REVIEW: Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer
I volunteer to teach a continuing education class at North Carolina State University’s Encore! program, which is a non-credit program for those 50-and-over. Once a year I get to teach a course of 6 classes on anything I want to, with students who really want to be there, without having to grade a damn thing. I love it. In previous years I’ve done Jane Austen (in general), Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Romance in the South (Nora Roberts’ Midnight Bayou, Claudia Dane’s first Courtesan book, and…something by Virginia Kantra–Claudia and Virginia visited the class). This year I’m doing Georgette Heyer. I had a hell of a time picking just three of Heyer’s books to discuss, but finally settled on Regency Buck, Cotillion, and Sylvester, for how they play with the stock Regency characters and plots and the meta-commentary in Sylvester in particular. I just finished teaching Regency Buck today, so I figured I’d ease back into writing reviews now that the semester’s done (thank the gods) with a review of Georgette Heyer’s very first Regency romance.
Regency Buck was published in 1937. At that point, Heyer had published six Georgian (that is, 18th-century) romances, four historical novels, four contemporary novels (later suppressed), and four mystery novels (plotted with the help of her lawyer husband). I have no idea what order *I* read Heyer’s romances in when I was a teenager (thank you to my mother for introducing me to them!), but I always thought Regency Buck was more the culmination of all Heyer’s Regency knowledge, not the very start of her creation of the genre. But the start it is. It is succeeded by An Infamous Army and Spanish Bride, both of which are very much based in real life. An Infamous Army, of course, is set during Waterloo and is one of the most accurate fictional representations of Waterloo, but with a fictional hero and heroine. The Spanish Bride is a fictional representation of the real-life people Sir Harry Smith and his child bride, Juanita (who, of course, are the namesakes of Harrysmith and Ladysmith in South Africa).
Anyway, Regency Buck is very much written along the lines of An Infamous Army and The Spanish Bride: it’s more a historical novel than anything else. Except for the hero, heroine, and their immediate family, everyone in the novel is a real historical person. So rather than move toward more and more historically-set novels, Heyer started there and moved away from them throughout her career.
Miss Judith Taverner and her brother, Sir Peregrine Taverner, are extremely wealthy. They journey from Yorkshire to London to meet their guardian, only to find he’s not the friend of their father as they thought, but, due to their father’s bungling of his will, is actually that man’s son, Julian Audley, fifth Earl of Worth. Judith and Sir Peregrine both tangled with the previously-unknown-to-them Worth on their journey to London and find it insupportable that he is their guardian, in charge of their fortunes and circumstances, but there’s nothing to be done. They set themselves up in London, join High Society, have a few adventures, and both get happily married off by the end.
The suspense of the novel is twofold: will Judith get over her anger and pique and admit she loves Worth, and who is trying to kill Sir Peregrine (Judith stands to inherit almost all of Perry’s fortune if he dies, which will supplement her own considerable 80,000 pounds)? No matter how many times I read this book, I marvel at how well Heyer manages to manipulate scenes and Worth’s own inscrutability and omniscience to make his heroism/villainy truly in question.
Worth calls Judith “Clorinda.” Jennifer Kloester, Heyer’s biographer (long-awaited biography coming out October this year in the UK, sometime in the Spring through Sourcebooks in America), told me that Clorinda probably referred to the warrior-queen character from the epic poem “Jerusalem Delivered” by Italian Renaissance poet, Tasso. And Judith is very much the warrior-queen. She has money and presence and style and she knows how to use them all, especially under the tutelage of Worth’s good friend Beau Brummell. She’s one of Heyer’s strong female characters, but in the end, she has no idea of her own feelings when it comes to Worth. She knows she doesn’t love any of the other people who ask her to marry them (including the Duke of Clarence, the future William IV, in a historically accurate cameo), but she refuses to believe she loves Worth.
Worth himself is one of Heyer’s apparently omniscient, almost omnipotent aristocrats, supremely comfortable in his position, able to wield amazing power apparently with impunity. He doesn’t tell anyone what he’s thinking, certainly not his own heroine, and everything goes his way. The gothic overtones of the story truly make one question whether he’s the villain or not.
Although Heyer basically created the Regency romance genre as we know it today, the actual romance aspects of most of her books are layered in very lightly. We know who the hero and heroine are and we search very carefully for clues of their feelings for each other. We are led to believe that Worth falls in love with Judith at first sight, but his position as her guardian forbids him from actively pursuing her. If he did, it would be an abuse of his power as her guardian, akin in some ways to sexual harrassment and incest combined, and in all honor, he must spend the year of his guardianship unable to court the women he adores. And rather than courting her anyway, as a modern Regency hero might, with scenes of forbidden passion, Worth actually refrains, out of honor, except for dropping hints here and there that his guardianship of Judith is much more burdensome to him that she could believe. Except for two kisses, and an embrace, Judith and Worth express their feelings through their verbal sparring. No torrid scenes for Heyer anywhere in her fifty year career.
Overall, Regency Buck is, I think, a very difficult book to start with in Heyer’s oevre. The sheer number of historical personages to try to keep in one’s head, as well as the deep-end-of-the-pool introduction to masculine Regency society (which we never EVER see in Austen, after all), is sometimes difficult to work through. That said, the students of mine who have never read Heyer before loved it, but — interestingly enough — it’s rarely a favorite among Heyer fans. I love it for its amazingly accurate historical detail and for its hero and heroine. I love Worth and Judith both. And it really does establish the Regency romance genre to such an extent that this 75 year old book reads — barring the missing sex — as very very modern.
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Thanks for the review! Regency Buck is my first Georgette Heyer. I just finished it and have very mixed feelings. I liked Judith’s efforts to distinguish herself in society and loved Brummell. I wouldn’t have minded the intro to men’s sports if Peregrine had been more interesting. It was hard to have so much of the book from his point of view when he’s such a twit. The part I actively disliked was Worth’s undermining of Judith when she went to him with her suspicions regarding her brother. Worth told her she was imagining things even though he knew she was right. I can’t forgive him for being so patronizing. How could love him when every word out of his mouth is a lie? Judith needs a Jane she can confide in who would support her no matter what and to stay single.
@chrispin: I think that says more about Worth than it does about Judith, but also about Heyer’s relative discomfort with writing women as opposed to men. She gets it right later, I promise. The Grand Sophy, Venetia, and Frederica all have strong women characters who really are strong and don’t have patronizing heroes.
I don’t love Regency Buck like I love some of Heyer’s books (though it’s still a million times better than anyone writing Regency today). It was fascinating to me on the Georgette Heyer Day to learn that some of Heyer’s books were originally marketed as adventure/thriller stories – and I specifically remember the cover to Regency Buck which made this very clear. The romance is there throughout, but it is far from the only plot.
Mostly I like Regency Buck for Captain Audley and the background it gives us for An Infamous Army, which I adore because of Barbara Childe. I currently have my toenails painted gold in homage to her.
Thanks Joan/SarahF for the review of Regency Buck. It is one of my favourite Heyers, and I have at least two copies of it! I like Worth very much, and he is very much the omniscient aristocrat who is in control, a bit like Avon in These Old Shades. Judith is one of Heyer’s “independent” heroines, who does not fear to speak her mind, and yet, is confined by the rules of her society and time. Today’s regency romances seem to have the sexual mores of today (i.e. the “forbidden passion” with lots of love scenes without real fear of ruin or pregnancy, and amazingly sexually adventurous virgin heroines). In Regency Buck, Worth’s restraint because he was Judith’s guardian was to me a more believable thing – and he never even told her he liked her or was in any way seeking after her hand. In fact, he encourages everyone else to court her, even his brother! I love all the scenes with Charles Audley, and always laugh at the comic moments – like when Charles first meets Judith. I also liked the depiction of Worth and Judith’s marriage in An Infamous Army, when they have a two year old son. The whole series of books with the Duke of Avon’s family and Regency Buck are my favourite Heyers. I think I would recommend newbies to start with Devil’s Cub (a perennial favourite), Frederica, The Grand Sophy, Venetia or Arabella.
Regency Buck is definitely one of my favourite Georgette Heyer books. Strong characters and suppressed passion – what more could you ask for! I’d love to see some TV adaptations of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances rather than the endless Jane Austen movies/ mini-series that we seem to get.
Loved this one, in particular the scenes between Judith and Brummell.
Did not know Infamous Army was a sequel–I’ll have to find a copy now!
I recently came into some Heyers I hadn’t already read which, of course, compelled a reread of the ones I had.
After Heyer, most recently published and very well reviewed Regencies seem, well, cheesy and a bit shoddy–modern characters in sprigged muslin and knee breeches. Heyer’s characterizations and dialogue are so delightful and ring so true, I don’t doubt her books will be just as entertaining and fresh in another 75 years.
Thank you for giving the divine Ms. H the attention she deserves. I’d love to take your class!
I’ll always have a soft spot for this book. It was my very first Georgette Heyer book I had ever read. I was…God…15, I think, when I read it. It was also the very first historical romance I’d ever read. Until then I’d only read Harlequins. So this was quite a revelation. I immediately went back to the library and got out Sylvester.
My first Heyer was Arabella, the summer I turned 13, and I proceeded to devour every one I could get my hands on. And although that was 50 years ago, her Regencies still delight me. Regency Buck is definitely in my top five, along with Arabella, , Frederica (the scene with the ducklings!)Sylvester and Sprigged Muslin. I didn’t start reading romance more widely till about 5 years ago, but Heyer’s wry wit, charming characters, historical accuracy and clever plotting have set the standards by which I judge all other romance novels.
Frannie, I think the ducklings are in the Grand Sophy. Unless there are some I’ve forgotten about in Frederica.
Regency Buck was my very first Heyer, and that was only 2-3 years ago. I LOVED the book and have since read many Heyers. I didn’t find it difficult, but then I’m an experienced Regency reader and so had a lot of background information other readers might not. But then, would that not have been the case even when the book was published — that her original readers would not necessarily have had all that background info? I’m not sure it’s really required.
Thanks for a great post!
Wonderful post,Sarah! My first Gergette Heyer was Venetia. I absolutely loved it. My next favorite was A Marriage of Convenience. I must have read Regency Buck because the names Judith,Worth,and Peregrine sound so familiar. But, some where along the line, I think I became a little disenchanted. I can’t remember if it was The Grand Sophy?
Anyway, I’m really curious about your comment that Heyer’s contemporaries were “suppressed”. Is there an interesting story behind that?
@vita: I’m really not sure. I think we’ll have to wait until the biography comes out. They were “problem” novels about divorce, infidelity, infertility (I think?). Written and published in the 20s. I think Heyer just didn’t want them as part of her “legacy”. She was the one who suppressed them.
Regency Buck is one of my favorite Heyer’s because it combines everything she does well in one book. There’s the attention to historical detail, a mystery and a romance. I love Lord Worth and I love how we get to see the characters again in An Infamous Army (which is also one of my favorites.) And it really doesn’t need the sex-the scenes between Judith and Worth just smolder!
I used to love Heyer unreservedly and still like many of her books, but Regency Buck has to be one of my least favourites. I really disliked Worth’s patronizing ways. It is a pattern she has in many (luckily not all) her books, that the strong woman needs a stronger man who saves the day (and always knows better). I guess that is why I love Venetia so much – the hero tries to be that ‘I solve all the problems’ guy, but the heroine won’t have anything of it.
@Sarah Frantz: Great review, Sarah!
On the straight novels, Hodge suggests she suppressed them because they were too close to home. They weren’t exactly autobiographical, but they dealt with class & gender in pretty blunt, even controversial ways. She may have thought they were too revealing.
She also refused to publish two historicals, but her family put them out posthumously. And her first mystery is now available as well.
Though I love vast numbers of Heyer’s books (Frederica, Devil’s Cub, Sylvester, and A Blunt Intrument particularly), Regency Buck is one I grew to like less and less. I just feel that the relationship between Worth and Judith always leads to her being less than the independent young woman she thinks she is, and more a kitten he’s indulgently guiding along.
My personal Heyer favorites are Grand Sophy & These Old Shades. Charles & Justin – I love them both. I wish they were real! I enjoyed reading about Sophy & Leonie because they were both so strong and such lively women. And they had this unshakable belief that they could do absolutely anything. I’ve reread these books innumerable times and each time i get completely engrossed.
My first Heyer was The Masqueraders – my mum gave it to me when I was about 11, and had temporarily run out of books. Wasn’t perhaps the best book to start with, but I tore through her books after that. Because it was an early copy, it did list some of her titles that have since been suppressed – as a teenager, having read and reread all her in print books, I used to have a recurring dream where I was in the library and had found a copy of ‘The Great Roxythe’. So thrilled, every time.
But having read the mystery that Heyer suppressed that was subsequently rereleased, I’m inclined to think that she knew her own business best, and was just saving the public from bad books.
I’d be another that doesn’t like ‘Regency Buck’ – I’d agree it’s well written, but I don’t like the central couple. On my inner mental bookshelf, it’s shelved beside ‘Bath Tangle’ for that reason.
@Isabel – Infamous Army is, in a way, a double sequel in that the heroine is the granddaughter of the h/h from Devil’s Cub. It’s one of my favourites – Heyer plays with the idea of the dissolute rake and the virtuous maiden – the heroine gets to be a bit degenerate, while the hero is just thoroughly decent.
Interesting to see several people echo my feelings about Regency Buck. I used to like it, but after listening to it on audio recently, I’m no longer able to ignore how patronizing Worth is.
I had a similar reaction to a number of the Heyer audios and it was not due to the narrators, but rather that one cannot escape the words when listening. A Civil Contract has permanently moved off my top 5 list due to the way Adam’s reaction to Jenny is described. I’ve read that book a gazillion times and it never registered until I listened to it.
I love Venetia for exactly the reason LizA mentions – and Damerel is most certainly *the* prototype of the reformed rake. :)
There a short story in the collection Pistols for Two I really wish she’d fleshed out into a full length novel. I’m too lazy to get the book to look up the title, but it features the hero and heroine meeting in her moonlit garden. :)
ETA: My first Heyer was Arabella and I was around 10 or so. Good times! :)
I grew up reading Heyer; my mother owned most of them, and my first was Arabella. I own all of the romances/historicals(still remember jumping up and down squeaking with delight when I found an old hardcover of The Great Roxhythe in a secondhand bookshop and wow, would that ever qualify as an m/m romance), all the detectives, and one of the supressed ones (Barren Corn). One was enough; it was dire enough to make me wish I could unread it.
I love her books, the gentle power behind the romance, the elegance of the prose…
Regency Buck was fun as a mystery as well as a romance. The first time reading it, I was totally fooled and confused (silly me!) but happy to get swept along to the HEA. I adored the scene when Judith is smiling at the absurd Beau Brummell mincing and primping, not realising that the real man is sitting beside her, and the drama of the curricle race and her disgrace…her rescue from amorous Prinny, the poisoned snuff and always, always the dresses and hats and such.
@Jane Davitt Holy smokes! Georgette Heyer wrote a m/m romance? Also, was Baron Corn the “dire” read you referenced…as in the writing/plot/execution was poor?
These comments make me nostalgic to read and/or re-read Heyer, but I’ve got a costly, years-accumulated TBR mountain range to climb. Dare I admit that I keep adding to it?
Vita, Roxhythe wasn’t an m/m in the modern sense; I was joking, but I think it would qualify as a bromance. He’s totally devoted to his king in a way that verges on obsession. I only read it once; not a huge fan of her books that are heavy on real people, but that came over very strongly. I’m tempted to reread it now.
If you read her books looking for them, there are a lot of slashy overtones in several of them; A Convenient Marriage with Rule and Lethbridge, These Old Shades where Avon might know who Leon is but no one else guesses but are still fine with this young, slavishly devoted pretty boy being page to a dissolute nobleman. Not to mention the cross-dressing in The Masqueraders and The Corinthian.
Barren Corn is set 1920s/30s and it’s about a man who marries below his class for love, and then unexpectedly inherits a title/money and his middle-class wife becomes a liability.
Loving him, knowing she’s hampering him socially, she kills herself, freeing him to marry someone posh.
As a working-class peasant myself, my hackles rose.
Rule and Lethbridge? I guess I’m too innocent because that so did not occur to me and I really don’t see it.
Now, if you had said Avon and Davenant, those vibes I did indeed pick up on…
My favorite among Heyer’s books is probably Frederica. As for The Grand Sophy recs, I agree that the romance in that book is absolutely wonderful, but I still recommend skipping it if you find anti-Semitic stereotypes offensive. I loved Heyer before I read the Goldhanger scenes in that book and ever since I read it, I’ve found it very difficult to read her books.
Growlycub, I just went looking for a post I made on that book but sadly it was before I routinely tagged so it’s lost. I seem to recall the duel between them was just rife with UST but I guess it’s always in how each reader interprets it.
Totally agree with you on Avon and Davenant and I recall a few fanfics featuring them.
It’s interesting how people can perceive a book differently. I just had a re-read of Regency Buck, and although I love it, I do see that Worth is very patronising, and he seems to always be right (or win, or has more foreknowledge, or is able to control Judith in some way). These characteristics make him unpopular with many readers who don’t like this book. I am thinking that in the social context (this book was published in 1935), that was the general mindset (i.e. the man knows better; women should listen to their men, etc) which jars us “liberated” women today. Worth also hid things from Judith (trying not to spoil things too much) for what he felt was her benefit, in order to protect her well-being and peace of mind – and their relationship therefore is not “equal” in today’s terms – where both partners share resources, information, burden of care, etc. I think I enjoy the story despite all these things (which be “impossible to withstand” in real life, to quote Worth in one of his “fights” with Judith) seeing it in its cultural context. People of that generation (1935 – that would be my grandma’s generation as she was in her twenties then) did think that men knew better, etc. And in fact even my mum would say to me “your dad knows better” (than her) – so that mindset persists in many families today!.
Regency Buck was my first Heyer, given to me by my aunts (big Heyer/Austen fans, lived in Bath, a great and beloved influence on me) and I adored it. Well, I was 17 and I think that’s the right age to fall in love with Heyer.
FF a few (ahem) decades and with great misgivings I reread it. I was afraid my earlier memory would be sullied and that I wouldn’t like it. It was an interesting experience; it was like a time trip and I even recognized a few bits n pieces I recycled in my first book Dedication. I hated, and still do, Ms. Heyer’s love affair with the exclamation point (!!) but was charmed (at first before it became annoying) by her use of the word ejaculate. Everyone does it all the time.
“Good Lord!” he ejaculated. Etc.
I blogged about this at the Riskies a year or so ago and have more comments at http://riskyregencies.blogspot.com/2008/12/heyer-revisited.html. But I think I read Heyer at exactly the right time for me and I had so many happy hours working my way through her books. Thanks, Sarah, for the review.
My first Heyer was Charity Girl, which I found quite difficult — but not difficult enough to keep me from reading another, which turned out to be Friday’s Child, which is still one of my favorites. I’ve never liked Regency Buck, though I like Charles Audley a lot; I just never really cared for Judith. But then, I’m in the apparent minority of people who don’t like Frederica. I know she comes around in the end, but her conviction that Charis should make a better match than Alverstoke’s secretary really put me off.
I’ve had different Heyer favorites at different times in my life. At 12, it was The Corinthian; at 16, Venetia. All through my twenties it was The Foundling (Gilly as the privileged and loved but stifled child really resonated with me), and for Lo these many years! it’s been Cotillion — which I didn’t like very much at all the first time I read it. I thought Freddie and Kitty were basically just secondary characters from other Heyer novels. And the beauty of it is, they sort of are; Freddie is like Ferdy and Gil of Friday’s Child combined, and he’s completely lovable.
I actually feel for Serena in Bath Tangle — Heyer brought out very clearly for me the unfairness of the inheritance system. Serena ought to have been her father’s heir, and I completely understood her frustration and admired her self-restraint in dealing with the cousin who actually was. Even so, her story isn’t even in my top 20 of Heyers, which would have to include both the Alastair books, A Civil Contract, The Reluctant Widow, The Quiet Gentleman,and The Unknown Ajax.
@GrowlyCub: I think Heyer does a remarkable job of making Adam sympathetic, given that he’s an aristocrat who marries a young woman for her money It’s clear that he doesn’t truly appreciate her, and he certainly never understands that she married him because she loves him and wants to make his life easier. Jenny may well be one of Heyer’s noblest characters — she’s smart, accomplished, and self-sacrificing — but because we mostly see her through Adam’s eyes, it’s easy to fail to appreciate her.
@Marianne McA — I have a copy of The Great Roxhythe, and couldn’t get through it.
Georgette Heyer was Jewish, and not a self-hater. So, no, The Grand Sophy isn’t being anti-Semitic; the scene with a Jewish man is actually anti-anti-Semitic. Alas that people don’t get this.
@Janine: I agree most wholeheartedly. I have probably read them all but cringed when I kept reading about “having to go the Jews” and the scene with the offensive Jewish stereotype, this Fagan, straight from Dickens, in this book written at the same time as Krystallnacht, turned my stomach and weaned me off this author for the rest of my life. I recently picked her up again and find her writing very fine but I wondered that I could ever find her very conventional situations entertaining. Her revolting anti-semitism ceretainly isn’t.
@suburbanbanshee: This idea that Heyer was Jewish is at the very best unproven; she had Russian commercial forbears on one side of her family, one or two of whom may have originally been Jewish. It was perfectly fashionable to be anti-Semitic in middle-class British circles in 1937. Lord knows, Edward VIII and his wife were patent Nazi sympathizers. If you read the mid-Thirties novels of Marjorie Allingham, you will find even more revolting anti-Semitism, all over the place (“we don’t want their kind here,” one character says.) Only the very well-educated and unusually brilliant academic, Dorothy Sayers, bucks this trend, and you can see what she was working against in the heavy atmosphere of anti-semitism in “Whose Body?” I am quite puzzled at your delineation of the Goldhanger scene. I am afraid I am quite unable to see how this is an anti-“anti-semitic” scene. It’s loathsome.