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Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

cotillion.jpgI can see why my Heyer-loving friends recommended Cotillion when I expressed my enthusiasm for Friday's Child, because the plots are quite similar. I also have to say that my enthusiasm for Heyer has lessened with each novel I've read. I liked The Grand Sophy less than Friday's Child and Cotillion less than The Grand Sophy, and that's at least partly because the plots all seem quite similar. Well, that's a simplification, and it's not just the plots that seem similar. There are words or turns of phrase (such as "make a cake of someone" or "a Tulip of fashion" of "missish") that I've already gotten tired of. Anyway, I believe I'll give Heyer one more book -- A Civil Contract -- but I'm beginning to think this is a love that won't last.

The plot of Cotillion involves an orphan named Kitty who was raised by a man who was in love with her French mother but otherwise was not related. She's like Hero Wantage in Friday's Child in that she's an orphan who is not of noble birth, but the variation here is that the man who raised her does have money and offers it to whichever great nephew (some of whom are nobles) who agrees to marry Kitty. This is just as contrived a situation as the one in Friday's Child, where the male protagonist, Lord Sherringham, won't inherit his fortune unless he marries before he turns 25. As in FC, where Sherry first asks for the hand of his beloved, there is an assumed favorite for Kitty amongst the "cousins" who have known her since she was a child, and he, like Sherry, is a rake and gambler. What's different in Cotillion is that Kitty's various suitors, not to mention Kitty herself, are not particularly bright. Indeed, while Kitty, like Hero, tries to solve the romantic problems of others while embroiling herself in all kinds of "scrapes" in a high society she doesn't understand, she doesn't seem particularly good at it. Certainly, she is nowhere near the master manipulator that Sophy is in The Grand Sophy.

Meanwhile, just as Sherry foolishly marries Hero to get revenge on the beloved who rejects him, Kitty proposes to her not-very-bright cousin, Freddy, that they pretend to be engaged so that she can go to London and learn the high society ropes. There she gets involved in the romantic turmoils of other not very bright characters, including her "cousin" Dolphinton, who lives in terror of his domineering mother, and the beautiful low-born Olivia, who is also pushed around by her domineering, greedy mother. If this novel seems inferior to the first two Heyers I read, it's probably because I didn't find the characters very interesting. Freddy is probably the most interesting. As in FC, where Sherry transforms himself over the course of the novel from cad to hero, Freddy undergoes the most interesting transformation in this one. In some ways his most interesting characteristic to begin with is that he understands fashion and color, but by the end he has, in his own bumbling and priggish way, become an unconventional solver of other peoples' problems.

While this one felt quite conventional to me, by Heyer's standards, I have to confess that I read almost the whole thing in one day, which proves it got its narrative hooks into me. Also, I was in a shitty mood the whole day, which may have affected my appreciation of the novel. Thus I'll give Heyer another chance. For whatever reason, this one didn't do the trick for me. The characters seemed largely tiresome to me, and I had a hard time caring when everyone's romantic problems were solved in a rapid, triumphant tumble in the end. I take it that a cotillion is a kind of formal dance, so perhaps that's Heyer's comment on her own structural, thematic formalism.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 15th, 2016 10:07 am (UTC)
Originally the name of a specific dance, "cotillion" became a word meaning a ball at which that kind of dance was held. And at which the women would stand around with the kinds of alarming expressions and postures pictured on the cover of the book, waiting to be asked to be partnered. A social occasion with very specific rules of etiquette.
Mar. 15th, 2016 02:16 pm (UTC)
Many thanks for the information!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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