It’s true! I’ve never read Cotillion by Georgette Heyer! Until now. This book was published in 1953, so I felt free to include spoilers in this post.
I found the novel charming, with typical Heyer character types, plotlines, and shenanigans, except for one aspect, which I’ll detail later on. Oddly, given the title, there was no actual cotillion (formal ball, presenting young women to society), which surprised me. Instead, there are a couple of masquerades and a night at Almack’s, only one of which (masquerade two) is given any significant description.
Hero Freddy Standen is generally referred to in Romance genre parlance as a “beta hero,” to me considerably more palatable than the popular rakish “alphahole,” here represented by Freddy’s cousin Jack Westruther, who is handsome, dashing, a flirt, a gamester, you get the picture. In contrast, Freddy, of a well-off and respected family, is on the surface concerned chiefly with always looking his best in the most fashionable style and performing his social duties with the highest ton. He is exemplary in these social skills, and we learn he is also an exemplary elder brother to his several siblings, guiding and protecting them without being overbearing. And though he claims he does not have the greatest intellect, it’s clear his lack is more that he lacks interest in intellectual pursuits. I particularly enjoyed his interactions with his father, who appears to have underestimated his son until the betrothal, and their few scenes together are lovely.
Heroine Kitty Charing is a fairly typical innocent Heyer heroine. She was adopted as a child by the best friend of her deceased father; her adoptive father also seemingly had an unrequited passion for her deceased mother and never married, instead hoarding his large fortune and suffering from gout and dissatisfaction. Jack is his favored great-nephew and likely heir; he hopes Jack will marry Kitty, and they will then inherit his money. Instead, Kitty arranges a faux betrothal to Freddy that will enable her to at last visit London and its many social delights. The young woman without blood family becomes friends with Freddy’s sister Meg and displays some social skills of her own, though not so many that she doesn’t need Freddy’s help to extract her from difficulties.
Shenanigans ensue, as they do in Heyer novels, and several other romances percolate throughout, aided by Kitty and Freddy in varying degrees. At last, they realize they are in fact in love with each other, and make their betrothal real.
And now to my additional thoughts; one plotline has, in my opinion, aged badly. One of the great-nephews, Lord Dolphinton, is an Irish Earl without much money and a manipulative mother (who is not portrayed directly). Her machinations are both made easier and thwarted by Dolph being slow of mind in a somewhat non-specific way; despite being spied upon by servants and pressured by his mother, he manages to keep hold of his own opinions and desires, which he is stalwart about proclaiming (and repeating) at need to anyone but his mother. He understands social cues and complex ideas, but usually needs instructions repeated several times in order to remember all the details. He’s dreadfully afraid of his mother, who threatens to have a doctor lock him up if he doesn’t obey such commands as “propose marriage to Kitty.” To me, this is an abusive situation and not one conducive to madcap comedy.
Dolph has fallen in love with practical Hannah Plymstock, whose revolutionary Cit brother does not approve of Earls; Dolph’s mother would certainly not approve of Hannah, who has no money, title, or social standing. Hannah is not deeply in love with Dolph, but demonstrates tenderness and understanding for him and his issues; she plans to extract him from beneath his mother’s thumb so they may live together on his Irish horse farm. Horses are Dolph’s greatest love and skill and he much prefers his life there to being forced to mingle in crowded London.
Kitty, and later Freddy, help to arrange for Dolph and Hannah to marry, but I found the final events of this scheme rather horrible. After their escape from London, Dolph is so terrified of his mother’s pursuit that in one long scene, he repeatedly hides in a cupboard or under a table when he hears approaching horses. I winced my way through all that only because I knew it would be a happy ending, and because I planned to write about the book. I was much relieved when all that was over.
I’m glad I finally read this one; I’m not sure if it’s the very last unread Heyer romance for me, but it completes the major ones.
I’m ready to start putting together my TBR Challenge list for 2022! Thank you to SuperWendy for organizing!