Heroes come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments, and I like mine tall and a little bit goofy. I’m re-reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion today, and Freddy Standen checks off both boxes.
Georgette Heyer is a writer’s writer, and one of the very cool meta-things I noticed the read-through is that so many of the characters come in pairs. In the first chapters, Freddy Standen is meant to be an idiot – a well-dressed fop who hasn’t two wits to rub together. In a complicated plot, he’s set up against his four cousins as competitors for our heroine’s hand in marriage. An evil uncle has made it part of his will that his fortune will go to Kitty Charing if, and only if, she marries one of his nephews. Otherwise, she’ll be destitute, and the fortune will go to
One of Freddy’s cousins is also an idiot, but in the old-fashioned sense of “slow”. Lord Dolphinton is an earl whose bride will be a countess, and Freddy can make his bride a Viscountess. (The rest of the eligible cousins aren’t titled.) Both men are very honest and blunt, and have no problems stating their view of the situation. And both have special abilities. Freddy has unerring taste in clothes and what’s “right” in the culture of the ton. Lord Dolphinton is a horse whisperer, and as we fiction readers know, a man who is good with animals is a good, kind man at heart.
On the other hand, we have two adventurers. One is cousin Jack, who has an understanding with Kitty – one that is muddied when he refuses to show up to propose to Kitty – he’s defying his uncle, and is sure that Kitty will wait for him for however long it takes for him to sow his wild oats. The other is Kitty’s French cousin, Camille, who only met Kitty once, but was very kind to her. He’s also looking for a large fortune in Great Britain, but Freddy lets him know that Kitty has to marry one of the cousins in order to get her large fortune. Both men are dashing, and much admired in society as being at the peak of fashion.
However, we soon become disillusioned by Jack by the middle of the book. Heyer makes it look easy to discredit Jack. She writes him as an arrogant soul who expects Kitty to build her world around him while he goes off and flirts, has mistresses, and gambles. Jack briefly partners with his married cousin, Biddenden, as they deny Kitty any agency whatsoever. Biddenden has been a villain of the piece since the second page, when he is unkind to the vacuous Lord Dolphinton. His views of Kitty simply reinforce that he’s not the guy we are cheering for. Cousin Camille, on the other hand, redeems himself by falling into true love, and saving a damsel in distress.
Freddy will go on to save the day for Kitty in this story, with his unerring taste and moral compass. He’s goofy, but he is kind, and his love is something that supports rather than represses (except in the matter of blondes wearing lilac, and other color choices in dress). He is a flawed hero, but in a flawed world, aren’t we all? It’s nice to see the nice guy win.