Oafs, Cawkers, and Curst Dandies: Heyer’s Heroes with Hidden Depths

Le Bon Genre, Plate No. 13.

Le Bon Genre, Plate No. 13.

At first glance, some of the gentlemen in Georgette Heyer’s novels don’t quite measure up to our idea of a hero.  Instead of dashing, quick-witted, wealthy, and capable men in the mold of the Duke of Avon, the Marquis of Alverstoke, and the Earl of Worth, we are given a collection of fellows ranging from seemingly ignorant lummoxes to dandified nitwits who may well be soft in the head.

But do not despair!  For as my title suggests, these are the heroes with hidden depths.  Gentlemen possessed of courage, loyalty, ingenuity, and that most important quality of all, a sense of humor.

In The Unknown Ajax, we meet Major Hugo Darracott.  Upon returning to England, he travels to Darracott Place in Sussex to meet his wealthy relations.  They are clearly expecting a clumsy, uncouth, country bumpkin, so that is exactly what Hugo gives them.

“He seems to me little better than a dummy!” proclaims Hugo’s Uncle Matthew.  “It is always so with these clumsy giants: beefwitted!  When I think of the future – that oaf in my father’s shoes! – I declare I don’t know how to support my spirits!”

Regency Gentleman, 1818.

Regency Gentleman, 1818.

The Honourable Frederick Standen from Cotillion is a dandy through and through.  While good-natured enough, no one would ever accuse him of being a genius – or a hero.  Freddy’s relations have “the poorest opinion” of his mental abilities.  And his romantic sensibilities are not much better.  After hearing Kitty Charing’s governess, Miss Fishguard, recite the tale of the gallant “young Lochinvar” from Marmion, Freddy observes disapprovingly:

“Sounds to me like a dashed loose-screw.”

Another gentleman whose appearance is deceiving is the giant Captain Jack Staple from The Toll-Gate.  Passing through the countryside on his way to visit friends, he discovers a young boy left all alone to tend the tollgate.  In order to solve the mystery of the boy’s missing father – and to court the local lady of the manor, Nell Stornaway – Jack remains at the tollgate, taking on the role of simple country gatekeeper and telling no one of his true identity.

“How was I to know you was a downy one?” demands one of the characters when they realize Jack is not as backward as he appears.  “I thought you was a cawker.”

Regency era Fashion, 1809.

Regency era Fashion, 1809.

In The Quiet Gentleman, we make the acquaintance of Gervase Frant, 7th Earl of St. Erth.  Returning to his family home after having spent years away fighting in the war, he is very much an unknown entity.  His spoiled half-brother is quick to label him a “curst dandy,” declaring that Gervase will soon give way to the wishes of his overbearing stepmother.  But as Gervase quietly informs them all:

“You don’t know me, and it is never wise to bet against a dark horse.”

Our final contender in this week’s poll is Sir Anthony Fanshawe from The Masqueraders.  Another large-sized gentleman, he is nicknamed “The Mountain” by the heroine’s brother, Robin.  Sir Anthony carries himself with “lazy hauteur” and spends a great deal of time looking as if he is asleep.  But as Robin’s servant wisely warns him:

“The big gentleman’s awake for all you think him so dull.”

Cast your vote for your favorite Georgette Heyer Hero with Hidden Depths.  There are no limits on how many times you can vote and, as always, if you have a preference for another unlikely hero (Sir Tristram Shield from The Talisman Ring, for example or Gilly, The Duke of Sale, from The Foundling), I encourage you to write in your choice below.

The Poll is Now Closed.

The Results:

1st Place: Freddy Standen from Cotillion with 32% of the vote.

2nd Place: Hugo Darracott from The Unknown Ajax with 27% of the vote.

3rd Place: Gervase Frant from The Quiet Gentleman with 17% of the vote.

4th Place: Anthony Fanshawe from The Masqueraders with 15% of the vote.

5th Place: A tie (by write-in) between Jasper Damerel from Venetia and Gilly, the Duke of Sale from The Foundling with 3 votes each.

Honorable Mention: Jack Staple from The Toll-Gate and Sir Tristram Shield from The Talisman Ring (by write-in).

Thank you for voting!

Mimi Matthews is the author of The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries (to be released by Pen and Sword Books in November 2017).  She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law. 

© 2015-2017 Mimi Matthews

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19 thoughts on “Oafs, Cawkers, and Curst Dandies: Heyer’s Heroes with Hidden Depths

  1. Sarah Waldock says:

    You mention all my favourites! I’d rather have Hugo or Jack Staple or The Mountain or Gervase or Sir Tristram [who is Laaamentable cautious] to go to in trouble than anyone outwardly dashing! I’m afraid I’d get impatient with poor Freddy, though. I can’t choose…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi Matthews says:

      Hugo is one of the best heroes, I think. Especially his wry sense of humor as he attempts to pass himself off as some sort of country hayseed. The Unknown Ajax is worth reading for that alone. Thanks for commenting, Melinda!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary C. M. Phillips says:

    So happy to have found your blog! What I find to be most appealing about Heyer’s writing is her sense of humor. I’ve only read The Talisman Ring, The Convenient Marriage, and Cotillion. The Grand Sophy is on my summer reading list. Looking forward to future posts. Best, Mary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi Matthews says:

      I’m so glad you enjoy my blog, Mary, and thanks for your comment! Heyer’s novels do have a sense of humor as well as wit and charm and a certain subtlety to them that you don’t often see in novels today. I envy you for having the whole Heyer catalog to look forward to. You’re going to love The Grand Sophy!

      Liked by 1 person

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