The 1951 book club has given me the perfect excuse to re-read Georgette Heyer's 'The Quiet Gentleman', something I've had half a mind to do for a while. The only reason I hadn't already done so is because once I pick up a Heyer I find it very hard to stop at one.
Lyn at I Prefer Reading has also read 'The Quiet Gentleman', and provided an excellent synopsis, so I'll keep mine brief. Although it's theoretically a regency romance, 'The Quiet Gentlemen' is really more of a thriller, albeit one in fancy dress and wedding bells all round at the end. The new Earl of St Erth has returned to the family seat (Stanyon) a year after his fathers death to find less than a warm welcome. The product of that fathers first, brief, and unhappy marriage the two had never enjoyed much of a relationship, to the point that the Earl had treated his younger son, Martin, from his second marriage very much as his heir. Gervase, meanwhile, had been off serving in the peninsula wars, leaving his family with some hopes that he might have died out there.
The rest of the family party comprises of the dowager countess (very much in the Lady Catherine mould), cousin Theo who acts as land agent, and Miss Morville who is staying with the countess whilst her parents are on holiday. It soon becomes clear that someone really does want the Earl out of the way as he's plagued by a series of near fatal accidents.
Every time I read this book I like it more - I still vividly remember being fooled by the romantic red herring the first time I read it some 30 years ago, and wondering what was going on when the promisingly lovely heiress went off with someone other than the hero. I'm not sure if the other red herring was such a surprise but it's an enjoyable enough mystery, and even though this is the umpteenth time I've read the book I was still desperate to race through it to see what happened next.
Why do I continue to like it so much? The obvious reasons are that there's something distinctly comforting about a romance, that this one showcases Heyer's humour at its best (it makes me laugh anyway) helps, and the mystery element is fun*. I like the way Miss Morville emerges as the heroine, attractive principally for her sound common sense, practicality, and intelligence - a successful relationship does after all need to be based on more than physical attraction.
More than anything though I'm interested in the way that Heyer examines family relationships and attachment to place. That the older son from the failed marriage is pushed out of the second family is understandable, as is the younger brothers resentment when the virtually unknown older brother moves back into his house. What do you do when your home, the home you live in, becomes somebody else's property? Equally what do you do when your property is filled with people who are far more at home in it than you are? How does it feel as the son of a younger brother to love the place that was your fathers home, but where you are essentially an employee? And after spending all your married life running a place, how do you cope with no longer being in charge?
The book has its flaws, but Heyer continues to delight me - her particular brand of humour, intelligence, and common sense has certainly proved the basis of a lasting relationship between us.
* The cover of my copy is particularly foul (I consider the cover from the first edition to be the best of the lot) and not for the first time I'm wondering what Heyer's books would look like if they weren't marketed specifically at women and as romantic fiction. In this one, and it isn't unique amongst her work in this respect, the romance element is the least of it. To sell it as such is underselling it.