RogerBW's Blog

Devil's Cub, Georgette Heyer 04 May 2021

1932 romance. The reprobate Marquis of Vidal, having casually fought a duel over dice, must flee to France. He plans to take his latest would-be conquest with him, but that lady's sister has other ideas.

Some of this works very well. Mary Challoner is a heroine with gumption; she sees that her sister Sophia's plans to force Vidal into marriage are doomed, and sets up a scheme by which she will not only prevent her sister's immediate ruin but put him off her in the long term, by presenting her substitution of herself on the flight as a joke cooked up by the two of them. But she had assumed they were going to the country somewhere, not crossing the Channel, and Vidal has a temper.

But Vidal is indeed something of a spoiled brat, and this makes Mary's falling for him harder to understand. (Indeed, she's presented as having done so even before this scheme, though she knows it's hopeless.) Vidal does at once realise that having fatally compromised Mary simply by being in her company, and she being a lady of the quality and indeed a grandchild of a friend of his father's (which the sister had not got round to mentioning), he must offer her marriage… but Mary, being in love with him, doesn't want to have trapped him into that marriage.

It does all work out, and it's a neat solution to the usual romance writer's problem of finding ways to stretch "boy meets girl" to novel length. I don't find entirely encouraging Mary's conviction that she could "manage" Vidal; it's a bit too reminiscent of the Disney-corrupted version of Beauty and the Beast, the rake reformed by the love of a good woman. (Hint: this rarely works.) I like to be able to believe in the happy-ever-after, and they'll both have to change quite a bit to make that work. And there's a bit too much manhandling for my taste.

All that said, while the abduction and romance stand shakily on their own, what they're really here for is to supply the scaffolding for the comedy that's clearly dearer to Heyer's heart. Vidal and Mary are the supposed protagonists, but the book is entirely stolen by the older generation; Vidal's parents are Avon and Léonie from These Old Shades, Avon's reprobate brother Rupert also comes along, and they take over matters while getting these dratted children what they would know they wanted if they only took a moment to think about it. (A secondary romantic lead and complication begins well, but becomes sadly squashed as he has to fit into a series of confining roles and ends with very little personality remaining.) That classic of the stage, the room in the middle of nowhere that everyone conveniently turns up in for the dénouement, is used here twice.

Not brilliant, not quite yet into the top flight of Heyer, but well worth the occasional re-read.

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