Heyer, Georgette. Bath Tangle.

NY: Putnam, 1955.

The story opens around 1816 with two young women trying to deal with the recent sudden death of the Earl of Spenborough — the most important male in both their lives. As the strong-minded only child of an earl, and a very wealthy woman besides, Lady Serena functioned not only as her father’s hostess and estate manager but as his substitute son. Athletic and filled with energy on all occasions, as well as an avid follower of the political scene, she’s the complete opposite of Lady Fanny, the young widow (a trophy wife younger than Serena), who is far more ladylike in the approved way.

In fact, Fanny generally was happy to let her stepdaughter continue to run things for her father. But the author makes it clear that Serena isn’t automatically superior to her friend. She’s quite used to command, for instance — but only in regard to the upper, “executive” servants. She has no notion of how the others actually do their jobs. Fanny, on the other hand, having been brought up in a far less wealthy household, is quite at home discussing linen repair with the housekeeper and explaining new recipes to the cook. The back-story to the plot is that half a dozen years earlier, Serena had jilted the Marquis of Rotherham, to whom she had been betrothed. The two of them “just wouldn’t suit” — but they’ve continued a tumultuous relationship right up to the present. And now it develops that the late earl made Rotherham his principal executor, with the power to withhold his daughter’s huge inheritance unless and until she marries someone of whom the Marquis approves. Of course, this enrages Serena. The two young women move into the dower house on the estate but after a few months chafing under the enforced isolation demanded by mourning etiquette, they take a house in Bath for six months. And there Serena runs into Hector, recently departed from the army and the man with whom she had been head-over-heels in love when she was nineteen. Will she be able to curb her flaming, flaring style for him? Will he be able to survive her scorching personality? And, as always in Heyer’s novels, there are several other supporting and intertwining plots, all of which come to a head in the last chapter.

Actually, had Serena been a real person, I wouldn’t have cared for her at all. She’s far too self-absorbed, selfish, and egotistical. Fanny is certainly aware of this and even tries to explain it (i.e., apologize for it) to Hector. Most other people simply have no existence for Serena and certainly their feelings and opinions have no meaning at all for her. She does exactly as she chooses in all things because, being wealthy and titled and spoiled, she always has. I don’t find that sort of personality admirable at all. Then there’s the Marquis, who is even more self-centered and is a tyrant and a bully besides. High title and great wealth notwithstanding, he’s certainly no gentleman — but, the English class system being what it is, he gets what he wants, no matter how it impacts on anyone else. The author seems to think all this should be considered amusing, but I don’t see it. If you order Heyer’s three dozen Regency romances from best to (relatively speaking) worst, this one would fall right in the middle of the lower half.

Published in: on 25 September 2011 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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