Georgette Heyer’s Corinthian

Georgette Heyer, The Corinthian (©1940, Bantam 1967 – retail price 75c, but I got it kind-of-free via BookMooch)

A number of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances did the rounds of my family when I was 12 or 13 years old. In particular, I remember the bursts of laughter coming from first my mother, then my farmer father, my apprentice mechanic brother, and probably at least one of my younger sisters as each in turn read Friday’s Child. Any writing that can do that isn’t too shabby. When a writer friend recently told me of her not-so-secret addiction to these books, and that her much-read favourite was The Corinthian, I decided to ignore the imperatives of cool and the protestations of my traveling companion, and read it on the plane.

It’s a hoot. It has a lot in common with what I remember of Friday’s Child: a gutsy, childlike heroine, a foppish but morally sound older man who progresses from amused exasperation with her to falling in love, a sweetly benign fantasy of the aristocratic life. Plus, in this one, there’s cross-dressing comedy that’s a lot more Twelfth Night than Pink Flamingoes but still manages to hint that the eponymous Corinthian (evidently a synonym for dandy) might not be completely heterosexual. Ms Heyer’s has fun with thieves’ jargon, fun with stock figures including the pater iratus, the ingenue, the dandy, country magistrate. The Jewish stereotyping she has been criticised for isn’t in evidence here, and while I can see that the outrageous depiction of class might make the book distasteful, I found it hard to take such playful exuberance in anything other than the spirit it’s intended.

I realised on this reading that Georgette Heyer’s books introduced me to the comedy of wit, so that when my university studies led me to Etherage and Congreve, Meredith and Wilde, this boy from the Catholic wilds of north Queensland already had a toe in the door.

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