Monday, August 10, 2020

Georgette Heyer Readalong - The Quiet Gentleman

I'm very late to the party on this but a week or so ago I discovered #georgetteheyerreadalong on twitter. The book that they strted discussing last night is 'The Quiet Gentleman' which is one of my favourites and already it's given me an entirely new aspect of the book to consider.

I have no idea where Georgette Heyer would have stood on current ideas about colonialism and an imperial past. 70 years ago when she wrote 'The Quiet Gentleman' I'm fairly sure she would have been pro empire. It seems part and parcel of her high tory ideals, and part of her early  married life was spent following her husband around Africa whilst he worked. But then she said so little publicly that it seems presumptuous to make too many assumptions about her.

In the early chapters the Frant family are revealed to have a large and hideous epergne presented by the East India Company. The internet has been curiously unwilling to reveal suitable images of the sort of thing I had always pictured - The Wellington Collection in Apsley house for example has some cracking silver but It's not shown on the website. In last nights discussion somebody pointed out that this was a clue to the source of the Frant's wealth, and later int he book there are explicit references to a Jamaican estate.

Stupidly I'd never really picked up on this before - if I thought about it at all it was as a reference to Mansfield Park, but what I find really interesting about it now is how ambiguous Heyer is about it. The centre piece is hideous and our hero wants shot of it, whilst the less sympathetic members of the Frant Family wish it to remain in place despite it's questionable taste. The Jamaican estates are left away from the new Earl, and seen at length as a suitable place to banish the villain of the book where he's expected to sort things out and make them more profitable.

I think that when Heyer wrote this book she would have intended these details to reflect the reality of where aristocratic wealth came from in the early 19th century. What I'm not clear about is how she felt about it. The way the book reads now it could be acceptance without judgement, or it could be condemnation. Which is why I find Heyer such an interesting writer, and why for once Twitter hasn't reduced me to impotent fury, but given me something interesting to think about. I'm really looking forward to the next readalong session.

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