Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

14. Drusilla Morville (The Quiet Gentleman)

For any person of refined sensibility it must come as something of a shock to find someone like Drusilla Morville comfortably settled in to the opening passage of a Heyer story. Seeing the daughter of a Free Thinker and, of all the unsuitable occupations for a mother, a novelist, usurping the position that should be held by a peerless beauty, or at the very least, a considerable heiress, is enough to make one suspect foul play. As things turn out, however, we are faced with much, much worse.

By prosing on and on about her oh-so-radical parents, and by pretending not to understand the Dowager Countess's shafts of admittedly somewhat artless wit, and by repeatedly insisting on how short, fat and unromantic she herself is, Miss Morville manages to exclude the so much more suitable Miss Bolderwood (who is undoubtedly, it should be noted, not merely taller, thinner and more romantic, but also both a peerless beauty and a considerable heiress) from the action until well into Chapter Four. Past experience tells us that this is a position within the story arc from which, despite her Heroic efforts (that is to say, despite doing her best to look lost but kittenish by the side of the road), there is no serious prospect of her ever finding her way back into contention. The only option left open to Marianne is foul play, something that would surely never be considered by one so tall, thin, romantic, beautiful and, let us not forget, so well-endowed as Miss Bolderwood. How very different from Drusilla.

For now the real mystery begins. Once Miss Morville has insinuated herself, viper-like, into the very bosom of our tale, what is she planning to do with her advantageous situation? Obviously she isn't planning to marry the Earl of St Erth: such a romantic - indeed reactionary - idea must clearly be out of the question for the daughter of that scourge of both orthodoxy and orthography, Mr Harvey Hervey Morville, and his wife, scourge of both Coleridges, Cordelia Consett. And so it proves. Drusilla's aim is not true love, but treachery; not romance but republicanism.

Her objective is, shockingly (but, given her family background, unsurprisingly), the destruction of the entire British aristocracy, one family at a time, and on this occasion the family under threat is the Frants. Miss Morville's audacious scheme involves setting the only three male members of the Frant family against each other. Her plan is to murder the Earl in a way that, to the untutored eye, appears to be at the hand of his half-brother but which to the somewhat-more-but-still-not-quite-sufficiently tutored eye points towards his cousin. You may have thought that Theo was misdirecting you to believe that Martin was the would-be murderer; I suggest that the truth is utterly otherwise: Miss Morville was misdirecting you to believe that Theo was misdirecting you to believe that Martin was the murderer.

And the worst of it is that we cannot be sure that Miss Morville does not succeed. We leave the narrative at a critical juncture, with the Earl carrying Drusilla, who is apparently suffering from a broken arm, up the main stairs of Stanyon Castle. We are never, ever, told whether St Erth ever came down those stairs again.

On a more cheerful note, the langour that went missing in Regency Buck turns up at the very start of Chapter 12 of The Quiet Gentleman, having apparently made a home for itself in the dining room chandelier at Stanyon.


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4 comments:

Liz Fielding said...

Oh, too bad, Stephen. Unable to damn Drusilla of anything worse than the crime of having fat ankles (a situation she was perfectly frank about), you stoop to accusing her of murder. Shame on you!

Stephen said...

To be fair, I am accusing her of Republicanism. The murder - and indeed the sneaking of herself into the first chapter - are merely nefarious means towards this end.

I suspect that, had she been asked for a view, she might even have expressed herself to be in favour of Electoral Reform.

Liz Fielding said...

Er... I guess that's all right, then.

Douglas Hoffman said...

Just wanted to wish you a Happy New Year, Stephen. All the best to you and your family.