A late entry for the 1956 club here - I only decided to read this last night after thinking it might be interesting to compare another book in the light comic vein with 'Miss Hogg and the Bronte Murders'. 'Sprig Muslin' had never been a particular favourite Heyer for me, but yet again I find reading her in my 40's gives me an entirely different perspective from when I first read these books in my teens. It's probably not unrelated to the fact that I'm not that much younger than Heyer was when she wrote this.
It did turn out to be an interesting book in relation to 'Miss Hogg and the Bronte Murders' as neither are really concerned much with the plot - both are serviceable but call for a willingness to play along, but both are very interested in being funny.
'Sprig Muslin' is an odd Heyer in a lot of ways. It's a romance in the sense that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote romances, there is a love story but it's barely sketched in - and is maybe the better for it. It opens with the here - Sir Gareth Ludlow, 35, rich, handsome, charming, intelligent, and blessed with a good sense of humour seeking a suitable bride. Much to his sisters dismay he's settled on a shy 29 year old spinster with no particular fortune or pretensions to beauty.
The reason for his choice is that a very beautiful and spirited fiancée unfortunately broke her neck and died 7 years previously when she stole his horses. Sir Gareth, understandably, hasn't been quite the same since. He likes Lady Hester and thinks they'll get on well together but to everyone's surprise she turns him down. This, the reader quickly understands, is because she's in love with him and wants more than the cool arrangement he's suggesting.
Meanwhile Sir Gareth has met and rescued Miss Amanda Smith, 16, stunningly beautiful, running away from home and a massive pain. Heyer in a different mood might have tried t persuade us that Amanda and Gareth would fall in love, but she doesn't even bother doing that here. The majority of the book is about the increasingly unlikely adventures that befall everyone as Sir Gareth tries to work out who Amanda is and return her to her home. Heyer also spends a lot of time pointing out that most fictional romance conventions are dangerous nonsense - she has a point.
At no point does Amanda understand the very real risks she takes as she continues to run off with a series of random men, whilst recycling the plot of 'Pamela'. It is a funny book, one that feels a little bit like a drawing room farce - if such a thing is possible whilst a series of people chase around the countryside in a series of carriages, carts, and curricles.
The broken neck interlude is surprisingly grim to start an ostensibly light hearted book with, Amanda falls somewhere between being a heroine, villain, and victim. Her behaviour has real consequences for those around her, and Heyer makes it clear over and over that she's basically a child. She's a victim in that she's been spoilt by an indulgent grandparent, and uncritical reading of books that have given her a skewed idea of the world. Gareth and Hester's love story happens almost entirely off the page, which is fine because their characters are almost non existent.
There is a point about friendship and respect being key to a successful relationship along with shared humour, but mostly this is a satire on romantic conventions, which is perhaps why the Punch reviewer seemed to like it so much ("Altogether probbaly the best thing Miss Heyer has yet done"). Along with Miss Hogg these 2 books are giving me a sense of a society on the brink - caught somewhere between old traumas and new anxieties and dealing with both by making jokes - perhaps I'm projecting... But then this is always my thing with Heyer - every time I read her I find something new, and something that feels prescient.
Interesting review! I do think our response to books can change at different points in our lives - certainly if I'd read Anna Karenina when I was young I would have reacted very differently to how I felt reading it as a mature woman!ReplyDelete
It's what makes me consider Heyer to be a great writer of decent books. She's been a constant favourite for more than 30 years because whenever I read her she gives me something for where I'm at now and the world I find myself in. She's not perfect, but there's enough humour and substance to always make her interesting if you look beyond the genre conventions of what she's writing.ReplyDelete
It's always a delight to reread Heyer, both for the pleasure of her stories and for the discoveries we make about how we've changed as readers. I also reread this earlier in the week and loved it. It is so continuously funny (not always an easy thing to maintain) and I admire how Heyer handles Amanda, who could have been annoying but through some combination of energy, practicality, a good heart, and an excellent sense of humour becomes quite endearing by the end (though I'd never want to be responsible for her). I also especially love the famed Neil's introduction towards the end and everyone's surprise at his less than heroic appearance.ReplyDelete
Neil is a delight, and so is Amanda really. She's a menace, but a believable one and all things considered the sustained comedy of the book was much more what I was in want of than a romance - which this isn't really. I was trying to think of writers I would compare Heyer to and keep coming back to E F Benson, Terry Pratchett, and Douglas Adams.Delete
There is always a Heyer for any club year, I've learned!! Thanks for covering this one.ReplyDelete
The benefits of a long career. I didn't know this was the book that I really wanted to read at the moment - funny, happy ending, something to think about but nothing too serious - so thank you for prod towards it.Delete
I read this and was so pleased when Hester turned him down. Such a catch ! but..... this was a good Heyer.ReplyDelete
It is a good Heyer. It hasn't really been a favourite, but I really enjoyed the comedy of it, and the guaranteed happy ending. I've read quite a lot of Heyer this year - she's as good a way to cope with 2020 as I can imagine.Delete