When I posted my review of Friday’s Child a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had a choice of three Heyer novels to read next and asked for some help in deciding which one to choose. The Corinthian received more recommendations than Faro’s Daughter and An Infamous Army so I knew it would have to be my next Heyer…and what a great choice it was! Published in 1940, it’s one of her earliest Regency novels and although I think she wrote better books, I did find this one thoroughly entertaining and fun to read.
Are you wondering what a Corinthian is? Well, it is defined in the dictionary as “a man about town, especially one who lives luxuriously or, sometimes, dissolutely”. The Corinthian of the title is Sir Richard Wyndham, a twenty-nine-year-old ‘Man of Fashion’ who, at the beginning of the novel, is under pressure from his mother and sister to marry the Honourable Melissa Brandon. Despite their insistence that she will make the ideal wife, Sir Richard knows that Melissa is only interested in his money – a thought which makes him so depressed he goes out and gets drunk (or ‘a trifle disguised’ as Heyer likes to call it).
On his way home, he looks up to see a young man attempting to descend from a window down a rope of knotted bed-sheets. Going to offer his assistance, Richard makes the discovery that the young man is actually a young woman: seventeen-year-old Penelope – or Pen – Creed. Like himself, Pen is being forced into a marriage not of her own choosing and has decided to escape by dressing as a boy and running away to the home of her childhood friend in Somerset. Because he is drunk and because it gives him an excuse to avoid Melissa, Richard finds himself volunteering to accompany her – but he is not prepared for the drama and adventure that awaits them on the journey!
I won’t say too much more about the plot, but you can expect a wonderful blend of comedy, action and mystery as Richard and Pen stumble from one farcical situation to another. Not only do they become entangled with jewel thieves, murderers and Bow Street Runners, they also have several encounters with various members of Pen’s family, as well as Melissa’s brother, the hilarious Cedric. As for Pen and Richard themselves, I found them both very likeable. Richard is sophisticated, bored and cynical, but also kind hearted, intelligent and competent, while Pen may be young and innocent but she’s not lacking in courage and is less silly than some of Heyer’s other very young heroines.
One of the great things about Heyer’s Regency novels is how fully they immerse us in the period. This one is no exception but it does have a different feel from the last Heyer Regency I read, Friday’s Child – that one was set mainly in London, in a whirlwind of masquerade balls, high-stakes card games, visits to the theatre and evenings at Almack’s Assembly Rooms, but this one takes us out of the city, with a lot of time spent on the road travelling towards Somerset. I loved the descriptions of what it was like to undertake a long journey by public stagecoach and the various coaching inns Pen and Richard stayed at along the way.
Having enjoyed this book so much, I am now about to start Faro’s Daughter and hoping it’s going to be another good one!