Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heyer 2009: Catherine Johns: ‘Class and Breeding’

Catherine Johns is an archaeologist and retired museum curator who has published both academic and popular books on Roman art and archaeology, on Graeco-Roman erotic imagery, and two books on animals in human culture, Horses: History, Myth, Art and Dogs: History, Myth, Art. These latter works have some bearing on the paper she presented at the colloquium, Class and Breeding.’

Johns began by pointing out that Heyer had ways of thinking which would have seemed self-evident to people of her generation. Heyer was born in 1902, lived through the First World War and was middle-aged by the end of the Second World War. Although great social changes came into effect after the Second World War, Heyer's attitudes had already been formed. Nowadays some of these attitudes seem quaint or even shocking. We read Heyer through the filters of (1) Heyer's historical settings (2) Heyer's early twentieth-century perceptions and (3) our own attitudes.

She was a contemporary of Patricia Wentworth, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, and Mary Renault, a generation that has now, itself, passed into history. It is easier to perceive Heyer's own attitudes if one reads her contemporary novels. Her detective fiction, published between 1932 and 1953, remains readily available and provides insights into her perception of her own times, such as her loathing of the increasingly heavy taxation of the rich, and her acceptance of national stereotypes.

It must also be borne in mind that Heyer was writing comedy so stereotypes about class are used for comic effect. Sometimes her humour is broad and boisterous, even reminiscent of P. G. Wodehouse. The end of The Grand Sophy is pure farce and Heyer's use of language and dialect, including the use of 'cant' often produces deliberately humorous effects. On occasion she also included characters' words, spoken in French, in English but with French word order, again for comic effect. These linguistic techniques, standard in earlier twentieth-century comedy, are paralleled by her exaggeration of class markers.

Heyer was not snobbish in the sense of believing that some classes were intrinsically superior to others. She specifically mocks assumptions of that kind in The Unknown Ajax. However, her observations of class, and her consciousness of it, result in the use of class signifiers to "mark" the characters.

In the period when Heyer was growing to adulthood, the relative influence of nature vs. nurture was much discussed (and it is, in fact, still open to debate). By the early twentieth century popular ideas about the issue had been partially influenced by the ideas of scientists such as Lamarck (1744-1829), Darwin (1809-1882) and Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton (1822-1911), who has now fallen into disrepute because of his beliefs about eugenics. Ideas about human "types" and "breeds" were also affected by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century developments in the breeding of livestock. A Shire horse is clearly different from a Thoroughbred because each had been bred to perpetuate and emphasise particular qualities. While this does not mean that one is better than the other, they are different, and suited to different types of work. Similarly, an earl might not be considered "better" than a man of the working class, but he would have been thought to be suited for a different role in life. It would have seemed easy to provide evidence for such allegedly innate class differences because there was so little opportunity for class mobility: children usually remained in the same social class as their parents.

Social rigidity really only began to break down drastically after the Second World War and it not until after 1945 that higher education was opened up to people from a wider range of social backgrounds. Social stratification was thus far more visible during the period in which Heyer began writing but Johns used a still image from a sketch from The Frost Report (1966-67) to illustrate the types of ideas about class and breeding which survived at the time the sketch was first broadcast (though, obviously, at this point they were being brought into question and parodied). Here's the video version:

There's a transcript below. Note that it includes a reference to "innate breeding."

Animal breeding experiments seemed to confirm popular belief in the primacy of nature over nurture. Inbreeding (the mating of close blood relatives) was seen to produce the "best" animals i.e. those who reliably demonstrated the expected qualities of their breed. Similarly, among humans, royalty tended to marry royalty, peasants married peasants, and the middle classes also tended to marry among themselves. Marrying outside one's social class was seen as a huge risk. Nowadays we know about the many dangers of inbreeding but the practical improvements in livestock over two centuries of planned breeding at first seemed wholly positive, reinforcing the belief that keeping "to one’s own kind" was a good thing. The Second World War and the horrors of Nazism brought many of these ideas into disrepute but the traditional admiration for "pure" bloodlines still survives among some dog breeders.

Heyer was a dog lover. She knew about canine character types and knew that a dog's personality, as well as its appearance, is affected by its breed. In her works, however, pedigree animals are not necessarily shown to be the best. Lufra, the "Baluchistan hound" in Frederica is a fine dog, despite being a mongrel. Likewise, some of Heyer's middle class characters have admirable qualities, despite their "vulgarity," and many of her aristocrats have thoroughly disreputable traits. It is These Old Shades, an early work, which contains the most overt references to innate class differences, thus favouring nature over nurture.

"Cross-bred" individuals who cross class boundaries were thought (like cross-bred dogs) to resemble one or other of their parents, or be an unpredictable mixture. One of the benefits of cross-breeding was that it could counter the negative effects of in-breeding. In Devil's Cub the offspring of an aristocratic father and a middle-class mother are Mary Challoner, an intelligent and sensible young woman with the manners of a lady, and Sophia, whom Johns described as a "feather-brained little tart" who, even had she received the same educational opportunities that Mary enjoyed, would not have benefited from them because she is not very bright.

Heyer, then, observed, accepted and recorded the class distinctions she saw all around her, but she admired intelligence, education, practical common sense and competence in all individuals, regardless of their social status.

John Cleese: I look down on him (indicates Ronnie Barker) because I am upper class.
Barker: I look up to him (Cleese) because he is upper class. But I look down on him (Ronnie Corbett) because he is lower class. I am middle class.
Corbett: I know my place. I look up to them both. But I don’t look up to him (Barker) as much as I look up to him (Cleese), because he has got innate breeding.
Cleese: I have got innate breeding, but I have not got any money. So sometimes I look up (bends knees) to him (Barker).
Barker: I still look up to him (Cleese) because although I have money, I am vulgar. But I am not as vulgar as him (Corbett) so I still look down on him (Corbett).
Corbett: I know my place. I look up to them both. But while I am poor, I am industrious, honest, and trustworthy. Had I the inclination, I could look down on them. But I don't.
Barker: We all know our place, but what do we get out of it?
Cleese: I get a feeling of superiority over them.
Barker: I get a feeling of inferiority from him, (Cleese), but a feeling of superiority over him (Corbett).
Corbett: I get a pain in the back of my neck.


  1. Argh -- I can't bear not to comment! There is something I would like to add to Laura's excellent summary of this talk.

    One point made was that the anxiety many of us feel nowadays about commenting on matters pertaining to class distinctions are closely comparable with the unwillingness many of our forebears felt about alluding to sexual matters. Social stratification and sexuality are both inescapable realities of the human condition, and as such, should be open to serious analysis and debate. Most younger people today will speak freely of the latter, but can feel constrained by artificial concepts of political correctness from looking clearly at the former.

  2. Yes, I probably missed out that point because it skimmed straight over me. I'm quite happy to discuss both "Social stratification and sexuality."

    I'm not sure how taboo discussions of class really are. It was only in July this year that the following report came out:

    Elitism in the professions and a lack of focus on careers in schools mean that bright young people from middle class as well as lower income backgrounds are being shut out from professional jobs, the Rt. Hon. Alan Milburn MP, Chair of the Fair Access to the Professions Panel, said today.

    Unleashing Aspiration - The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions concludes that without action to address Britain's ‘closed shop’ mentality, tomorrow’s generation of talented young people will miss out on a new wave of social mobility. (Government Press Release)

    I did a quick search for more information about social mobility elsewhere in the world and came across this, from 2006:

    Children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top 5 percent of the income distribution, versus children of the rich who have about a 22 percent chance.
    Children born to the middle quintile of parental family income ($42,000 to $54,300) had about the same chance of ending up in a lower quintile than their parents (39.5 percent) as they did of moving to a higher quintile (36.5 percent). Their chances of attaining the top five percentiles of the income distribution were just 1.8 percent.


    By international standards, the United States has an unusually low level of intergenerational mobility: our parents’ income is highly predictive of our incomes as adults. Intergenerational mobility in the United States is lower than in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Among high-income countries for which comparable estimates are available, only the United Kingdom had a lower rate of mobility than the United States.
    (from American Progress)

    So people are talking and writing about lack of "intergenerational mobility" or "social mobility," or problems of "social exclusion" and I have the impression that these are really just new ways of talking about social class (and the UK Government's press release did actually use the term "middle class." Presumably the term "lower income backgrounds" is another way of saying "working class."

  3. Yes, your point is quite right, Laura. I think that 'class' has become something of a taboo word, though.

    And those are some intriguing statistics!

  4. Another interesting thing is that although the Government (and think tanks?) are perhaps a bit less willing to talk about "class," plenty of individuals do seem to be using the terminology of "class". At least, in 2006 people in the UK were willing to say which class they thought they belonged to. Here's an article from the BBC, dating from 2006:

    The proportion of people who say they are middle-class has risen by nearly half in 40 years, a report says.

    Forty-three percent of people surveyed said they were middle-class, compared with 30% of people in 1966.

    But most - 53% - said they were working-class. The report also suggests that many are confused about which class they belong to.

    The survey, carried out for the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society, saw 1,000 people interviewed in March.

    Conducted by the Future Foundation, the survey found that 36% of builders questioned regarded themselves as being middle-class, while 29% of bank managers said they were working-class.

    The results suggest that about 2.67m people consider themselves working-class even though they are among the top 20% of richest Britons, as do 500,000 who earn more than £100,000-a-year.

    I think that's interesting because it suggests that while some people are perhaps defining "class" in terms of how much they earn, there are still a fair number of people who quite clearly distinguish between their income level and their class/cultural background, Oh, and "the researchers found both middle and working-class people thought they worked harder than the other, but neither saw themselves graduating to upper-class."

    I also found quite a few references to the "white working class" in recent newspaper articles from the UK and John Denham, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, recently said that "Class still matters in Britain and the politics of identity ignores it at its peril" (The Independent).

  5. Dunnettreader contacted me by email and asked me to post

    a collection of related (at least in my mind) comments triggered by not only this post but several of your prior Heyer posts which I've been reading with great interest. It's lengthy so I've indulged in sweeping generalities to keep it from book-length.

    I have a feeling that Blogger limits the length of comments, so I'm going to post Dunnettreader's comments in chunks, which should appear below in the desired sequence.

  6. DunnetReader Part 1

    I'm glad someone finally mentioned Wodehouse. His "farces of manners" are often a far more productive comparator for Heyer than Austen. I usually liken Heyer's comedies to Wodehouse when I'm encouraging someone to read Heyer for the first time.

    It should come as no surprise that Heyer, like Wodehouse, had male readers when she was first publishing. Both authors are masters of "what fools these mortals be", applied with as much or more relish to the upper classes as to the middling or lower orders. Neither author has an ounce of sentimentality -- their heroes and heroines can be just as silly or self-absorbed or motivated by self-interest as the rest of the cast of characters, most of whom have few socially redeeming qualities.

    Both authors are also intensely theatrical -- the stories are set in a narrowly defined but richly described slice of the author's personal imaginative universe with a limited dramatis personae, each character making character-revealing scene entrances and exits, and with author-invented slang, crackling dialog, and closely observed body-language and costume which "show" the reader far more than anything the author "tells" about the personalities and internal lives of the characters.

    There's a reason why "Jeeves and Wooster" translated so brilliantly to the small screen, beyond the genius of Fry and Laurie -- and Heyer has many of the same qualities.

  7. DunnetReader Part 2

    As for the entire "Heyer didn't reproduce the Regency the same way Austen produced it" discussion -- to my mind it's worse than irrelevant because it's asking the wrong questions, thereby making it impossible to look at what Heyer actually accomplished as a writer and ignoring some of the instructive ways we might compare Heyer with Austen.

    The most obvious explanation as to why the Austen/Heyer "historical" comparison is bogus is that Austen was drawing on personal direct experience to write for an audience who shared that experience. By contrast, Heyer was using historical research to take her audience to a world that neither she nor they had experienced directly. But that doesn't seem to be a sufficient response for those who look down their noses at "historical fiction" (especially of the romance variety) -- so we get caught up in the whole "historical fiction" is just "costumy" (as if contemporary literature was never "costumy"), or we get debates over standards of verisimilitude, suggesting that a work of historical fiction can never have a single element that could be considered anachronistic, or a work of historical fiction is ersatz unless its language and "mentality" could have been produced by someone from the historical era.

    The "historical fiction" verisimilitude debates are about as useful as the "hard" science fiction debates over whether one can bring oneself to read a tale that has a (scientifically impossible) FasterThanLight technology produced with a bit of hand-waving. I view these debates as simple sound and fury because historical fiction is always an invented world, and the author must engage in "world-building" for the reader just as a writer of fantasy or science fiction must do. How much an author of historical fiction incorporates "real" or "factual" historical elements and with what degree of "accuracy" depends on what the author is trying to accomplish – especially how "alien" or "familiar" the past, which is another country we can never visit first-hand, should feel to the reader. Just as in science fiction the amount of scientifically plausible "hard" science or technology in the "world-building" should be assessed based on the author's story-telling goals, so should the "world-building" in historical fiction be judged according to what the author is trying to achieve in the novel in question, not on pedantic gotchas.

  8. DunnetReader Part 3

    Does the fact that Heyer invented some of the "cant" terms she deploys so deliciously mean she isn't being "true" to history? Since only an expert in the period would be able to distinguish which terms were actually used in the period and which are Heyer inventions, from an artistic standpoint Heyer has succeeded famously in producing the "historical effect" she was striving for. Her cant dialogs are marvelous displays of a breezy, order-defying behavior -- someitmes shown in a positive light, but often used to illustrate her theme of the "social tyranny" of fashionable (especially Romantic or Byronic) "social rebellion". Similarly, I'm sure that nowhere outside Wodehouse's fictional universe had any English upper class group deployed each and every word of slang that Wodehouse devised for Bertie Wooster and co., nor had a butler used Jeeves' distinctive speech pattern -- but that didn't make Wodehouse's dialog any less "recognizable" or effective a part of his "world-building" for the reader.

    Does the fact that some of Heyer's plots involve behavior, especially by females, which would have been verboten in the historical period make her fiction "un" or "a"-historical? Out-of-the ordinary situations and behavior are, of course, standard fodder for comedies of all ages -- an unexpected event puts the cat among the pigeons, chaos ensues during which characters behave in all sorts of outrageous or out-of-the-ordinary ways, but eventually some sort of order (hopefully of an improved sort) is restored. No one seems to object to the implausibility of comedic exploits of Wodehouse's Empress of Blandings or of Shakespeare's cross-dressing heroines, so why should Heyer be held to "higher" standards just because she's writing comedies set in an historical period?

    As I see it, the major verisimilitude "crime" found in historical fiction is one that Heyer does not commit -- but which today's "wallpaper historicals" too often do -- which is to import a 20th/21st century social order and expectations into Georgian or Regency fictional universes. During the "chaos" stage of Heyer's comedies, the rules of the social order get violated or turned on their head, and the fact that Heyer's females indulge in verboten behavior in 18th or 19th century terms is frequently a central feature of the "chaos" -- but by the end, Heyer has restored a recognizably 18th or 19th century sort of order.

  9. DunnetReader Part 4

    Both Wodehouse and Heyer created vividly imagined fictional universes that never existed outside their stories. But history was central to Heyer's imagination in a way that even "current history" never was for Wodehouse, whose fictional universe stayed essentially untouched through two World Wars, a global depression, and the social upheavals that accompanied the first half of the twentieth century.

    In creating her fictional universe, Heyer seems to have both anchored and stimulated her imagination with immersion in historical research, and the historical "moment" of each novel plays multiple roles in her fiction. At what I'd call the "macro" level, in terms of social mores and the expectations of her principal characters, Heyer's early Georgians are as distinctive from her late Regencies as her late Regencies would be from novels set in the 20th century. At the "micro" level of the action of any given novel, the historical "moment" is central to her more serious works, such as An Infamous Army. But even a romantic comedy like Venetia has historical elements that "drive" the novel -- the allied occupation of France after Waterloo not only sets up the basic dilemma for Venetia and Aubrey who in effect have been abandoned by their elder brother, but it also provides context for further problematizing the situation (the unanticipated appearances of an unknown sister-in-law and a "dead" mother). And the reopening of travel in the post-Napoleonic peace is relevant to the various futures from which Venetia chooses.

    Venetia is a good example of one of the important ways I think Heyer shares more with Wodehouse than with Austen. There's a cold-eyed cynicism about the inherent selfishness of human behavior in Heyer's and Wodehouse's comedies that goes beyond Austen's clear-eyed observations and dry wit. Even the virginally pure, kind and "good" Venetia hasn't a soupçon of proper daughterly or sisterly sentiment, as she herself is the first to openly admit without a second's remorse. She intends to set up house for her self-absorbed younger brother because, of the choices available to her, that will suit her best -- not out of any impulse for self-sacrifice on her brother's behalf. It's only when she realizes she'll be miserable without Damerel that she abandons her plans for her brother without a moment's guilt.

  10. DunnetReader Part 5

    Venetia is our heroine, and in Heyer's universe of values she is "good", not because she does the emotionally difficult but "virtuous" thing instead of the easy but "unvirtuous" thing but rather, because she has the courage to be honest with herself and is capable of making her own choices and judging her own behavior as situationally appropriate. Venetia refuses to take the "easy" road of acquiescing to social mores or accepting religion's rules for morality as her own. What Heyer hates -- the greatest sin – is cant. Not cant as slang, but cant as hypocrisy, as wrapping one's self-interested behavior in the crowd-pleasing and self-justifying terms of moral superiority and righteous (often false) sentiment. Cant is a sign of weakness, of moral cowardice.

    That's not to suggest that cant isn't a sin in Austen's lexicon as well. Knowing one's self and being true to one's personal values is important to both authors' value systems. But Austen holds out the hope of a cant-free virtue, of a self that is capable of virtue, of aligning one's instincts naturally with "right" versus "wrong", either by learning from experience (e.g. Elizabeth Bennett) or achieving the maturity to assert one's virtuous nature (e.g. Fanny Price).

    By contrast, Venetia makes the "right" choice in Heyer's terms by renouncing "virtue". Venetia understands herself well enough to admit that her life will be empty if she can't obtain the rose petals for herself, and she has the courage to act on her self-knowledge. Now one might argue that Heyer is being a-historical because no Regency author would have written a novel in which the heroine does the right thing by renouncing virtue. And that may well be the case in terms of what would have been acceptable public discourse during the period. But is it unthinkable that no gentlewomen of the period made choices similar to Venetia's? Quite clearly not. Discourse may have divided women into two classes of the virtuous versus whores, but we have plenty of historical evidence that in practice both emotions and sexual behavior presented some degrees of grey.

  11. DunnetReader Part 6

    The distinction between what I think of as a "moral virtue" definition of "right and wrong" which Austen accepts (at least as an ideal) and Heyer's notion of "right and wrong" is particularly evident in Cotillion. Freddie, the hero, defeats a slew of dragons and brings order to comedic chaos. But he undertakes his quests not out of a sense of chivalry to protect the helpless nor out of a sense of morality to defeat evil, but because he's aesthetically offended. The various abuses of power (money, family position, religious authority, sexual predation) aren't objectionable to Freddie because they're morally wrong or unvirtuous. The "villains" of the piece in many ways aren't any less virtuous or admirable than the selfish or self-centered characters Freddie winds up protecting. The characters who are "losers" at the end of the dance have been opposed by Freddie not because he thinks they're any more selfish or immoral than most of those who wind up "winners" due to Freddie's intervention. Rather, he has opposed them because their actions violate his sense of what is fitting, of comme il faut, and because of the (comedic) chaos that ensues as a result of their abuses of power.

    Freddie sets out to correct various situations because they're simply bad ton. And the creativity he uses to devise the various solutions that will bring order out of chaos is the same sense that makes him the unchallenged leader of cutting-edge fashion -- an intuitive aesthetic sense of "what's done" even (or especially) when it's never been done that way before Freddie invented it.  So like Venetia's ability to arrive at personal judgments on situationally appropriate behavior, it's Freddie's own ability to assess what is "bad ton" and how to correct it -- not society's rules -- that drive his actions and allow him to succeed.

    Cotillion's "morality" is one that's defined and enforced by an idiosyncratic visionary of social aesthetics, not one that's conventionally defined as personal virtue. In this, I think Freddie shares much with Jeeves, who rights wrongs and restores order, not out of a sense of personal virtue or moral mission but simply because he can't bear unnecessary messes. so he engineers practical solutions that maximize the best interests of the many, and in the process he spikes the guns of the particularly unworthy. But no one whose interests Jeeves looks after is deserving of protection or reward due to personal virtue. Everybody is busy merrily looking out for what he or she thinks is their personal best interest. As in much of Heyer, especially her farces, everybody in Wodehouse is self-absorbed and driven by narrow self-interest.

  12. DunnetReader Part 7

    At the end of the day, both Heyer and Wodehouse, like Austen before them, defeat comedic chaos and restore a hierarchical and patriarchal social order. In that sense, their comedies are "conservative" -- chaos doesn't give birth to revolutionary change of the social order.

    But as the earlier post on "Thermodynamics" points out, at least in Heyer and Austen, comedic chaos produces changes at the levels of character and personal relations. Like a bunch of charging atomic particles, the disruptive force in Heyer -- which is often female, though not always the heroine -- has broken through the stasis of the hero, whether the stasis was born of aristocratic boredom or too-serious attention to responsibility or the prison of psychological alienation due to a painful past. Forced into motion by the disruptive element, by the end of the story the hero is ready to reintegrate into the social order, but reintegrate on different terms than before, and with a partner who will keep him from returning to the stasis state.

    Which brings me at last to the title of this post and the concern with "class" structures and "breeding". I'm a bit boggled by readers apparently being troubled by the "class" dimensions in Heyer -- does anyone read 18th and 19th century history? However, there appear to be some issues percolating below the surface concern about "class". Does the fact that all three of these authors of "comedies of manners" resolve their comedies by restoring a hierarchical social order mean that they are "advocates" for a class-based socio-economic system? How do they justify a return to hierarchy at the end of the tale -- do they accept a utilitarian notion that society as a whole is better off with a stable aristocracy bred for political or economic leadership?

  13. DunnetReader Part 8

    In some ways, the questions simply aren't fair to the authors. The very selection of "comedy of manners" as narrative form almost dictates a "conservative" resolution -- order will be restored from comedic chaos. If the social order at the outset was hierarchical, then so it shall be at the end. But comedies of manners are also, almost by definition, social commentary. So when we examine comedies of manners, we ought to ask questions such as:

    * What are the elements that introduce the chaotic forces -- are they evil, or truly dangerous to the social order, or merely disturbing because they don't seem to "fit" in the original order of things? The introduction of a stranger who threatens a small, insular society -- whether family or social scene -- is a technique Heyer sometimes uses. These situations can be as dangerous for the outsider because the group may produce all sorts of "antibodies" to protect against what they see as invasion. So Heyer's introduction of a potentially sinister or threatening outside force often serves as an indirect critique of the group that fears it is under attack, especially when the outsider is eventually able to defeat the antibodies. Austen provides a clear example of a less sinister-appearing source of chaos which carries considerable commentary on the existing order. Emma's analysis of social behavior is often spot-on -- where she's naive is thinking she can act upon her analysis. She's not in a power position from which she could effect outcomes, which says something both about Emma's naiveté as a character and about power and social relations in Austen's own world.

    * Who is vulnerable to the disturbing forces and why? This is where we'll find much of the social commentary in comedies of manners. I would note that, for many of Heyer's heroes, the threat from the disruptive female is as much to his amour propre as to any tangible interest, which may carry a critique by Heyer of patriarchal social assumptions.

    * How do characters of different personality profiles and social backgrounds respond to the chaotic forces? All three authors often portray upper class characters reacting in as or more foolish or venal fashions as any of the lower sorts. Self-serving hypocrisy and cant are often illustrated behaviors, which indirectly is a critique of those of the upper classes who indulge themselves in groundless self-justification. They may be well-bred in terms of genetic inheritance, but they are not well-bred in terms of being well-prepared to fulfill the social roles assigned to their class. A race horse's sire and dam may both be Derby winners, but the horse will never race properly if not trained properly. In that sense, nurture has always been as much a part of "good breeding" as nature.

  14. DunnetReader Part 9

    By asking these sorts of questions, we can recognize that comedies of manners in class-based societies, though structurally "conservative" in their resolution, may have a great deal of social critique embedded in the sources of and responses to comedic chaos. So it's necessary to look at what the author is suggesting along the way, not just how things are resolved at the end. In an historical novel, there's an added wrinkle in examining comedies of manners -- the critique may be of the historical social order that's the direct subject of the novel, or an indirect critique of the novelist's own society, or a combination of the two.

    Since comedies of manners are unlikely to produce a major revolution in the social order, it's also necessary to look closely at the resolution of the comedic chaos for individual characters. A Heyer hero who has been restored emotionally to life and reintegrated into an active, productive social hierarchy by a disruptive female is an achievement not lightly to be dismissed.

  15. I'm no Laura Vivanco -- meant admiringly and respectfully -- I'll have to set aside an hour or so to absorb what you said. However, I'm so glad you mentioned:

    a) Heyer the non-historically accurate writer (haha), I don't agree. I think larding her text occasionally with her own creative cant was the equivalent of hiding a secret camera to catch a thief. How tremendously annoying it must have been for her to see lesser writers repurpose, OK, steal, her plots whole cloth. I soon decided it was a mug's game to even try and keep track since so many have done it -- and still do it!

    b) Cotillion and Freddy's kind, "heart of the ton," heart. He mostly rescued everyone because had he not, those dirty dishes would have haunted London and distressed Kitty, as well the innate kindness within him. The cruelty just shimmering beyond the edges of wonderful scenes is pretty horrid and Heyer, altho she may not lead the reader into the bedroom, doesn't shy away from economic and class realities. Kitty's friend and her gambler cousin just were not good ton -- Olivia would have been Jack's mistress rather than the miserable bride of that old roue. Freddy's horse-mad cousin: his mother was stealing from him and would lock him up given half a chance. The cit's sister who marries the Irish earl is not in love but she says she'll make him happy and the reader believes her. Only marriage stands between poverty for Kitty.

    I didn't think about any of of this until I was much much older but like so much in Heyer, it's all there, waiting to be discovered.

  16. I'm no Laura Vivanco -- meant admiringly and respectfully

    I'll drop a curtsy to acknowledge that compliment!

    I think larding her text occasionally with her own creative cant was the equivalent of hiding a secret camera to catch a thief. How tremendously annoying it must have been for her to see lesser writers repurpose, OK, steal, her plots whole cloth.

    Aiken Hodge has written that when Heyer read one of the imitations/plagiarisms of her work she wrote to Frere, "It makes me feel quite sick to know that another slug is crawling over my work" (139) and she

    sat down to do a long and devastating analysis of her borrowings and historical howlers, including the confusing of the 4th and 5th Lady Jersey, the wrong publication date for Walter Scott's Waverley, and some verbal usages that could come only from herself. A favourite phrase, 'to make a cake of oneself', she had found in a privately printed memoir, unavailable to the general public, and the spangles on the Prince Regent's coat which made Brummell cut the connection (in Regency Buck) were entirely her own invention. (139-40)

    As for Freddy, I suppose it's quite possible to interpret the same facts in different ways. I side with Janet, though, in thinking that Freddy was genuinely kind and not just acting because he was "aesthetically offended." Hostesses know they can depend on him to dance with young ladies who no-one else wants to dance with, and he tries to keep his younger brother out of trouble. Unfortunately I haven't read any Wodehouse, so I can't comment on the comparison between him and Jeeves.

    There's a cold-eyed cynicism about the inherent selfishness of human behavior in Heyer's and Wodehouse's comedies that goes beyond Austen's clear-eyed observations and dry wit. Even the virginally pure, kind and "good" Venetia hasn't a soupçon of proper daughterly or sisterly sentiment

    Maybe this says more about me than I ought to reveal, but I thought Venetia was extremely sensible, not "selfish." As you said yourself, Dunnettreader,

    What Heyer hates -- the greatest sin – is cant. Not cant as slang, but cant as hypocrisy, as wrapping one's self-interested behavior in the crowd-pleasing and self-justifying terms of moral superiority and righteous (often false) sentiment

    I thought Heyer was presenting Venetia as someone who cuts through all the "cant" about family. It would, I think, have been hypocritical of her to act with "proper daughterly or sisterly sentiment" given that her father had lied to her and mostly ignored her, her mother had abandoned her and saw her beauty as a threat, one of her brothers took advantage of her ability to manage the household while he was away and the other was really only interested in his studies. She has a kindly aunt who hasn't made any great effort to see her or help her, and an uncle whose primary aim is to ensure that the social code is adhered to. So I see her attitude as realistic, rather than cynical. Venetia still loves Aubrey, despite recognising that he's extremely self-absorbed, but why should she sacrifice herself to keep house for him when he'd probably be just as happy buried in his books somewhere else?

  17. Laura, you take the very words out of my mouth about Venetia's character. I totally agree with your analysis of her.

  18. This is "dunnettreader". I'm still having post-publishing problems so I'll try responding in "parts"
    Part I --
    Ha, even though I wrote an immense post I didn't make myself clear about Heyer's "cynicism". I agree completely with Janet Webb's description of Cotillion. All that cruelty "shimmering beyond the edges" you painted so well was what I was referring to when I short-handed the various abuses of power by the villains Freddie defeats. Freddie slays some pretty nasty dragons.

    I deliberately used the "power" formulation in describing the villains precisely because I agree that Heyer "doesn't shy away from economic and class realities." It's one of the reasons why I advocate looking beyond the superficially "conservative" formula that restores a hierarchical class order at the end of Heyer's comedies of manners to examine the social commentary that runs throughout the comedic chaos parts of her farces.

    I also couldn't have bettered Laura Vivianco's description of Venetia. Venetia is the heroine precisely because she embodies Heyer's battle against cant. Venetia is like a walking, talking anti-cant force. She sees others and what makes them really tick beneath the surface. But she also sees herself as clearly -- which is one of the reasons why, with the exception of the mother-in-law from hell, she doesn't condemn others for being motivated by self-interest. How can she condemn others for self-interested behavior when she's the same.

    Further, I agree that Venetia herself isn't cynical -- she's just clear-eyed and realistic about human nature and behavior, including her own. She is also "sensible" in the sense of practical and realistic -- but certainly not "sensible" in the 18-19thC ideal of sensibility as sentiment. Venetia is the complete antithesis of sentimentality. Ironically, Damerel's problems are in part due to his "sensibility" which Venetia understands but doesn't share.

  19. From "dunnettreader" - Response Part II

    Both Freddie and Venetia are naturally, intuitively kind. They do for others because to act any other way would be contrary to their nature, would make them terribly uncomfortable with themselves. There's not some standard of "virtue" to which they have to struggle to attain. In a peculiar sense, they're acting "selfishly" by acting for others, not sacrificing themselves for others.

    In this sense, they both fulfill what I termed Austen's "ideal" of personal virtue that aligns naturally with a person's behavioral instincts. So in that sense, Heyer isn't being cynical. She's holding out the possibility that true virtue is possible.

    But Freddie and Venetia certainly don't fit the standard model of "virtue". Neither Freddie nor Venetia think or justify their own behavior in conventional moral terms of "right and wrong". They make their choices based on personal judgments of what's the fitting thing to do in a given situation. And since they're both naturally, intuitively kind, their actions at the least accommodate others' interests. But they don't consider themselves virtuous because of any self-sacrifice on their part.

    Both characters act upon what each believes is "fitting" even though their actions challenge conventional social structures/power (Freddie) or social mores that define "right and wrong" (Venetia). By choosing a path that puts them outside social consensus or structures, they are being "morally" courageous in Heyer's terms. They are both heroes for having the courage of their convictions.

  20. Hooray, Blogger finally accepted me!

    Part III --

    As I see it, Heyer in her battle against hypocrisy and cant deliberately makes Freddie and Venetia not fit any conventional model of what the virtuous person looks like or what motivates true virtue. Venetia's moral courage is displayed at the very moments when she renounces superficial "virtue". At the end of the day, Freddie is still a kind, good-humored fribble -- just a fribble with hidden depths. He's no more chivalric at the end than at the beginning -- he hasn't turned into a regular hunter and slayer of dragons. His "moral" intuitions are still aesthetic rather than conventionally ethical -- bad ton is breaking one's word, bad ton is exploiting others, etc.

    And look at the characters Freddie saves or Venetia protects. They're not innocent paragons who tug at our sentimental heart-strings with Dickensian pity. They're all weak or foolish in some fashion or another. They're all "guilty" to one degree or another of acting out of self-interest.

    But in Heyer's terms, self-interested behavior isn't something for which the characters should be condemned, which is why I put "guilty" in quotes. This is where I see Heyer more cynical than Austen. Not only is self-interested motivation just being human -- it's a trait shared by the heroes when they are being heroic. There's no self-denying "virtue" to which we should aspire.

    What is to be condemned is cruelty (abuse of power), most especially when it's wrapped up in cant or superficial "virtue". What is to be valued is clear-eyed self-knowledge, ability to assess what is "fitting" in a situation, and then to have the courage of one's convictions.

  21. So glad blogger finally accepted you dunnettreader :)!!

    I'm on the same page with you about Freddy -- mostly -- I believe I stand with his father who was pleasantly amazed by Freddy's hitherto unseen depths and it always makes me chock up when he says to Kitty (my words), don't disappear, you've been marvelous for Freddy -- and I think they genuinely like her for herself, too) but I still have a slight quibble with you over something you said about Venetia: There's a cold-eyed cynicism about the inherent selfishness of human behavior in Heyer's and Wodehouse's comedies that goes beyond Austen's clear-eyed observations and dry wit. Even the virginally pure, kind and "good" Venetia hasn't a soupçon of proper daughterly or sisterly sentiment, as she herself is the first to openly admit without a second's remorse. She intends to set up house for her self-absorbed younger brother because, of the choices available to her, that will suit her best -- not out of any impulse for self-sacrifice on her brother's behalf. Frankly, I think Venetia gave up much of her youth to take care of Aubrey -- he was treated despicably by both his parents and his British hearty older brother: one shudders to think what would have become of him without Venetia. If by "sentiment" you mean rose-coloured glasses, agreed, Venetia sees everyone painfully clearly, including herself, but I don't think her love -- and her sacrifice -- should not be acknowledged as well. I did truly love, though, the ending, where she gave everyone their comeuppance! Strewn with roses indeed -- she proved in her own self interest she could be as manipulative as the best of them!! And in the end, she held all the cards :)

  22. Dunnettreader, in general I agree with much of what you say about Venetia, but I have to query the equating of cynicism and 'self-interest'.

    You say, "But in Heyer's terms, self-interested behavior isn't something for which the characters should be condemned, which is why I put "guilty" in quotes. This is where I see Heyer more cynical than Austen. Not only is self-interested motivation just being human -- it's a trait shared by the heroes when they are being heroic."

    Well, to me, this seems to be merely a statement of a commonsense fact, not a particular ideological position! Humans' lives and thoughts are complex, so it is easy to find plenty of examples in which people have altruistically placed the good of others over their own, or have followed self-destructive courses, such as martyrdom for an ideological cause; but the fact remains that the human 'default mode', like that of other species, is to find a course of action that is as far as possible beneficial to oneself. To accept this is not 'cynical'; it is simply an objective and pragmatic observation. There is no inherent virtue in embracing unnecessary suffering. If one's self-interest cuts across the rights and wellbeing of others, then there will be a conflict requiring resolution, but in and of itself, trying to create the most comfortable life for oneself is not a vice or even a moral fault.

  23. I'll chop up this response to AgTigress and Janet Webb in the hopes Blogger will continue to accept me.

    Part 1 -

    AgTigress writes: in general I agree with much of what you say about Venetia, but I have to query the equating of cynicism and 'self-interest'. [big snip] the fact remains that the human 'default mode', like that of other species, is to find a course of action that is as far as possible beneficial to oneself. To accept this is not 'cynical'; it is simply an objective and pragmatic observation. There is no inherent virtue in embracing unnecessary suffering.

    I personally agree with your observations about human behavior, but I'm trying to tease out and compare what various authors, especially Heyer, are telling us. Let me first define what I mean when I use the term "cynicism" -- I'll steal a sentence from Wikipedia: "Modern cynicism, as a product of mass society, is a distrust toward professed ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions and authorities which are unfulfilled."

    Both Austen and Heyer attack cant and moral hypocrisy, which are abuses of "professed ethical and social values". The abuses may be of the outward sort, where cant or hypocrisy are often deployed as a means of power over others in pursuit of self-interest, as well as of the internal, self-deluding kind. Austen in particular punctures the overwrought "sensibility" of her era, which romanticized and internalized excesses of socially-valued attitudes and sentiments, such as transports of high emotion or parental or filial duty and obedience or self-abnegation.

  24. Part 2 -

    But what I'm positing is that Heyer takes her attack on "professed ethical and social values" further. She not only condemns the false embrace of socially-accepted values (both external cant and internal self-delusion). Heyer also questions the very values themselves in ways I don't think the author of Mansfield Park would ever do. That's not, however, to suggest that Heyer's cynicism is "value-free." Rather, she has her own set of values, which she sets against the "professed ethical and social values" of "society, institutions and authority".

    I agree, AgTigress, that there ought not to be "inherent virtue" in embracing unnecessary suffering. But necessary self-sacrifice, self-denial is in fact a central ethical and social value implicit in a great portion of Western (especially some brands of Christian) narrative, particularly pre-20thC. What makes the hero heroic is facing and overcoming a difficult challenge. And that often entails first, having a sufficiently refined conscience to be able to do what most of us self-deluding mortals cannot, which is to discern (difficult) virtue from (easy) vice, (difficult) right from (easy) wrong. The difficult but virtuous path is in the best interest of others. The easy path, which the hero must reject, is accommodating one's own preferences, or interests, or desires. And then the hero must not only make the hard choice, but have the courage to keep on the difficult path, no matter how challenging, no matter how personally risky or painful, no matter how self-denying, to the end without expectation of any reward other than virtue itself.

    Heyer stands this classic heroic formula on its head in Venetia. Venetia, to all outward appearances, has been throughout her life the good, dutiful, self-abnegating, pure, highly virtuous heroine. After she and Damerel fall in love, she is presented with her difficult heroic challenge or choice -- will she have the courage to reject socially-defined, self-sacrificing "virtuous" behavior in favor of "selfishly" pursuing her heart's desire? This is a radical inversion of the classic narrative. As I wrote: Not only is self-interested motivation just being human -- it's a trait shared by the heroes when they are being heroic.

  25. Part 3 -

    As Heyer portrays her, Venetia isn't any less virtuous when she "selfishly" renounces "virtue" than in the years before she met Damerel, and this for two reasons. First, Venetia's relationship with Damerel with or without a wedding ring is, itself, "virtuous" in Heyer's system of values because it embodies all the qualities of love which Heyer celebrates -- passion combined with friendship, mutual respect and a shared joie de vivre. Both hero and heroine are "better persons", more fulfilled, more generous to humanity generally, and more alive and open to possibility when they have the other as a partner than when they faced life alone.

    But Venetia is also not a "fallen" woman because her apparent virtue before she met Damerel was not, in fact, "virtuous" as socially defined -- that is, was not based on socially-valued notions of self-abnegating or dutiful or obedient virtue. As Venetia views herself, with her clear-eyed self-knowledge, she was as self-interested and self-serving during the years she was buried in the country being taken advantage of by her father and brothers as when she kicks over the traces in London and returns alone to claim Damerel for her own.

    This doesn't contradict (other than I think one wrinkle) Janet Webb, when she wrote: Frankly, I think Venetia gave up much of her youth to take care of Aubrey -- he was treated despicably by both his parents and his British hearty older brother: one shudders to think what would have become of him without Venetia. Shudder indeed! However, given Venetia's isolation -- both physically in the country and socially as a single woman of no independent resources -- she had limited power to challenge her situation. Her desire for a different sort of life wasn't strong enough to motivate her to make the immense effort to rebel or fight for better treatment, and her love for Aubrey outweighed her desire to pursue other highly-uncertain options.

    Although Venetia did "give up much of her youth", she wasn't being dutifully self-abnegating. She was pursuing a path that -- given her relative powerlessness to change her situation, her relative power to run the household and neighborhood according to her own values and preferences, and her love for Aubrey -- was the choice that she felt best suited her own emotional needs and desires. Later, when she's in London looking for a house where she and Aubrey can live, she's completely truthful when she denies that she's "sacrificing herself" for her brother. She prefers for herself a life of independence in which she can ensure that Aubrey's interests are secured to a life of conforming to the rules of the ton so highly prized by her aunt and uncle.

  26. Part 4 -

    The "wrinkle" I'm referring to is Heyer's suggestion, which appears in many of her novels, that love, with its commanding impulse to obtain at even very high costs the best for the loved one, is as "selfish" a motivating emotion as any other self-interested desire. Yes, Venetia "gave up much of her youth" because she loved Aubrey -- because she would have been acutely miserable if Aubrey had been abused any more than he already was by his family. The uncertain prospects for herself if she'd rebelled and left Aubrey to fend for himself didn't offer strong enough motives to outweigh her misery if Aubrey were miserable. She stayed and protected Aubrey and ran the household because that was what she, pursuing her own "selfish" emotional needs, desired more than what she might obtain if she made other choices.

    Venetia acknowledges her own "selfish" motives, and what's more, she doesn't feel a bit guilty that her apparently virtuous behavior hasn't been motivated by socially-defined "proper" sentiments of daughterly/sisterly respect or duty. Heyer and the reader in no way condemn Venetia for the fact that her motives may have been "selfish". Her behavior is indeed praiseworthy and worthy of emulation. She is truly a kind, generous, thoughtful person who opposes cant and cruelty and abuses of power.

    Venetia's doltish suitor, Edward, of course sees everything through the prism of conventional "professed ethical and social values" and doesn't understand any of this. He mistakes Venetia's behavior for a "proper" appreciation of her daughterly/sisterly duty which he hopes to see translated into wifely obedience -- though even Edward is troubled by what appears to be a lightness or frivolity of demeanor and attitude inconsistent with Venetia's "virtuous" behavior.

  27. Part 5 -

    I think Heyer's most explicit statement that challenges the faux virtues of "professed ethical and social values" is in The Black Moth/These Old Shades. Frank/Hugh predicts that the only way Andover/Avon will be turned away from his self-absorbed, self-seeking path of self-destruction is if he loves another. Not because love will turn the Duke into a virtuous self-abnegating paragon of socially-valued ethical behavior. Rather, the Duke will "selfishly" pursue what will become his greatest desire -- the best interests of the woman he loves -- with the same mad intensity, regardless of cost, with which he has pursued his wicked, destructive pleasures.

    At the end of These Old Shades, Avon (like Damerel in Venetia) hasn't been transformed into society's notion of a virtuous man. But his love for another, and then finally learning to accept her love even though their relationship violates social expecations and values, has redeemed his humanity, which is what Heyer values above any socially-defined "morality".

    What I term Heyer's "cynicism", her "distrust of professed ethical and social values", is illustrated when Venetia's love for Damerel drives her to heroically meet Heyer's highest standards and take the "hard" path of rejecting socially-defined "virtue."

    As for Freddie, Janet is right to point to Freddie's father's judgment -- Freddie's hidden depths would never have been plumbed nor would he have bothered to slay the dragons no matter how aesthetically offensive he found them, but for his love of Kitty.

  28. I really can't agree with the following sentence:

    "Heyer was not snobbish in the sense of believing that some classes were intrinsically superior to others. She specifically mocks assumptions of that kind in The Unknown Ajax."

    There's rarely been a presentation more "classist" than Heyer's comments on the male child substituted for Leonie in These Old Shades.

  29. Another thought -- has anyone applied Paul Fussell's concept that when it comes to class, some people are "X" factor, to romance novels?

    By "X" in the 20th century context, he meant that some people simply exist outside the class system. I vaguely recall an example on the order of the daughter of a prison guard and a beautician (clearly working class) who got a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago and married a radical artist.

    No, she wasn't "country club set." Neither did she subscribe to "middle class values." On the other hand, since she didn't give a fig, the ordinary categories just weren't applicable.

  30. From what I can remember, Fussell's class "X" are what other people might call "bohemian" or perhaps "the intelligentsia" or possibly "hippies" depending on the period. I definitely felt there was the implication that these people were outside the class system because they had thought things through and refused to be bound by convention and tradition.

    I'm not sure how many people like that one finds in romances. Many of the people in historicals have ideas (e.g. about female emancipation) which seem rather forward-thinking for their times, and quite a lot of heroines are described as bluestockings, but I'm not sure there are many who really resemble Mary Wollestonecraft, for example. I'm not sure one would find many of her modern counterparts in contemporary romances.

    For those who haven't read Fussell, here's a summary from The Atlantic:

    Some 25 years have passed since the publication of Paul Fussell’s naughty treat Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, and I think this quarter-century mark merits the raising of either a yachting pennant, an American flag, or a wind sock with the Budweiser logo (corresponding to Fussell’s demarcations of Upper Class, Middle Class, and Prole). For readers who somehow missed this snide, martini-dry American classic, do have your assistant Tessa run out and get it immediately (Upper), or at least be sure to worriedly skim this magazine summary over a low-fat bagel (Middle), because Fussell’s bibelot-rich tropes still resonate.

    Back in 1983, Fussell—author of the renowned book
    The Great War and Modern Memory—argued that although Americans loathe discussing social class, this relatively new, rugged country of ours did indeed have a British-style class system, if less defined by money than by that elusive quality called taste. To be sure, Fussell’s universe is somewhat passé, in that its population is almost exclusively white (with the Mafia thrown in for color), and the three “classes” in his opening primer conform to clichés we might think of as Old-Money Wasp, Midwestern Insurance Salesman, and Southern Trailer Trash. The top classes, according to Fussell (with a hint of Nancy Mitford), drink Scotch on the rocks in a tumbler decorated with sailboats and say “Grandfather died”; Middles say “Martooni” and “Grandma passed away”; Proles drink domestic beer in a can and say “Uncle was taken to Jesus.”

    [...] A quarter century later, most of Fussell’s categories live on—if with some fiscal damage.

    [...] Fussell’s Xs were essentially bohemians, the young people who flocked to cities in search of “art,” “writing,” and “creative work,” ideally without a supervisor.

    There's an excerpt from Fussell's book here (you'll need to get to page 15 before you can reach the beginning of the first chapter).

  31. I would dearly love to have a listing of the parameters for this study. For example, there's the following:

    Children born to the middle quintile of parental family income ($42,000 to $54,300) had about the same chance of ending up in a lower quintile than their parents (39.5 percent) as they did of moving to a higher quintile (36.5 percent). Their chances of attaining the top five percentiles of the income distribution were just 1.8 percent.#

    What comes to my mind is the questions of whether they were comparing the incomes of adult children at date X with those of their parents on the same date (thus not allowing for the impact of seniority, etc.), or whether it was sufficiently longitudinal to compare the income of the parents at age 50 with the income of the children at age 50 (allowing for the impact of inflation, etc.). If they're comparing a 50 year old parent to a 25 year old child, it doesn't say much about the longer-range earnings potential of the child.

    Then there are "class" differences that aren't reflected in income -- a plumber will ordinarily earn more than a son who becomes a high school science teacher, yet the first occupation is categorized as "blue collar" and the second as "white collar."

    I've read several discussions of Appalachia in the period from the 1930s through the 1970s that mention men who had gone to college and become teachers, yet went back into the mines, like their fathers, after a few years, because the pay was better.

  32. "I would dearly love to have a listing of the parameters for this study."

    Virginia, statistics is definitely not my forte, so I didn't go over to look at the full report by Tom Hertz, "Understanding Mobility in America" (2006). However, it's available here and when I glanced through it I thought I could see some explanation of their methodology. I don't know if it addresses the concerns you have, though.

    "there are "class" differences that aren't reflected in income"

    That's something that's acknowledged in the Frost Report sketch, and I think it's detailed at length in Fussell's book. In Heyer you can find "mushrooms" or "cits" who are richer than many an aristocrat, but whose behaviour and sense of aesthetics mark them very clearly as members of a lower class.

  33. I always thought that by portraying the "innate" gentility of Leonie (as well as the "innate" boorishness of Bonnard) Heyer was following a literary convention that can also be found in Ann Radcliffe's novels (for example). It's a kind of fairy tale concept that true gentility can only be displayed by the gentry.
    By endowing the false Vicomte de Valmé with a passion for agriculture, the reader does not feel sorry for him in the end, when his true parentage is revealed. So I would like to suggest that the "classist" presentation of Valmé/ Bonnard in These Old Shades is part of a literary convention and does not necessarily reflect Heyer's actual ideas.

  34. Julia, I think Heyer's use of that literary convention shows she accepted it, especially since she doesn't challenge the idea.

    Even in 'A Civil Contract', which contains what is possibly her most explicit statement that class does not determine how admirable a person is, she returns to the idea that a person's interests and aptitudes can be determined by their class heritage. Jenny is the heroine, and a much better wife for noble-born Adam than upper-class Julia would have been, but she's still explicitly stated to have inherited her interest in farming from her mother (the farmer's daughter). She'd fit into the Versailles of Leonie and Avon about as well as the Vicomte de Valme, for that matter.

  35. Laura, I am intrigued by your thoughtful analysis.
    I have to say I am perturbed at the disservice that Heyer's created world serves in shoring up a reactionary interpretation of history because so many of her readers, especially from outside the UK, unfortunately lack a sound knowledge of UK history - and seem to have little understanding of the subtle way she went about depicting a very right wing view of history.
    I find it worrying that Heyer's reactionary view of my country's history is accepted as 'wonderfully researched' when by definition it is so partial.
    I have seen so many readers in discussions I have looked over stating that they would 'Love to have been living then' under the strange impression that they would have been members of the tiny upper class...
    There is the savage portrayal of subversives as contemptible(The Unknown Ajax) and making the French Revolution and the Terror synonymous (The Talisman Ring). Heyer generally (with the exception of 'An Infamous Army' which still has a massively upper class right wing bias) concentrates on frivolous detail.
    The result is that unfortunately, because Heyer's details were well researched, her reactionary depiction seems to go unchallenged.