Sunday, April 16, 2023

The Corinthian - Georgette Heyer #1940Club

If I remember rightly Simon and Kaggsy's last club didn't fall in a Georgette Heyer year and I didn't manage to read anything for it in time. Honestly, at the moment between work and peri-menopause symptoms, I don't have much energy for anything - even reading. It's disheartening but as the general consensus is that when you come out on the other side of menopause it's amazing, I'm gritting my teeth and getting on with it (not that there's much choice). 

1940 is a Georgette Heyer year though and I read The Corinthian not so long ago with the Georgette Heyer readalong on twitter (I also have it playing via audio book whilst I write this). Heyer has been my comfort read since adolescence and she's proving as effective now as she did when I hit puberty. Her blend of humour, adventure, and romance was clearly a welcome bit of escapism during the war too given her popularity. 

Before the readalong The Corinthian hadn't been a particular favourite, but reading it with at least one person who absolutely adored it (Emma Orchard has now written her own Regency romance which I'll be writing about soon) changed my view of it. The corinthian of the title is Sir Richard Wyndham who opens the book about to make his proposal to a woman he doesn't much like. He's 29, hasn't met anybody else, their families are keen and it's by way of being a duty for him. His prospective bride is a good looking but otherwise deeply unappealing woman who makes it clear that Richard's only appeal to her is his vast fortune which can be used to bail out her irresponsible father and brothers.

Richard gets drunk the night before going to propose, finds a young man, who turns out to be a young woman in boys' clothing, escaping from a window on his way through late-night London, and thanks to a lot of brandy making it seem like a good idea decides to accompany her to her childhood home and sweetheart. By the time he wakes up sober again, he's on a stagecoach and committed to this adventure.

Penelope Creed is an heiress set on escaping from her aunt/guardian who would like Pen, and her fortune, to marry her cousin - who looks like a fish. Along the way, the couple are involved in a crash, meet a pickpocket, become embroiled in a diamond heist, find a dead body, an eloping couple, and obviously fall in love in a matter of days. It could, and maybe should, be ridiculous, but Heyer is so good at side characters that it's charming and funny.

She's also very good at sketching in Pen and Richard's romance. We see him quietly fall in love with her as she chats with the other stagecoach passengers. What starts as a bond built on the shared experience of social pressure - and it presses on him as hard as it does on her, quickly becomes liking and trust. Heyer dangles the possibility of the shared room trope before us and then neatly whisks it away because that's not her style. Her heroines have to make their choices without convenient devices designed to abdicate responsibility for them. 

For the most part that's it - a fun story with a sweet romance at its heart that anybody might enjoy and be distracted by - apart from the ending. When Richard finally convinces Pen that he loves her and isn't being chivalrous he kisses her by the side of the road in full view of another stagecoach full of passengers. A public display of affection that might have been mildly shocking anyway, but she's still dressed as a boy, and crucially everyone watching believes she is a boy - so what they're doing would have appeared illegal both in the early 1800's when it's set and in 1940 when it was written. When I first read this in the late 1980s section 28 would just have been coming into effect. 

I can't judge how shocking or not the original audience would have found it, but it definitely felt transgressive in my teenage mind and I still think it's deliberately provocative in all the best ways. 


  1. I have liked this one each time I have read it and considered doing so for #1940s club but I settled for a Susan Scarlett instead. Lol. It wasn't however, illegal for two men to kiss in public at this time, that came in in the 1860s, but it would have been highly irregular and definitely fuelled the gossip mill. DoveJane

    1. That's really interesting to know - I shouldn't have assumed! I'm still thinking attitudes in the 1940s and 1980s might not have been so very different and I still think there's something boundary pushing about that ending. Pen isn't a non binary character in the modern sense but it does sort of describe her- and much more so than any of Heyer's other cross dressing heroine's I think.

  2. Fascinating choice, and it sounds quite unlike the Heyers I know of. Glad you managed t squeeze this in for the club!