The Nonesuch - Georgette Heyer 28

(41 Posts)
HoratiaDrelincourt Sat 31-May-14 21:26:42

My turn again? wink

This isn't the first time we've encountered by Regency standards The Perfect Man, nor will it be the last. How does Sir Waldo compare with Sylvester, with Beaumaris, with Alverstoke?

Unlike the earlier incarnations, he is not arrogant nor judgey. His fault is perhaps levity. His only fault apparent to Ancilla is not even real. Is he too perfect? I don't lust after admire him as I do the flawed-hero-redeemed-by-love. I certainly don't find him interesting.

Ancilla isn't much better - noble enough, clever, witty, modest, principled ... but not interesting. This is another novel distinguished not by the love story but rather by the minor characters and their escapades. As Heyer grew up grew old? did she find romance calmer, quieter, gentler, leaving the adventures for the young? We began to see her grow out of the exciting "falling in love" in Civil Contract, after all.

The minor characters, then: a substantial cast of mainly young (15-25), well-off people without much to do. They inherit and spend money, passing their time in riding, walking, dancing, and bickering good-heartedly.

The novel opens in great age, and death, as the old cousin is succeeded by Waldo. Lady Lindeth would have thought herself a very unnatural parent had she not made a push to secure [Joseph's fortune] for her son [... but] after all her pains he had left his entire estate to Waldo, who was neither the most senior of his relations nor the one who bore his name! [...] To learn that Cousin Joseph's estate was to be added to an already indecently large fortune did make her feel for a few minutes that so far from liking him she detested him.

Since one cannot possibly earn money one must inherit whatever one can. In the novel there are consequently lots of mothers but few fathers. Inevitably this becomes a role Waldo takes on for the poor orphans and his own cousins. But he does not do so equally, nor particularly, not having had a good example of his own. Is this his one fault, which eluded me earlier?

"You know, George, when my father died, I was too young for my inheritance. I ruined Laurie. By the time I'd acquired enough sense to know what it signified to him, the mischief had been done."

Further on: By his easy, unthinking generosity he had sapped whatever independence Laurie might have had, imposing no check upon his volatility, but rather encouraging him in the conviction that he would never be run quite off his legs because his wealthy cousin would infallibly rescue him from utter disaster.

When Laurie tries to rescue Lindeth (not realising that he is no longer captive) it is not for his own sake, but only for Waldo's approval, and specifically his purse. Laurie had not been mistaken in thinking that Julian was [Waldo's] favourite cousin.

We talked last time of a move towards Victorianism, and Waldo's work for "his brats" is very Victorian in its paternalism. In a generation it will be expected of all gentlemen (and not just clergy) - he is a pioneer. Laurence for one is unsympathetic: "What ought to be mine is to be squandered on the scaff and raff of the back-slums! You don't want it yourself, but you'd rather by far benefit a set of dirty, worthless brats than your own with and kin. [...] By God, you make me sick!"

And it is the fact that his benevolence is unusual that causes the misunderstanding with Ancilla. By far more plausible that a sporting man should have a string of by-blows and offer a governess a carte blanche than that he should sponsor a string of orphanages!

Meanwhile, an orphan with every possible advantage - except in character:
"And if you think he has only to see you to fall in love with you, you much mistake the matter! I dare swear he is acquainted with a score of girls prettier by far than you!"
"Oh no!" she said, adding simply: "He couldn't be!"
Miss Chartley was silenced. Honesty compelled her to acknowledge that Tiffany Wield was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen or acknowledged. Everything about her was perfection.

Our previous heroines have been beautiful, if conventionally so. Here, though, outer beauty is vanquished by inner maturity and generosity of character: again the older, wiser Heyer tiring of the fairytale themes of her youth.

But the young of the story are still on thrall to Beauty. Tiffany's outrageous first meeting with Lindeth really should have put him on his guard. Again and again she acts disgracefully but he defends her until he has the obvious comparison with Patience right under his nose. His manners are perfect throughout, nonetheless: if she had been an invisible spectator she would not have guessed from his demeanour that he was at all disappointed. He was far too polite to betray himself; and of too cheerful and friendly a disposition to show the least want of cordiality.

Waldo, on the other hand, has Tiffany's measure almost immediately, understanding her just as Mrs Underhill and Miss Trent, though managing her differently as the novel progresses: as conduct befitting one who was to all intents and purposes a daughter of the house this belated arrival on the scene might leave much to be desired; but as an entrance it was superb. He had never beheld a livelier vision, and he was neither impressionable nor three-and-twenty. Oh my God! thought Sir Waldo. Now we are in the basket!

It is to Waldo that Tiffany turns after her carriage is heinously stolen from her to transport the wretched brat - Like a child suffering from over-excitement, she was as miserable as she was cross. Tiffany never consciously deviated from the truth, but since she saw everything only as it affected herself, the truth was apt to become somewhat distorted.

Julian's enlightenment comes slowly but surely: first he sees Tiffany's spiteful selfishness which she dresses up as reaction against over-propriety; then her callous disregard for her friend's health. By the final incident with the little boy the scales have already fallen from his eyes.
Miss Trent had seen the look of shocked dismay in his face when it had been so forcibly borne in on him that his goddess had feet of clay; and her heart was wrung with pity.

But Julian's "love" for Tiffany is like Romeo's for Rosaline - preparing him for the wife to suit him, regardless of how ill-matched they might seem at first glance.

Sir Waldo believed that [Lady Lindeth] would soon take the gentle Patience to her bosom. A pungent description of the beautiful Miss Wield would go a long way towards settling her mind. [...] Just as Patience differed from Tiffany, so did Julian's courtship of her differ from his eager pursuit of Tiffany. He had begun with liking; his admiration had been kindled by the Leeds episode; and he was now quietly and deeply in love. In other words, he has followed the adult model Heyer is now preferring!

"Do you know, Waldo, I never thought of marriage?" he said naively. "I hadn't considered it before, but now you've mentioned it I don't think that I ever thought of it until I met Miss Chartley. In fact, I never thought about the future at all. But since I've come to know Patience, naturally, I've done so, because I wish to spend the rest of my life with her. And what's more, I'm going to!"

(on to second post as original was too long for an OP blush - who knew there was even a limit!!)

HoratiaDrelincourt Sat 31-May-14 21:28:20

Managing Tiffany, then - Ancilla, when informed of Tiffany's determination to marry into the peerage, not only accepted this as a praiseworthy aim, but entered with gratifying enthusiasm into various schemes for furthering it [...] so that when [Tiffany] left school she had ceased to be a tomboy, and had even acquired a few accomplishments and a smattering of learning.
And, later, putting her off a party she isn't invited to...
"Oh no! How shabby! Do you think it will be like that indeed? How bored Sir Waldo and his cousin will be!"
"No doubt they will be. And how agreeably surprised when they come to your aunt's party!"
And masterly, when shopping: Miss Trent had never seen anything so exquisite as the buckles, and bemoaned the change in fashion which had made it impossible for anyone to wear them now without appearing perfectly Gothic. As for the fan, she agreed that it was a most amusing trifle: just what she would wish to buy for herself, if it had not been so excessively ugly!

Waldo, on the other hand, recognises the coquette in her, and plays the game expertly. She does not suspect he is even playing, I think, and the high drama of chasing and being chased by the Nonesuch distracts her from losing the lesser prize, Lindeth. She is painfully young in that moment, putting on a brave face but shrieking with indignation and imagined humiliation inside.

I find the flight towards London trying, however plausible, and desperately sad. Already, in her imagination, she was the petted darling of her Uncle James [...] the shock of discovering that Lindeth had become engaged to Patience [was] rapidly fading from her mind, and would be wholly forgotten as soon as she had put Yorkshire behind her. Fresh and far more dazzling conquests lay ahead.

As a side note, although wealth, such as Tiffany will eventually bestow, is valued and esteemed, so is generosity and economy. Profligacy and parsimony on the other hand are certainly frowned upon...
The outcome of this interview would have vexed him very much, had he known of it; but as his staff at Manifold had always taken it for granted that whatever was needed in the house might instantly be ordered, [...] he had no idea that the carte blanche he gave the Wedmores would instantly become a topic for wonder and discussion in the district.
We also note his generosity to them regarding the Will in which they were scandalously overlooked: he even tries to dispel the scandal by pretending they were always provided for.

Teenage boys are the drivers of the novel, and in such characters Heyer is triumphant yet again.
"He gave the cart the go-by? On that road?" demanded Mr Banningham, awed.
Young Mr Mickleby shook his head. "I wouldn't have cared to attempt it: not just there!"
"I should rather think you wouldn't!" said Mr Banningham, with a crack of rude laughter.
This unkind reference to his late mishap made Arthur flush angrily.
And later, when Sir Waldo kindly indulges Humphrey, his cultural opposite, the others (Waldo's imitators) are "stunned" - presumably because they are not so secure or generous.
"He must have thought you a slow-top!"
"N-not at all! W-what's m-more, he's not such a c-c-cod's head as you l-led me to think him!"
At any other time so insufferable a speech must have goaded his childhood's playmates into punitive action. A sense of propriety, however, restrained them, and enabled Humphrey to saunter away, not only unmolested, but filled with the comfortable conviction of having, in a few heaven-sent moments, paid off all the scores of a short lifetime.

They make idiots of themselves around the girls as they all get used to their place in society in microcosm: we know that London is not nearly so narrow, nor so forgiving. Indeed when Laurence arrives, slightly shame-faced, from London, he is held up as a great model to all the boys, and puffs up accordingly!

When Ancilla first meets Sir Waldo, the thought flashed into her mind that she beheld the embodiment of her ideal. [...] It would have been too much to have said that Miss Trent's instinctive recognition of the ideal was reciprocated. He likes her, but if he were never to see her again it would not cost him any pang of regret. Nonetheless, the next time he sees her, he thought she looked the most distinguished lady present, and very soon made his way to her side. And although her regard for him continues, she has no idea of his feelings for her until Mrs Underhill points them out.

Their great misunderstanding is very cleverly directed by Heyer: the reader is never under the same illusion as Ancilla, having been told about "the brats" before he even arrives in the district. But we know exactly why she reaches the conclusion she does, and why first Julian and later Waldo are helplessly reinforcing it.
Had anyone but Lindeth told her that Sir Waldo had fathered nameless children she would not have lent the tale a moment's belief. But Lindeth would never slander his cousin, and what he said could not be scornfully dismissed.

We can yell at the page all we like - it isn't until Waldo crosses the uncrossable social lines, and actually asks her (not particularly politely) that the misunderstanding can be cleared up.

Ancilla has resigned herself to retreat from the World (deliberate capital W) after her father's death, when she doesn't "take" in her first Season and doesn't wish to impose on her brother. Her chance at happiness with Waldo is the first and only chance she has not to wither away as a governess forever, and yet she is prepared to give it up for morality's sake.

Miss Trent had not been reared in this accommodating morality. She was as much revolted by a libertine as by a prostitute, and she would as soon have contemplated becoming such a man's mistress as his wife. [...] She wondered why he should wish to marry her, and came to the dreary conclusion that he had probably decided that the time had come for him to marry, and hoped that by choosing a penniless nobody to be his wife he would be at liberty to continue to pursue his present way of life, while she, thankful to be so richly established, turned a blind eye to his crim. cons., and herself behaved with all the propriety which he would no doubt demand of the lady who bore his name.

This is rather chilling, but plausible, I'm sure - this is what Julia expected of Adam and Jenny last time, isn't it?

But the denouement is masterly. He casually chats about his orphanage while she still thinks he is talking about his bastards, and she explodes:
"If superintending the education of the young is your ambition I can provide you with plenty of material on which to exercise your talents," he said cheerfully.
For a moment she could hardly believe her ears. [A]s she saw the familiar glint in his eyes, wrath at his audacity surged up in her, and she gasped, "How dare you?"

So, in conclusion, The Nonesuch will never be one of my favourites, but there is a lot to like, and it is another lovely dense book with joyous side plots.

(Next will be False Colours. NOT MY TURN. Shall we try to start again in weeks, rather than months? grin )

LadyIsabellaWrotham Sat 31-May-14 23:07:50

Brilliant work Horry.

We haven't talked much about fatherhood in these novels. We've talked about the absent mothers, but we haven't seen much about the romantic novel trope of the heroine getting to display her fine maternal qualities to the hero. Sophie does it, and Phoebe in Sylvester, and Frederica of course, but it's not a recurring thing. The heroes otoh frequently get to show off what good father material they will be - more times than I care to list, they take siblings, cousins, random strangers under their wing. I think it's partly to demonstrate their general perfection, and partly because Heyer loves wayward teenage and pre-teen boys, so she likes to put them in. Some of our heroes, like Waldo with Laurence, and Sophie's Charles, are flawed to begin with, and have to learn to improve, but most have mastered it by the end. I guess if you were looking for a list of desirable characteristics in a Perfect Man then being a good father would have to be right up there.

Much more to say, but must sleep now.

Fantastic analysis, Horry. Odd that Waldo doesn't chime with you. This is one of the stories that I dream about - imagining what happens next. In my unconscious, Ancilla has some very satisfying jousts with jealous women in London...

but I do take your point that Waldo doesn't need redeeming, so his character doesn't grow.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Mon 02-Jun-14 19:45:52

What do we think of Tiffany? Each time I reread this, as DD gets closer to her teens, I feel more and more sorry for Tiffany, with her closest surviving relatives valuing her only for her money, and Miss Trent treating her as a challenge to be managed. It's hardly surprising that she's missing a heart when she's had so little love. I find it especially hard that she's always compared unfavourably with Patience, who has the perfect loving family, portrayed with such a warm glow.

Realistically of course Ancilla couldn't be expected to "mend" Tiffany, but this is Heyer, it's a romantic comic fantasy, so I do hold it against Ancilla that she admitted defeat. I want a sequel where Tiffany goes to London, gets into some salutary scrapes, and finds True Love.

HoratiaDrelincourt Mon 02-Jun-14 19:58:24

I cheerfully loathe Tiffany. I think she is presented as unlikable with only flashes of sympathy. It may not be her fault, but there she is.

She will marry well, inevitably, because she's breathtakingly beautiful, and as rich as Croesus. So I don't think we need feel more than fleetingly sorry for her.

thepiggotupandslowlywalkedaway Mon 02-Jun-14 20:20:47

This isn't one of the ones I re-read much. Tiffany is so awful, although Horatia's fantastic summary made me think about her in a (slightly) different light.

Also, silly as it is, I can't get over the names. Tiffany makes me think of Eastenders, and Waldo sounds like he has a magic act in Las Vegas. I will go and read some of it, and think of something proper to say, now.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Mon 02-Jun-14 20:32:52

I know she's horrid, but she needs her mum, not people who only want her for her inheritance. I compare her with the warmth and security that Patience takes for granted and it breaks my heart, but then I do have a pre-teen daughter so am perhaps a soft touch.

interesting view of Tiffany, LadyI.

The names are weird - Waldo? Ancilla? Tiffany? What was Heyer thinking?!

FatalCabbage Tue 03-Jun-14 11:02:31

I

HoratiaDrelincourt Tue 03-Jun-14 11:09:24

I sort of feel that Heyer is painting by numbers here, laughing at us. She's used up her best stories, favourite names, most interesting vignettes, and so on. Maybe her detective books weren't doing as well as she might have liked. So she deliberately churns out something unchallenging to pay the mortgage.

Too harsh? There isn't enough depth to anyone - particularly by comparison with Civil Contract where wehad far fewer characters but far better drawn, and lots of psychology and character development.

Sorry if this makes me heartless but I also cheerfully loathe Tiffany. If she had the remotest ability to be kind or affectionate, her aunt would have adored her. Mrs Underhill is very easygoing and loving.

This is the book from which I got my username - she describes Lizzie Colebatch as 'a dashing redhead'!

GrendelsMinim Tue 03-Jun-14 17:34:10

I always wonder whether Arabella would have been better off with Waldo, and then they could have set about a career of major philanthropy together.

Do you not think Arabella will turn Mr Beaumaris into Waldo? Only with a better sense of humour? (Not that Waldo doesn't have one, but Beaumaris is funnier.)

GrendelsMinim Tue 03-Jun-14 18:58:26

I'm concerned that he might not throw himself into it as fully as Waldo does and that it may stay limited to individual projects, rather than going for the country wide network of small orphanages that Waldo is working towards (as a charity worker, I'm clearly over thinking this one...)

HoratiaDrelincourt Tue 03-Jun-14 23:43:20

Beaumaris is far sexier than Waldo. He's brooding.

Arabella has the natural generosity; Beaumaris has the reserve and oversight. I think Arabella and Waldo together would try to save everyone and bankrupt themselves in the process. Ancilla is the sensible, measured one in the Hawkridge family.

MissClemencyTrevanion Fri 06-Jun-14 22:17:53

I do like this one although it isn't a favourite. I do know what Horry means by painting by numbers, it is very formulaic. But, it's a formula that works so why not?

I'm glad to see others put off by the names - they are truly awful, what was she thinking, Waldo in particular but Ancilla is a close second. When she calls her heroine Abigail there is at least a bit where she gets to comment on how awful the name is because it means a maid servant, does Ancilla get that? I can't remember.

Tiffany is portrayed as totally unlikeable and I'm not sure any redemption is going to be possible for her but I find Julian and Patience grating too as they're so perfect they just irritate. I do like the Rector though!

Tinuviel Sat 07-Jun-14 23:34:34

Please may I join in? I adore GH novels, both historical and detective and have just found this thread. I will have to dig out False Colours - how long do I have to read it?

HoratiaDrelincourt Sun 08-Jun-14 08:04:25

Welcome!

We started off fortnightly, but, erm, you'll have longer than that. It needs someone to jump in feet first with an OP.

ImogenQuy Sun 08-Jun-14 20:03:33

Ooh, glad we're back on with the Heyer book club. Having said that this is one of my bottom five or so - the names are terrible, as other posters have said, the good characters are too perfect, Tiffany is a brat, and I don't care what happens to any of them much. It's not nearly as funny as some of the others either. I think the only really good one we've got left to do is Frederica.

Auntimatter Sun 08-Jun-14 20:12:44

Oh, I rather like the Nonesuch. It makes me laugh.

The interest is certainly in the teenagers rather than the grown-up romance that is the basic plot, but that spreads the focus around.

I like the rector and his family. So normal (and there aren't that many normal loving 2-parent families in Heyer's books). It's quite refreshing.

The last one I read was Sylvester. I much prefer the Nonesuch: so much less preposterous andHeyer's charm comes to the fore.

crumpet Wed 11-Jun-14 21:58:06

There are some very good set pieces though - Tiffany's tantrum at the inn, Patience saving the little boy, Laurence refusing to help Tiffany run away, and I do rather like Ancilla. I think that she does have depth - plus a good sense of humour (would need one to live with Tiffany mind you).

Waldo is a bit too colourless, although I can't say that I dislike any of GH's heros (Rotherham and Lord Worth would require far too much effort to deal with so are definitely at the lower end).

ImogenQuy Thu 12-Jun-14 06:55:01

I dislike Vidal. Avon, I like - too stylish to dislike, and in any case his worst days are behind him by the beginning of TOS- but Vidal is a thug in glamorous costume. I agree Waldo is colourless!

LadyIsabellaWrotham Sat 14-Jun-14 12:45:09

Laurence is so awful, but I love his big showdown with Tiffany at the end. He's like a less attractive combination of the two cousins in Unknown Ajax - the ludicrous dandy and the sarcastic jealous one (Vincent and I forget the other). Waldo isn't nearly as funny, charming and heroic as Hugo though. It's a bit disappointing that Laurence ends up with the money for his doomed horse trading scheme - I'd have preferred his fantastic treatment of Tiffany to be better rewarded.

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