I finished rereading False Colours by Georgette Heyer early this morning and oh, it was good. Heyer really could do things that no other writer can, creating that perfect blend of comedy, intricate plotting, and careless but exquisite period detail.
False Colours begins with Kit Fancot arriving in the dead of night at the London townhouse of his twin brother, Evelyn, Earl of Denville. Kit, currently posted to Vienna as a minor but promising diplomatic aide, is back in England to settle the affairs surrounding an inheritance he’s received from his godfather and, while he’s there, to see his brother and his mama (who is an absolute darling). Instead, Kit finds that his twin has disappeared. No one seems particularly worried about this as it’s the sort of thing the dashing Evelyn is apt to do but it has come at a particularly inconvenient time, on the eve of a party to introduce Evelyn to the family of the girl, Cressy Stavely, he has recently proposed to. With his mama’s encouragement, Kit finds himself masquerading as Evelyn, a situation he finds increasingly uncomfortable as time goes on and Evelyn is nowhere to be found.
Despite the comic setup, this is one of Heyer’s less madcap efforts, which is perfectly fine by me. Though young (only twenty four), Kit is a sensible and responsible young man, though by no means a stick in the mud. Though he and his brother had fun switching places as children, it is tad more complicated to impersonate Evelyn as an adult. It is also all rather confusing for Cressy who, having made up her mind to refuse Evelyn’s offer, suddenly finds herself warming to him, or rather to Kit.
As much as I like Kit and Cressy and, once he shows up, Evelyn, the star of the book is really Lady Stavely, Kit and Evelyn’s mother. Only forty three, Lady Stavely is still a beauty and still much in demand. Suitors of all ages trail after her in London and she is charmingly vain about her appearance. She is frivolous and featherheaded about finances (she has run up quite a hefty debt) but she is also warm-hearted and in possession of an excellent sense of humour. She adores her sons, and in return they adore her, but she is not blind to their faults and not above scolding them when necessary:
“That sounds to me like a quotation,” said her ladyship mistrustfully. “And it is only fair to warn you, Kit, that if you mean, after all I have endured, to recite bits of poetry to me, which I am not at all addicted to, even at the best of times, I shall go into strong convulsions – whatever they may be!”
Lady Stavely is also supported by her most loyal cicisbeo, Sir Bonamy Ripple. He, having spent the last twenty seven years in love with Lady Stavely, is a devoted bachelor but one who has heartily enjoyed his bachelorhood, filling it with excesses of all sorts. Better even than Kit and Cressy’s happy ending is Lady Stavely’s decision to finally marry Sir Bonamy, a decision he played very little part in. Still, in one of the book’s best scenes she charmingly and very cleverly talks him round to the idea. One is left in no doubt that they will both be very happy together.
Altogether delightful and a very pleasant way to start my day.