Sunday, 23 October 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

9. Judith Taverner (Regency Buck)

So what are the chances that the capital whip that you almost force off the road in Chapter 1, and have further altercations with (including a kiss) in Chapter 3, will turn out to be the mysterious guardian whom you are due to meet in Chapter 4?

Well, as the heir to Wenlock would, unfortunately, say, Duh!

We are in the Regency, which saw the greatest concentration of Dukes, Earls and Viscounts that England has ever seen. This sort of chance encounter happened every day, even in Lincolnshire. Indeed during the Regency places like Newark and Grantham - or any town of reasonable size that was not London, Brighton or Bath - existed solely for the purpose of hosting such events, which would set up situations to be resolved later on in proper places like London, Brighton and Bath (or, in a few cases, at an obscure farm, coaching inn or toll gate in a remote location that is never very clearly defined). If any attractive young woman who found herself travelling from Yorkshire to London at any point between 1811 and 1820 did not realise that she was on her way into a romantic novel then she was almost certainly a couple of furbelows short of a reticule. Which brings us neatly back to Miss Taverner.

It might be possible to excuse Miss Taverner over her failure to recognise a romantic hero when she meets one for the first time. The fifth Earl of Worth does appear to be travelling with a small Indian menagerie. In addition to a talking tiger called Henry (possibly an early version of Hobbes) he has with him a langour, which the Oxford English Dictionary says is "the name applied in India to certain species of monkeys of the genus Semnopithecus" (and which doesn't appear in written English until well into the reign of George IV). Judith, understandably, appears not to be very taken with this creature. However she has no such excuse when Worth, perhaps realising that the animals were a bit overdone, engineers a further encounter. Miss Taverner has seen her brother (of whom more later) off to a Prize Fight, safe in the knowledge that it will be an occasion where Cant will Be Spoken By The Quality. Clearly this is to be an Authentic Regency Event, and thus it will lead to a Significant Plot Development. However even when the Plot Development picks her up and kisses her, she still seems oblivious of its Significance.

Worth is not an Earl for nothing, however, and he takes advantage of the First Surprising Plot-Twist to make it blindingly clear what is going on. He mentions White's, Watier's and Almack's. He commends Weston and Schweizer & Davidson. He disparages all who patronise Schulz, and anyone who lives in Kensington. He drops the name of his friend Beau Brummell into the conversation with all the subtlety of one of Cribb's facers. Short of ordering some cakes from Gunther's he could hardly have done more to make Miss Taverner understand her situation.

But it still isn't enough, and Miss Taverner falls straight into the classic "Beau Brummell is a dandy so he must look like a twit" error as if she were utterly unaware of the works of Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly. Do they not read On Dandyism in Yorkshire? Even when her by-the-numbers wet secondary character brother contracts a by-the-numbers unsuitable engagement to a by-the-numbers beautiful airhead she still doesn't get it, preferring instead to develop her taste for snorting lines of Masulipatam and Old Paris as if she were in the van of the fashionable world (a position apparently occupied by Brummell's friend, the Duke of Bedford).

Desperate stupidity calls for desperate measures. If Miss Taverner doesn't recognise that she is in a Regency when she is inhaling it through the nose, Worth can at least try to persuade her that she is in a novel. He does this by putting his langour aside again and concocting a totally implausible murder mystery, giving her a chance to do the Miss Marple In Sprig Muslin bit (known at the time as a pelisse procedural). Even then she seems totally unaware of what is going on, and allows her brother to become caught up in a fixed-cockfight-and-duel double cliché as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Almost down to his last throw, Worth hits on the ideal solution. Brighton. And not just Brighton but The Steyne, Marine Parade, the Pavilion and even a visit to the local Chalybeate Springs (which are in Hove, actually). But the pinnacle of this endeavour will be the Prince Regent himself. Needless to say Miss Taverner almost ruins everything by challenging her brother to a re-enactment of Genevieve some 150 years before the fact. Poor Peregrine is too sketchily drawn to protest, as he further demonstrates on being bundled off to a yacht in the Solent without a single complaint that the Isle of Wight is still sixty years away from being fashionable.

Extraordinarily, even a dramatic evening at the Royal Pavilion, complete with yards of guide-book description of the ornamentation, fails to penetrate that Dresden China Miss skull and alert Miss Taverner to what she really is. In the end Worth is forced back to basics, adopting the "you heroine, me alpha male hero" approach by knocking down her cousin while she is watching.

As that punishing left finally connects, we are left thinking that if only he had deployed it on page 27, when nobody else was looking (except Hobbes - sorry, Henry - who would probably not say a word when anybody was around) then we might have been spared so many of these antics.

We never do get to find out what happens to the langour.

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pam said...

Pelisse procedural -- really, Stephen!

mandy said...

If only I'd remembered that Regency Buck was set in Brighton I could have saved myself a lot of research for Lord Deverill's Secret. Still, if I hadn't done my own research, I would have missed the little known fact that some of Brighton's libraries were in fact situated in Bath.

And now for some Regency Buck trivia.

1)The talking tiger in RB is the great grandfather of the talking tiger in Life of Pi.

2)The chances of a capital whip being a heroine's guardian are 2.593 to 1.

3) The langour first appeared in written English in 1804, in a letter penned by Worth, but as the letter was unfortunately lost in the post, the langour languished in literary limbo until the reign of George IV.

4) No, they don't read On Dandyism in Yorkshire. They are too busy eating Yorkshire Pudding, Yorkshire fat rascals, and Yorkshire curd tart to be bothered about the naby pamby ways of soft southerners.

5) Regency Buck is in fact the first pelisse procedural (a term I wish I'd invented).