to that of Vidal: where he is languid and then lethally quick, she is calm, controlled, and knowing. Heyer establishes the opposites-attract trope by focusing on characters’ appearance, manner, and gesture. In chapter three, Mary Challoner is everything Vidal isn’t:
… always stated in her calm way … Those fine eyes of hers had a disconcertingly direct gaze … twinkled in a manner disturbing to male egotism … elegance of deportment … humorous inflexion in her calm voice … Mary’s matter-of-fact voice … she was of medium height and very neat figure. There was a sparkle in her eyes and her voice took on a certain crispness … She began to nibble one finger-tip, pondering her problem …
Heyer’s descriptions of Mary are more conventional, more familiar to the romance reader. They echo Austen’s Lizzie Bennett, for example, going so far as endowing Mary with “fine eyes.” Yet, in noting Mary’s physical qualities of control, poise, alertness, directness, elegance, above all, serenity, the reader discerns how she and Vidal fit together like puzzle pieces, matching grooves and curves, concave to convex, creating a complete picture. Miss Bates found the “nibbling of the finger-tip” of particular interest because therein Heyer mitigates Mary’s perfection and humanizes her so cleverly and well. Later, we learn that Mary, in moments of stress or sadness, will place her hand on her cheek. We know in those moments that Mary is vulnerable, even though her appearance emanates calm and control. In contrast, Vidal’s ease and languid pose are frightening: calm sustained only to feed storm. Miss Bates was mesmerized by gesture, such as Mary’s, where internal states are divulged in physical mannerism, quirks of personality expressed in body language.
Stemming from and building on Vidal’s initial hyperbolic description, he continues as Super-Man, impervious to fatigue, alcohol, discomfort, pain, lack of sleep, and any man who dares cross him, which makes him callous and as near a villain as his father was in Black Moth and Shades. His sang-froid is impenetrable, except in his parents’ presence. And, rendering the romance delightful for this very reason, when in Mary’s. She makes him lose his cool because she never loses hers. While there is some question of a discrepancy in their social status (patly dismissed by novel’s end because this is a ROMANCE, after all), they are physical equals in the complementarity of their bodies; perfect bodies they are too. But they have to be human, taken down a notch to make them believable and loveable: he’s a little nervous around his father, his cravat suddenly tight; indulgent and soft around his mother, his “saturnine” face softens when she enters a room. Mary is near tears at times and, hand at her cheek, indicative of how vulnerable she is to him, to her feelings for him, but she never gives way to expressing any weakness.
The key romantic moment occurs when Mary sees through what Vidal projects physically to who he is truly. He convinces everyone of his larger-than-lifeness and invincibility, including himself, but she sees past that. Her power and strength lie in how well she reads him, pegs him, identifies what he is and needs, even while acknowledging her feelings for him:
‘So that’s the truth, is it?’ said Miss Challoner severely to herself. ‘You are in love with him, and you’ve known it for weeks.’
But it was not a notorious Marquis with whom she had fallen in love ; it was with the wild, sulky, unmanageable boy that she saw behind the rake. [Bold emphasis Miss Bates’]
‘I could manage him,’ she sighed. ‘Oh, but I could!’
This is still fairly early in the novel, but it IS post-shooting. Maybe Mary is inclined to be indulgent of Vidal in light of she near killed him, but she understands and can certainly handle him. She manages him very well in the sickroom: soothes him, lets him think he’s got the upper hand. She outmanoeuvres him, outsmarts him. She’s smarter and more mature. She also has something he wants: self-possession. Vidal recognizes in Mary’s body language what he needs: “She folded her hands in her lap; it occurred to him that she was a very restful woman.” Rest, ease; Vidal is a young man a schoolmarm would hate. He’s in constant need of stimulation (hence, drinking, dueling, love of fast horses and vehicles, and womanizing) and when he doesn’t get it … watch out. Miss Bates’ instincts were to say to Mary, “Forget it, honey, he’s a cold-blooded murderer,” but Miss B. persisted with the narrative and it delivered. Miss B. suspended her disbelief in any redemption for Vidal and allowed the novel to both charm and elude her. She preferred to read bodies rather than events … that’s the only way she could get past the first scene.
By the end of the narrative, Vidal is more like his mother, Léonie. Control over his emotions and reactions, thanks to his love for Mary and her thwarting of his imperial will, deteriorates in quick gestures and expressive glances, even while at seeming rest. Vidal was dangerous; now, he is petulant, evidence that whatever Mary is dominates. Mary possesses the single quality Vidal lacks, she is “mistress of herself” while milord’s “temper is extremely fiery and uncontrolled.” By the end of the novel, Vidal hasn’t drunk through the day and night, nor killed anyone, nor raced his horses in killer speed chases: he is certainly less colourful, but more palatable hero material. Did Miss Bates love this iconic romance text? She’s conflicted. This is post by ellipsis: swiping aside the unsavory conscienceless hero, the upholding of the notion of “blue blood” and the honour to tribe it entails, she’s ignoring these things to read an iconic romance text. She didn’t love it, for these reasons. On the other hand, she loved it for Mary, her ethics and will to self-determine undermined and subverted the worst needing-of-reform rake in romance history. Yet, Heyer sketched Mary vulnerable and engaging, a young woman self-possessed and, by the HEA, possessed of lion, lair, and pack. Miss Bates says that Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub may not be a great romance, but it is an iconic one … in every difficult duke we meet in the pages of a romance novel and the unflappable composure of the heroine who leads with the lift of an eyebrow, folding of hands, equanimity, and presence of mind. In Heyer’s Devil’s Cub, Miss Bates detected “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Credit to the Sourcebooks Casablanca edition (2009) of Devil’s Cub from which Miss Bates gleaned her quotations; to Goodreads for all but the final Devil’s Cub cover; and, Wikipedia for the final, original Devil’s Cub cover.
Miss Bates would love to know your thoughts about Devil’s Cub, and/or any Heyer title, and/or Heyer’s importance to, or influence on, the romance genre.
27 thoughts on “Georgette Heyer’s DEVIL’S CUB Foiled By A Heroine “Mistress of Herself””
Fascinating post: I really like your close reading of appearances. I really enjoyed Devil’s Cub: for reasons I really can’t imagine (ahem), I always cheer a romance in which the smart, sensible, underrated heroine triumphs rather than either the ingenue or the scandalous beauty! But I agree that Dominic is a tricky hero, and overall I prefer Venetia, in which the rake’s reformation is a more self-directed and psychologically plausible one and the heroine is a bit more fun. I have succumbed to the charm of Heyer’s madcap plots, perhaps because I always have a cynicism problem with romances and their sheer excess and humor sets me free of it.
Thank you very much! Miss Bates was verrry uncertain of the “close reading,” though it was a lot of fun to write. She hadn’t really done that with any intensity since grad school. So, it’s really good to hear that she didn’t flub it up completely. 😉
She’s glad to hear that there are “self-directed” rakes in Heyer’s romances because Dominic is not easy to accept as hero material at all. Though he is fascinating to read. And she most looks forward to Venetia.
Miss Bates particularly appreciated your comment about Heyer’s madcap plots because, while she was reading, they very much reminded her of madcap 1930s comedies, which Miss Bates adores. She wonders if Heyer watched these films? If anyone has attempted to connect the two? It’d be fun to consider.
The most madcap of the ones I’ve read so far is Cotillion — I found it thoroughly delightful, in just that 30s comedy way, as is The Grand Sophy. They are not as romantic as Venetia, though.
I am of the opinion that Venetia is Heyer’s most thoroughly romantic romance.
All the more reason for Miss B. to anticipate it!
Not my favorite Heyer by a long shot, and it does display the early, more formative aspects of Heyer’s writing. But it is a fun read, and I think it’s the book that really puts Heyer on the path to iconic.
Miss Bates thinks you have summed up, in your comment, what took her over 2 000 words to waffle at vis-à-vis Heyer. She guesses that’s what happens when you haven’t read enough of a writer’s work and world. She particularly appreciated what you said about Devil’s Cub “display[ing] the early, more formative aspects of Heyer’s writing.” It is the writing that will draw Miss Bates back in … that and a deep curiosity about author and her iconic use of romance tropes. Miss Bates’ next Heyer read? The Convenient Marriage!
“Miss Bates also thinks that the genre benefits more from pointing to an author, rather than individual texts, to identify an iconic moment in it. Heyer would certainly be present in such company.”
Oh I agree with this! You’ve expressed perfectly what I couldn’t find the words for.
“Body is puzzle pieces; it is up to the reader to mix and match to assemble for the entire picture.”
This is a wonderful way to describe her style, and I love the thumbnails of the different covers for this book! A character’s gestures, how and when an eyebrow lifts, the way a character’s body is posed, especially those almost indiscernible “tells” (like Mary’s hand to her cheek) give an added dimension to not only the character but to the story generally. I’m more engaged as a reader when I have to look deeper than just what a character says in dialogue or in private thoughts. So I’m not sure why I was so surprised when I read recently that tone of voice and body language have more to do with how others perceive us than actual words we use. (Well over 90% combined for the first two and a mere 7% for words). It makes sense, then, that sometimes body language, for lack of a better term, can be a better, or truer, barometer for discovering the merits of a character than what is said or thought.
I haven’t read These Old Shades or Devil’s Cub yet, though both are in the “Mighty, Trembling Mt. TBR.” I’m going to pull them out immediately to read. Heyer definitely belongs in the “canon” as well as new-to-me author Mary Stewart. Speaking of, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read that Charity has an “uncrushable” dress that she throws in an overnight bag in Madam, Will You Talk? 🙂
I’ve read three Heyer books so far – Venetia, The Masqueraders, and The Great Roxhythe. Venetia was my first, and by the time I’d finished, it looked like a rainbow with all the highlighted passages. I love love love Venetia! It’s the old reliable reformed rake/innocent virgin setup, but both Venetia and Damerel are more than that with Heyer. She is intelligent, even-tempered, says exactly what she means, and is not one to wallow in self-pity because she never had a London season. Though she is naive, very innocent, and has no one to appreciate her sense of humor, Damerel appreciates all of those aspects of Venetia very much. Despite her innocence, Venetia is not so foolish as to think Damerel’s rakish escapades are all without substance. She sees herself and others very clearly. I loved her unabashed honesty and how those who are on the receiving end of that honesty and are more used to artifice thinks she’s…odd and probably doesn’t mean what she says. I love Venetia and Damerel together, mostly because of their shared sense of the ridiculous.
One of my favorite scenes is Damerel and Venetia discovering the kittens in the barn. It’s written from the POV of another character, a would-be suitor for Venetia, but it shows beautifully that both Venetia and Damerel’s affections for each other are deeply engaged – the way they flirt and banter and the shared laughter. It was a perfect opportunity for a rake like Damerel to take advantage of an innocent naive young lady, but he doesn’t. The comedic element is that Oswald, the hopeful suitor and loves playing the part of the “Corsair”, is hoping to “rescue” the fair maiden so she will fall into his arms, etc, etc., except the rescue is thwarted by the rake who acts like a gentleman. How dare he not act rakish after all this!
And Aubrey, Venetia’s younger brother, was a great character I fell in love with. He’s always found with his nose in a book (a trait I love!), and he can issue an insult in Latin as easily as some can in English but with more flair. He’s a little absent-minded, but he loves and appreciates Venetia. I looked forward to each and every instance when he could be pulled from his books.
The Masqueraders was excellent. If I had not known beforehand that Prudence and Robin Tremaine are masquerading as the opposite sex, I’m not sure I would have figured it out before it’s revealed in pretty early on.
Kate/Robin (the brother) is not only “powdered, patched and scented” but also graceful, flirts with a fan, swoons when necessary, dances with beaux at balls, and even becomes BFF to another young lady, Letty Grayson. Prudence wryly observes at one point that Robin plays better at being a young lady than she could ever lay claim to. While Kate/Robin finds being a young lady very restrictive, he plays the part very well and has such a mischievous demeanor as he flirts and allows young men to kiss his slender hand. I really enjoyed the scenes of Robin/Kate interacting with his coterie of beaux.
Peter/Prudence doesn’t just put on a man’s clothes, she does, in fact, live a daily existence as any young man in London. Peter/Prudence takes snuff, plays cards, smokes, gambles, visits a gentlemen’s club, gets into a street fight, wields a sword, rides astride instead of sidesaddle, and at one point accepts a challenge to a duel. Almost no one suspects that she isn’t a young man. Prudence/Peter is a terrific character, and I liked her so much. Her unflappability is a great contrast to Robin’s more impetuous behavior.
Prudence and Robin are both masters of disguise from long years of practice. Their father, referred to as “the old gentleman”, has always “contrived” one mad scheme after another including running a gaming house and a fencing school. His latest escapade has landed himself (and his children) on the wrong side of the Jacobite Rebellion. And so “the old gentleman” sends Prudence and Robin to London, in disguise, to await further mayhem.
Lord Anthony Fanshawe, our hero, appears at first glance to be a rather dull-witted, indolent, large gentleman who is a “model of prudence and the virtues.” He does not exert himself at any time, not even when giving chase to restore Letty to her father. Imperturbability is his middle name. He reminds me a little of some of those very quiet and inscrutable, slightly oblivious Neels’ heroes who appear not to see the nose on their faces but who, in fact, are observing everyone and everything beneath those eyelids at half mast. Prudence learns very quickly that Sir Anthony is far more perceptive than anyone gives him credit for.
The Great Roxhythe was the second book written by Georgette Heyer and is historical fiction rather than historical romance. I read somewhere that (“The Private Life of Georgette Heyer” by Jane Aiken Hodge, maybe?) it’s probably the worst book she ever wrote. I guess it would be safe to say that Ms. Heyer agreed as she wouldn’t allow reprinting of Roxhythe throughout her life.
But I loved it even as I can see that many won’t care for it. It appeals to the history nerd in me, it’s set in Restoration England (one of my favorite periods to read about), and it’s an absolutely wonderful story of a “bromance” (although I think that descriptor doesn’t quite do justice to the genuine love and affection here) between Charles II and Roxhythe as well as Christopher Dart and Roxhythe.
According to Ms. Heyer’s biography, Roxhythe is a character based on George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham. But Ms. Heyer seems to have also channelled, at least, some of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, a contemporary of Charles II and frequent visitor to Whitehall, into Roxhythe. For instance, when Roxhythe needs a cover to travel to The Hague on behalf of Charles, it is put about that Roxhythe was exiled from Whitehall for displeasing Charles. That, to me, sounded a lot like what happened from time to time with Rochester. Just as Villiers/Rochester were handsome men, so, too, is Roxhythe, “the ladies’ darling”, “a perfect courtier”, “his brow incomparable, his air French, his wit spicy, his tailoring beyond words, remarkable.”
He has few friends, and, of course, lots of enemies because of his influence with Charles. On the surface he appears “indolent”, “licentious”, charismatic, a man without ties to either Country Party or Court Party. Though Roxhythe is apolitical, he is completely devoted to Charles. What Charles wants, Roxhythe will do everything in his power to see he gets. Sometimes to the destruction and detriment of others so Roxhythe is not a nice man. He uses poor Christopher as a cover for the King’s plot in Holland and later as a blind to any who may be suspicious that there’s more to Roxhythe than his libertine ways. He uses women to conceal/misdirect as he travels to France, he lies with impunity, and he has no scruples about mediating for Charles with Louis of France. When the choice is love and loyalty of country or his love and loyalty to Charles, Charles wins every time. But still, I loved him and his devotion to Charles. In his defense, Christopher sneaks up on Rochester’s affections and comes to mean more to Roxhythe than a pawn to be manipulated about his chess board.
Christopher Dart, secretary/right hand man/assistant to Roxhythe, is a young man who’s honorable, honest, trustworthy. Actually, he’s sort of a 17th century Boy Scout. Christopher is as idealistic as Roxhythe is realistic. If Roxhythe is a cipher, then Christopher is an open book. He, at first, dislikes Roxhythe, for being foppish and a court-darling instead of a more “sober-minded individual.” Yet Christopher is secretly dazzled by Roxhythe’s flamboyant peacock feathers. Their relationship endures despite disillusionment, distance, and heartache.
What struck me profoundly was the love between Charles and Roxhythe and Christopher’s for Roxhythe was based not on an ideal but grounded in a realistic acceptance and even celebration of the person as a whole, the strong points as well as the flaws, strengths and weaknesses. It was affection for who and what they are and “not for any incidental quality.”
The Great Roxhythe isn’t a perfect book, but it’s one I loved. I think it’s been criticized because it’s heavy on dialogue and light on plot, but it was a wonderful adventure for me. I was moved to tears as Roxhythe is so adrift emotionally after Charles II dies. He sees no one, goes nowhere, he’s disconsolate, inconsolable at the loss. His thoughts constantly circle back to Charles and Christopher over and over. The scene where Roxhythe picks up a gold comfit-box, a gift from Charles, with its inscription written in diamonds “Roxhythe:CR” is bittersweet and poignant and so full of emotion. It brought me to tears.
Heyer has a long backlist thankfully so I’m looking forward to hours and hours of reading pleasure. This past December, Amazon had some great deals on many digital versions of her books which I snapped up immediately, but there are still several on my wish list so I keep an eagle eye out for price drops. Thanks for this insightful post.
I have longed for a film version of the Masqueraders which succeeds in replicating that initial deception. I would love to hear the gasps as the audience realise they’ve been had.
Miss Bates is just so surprised no one in costume drama TV-Land hasn’t gleaned Heyer for her wonderful stories and characters. And the potential for the costumes, well it’s something else!
Thank you for the, as always, delicious comment! Miss Bates loves sinking her reading teeth into them!
Miss Bates isn’t quite sure why the body language of the characters struck her so, but it did, from Vidal’s first scene. Maybe because she’d read Black Moth and These Old Shades and the physical details we immediately learn about Vidal echo what she remembered of his father, Justin. The white hands, the long legs, mere fascinating glimpses … one thing she may want to further explore in another post maybe? is how sexy this was. Romances these days, now there, doesn’t she sound like a crotchety old spinster with that line?, certainly have a lot of body parts doing beasts with two backs and such, but do they telescope on a languid hand, or flick a handkerchief with disdain? The effect is quite mesmerizing, in this narrative at least … and sensual and interesting. Miss Bates loved this effect of physicality without it always being about sexuality. There, see, your comment has her thinking about the novel again!
(She did notice the uncrushable jersey dress in Madam, Will You Talk? but wasn’t sure how to worm it in her Stewart post, so she’s awfully glad you’ve immortalized it here. 😉 )
She is greatly looking to her reading of Venetia as it’s a Heyer that receives so much love. It also sounds like Heyer finally wrote a more palatable “rake-y” hero-figure. She was fascinated by your mention of the kitten scene. She loves a kitten scene in romance and wonders whether Kinsale was aware of Heyer’s kittens when she wrote that wonderfully playful, aggressive near-uncomfortable kitten-garden scene between Christian and Maddie in Flowers From the Storm.
She loved reading about the Roxhyde character in Heyer’s shame-faced erasure of her novel. Miss Bates’ experience of the Restoration and especially Charles II has been marked by her reading of Kathleen Winsor’s Forever Amber (and more recently, Rupert Everett as Charles II in Stage Beauty), which, by the way, was banned and spat upon endlessly. The critical reception in Wikipedia is fascinating.
Ah, my dear Miss Bates. Great dissection of ‘Devil’s Cub’. It is interesting to me that you picked up on one of the things that annoys me about some of the current crop of romances–the running internal monolog. I just get so tired of it, I suspect that stems from being a Heyer reader of long standing, among other things. We are to react to her characters as if we were personally with them–no mind reading!
I’ve read all of Heyer’s historicals (she also wrote several modern books early in her career that she deliberately blocked from being reprinted) and all of her mysteries. So, yes, I am a fan. However, my most re-read are her early books (The Old Shades, The Masqueraders, The Black Moth–which is sort of an early try at TOS,by the way, The Talisman Ring, Beauvallet) and two of her later books (Venetia, The Black Sheep).
You noted, in a comment above, about the mad-cap aspects of ‘Devil’s Cub’ echoing the mad-cap comedies of cinema. Heyer wrote to make money! She was, for most of her career, the breadwinner of the family. So it is would be no stretch, I think, to imagine that her books reflect, in some way, the tastes of her times. Her earliest books have(for me, anyway) a very Sabatini touch and I do dearly love Sabatini (who was a best seller in his day, as was Baroness Orczy–but I don’t see much of her in Heyer’s books).
Miss Bates is glad to hear that she’s not just being a sourpuss and there is a problem with the reliance on internal monologue in the genre. She’s not big on plot necessarily, and the mad-cap aspects to Heyer took getting used to, but the combination of angst-I-want-her/him and false conflicts and de rigueur sex scenes are in excess in recent romance reading. This is why Miss Bates loved Jeannie Lin’s historical romance, The Jade Temptress: she skirted this fairly well.
Miss Bates wants to be able to say that she’s read all of Heyer’s romance historicals and all her mysteries too some day! She also has a copy of Scaramouche she’d like to crack open one of these days!
So, I adore Devil’s Cub and I am not sure I can be objective in my response. I do understand why you feel as you do about Vidal. He is very young, spoiled and arrogant. He needs to do a lot of growing up, by contrast with Venetia’s Damerel who is much older and ready to self-reform. But I am hopeful for Vidal because he will have Mary. I don’t think he is beyond hope, and I think his interactions with both his parents are supposed to show us that. As well as his sense of honour, he can be extraordinarily kind – holding the bowl for Mary, for instance, and sometimes to Juliana.
Vidal and Mary are one of the few Heyer couples who make an appearance in one of her later books. The heroine of An Infamous Army is their granddaughter (with Leonie’s red hair) and the scene where Vidal and Mary appear is one of my very favourite Heyer moments. They are both recognisably themselves and yet you can see the forty or fifty years together have developed their mutual understanding and affection and that they have formed a marriage of equals.
Miss Bates agrees with the idea that Vidal can be kind, after all, both Justin and Léonie, whom he resembles, have a capacity for kindness. Miss Bates thinks that she couldn’t get past the fact that he killed two men in cold blood, was conscienceless, and indifferent to them. She understood the highway robber was self-defence and could have reconciled herself to that, but the second instance stayed with Miss B. She thinks Mary is the one who will humanize him, yes, but does she see him realistically, or with the eyes of love, so to speak? On the other hand, what other kind of eyes can make people better than the “eyes of love”? #rosisright
Miss Bates loved your scene-setting of Vidal and Mary as an “old married couple.” It’s the same, in a way, as Avon’s appearance at the end of Devil’s Cub and the few scenes with Avon and Léonie together.
Terrific analysis, Miss B. I have read this book many times and never thought about the issues you raise. Especially the points about physicality.
I agree that Vidal is an iconic romance hero in the sense that he is the ancestor of so many genre romance heroes. But I think Heyer is playing with the idea of hero through Vidal. This is an early book, when she was writing adventure as much as romance, or rather romance in the adventure sense. What I find intriguing about DC is that in Vidal you basically get what a “real” romance hero is likely to be, and that is not someone you want to put your faith in. Mary is the adult here, who despite being romantic at heart (in a way Vidal is not), realizes that he is really a sulky boy who needs managing. She’s willing to shoulder that responsibility in taking him on and marrying him, but it isn’t one I’d want to give a woman without a lot of warning. And I find it a bit befuddling that people see this match as a great romance. I see Mary as needing to mother him as much as anything.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Vidal’s friend in the opening scenes is Charles James Fox, who was a genuine rake. Real rakes aren’t romantic, and Heyer’s 1930s readership would have known who he was. So I think Heyer is subverting the whole “romance hero” trope. Once Vidal settles down with Mary, he becomes quite dull. He has an unpleasant son and by the time we see him again in An Infamous Army, he’s still handsome but not particularly interesting.
Mary, on the other hand, is terrific from the first moment (and is still wonderful when we meet her as Lady Barbara’s grandmother). She rises above her vulgar relatives without disparaging them, she matches wits with Vidal and everyone else she meets, and she rightfully gains the Duke’s respect.
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy reading Devil’s Cub. I just think it’s more subversive than iconic.
Miss Bates found herself nodding away to everything you’ve pointed to here. Yes, Vidal is iconic in that he’s reflected in every duke and rake and rogue we meet in 1000s of romance novels, but he IS also unacceptable as a hero, at least he was to Miss Bates (though Ros has a different take on him, a much more forgiving one). Miss Bates would like to think that Vidal has changed and that love has changed him, but it’s a peculiar “reform.” It’s as if all that attention that was channelled into duelling, drinking, gambling, and carousing turned focus, like a searchlight, and alit on Mary. As long as it’s there, on Mary, Vidal will be kind, caring, protective, loving … to Mary. Miss Bates thinks that she would have be able to see Vidal in a better light had he expressed any remorse, but he never does. That leaves her Vidal-cold.
Miss Bates enjoyed Devil’s Cub as well, but of the two, she prefers These Old Shades. Maybe because the age difference between the Duke and Léonie mitigates what is actually her remorselessness, making her fey and appealing in a way that Vidal isn’t. The Duke has done his violent remorseless thing, he’s ready to settle and her focus on him (as Vidal’s on Mary) makes her less bloodthirsty. Also, it’s kind of cool that Heyer wrote this cut-throat female figure. But it’s also true that these are more adventure stories than romances and that may very well all be part of the conventions of the adventure story.
I haven’t read Devil’s Cub in years, but it still stands as my favorite Heyer because of how strongly I resonated with Mary Challoner when I read this as a teenager. Boys felt dangerous to me, in a way that Vidal definitely echoed, and to see them go from volatile adversaries to complementary partners was satisfying in a way I really needed, emotionally and intellectually. Like following the thread of that madcap plot knit up two separate things in my brain somehow.
The moment where Mary shot Vidal was a great and necessary shock to me — I still feel an echo of it, just thinking about that scene. And I saw scads of parallels the first time I read Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, which is the clearest modern heir to Devil’s Cub that I can think of. It shares the heroine-shoots-hero moment and the French setting. Also, Dain’s deep-seated insecurity is clearly a mirror-reverse of Vidal’s overconfidence, and both spring from their family situations; Jessica protects her brother the way Mary protects her sister.
And of course, your brilliant observation about internal monologue versus gestures — which is definitely going to live in my Heyer-specific toolbox now — reminds me of the famous glove scene from Lord of Scoundrels, where Dain’s self-aware monologue about his intentions to unsettle this troublesome woman is totally derailed by the accidental sexual power of removing her glove. The gesture is triumphant!
Miss Bates was slack-jawed fascinated by your account of Vidal as “devil’s cub” (and what a great great title when one thinks about it) serving a teen-age girl’s coming to terms with the scary prospect of boys. Mysterious, powerful beings … and then, not. Because there is Mary, and quite a young woman she is too, only 20, being bold when she needed to be bold, diplomatic when she needed to be diplomatic (Miss Bates loved the scene when she feeds Dominic the gruel), but holding her own, standing her ground. Though Miss Bates has her doubts about Vidal, there is no doubt that he and Mary are friends. He doesn’t only love her, he respects her … the initial idea that he’s acting out of honour is not long for this world when she confronts him on HIS OWN TERMS and BEATS HIM AT HIS OWN GAME. When Miss B. reads romance novels such as this one, she’s regretful that she didn’t discover these authors in those so very confusing and difficult adolescent years. Heyer and Mary Stewart would have been of great comfort, and havens.
Miss Bates loved your connection to Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels and its flash of utter understanding. Yes, she remembers that scene quite vividly and it is an awesome scene. She’d say that romance in the past while relies too much on the internal monologue. On the other hand, when it is used in tandem with gesture in an ironic counterpoint, such as the one you describe, well then, bring it on! 🙂
“Heyer’s tropes echo in every duke, rake, and plain-Jane; nonetheless, reading Devil’s Cub was alienating.”
This perfectly echos my own feeling while reading Devil’s Cub, my first and so far only Heyer. I often smiled at the sense of familiarity while reading: “So this is where that started!” Still, I found the story unromantic overall, possibly because I’m so used to having every thought and feeling spelled out. I was surprised when Mary determined that she was in love with Vidal, because at that point I had assumed I wasn’t reading a Romance so much as madcap tale. I found Heyer’s tone delightfully no-nonsense, almost as if she were a reporter just telling me about a sequence of events without an emotional investment in the outcome.
Miss Bates loved your description of the “familiarity” of Heyer to a romance reader, even if one is reading her for the first, or near-first time, as Miss Bates did. It was somewhat “unromantic” for her as well; however, also for the reason that Sunita provides in her comment: because Heyer was writing adventure stories (hmmm, wonder what she has in common, if anything, with a writer like H. Rider Haggard? with a male adventure writer?) and that she may have subverted, rather than entrenched, the romantic hero. All intriguing ideas, worthy of consideration and exploration.
I found Heyer’s tone delightfully no-nonsense, almost as if she were a reporter just telling me about a sequence of events without an emotional investment in the outcome.
Yes, Miss Bates would say that Heyer maybe has that link with a writer like Haggard in this style and tone combined, at least initially in her writing. Miss Bates is curious to see how she’ll respond to the later writing, see if she can discern any changes, or development from these early works.
I love this cover of Regency Buck which really shows how her books were once sold as adventure stories: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_XsVALQtGIZM/TKDzcbY_nnI/AAAAAAAASas/85l9-fjgNRc/s320/Pan-M039-b-Heyer-Regency-Buck.jpg
Oh my gosh, Miss Bates just loves that cover. Thank you for the link! She’s saving it to use in her future Regency Buck post.
Wow, Miss Bates, this review is quite a tour de force. I’m impressed by the many aspects of this you analyze and your insights. I am a huge Heyer fan, her books having been the first romance novels I read, not counting Pride and Prejudice, and as a lonely, outsider middle schooler, they provided a terrific escape. I read it numerous times years ago (will not admit how many) but hadn’t in ages, and then just returned to it perhaps a year ago. What struck me first was how much cultural views have changed!!!. I couldn’t help noticing what my 19 year old college student daughter would disparagingly refer to as “rape culture” today (Vidal basically threatens to roofie her if she objects to her abduction – except that his proposed method is more forcible than slipping a pill in her drink). We can also look at the shooting in the gaming hell as a gangbanger type behavior, in today’s context. As these incidents were just not looked at in those ways when the book was written or decades later when I read it, I pushed those responses aside and went on to be drawn into the story once again. I found that I still loved the way that Mary outsmarted and outmanoeuvred Vidal, triumphing in the end over her circumstances, as well as the humor and verve with which Heyer makes a rather implausible story seem very real and engaging to the reader. Your detailed analysis really, really intrigued me and I think I’ll pull it out again and give some more thought to what you say here.
Thank you for sharing your discovery of Heyer: Miss Bates aspires to all the wonderful people who have commented and have much more Heyer under their belts than certainly she does. She just loved the 19-year-old’s perspective that you brought here. It makes so much sense to her. Maybe this is why Miss Bates was so flummoxed by Vidal. While Vidal admits to his feelings for Mary and we know they’ll be happy together, he’s only given up the wild behaviour for her. Miss Bates isn’t sure that, without Mary, he’d rein it in, so to speak.
Your review of Devil’s Cub struck quite a chord with me, Miss Bates. Like many other commenters here, I have been a fan of Heyer for a long time, so I enjoyed reading a thoughtful review and analysis of one of her books. I found the discussion of the power of gestures and physical detail of particular interest. As a newbie indie romance author, when I find myself writing sentences that start or end with some variation on “she thought, ” I often worry about violating the notion that good writing should show the reader, not tell them. Your comments remind me that there are additional tools to deploy.
As I read your thoughts about Mary and Vidal, I realized that a book I am just finishing and hope to release in September also owes a great debt to Devil’s Cub. This was not in my conscious mind as I plotted it out and wrote it – it’s a sequel to another book, so the characters were there and the story came to them. But, thinking about it after reading this review made me realize that Tristan, the hero, could be Vidal 10 years later, had he continued in a dissipated lifestyle, rather than meeting Mary. Similarly, Caroline, my heroine, in many ways is Mary had she been married and widowed in the meantime. Perhaps not a surprise, since as you say, this is an iconic book and set of characters. Thanks for a great read.
Thank you for a great comment. It never occurred to Miss Bates that her Heyer analysis might have triggered some thoughts in the romance writer about craft. So this is totally cool. “Showing, not telling” is a schoomarm’s bane: we are all subject to this, but Miss Bates thinks that it is particularly problematic in the first person narrations that are so popular these days. For what else can a first-person narrator do but tell? Miss Bates blames the entire phenomenon, at least in YA fiction, on Holden Caulfield. 😉
Thank you for sharing the connections you found between your book and Devil’s Cub. Bloom wrote about the “anxiety of influence,” but one refreshing thing Miss Bates has found in getting to know the romance genre and the people involved in it, is that there’s very little anxiety about it. And amen to that! Your books sound very interesting! Miss Bates wishes you every success with them. 🙂
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