RogerBW's Blog

The Masqueraders, Georgette Heyer 16 November 2020

1928 Georgian romance. As the consequences of the rebellion of '45 are still being felt, two fugitives from the losing side set off for London – disguised as the opposite sexes.

Which may cause the reader to think "hang on a moment": if the authorities are searching for a young man and a young woman, and they're presented with a young woman and a young man, surely this is not calculated to defuse their suspicion? We're told that Prudence, disguised as Peter Merriott, is a large woman who makes a middle-sized man, while Robin as a small man makes a middle-sized Kate Merriott; but even so…

Still, this is basically Shakespearean cross-dressing: it's there because it allows a woman to move in men's society, and vice versa, in an age when those were very separate things. Indeed, at times I wondered when they'd each had occasion to study the other's manners; though before the attempted revolution they've been living from adventure to adventure with their father on the Continent, and it's the sort of whim that might strike him as a Brilliant Idea.

Indeed, the Old Gentleman is the motivator for much of what goes on here. In his head, he's the Master Planner, the great schemer arranging the chessboard to his satisfaction while ensuring the pieces think they're moving of their own will; and his self-confidence is so supreme that he gets away with it. But having lived on the Continent where such things are more easily arranged and escaped, will the trick he plays in England be a scheme too far?

Well, no, of course it won't. But I am glad to see that he's often treated as a figure of fun, rather than taken seriously; even his own children, beneficiaries (after himself) of all this plotting, grow weary of it, and indeed of him, both finding themselves inclined to settle down and rest for a bit.

But first of course they have to be found partners. Robin's clearly his father's son, establishing the character of a mysterious suitor to appeal to his beloved's taste for adventure while gathering information from meeting her as a female friend. Said beloved suspects nothing until All Is Revealed at the end. But Prudence… ah, well, it's Prudence's book more than it's anyone else's. And the sleepy-eyed "mountain" whom they meet on the road, Sir Anthony Fanshawe, turns out to be rather more perceptive than anyone gave him credit for. (And not averse to a bit of adventure himself, if the reason is good enough.)

All right, there's a bit of manhandling and kiss-stealing that sits poorly to my modern sensibility, but in all one can believe in this couple as a good match – though Sir Anthony's wish to protect his lady, and Prudence's habit of doing things for herself, would surely cause further conflict. (Somehow one doesn't see them sitting quietly at home for the rest of their lives.)

Yes, there are still sword-fights and derring-do, but at this point they feel as though they're in service to a larger plan rather than being the most important thing in the narrative. I've enjoyed the earlier books, but this is the first that I'd consider "prime Heyer" – and there are many more to follow. (Though in this chronological reading I'm skipping the ones I enjoy less; I may at some point go back and fill them in.)

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  1. Posted by J Michael Cule at 12:37pm on 16 November 2020

    When I read 'Georgian romance' in the first line my head was all the way over in Stalin's homeland.

    It was about half way in before I worked out why these Russians were headed for Moscow and why I didn't know of any rebellion in 1845.

    Not your fault: ambiguity in the language.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:45pm on 16 November 2020

    And indeed, it could have been set in Atlanta…

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