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.
I love twisted tropes, and I adore Cotillion. I think it’s one of Heyer’s cleverest books. In the opening scene, Jack the Handsome Rake is everything a romance hero should be, and Our Girl, Kitty, has thought herself in love with him for years. So when Jack refuses to offer for Kitty as ordered, and Kitty escapes to London courtesy of a fake-engagement with Freddy, we all think we know what is going to happen. Kitty’s going to get a makeover, Jack’s going to stop taking her for granted, HEA. Jack, and Freddy, and the uncle, and Kitty herself, all believe Jack is Kitty’s endgame, so of course the reader does too.
The sheer joy of this book is to watch Freddy rise to the occasion and become exactly the man Kitty needs. Heyer’s brilliance leads the reader to invest in Freddy, to share the journey with him as he transitions almost unnoticed from wallpaper to secondary character to hero, as he falls in love and gives Kitty everything she needs, all the while believing that he’ll lose her at the end.
I’d never have Freddy for my book boyfriend. He’s not smart enough, and his fastidious fashion sense would drive me up the wall, but he’s perfect for pretty Kitty. His superpower is kindness, and in these toxic times that makes him a keeper.
You know, it just struck me: one of the reasons the alpha theme is so popular is that “the love of a good woman tames him and turns him into a decent man” — I don’t quite think that love for Kitty has turned Freddy into a man who uses all his (limited) capabilities. Something deeper is going on, but along those lines. Freddy’s sense of right and wrong means he must help family, and Kitty gets herself into several pretty pickles that challenges his ingenuity. His father praises him, and that’s got to feel good. Along the way, with these feel-good feelings (and also the heart-pounding annoyances — heart-pounding is next door to love), he begins to value Kitty for *her* kindness, sense of right (and let’s not forget attractiveness and good taste, because those are just as important for Freddy).
Yeah, I wouldn’t choose him for myself, LOL. He’s too much of a stickler, really, no matter how easy-going he is on the surface. I think he’s got plenty of smarts; it’s just that he applies them to things that I don’t care so much about (social status and surface beauty). But I love reading about him!
I haven’t read that in years. As part of my fantasy that things will slow down this winter, I’ll plan to read it then.
I don’t know how it came about, but I read two books this week; the internet has been so bad for my reading of novels! I also read a few short stories from Heart’s Kiss, so all in all, it’s been a good input week!
I am listening to Cotillion right now! Someone mentioned Freddy a few days ago and it got me thinking that I hadn’t listened to it in awhile (I adore listening to Georgette Heyer via Audible…the voice actors are amazing and their accents are perfect. If you want to hear a vacuous Dolph or a wallpaper Freddy, listen to Phyllida Nash’s version). And I’m listening to this book because of the things Freddy DOES for Kitty. Dragging her around to the London sites she wants to see (when he has absolutely no desire to do so), getting the special license for Dolph and his lady (when they hadn’t thought of it)…it’s totally my recipe for a good love story. In fact, I just recommended this, The Unknown Ajax, and Sylvester to my sister as three great stories to listen to (she’s into audiobooks, too).
(-: I think our earlier conversations is what spurred me to choose Cotillion over, say, Venetia or Frederica. Also, my WIP hero is a guy who works hard to not engage in a lot of stuff, so Freddy helps me see how to combine “effortlessly” cool with a need to get stuff done for the heroine’s sake.
Jack, and Lord Biddenden, are great examples of how to show a romantic-hero-on-paper isn’t very good in real life. He kind of reminds me of the handsome prince in Shrek, and there are a couple of other heroes-who-aren’t-heroes floating around out there. Frozen?
I needed a good read, so I started reading Cotillion today as a consequence of this post. Thanks Michaeline! Cotillion isn’t my favorite book by Heyer, I think because I find the opening scene rather cumbersome and hard to get through, full of people I don’t much like. But once you’re into the story, Freddy and Kitty take over, and I enjoy it thoroughly—just the ticket for these tumultous times.
I think you are right that it isn’t a starter Heyer. Heyer’s contemporary mysteries were also very full of interesting but nasty people, so I think she really enjoyed writing icky people. To tell the truth, it took me two or three Heyers before I started to see what people like her for; now that I know, I’m willing to put up with nasty characters (sometimes for a whole book!) because it’s got Heyer on the cover.
Starting a book with the POV of a mentally disabled minor character is a bold move. He’s the wise fool, though, in that he states the obvious, and helps move things along in an organic sort of way. Even though the first scene is thoroughly unpleasant, this is where the “writer’s writer” comes in — Heyer manages to do some amazing things. There are five men (seven if you count the servants) in that first scene, and they all have distinctive voices; the reader isn’t confused about who is speaking what. And between them all, they manage to convey a whole lot of information about family dynamics, and a crackpot will in a remarkably short period of time.
(-: And then the plot kicks in, and it’s a whole lot of fun! People get their just deserts! And a happy ending for four couples!