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REVIEW: Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer

Dear Readers,

Tuesday August 16th would be La Heyer’s 109 birthday and to celebrate Jane urged us to dust off our copies of her books and write reviews. I pondered and thought and recalled how much I’ve always enjoyed “Powder and Patch.” I know it’s not one of the best beloved of her books but it is one of mine. I first read it when I was about 14 and will readily admit that it made me a fan of Georgian era books. The silk coats, the small swords, powdered wigs and red heeled shoes! Ah, bliss.

Powder and Patch by Georgette HeyerIn his day, Sir Maurice Jettan was a bon vivant and a darling of the ladies. Well known in Paris as well as London, he cut a fine figure before settling down with his lady love and fathering a son, Philip. But though Maurice loves his son dearly, he despairs of him as Philip is happy in the country, on their estate, and has no thoughts or desires to ever leave. Philip is, his father declares, rather dull. A neighborhood miss, the ravishing Cleone Charteris, also feels Philip could use some polish though deep in her heart, she loves him only.

When an older childhood acquaintance, Charles Bancroft, returns to Little Fittledean and flirts with Cleone while simultaneously mocking Philip, Philip has had enough. He challenges Charles to a duel but is quickly pinked. Deciding the only way to win Cleone and satisfy his father is to give in to what they want of him, he declares he’ll leave for Paris, acquire polish and, in a word, show them. Off to the City of Light he goes where as the son of Sir Maurice, doors are open to him and friends are quickly made.

But when word of his success reaches Little Fittledean, Cleone gets the mistaken impression that he’s fought a duel over a French lady love and decides to head to London for a Season of her own. Her triumph and the number of men swarming around her bring Philip back to England, determined to win his lady once and for all. But when Maurice and Cleone see what Philip has become, will they rethink getting what they wished for? Or has he really changed all that much?

I first read this book as a teenager and identified with Philip and Cleone. They love but their pride gets in their way and all sorts of (idiotic to me now though also funny) things ensue. Young love, strong passion, stupid actions. They both, at various times, need to be thumped over the head and made to see reason. Luckily for them they are surrounded by older and wiser heads who take almost delicious delight in said thumping.

But I get ahead of myself. The book does start slightly slowly as we get a few chapters setting the stage and the characters. Be patient. Keep going. Trust me. When Philip gets to Paris and we see his transformation, it’s all worth it. It’s also hilarious. He goes from a man who could care less about his three old, battered, coats to one who wears grey lace (A sweet conceit, hein?) and has pink hummingbirds on his clocked stockings. And his valet! Francois is a marvel. A man who throws tantrums over the almost loss of said bas aux oiseaux-mouches but who delights in making sure his master is well turned out. But though Francois seems resigned to shortly gaining a mistress of the household, I do wonder how he, Jacques – the groom – and the cousin of Francois who is now Philip’s chef, will fair in Little Fittledean. Watch for the account of the second meeting between Philip and Bancroft, this time in Paris and to the accompaniment of a fiddler and all of Philip’s French friends.

So, Philip returns to London determined to win Cleone once and for all but of course it couldn’t go that easily and Heyer has fun twisting the two of them around with the help of another old childhood friend and a roguish English gentleman as Cleone finds herself engaged to two men on the same night. Fear not though, her reputation will be saved by the earlier head thumping I mentioned which is delivered by Sir Maurice along with two other delightful characters – Maurice’s younger brother Tom and the lady Tom has secretly loved for many years, Lady Sally Malmerstoke. I want to be Lady Sally in a few years – she says her mind no matter to whom, wears outrageous wigs, tells it like she sees it – listen to her giving Philip a curt lesson in what young ladies say vs what they really think – and delights in the possibility of a little scandal. She also has Tom dangling on a string though she’s merciful to him in the end.

To me “Powder and Patch” is a charming little bonbon of a book. It helps to have a picture of gentlemen’s clothes of the day so as to fully appreciate how much Philip has changed on the surface though recall, if you will, that he has a masterful chin and as Sally Malmerstoke says, such men always get what they want. Cleone is a silly chit but what young woman hasn’t wanted to be admired and courted with sweet nothings whispered in her dainty ears. And as for Philip, is it so wrong that he wants to be loved for who and how he is? Here the young really can be ridiculous at times and in the intervening years, I’ve come to admire and appreciate their elders who steer les enfants away from their foolish pride and back to sensible actions. I loved the book 30 some years ago and it still stands the test of time for me today. B+

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

30 Comments

  1. Estara
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 14:57:03

    I love Heyer’s Georgians, too – my most favourite because I still feel that hero and heroine are on fairly equal footing is The Masqueraders (bonus Robin and his love and bonus amazing father). But I also have a very soft spot for These Old Shades and the book (whose English name I can’t recall) were Harry captivates her Marquis or Duke or whatever he was, even though she remains an impulsive minx indulged to the end (I much prefer Leonie’s growth in the intervening years up to Devil’s Cub).

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  2. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 15:37:33

    @Estara: I toyed with rereading “The Masqueraders” which I think was my first Heyer but in the end, while digging through my Heyer collection, I couldn’t resist the delicious confection of “Powder and Patch.”

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  3. Sunita
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:02:36

    Great review, Jayne! I love this one. Like you, I identified with Phillip and Cleone when I was younger, but then I grew to enjoy the older characters more on rereads. I also prefer this one to The Masqueraders, even though the latter is probably an objectively better book.

    Estara, you’re thinking of Horatia and the Earl in The Convenient Marriage.

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  4. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:12:30

    @Sunita: Ah, I didn’t realize that “The Convenient Marriage” was a Georgian. Hmmm, and it’s on sale now!

    I think it’s neat that Heyer wrote this book while she was still so young and yet it’s the older characters who come off best when all’s said and done.

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  5. Becca
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:22:10

    When I was in high school, I gave this book to my boyfriend to try to get him to understand what I wanted in a boyfriend/husband… he Did Not Get It, and rapidly became an ex-boyfriend.

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  6. Ros
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 16:44:49

    This isn’t one of my favourites, though it still gets an occasional re-read. I do love The Masqueraders, which would be my top choice for a Heyer film adaptation. If they could pull off that first scene, it would be amazing!

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  7. Melanie J.
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:05:15

    I read “Powder and Patch” for the first time just last year, and found it delightful. Much as I love Heyer’s Regencies, I think I might love her Georgian-set stories even more.

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  8. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 18:05:44

    @Becca: If he Did Not Get It then he was clearly unworthy of you and you were well shot of him. I hope that you’ve now found a man who appreciates your discernment. ;)

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  9. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 18:10:21

    @Ros: Didn’t Heyer decide, after one disasterous attempt, not to allow any more of her books to be made into films? Or am I thinking of some other author? Anyway, if this was the case, I wonder if her heirs have ever considered it or are they legally restricted from doing so?

    I think “The Masqueraders” would be a great film. Dash, danger, and romance!

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  10. Jayne
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 18:14:20

    @Melanie J.: Oh! A kindred spirit! The Georgian era is my favorite historical one by far. And this is such a nice book for when I’m really not in the mood for a villain – as I don’t count either Bancroft, who is more an annoyance, or Sir Deryk, who seems to have a sense of fun, as villains.

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  11. Laura Florand
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 20:11:00

    I definitely love the feel she has for her 18th century books better than her Regency. She just evokes it so vividly, and it’s a far more colorful period anyway. I don’t think I’ve ever quite understood why the Regency period was the one that became THE historical period for romances. I haven’t read Powder and Patch in ages, though. Masqueraders, Devil’s Cub, and These Old Shades all marked me much more. I should give it a try again.

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  12. Becca
    Aug 15, 2011 @ 20:51:51

    @Jayne — yeah, my husband innately understands these things, and is everything I could want – he won’t read my books, but he’s definitely a Philip Jetan -after type.

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  13. Mickie T
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 05:26:51

    I haven’t read Powder and Patch in quite a while, but your delightful review makes me want to re-read it.

    I’m also glad to see the community love for The Masqueraders – I first read it as a teen, and absolutely didn’t see the twist coming – even after it arrived! The Masqueraders was one of the two Heyer books I bought as soon as the $1.99 sale started.

    The other was The Talisman Ring – also Georgian – which I love for the sparkling, silly dialogue and also just because. Le sigh. May all our heroes come to us ventre a terre…

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  14. Ros
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 06:18:04

    @Jayne: There was one terrible film of The Reluctant Widow and I think you may be right that she then decided not to let any more be made. But Jennifer Kloester said at the Heyer conference a couple of years ago that there were possible adaptations in the works. Apparently one TV executive had turned them down because they all ended up the same. He obviously hasn’t watched Poirot. Or Morse. Or any TV detective drama! So I don’t think that the heirs of the estate have ruled it out but I’m still not holding my breath to see Heyer on the screen.

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  15. Jayne
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 06:18:41

    @Mickie T: I’m sensing a future review of “The Masqueraders” coming on….And when I first read it – as a teenager too – I didn’t see the twist either.

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  16. Jayne
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 06:24:02

    @Laura Florand: I remember a lot more Georgian era books being written when I first started reading romance in my teens. Fawcett Crest used to publish tons of them.

    I need to read “Devil’s Cub.” “The Black Moth” is another favorite of mine but I felt “These Old Shades” was ruined by Leonie and her high strung temperament. Plus the whole nature vs nuture debate in that one left a sour taste in my mouth. For that reason I never continued with the series.

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  17. Jayne
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 06:27:05

    @Ros: Yeah, I guess those detective dramas would be better if the crook/criminal occasionally got away with it. ::headdesk:: Oh, help me!

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  18. Barb in Maryland
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 07:34:05

    Thank you to Mickie T for mentioning The Talisman Ring. One of my all time favorites. Add me to the Masqueraders fan out there.
    They are doing a ‘read’ of the Black Moth over at Heroes and Heartbreakers. It’s another of Heyer’s Georgians and the antecedent of These Old Shades.
    Come to think of it, my keeper shelf of Heyer has mostly her Georgians, not her Regencies!

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  19. RachelT
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 08:23:04

    I’m another Powder & Patch and Masqueraders fan. I reread them both the year before last prior to attending the Georgette Heyer conference in Cambridge. Having read them last as a teenager, over 30 years ago, I was pleased how well they stood up to my adult scrutiny.

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  20. Klio
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 08:24:41

    I really want to read some Heyer but I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of books and the sheer variety of recommendations. I’d end up not being able to make a choice and reading nothing, so reviews are very appreciated.

    I think I need one of those “which Georgette Heyer book are you?” multiple-choice quizzes….

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  21. Laura Florand
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 08:30:25

    Devil’s Cub has by far her most Romantic hero (all dark-haired and wild), but Mary Challoner is more than a match for him. It and Masqueraders seem to me her most romantic books.

    I agree with The Talisman Ring recommendation, although it’s very late Georgian, isn’t it? No smallswords and heels and extravagant embroidery. I don’t think I ever realized it wasn’t Regency before Mickie said. (What clue did I miss?) It is one of the funniest, to me. Lots of laugh out loud scenes.

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  22. Melanie J.
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 10:27:41

    Laura Florand, in “The Talisman Ring” (which I also love) Eustacie’s grandfather brings her to England to escape the French Revolution. So yes, it’s very late Georgian, 1790s.

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  23. Jayne
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 10:59:54

    @Klio: You could start narrowing down your choices by looking at Regency vs historical vs a mystery. You could go to our advanced search and type in Heyer’s name to see the reviews already here and I know that there will be reviews of The Nonsuch and Venetia coming up this week.

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  24. Klio
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 13:22:45

    Thanks for the suggested attack plan, Jayne. I don’t know why I go into such an “oh noes what if I pick the wrong one” tailspin. Having lots of choices should be a good thing!

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  25. dri
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 22:23:29

    Oh my lord, I’ve been debating whether to get this or not for the longest time cos yeah, so not a fan of Georgian fashion, but now that I’ve read about the valet and the grey lace transformation … *squee*

    That reminds me a little in reverse of the psychological wotsit in Loretta Chase’s Miss Wonderful. You know, how he goes from being such an obsessive dandy as a coping mechanism to not caring a hoot once he’s resolved the trauma. How curious … it’s got me wondering now whether Chase intended some sort of callback like Lord Of Scoundrels did to Devil’s Cub. Tenuous, I know, but I do love connecting my favourite authors. :p

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  26. Stacie Mc
    Aug 17, 2011 @ 23:23:50

    My first two buys when they went on sale were “Powder and Patch” and “The Masqueraders”. I’ve got them both in dead tree format but wanted the ebook versions as well.

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  27. Estara
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 09:50:59

    @Sunita: That’s the one. Thanks!

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  28. Estara
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 09:57:00

    @Jayne: OOh, you’ll enjoy the hero’s comeuppance and the sensible heroine in Devil’s Cub. And the fact he can’t temper tantrum her into loving him ^^. And then we get somewhat more mature Leonie – but not much – and eminence grise Duke of Avon, just lovely ^^.

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  29. What Jayne is reading/watching in mid August - Dear Author
    Aug 24, 2011 @ 18:04:26

    [...] REVIEW: Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer [...]

  30. What Jayne is reading/watching in mid August
    Mar 18, 2012 @ 10:27:50

    [...] Powder and Patch, Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer – see the reviews already posted. [...]

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