RogerBW's Blog

The Corinthian, Georgette Heyer 06 July 2022

1940 Regency romance. Sir Richard Wyndham, contemplating the loveless but respectable marriage everyone's been badgering him to make for years and with no particular reason or excuse to put it off any longer, celebrates his last night before engagement by getting monstrously drunk. As he stumbles homewards, he spots a lad climbing down from a window on knotted sheets… early US vt Beau Wyndham.

Except it's not a lad, it's Penelope Creed, an heiress who's similarly being badgered to make a marriage that repels her. And while she has a reasonable plan to flee (in male guise) to Bristol and marry her childhood sweetheart instead, clearly he can't let her go alone… and when he wakes up with a hangover, he's already with her on the public coach.

There is something of an age difference (he's 29, she's 17), but it's one that is key to the plot: not only does this help Pen see Sir Richard as a helpful friend rather than as an unwelcome lover, it means that he sees himself in the same light, at least at first. It lets them get to know each other, during the trip and the subsequent shenanigans, as people rather than as potential partners for marriage (or other activities), which is something alien to both of them in terms of their dealings with the opposite sex (in Pen's case quite limited of course).

The shenanigans involve an interlocking affair of theft, murder, a diamond necklace, and several Bad Men. What's more, that childhood sweetheart has changed in the five years since Pen last saw him, and seems to have lost all his taste for adventure.

(Which inevitably reminds me of a thing I've heard several times as well as experiencing myself, of that feeling at school that everyone else suddenly knew how to be a grown-up but one had missed a day and that particular lesson never got mentioned again.)

As in The Talisman Ring, Heyer keeps in the silly young woman for amusement value but makes her a secondary character, so that one can sympathise more effectively with the actual heroine – who may in this case be just as young herself, but is determinedly practical.

Again as in that book, there's something of a stagey feel, as for most of the book the action is based in an inn, with some excursions to points nearby. The obstacle to the romance is mostly Pen's sense of her own honour, once she is brought to realise that if she isn't going to marry someone at once Sir Richard has to offer for her or leave her fatally compromised, and she doesn't want to trap him even if her own feelings for him have become somewhat warmer than she expected. To me this felt like one of the weaker planks of the book, perhaps because I never quite believed in Pen as someone able to think seriously about a lifetime commitment rather than being In Love, but it's important primarily as a motivating factor for the last part of the action. And Pen does at least get to have some adventures in her own right, rather than under someone else's care – much like Sarah Thane, in fact, though for completely different reasons.

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