Kerstin Frank works at the University of Heidelberg. She is the author of Die Erneuerung des Romans im Zeichen postmoderner Realitätsauffassung: Sinnstiftung und Sinnzerstörung in Christine Brooke-Roses Werk but has now moved on from studying postmodern British novels to working on the eighteenth-century fantastic and gothic genres. As a result, this year she is teaching a course on "Werewolf and Vampire: Manifestations of Otherness and the Transgression of Boundaries."
In "The Thermodynamics of Georgette Heyer: Variations on the Quest for Revitalisation" Frank drew on thermodynamics, a branch of physics which deals with the conversion of energy. [LV comment: at this point it might (or might not!) help to turn to Flanders and Swann's "First and Second Laws"
The lyrics to this can be found here or here]
So, thermodynamics explains that heat passes from a hot object, whose particles move around more, to a cold body, which has relatively little kinetic energy. Historical romances also depict the interactions between hot and cold bodies. Coolness tends to be used metaphorically to describe a lack of emotion (e.g. "as cold as a fish"). In Heyer's novels upper-class life is critiqued and described humorously. It can be thought of as "cold" because it is relatively static, with the boundaries of upper-class behaviour clearly defined. Members of the ton tend to have high social status, but they must demonstrate indifference to the details of money and fashion. "Warm" or emotionally exuberant behaviour is frowned on, as when Lady Bridlington is displeased by Arabella's rescue of a chimney sweep in Arabella. The ton is, however, fascinated by those who transgress the limits of polite, "cold" behaviour.
Heyer's heroes often show their "cold" indifference by stifling yawns or fiddling with their neckties. Many of them are affluent and have perfected an attitude of coldness and indifference. They despise society but nonetheless epitomise its rules in their exaggerated boredom and adherence to the rules of dress. Such heroes may have cynically bored eyes, sleepy eyes, sleepy gazes or may cast lazy glances. This indifference, arrogance and coldness are to be found in the hero of The Corinthian, who is called an "iceberg" and whose
air proclaimed his unutterable boredom, but no tailoring, no amount of studied nonchalance, could conceal the muscle in his thighs, or the strength of his shoulders. Above the starched points of his shirt-collar, a weary, handsome face showed its owner's disillusionment. Heavy lids drooped over grey eyes which were intelligent enough, but only to observe the vanities of the world; the smile which just touched that resolute mouth seemed to mock the follies of Sir Richard's fellow men.Such heroes use their coldness to intimidate others. Even Freddy Standen, in Cotillion, uses a prop to coolly intimidate another by viewing him slowly through his quizzing glass:
Upon Mrs Scorton's reappearance, she found herself confronted, not by the fool of his family, but by the Honourable Frederick Standen, a Pink of the Pinks, who knew to a nicety how to blend courtesy with hauteur, and who informed her, with exquisite politeness, that he rather fancied his cousin was tired, and would like to be taken home. One of the uninvited guests, entering the box in Eliza's wake, ventured on a warm sally, found himself being inspected from head to foot through a quizzing-glass, and stammered an apology.These heroes' coldness is challenged by the arrival of their heroines. Particles start to clash and warmth is generated:
The eye, hideously magnified by the glass, continued to stare at him for an unnerving moment. 'Ah, just so!' said Mr Standen, letting the glass fall at last. 'Come, Kit! Your very obedient, ma'am!'
It was not the practice of young ladies to put up their chins in just that style if Mr Beaumaris levelled his glass at them: they were more in the habit of simpering, or of trying to appear unconscious of his regard. But Mr Beaumaris saw that there was a decidedly militant sparkle in this lady's eye, and his interest, at first tickled, was now fairly caught.The heroes are forced to abandon their coolness and become engaged in the messy events of the plot. The tension between hot and cold is never resolved [LV comment: in the words of Flanders and Swann, they do not reach a state of "perfect peace"] because the heroes continue to possess enough coolness to sort out the tangles of the plot, as Freddy does in Cotillion or as Mr Beaumaris does in Arabella, while the liveliness and warmth of the heroines continue to provide a contrast.
Karin E. Westman, in "A Story of Her Weaving: The Self-Authoring Heroines of Georgette Heyer's Regency Romances," Doubled Plots: Romance and History, ed. Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden (Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2003), pp. 165-184, proposes three categories of Heyer heroines, each with differing degrees of maturity and control. The younger heroines who are less knowledgeable about society provide more of a contrast with their heroes. Older and more experienced heroines who know the ways of the world may satirise the hero's detachment. In Sylvester Phoebe may be relatively young but she is knowledgeable and she fights Sylvester verbally with the weapons of honesty and parody. She is not awed by his cool demeanour and he is eventually forced to reassess his emotional detachment. Sometimes, as in Venetia, heroines become an ally for the hero, sharing with him the fun of ridiculing society.
Heyer's heroines tend to be unconventional, possibly adopting certain aspects of masculine behaviour and language. This can unbalance the heroes and allow them to distance themselves from the social rules. With their heroines they can find a separate, private space where warmth is allowed. This private space remains very limited, however: the rules must still be adhered to in public.
Frank concluded by acknowledging that in her paper she had been forced into generalisations due to time constraints and she acknowledged that there is scope in Heyer's work for plenty of variations on the contrast between cold and hot.
She also stated that it is Heyer's humour, her awareness of clichés and patterns and her metafictional streak which set her apart from many other romance authors.