Thursday, February 12, 2015

What Was Her Mysterious Parentage?

   Published in 1926

THESE OLD SHADES by Georgette Heyer

These Old Shades was Heyer's sixth published novel, and was set in Georgian times. It tells the story of Leonie, a girl brought up in a humble home in Paris, but whose origins are anything but humble.

Through a series of interesting events, (and after first masquerading as his page "Leon") Leonie becomes the ward of the Duke of Avon. The mystery of her real parentage lies in the hands of the Duke of Avon's enemy, the deadly Compte de Sainte-Vire, a man Leonie greatly fears. 

Published in 1926, the book is very much "of its time", with a rather melodramatic tone. It seems to be a favorite with members of the Heyer Listserv (book discussion group), and Avon is definitely a favorite hero with some of the ladies on the list. Justin, Duke of Avon, is amusing, arrogant, self-centered, with a sometimes destructive wit at the beginning of the book. About halfway through we see him maturing a bit; he is kinder, his good characteristics have strengthened, and he actually puts someone else's interests above his own. 

Leonie, I have to admit, annoys me at times; she worships Avon with slavish adoration and defends him to all. The man's nickname is "Satanas", for goodness sake! But I still have a kindness for her, and, as I said, he does grow up. This is a Heyer that I do like to re-read once in a while. The characters of Justin's family are so very funny. There is a lot of wit and charm in the book (which one expects of Heyer, after all). I think my favorite character in the whole book is Rupert, the Duke's brother. Rupert makes the book worth reading all on his own. 

It is a fast-paced, tension-filled book, which will keep you laughing throughout -- from the moment Avon first meets Leonie, dressed in boy's clothes and going by the name of "Leon", to the excellent chase and rescue at the end. It is a feel-good read with hilarious dialogue throughout and characters that you can't help but love. And although it is not in my personal top 10, I know some who put it in the #1 spot on their Heyer list. So look for it in your library or buy an inexpensive paperback on Ebay or Amazon. It's worth the read.

My copy of TOS is a Bantam Books paperback, published in 1970.

Note: Heyer did not do sequels, but it is generally accepted by "Heyerites" (and stated by Heyer biographer Jane Aiken Hodge) that she did take the main characters in The Black Moth and use them again, under different names, in These Old Shades. She titled the book so, as a hint to her readers -- the characters in TOS were "shades" of those in TBM.
Since TOS was published in 1926, she was probably writing it at the time of her marriage to Ronald Rougier in 1925. It was published during what is known as The General Strike in England when there were not only no trains or newspapers, but no advertising or reviews, either. Yet the book was an instant success. Hodge suggests Heyer may have been encouraged to believe that she didn't need publicity to have a successful novel, after TOS sold 190,000 copies on publication.

My list, so far:

1. Simon The Coldheart
2. These Old Shades
3. The Black Moth
4. Instead of the Thorn
5. Powder and Patch
6. The Great Roxhythe

Next Entry: The Old Gentleman Orders All

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