Heyer, Georgette. Cotillion.

NY: Putnam, 1953.

It’s circa 1816 in England and the Hon. Mr. Penicuik, persuaded by gout and poor digestion that he’s on his last legs, is making his will. His considerable fortune will go to his adopted daughter, Kitty Charing — on the proviso that she agree to marry one of his great-nephews; otherwise, it all goes to the Foundling Hospital and no one else gets anything. There are six young men to be considered:

George Rattray, a baron, but he’s already married; George’s rather smarmily superior brother, the Rev. Hugh; Lord Dolphinton, the only earl in the group, but sadly lacking in the way of mental equipage and right under his mama’s thumb besides; Claude, an army captain, but he’s away in France with his regiment, and nobody likes him much anyway; Freddy, heir to a viscountcy and a man of great fashion, but he has a fair fortune of his own and he’s simply not interested in marriage just yet; and, last and also rather least, there’s Jack, a gambling, flirting, undependable, self-absorbed, improvident rake. Of course, being the Bad Boy of the group, Jack is the one Kitty has always languished for. Not that any of them have any intention of being manipulated by the old man in this way. Kitty considers running away to London to seek her fortune — her conception of society being taken mostly from romantic novels — but then she thinks maybe she can fake a betrothal long enough to escape, with the help of the amiable Freddy, whom she talks into helping her. And so Kitty begins nervously moving out into the Real World, with the unknowing assistance of Freddy’s parents and sister, and as she discovers just how complicated things can be (even with a guide book), she also gets involved (naturally) in the problems and affairs of several other young people, all in true Jane Austen style. And Freddy, who has unexpected depths, begins to reconsider his own situation. The writing is light-heartedly droll, the dialogue is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and the characters are nicely and subtly drawn. Even the plotting, while occasionally (and deliberately) absurd, is nevertheless believable. While this isn’t great literature — really, it’s a superior sort of fluff — it’s still a delightful read. I think the BBC missed a bet in not having filmed this story back when Hugh Laurie was still doing Bertie Wooster, because he would have been perfect as Freddy.

Published in: on 7 September 2011 at 5:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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