In Praise of These Old Shades
This is a terrible admission for a historical novelist to make but until about three years ago I hadn’t read a single Georgette Heyer book. I know, I know! It was just one of those things that I’d always intended to get round to but, well, you know how it is.
And then, quite by accident, a five-book omnibus of her works came into my possession and my life took a decided turn for the better. By the time I’d got to the end of the first page of These Old Shades I was already transfixed. In case you’re not familiar with this particular novel, these are the first few sentences that so captured my imagination.
"A gentleman was strolling down a side street in Paris, on his way back from the house of one Madame de Verchoureux. He walked mincingly, for the red heels of his shoes were very high. A long purple cloak, rose-lined, hung from his shoulders and was allowed to fall carelessly back from his dress, revealing a full-skirted coat of purple satin, heavily laced with gold; a waistcoat of flowered silk; faultless small clothes; a lavish sprinkling of jewels on his cravat and breast. A three-cornered hat, point-edged, was set upon his powdered wig, and in his hand he carried a long beribboned cane. It was a little enough protection against footpads, and although a light sword hung at the gentleman’s side its hilt was lost in the folds of his cloak, not quickly to be found."
Who could fail to be intrigued by such a lavish description? It was impossible not to want to know who this gentleman was and why, when he was obviously rich and well-connected, he was exposing himself to the dangers of the Parisian side streets. Abandoning everything else I soon became embroiled in the world of the cold-hearted Duke of Avon and the mysterious redhead who turned his well-organized life on its heels, bringing to the fore the better side of the duke’s nature, which he had striven for so many years to keep under close guard.
By the time I’d finished These Old Shades I was convinced that by good fortune I’d hit upon Georgette Heyer’s most richly textured novel first time round. After all, how could she possibly improve upon such a beautifully woven and wittily related tale?
Then I started reading Sprig Muslin ….
Wendy's latest book is The Social Outcast, available from Amazon and Robert Hale Ltd