I think this is my last Heyer for a while. I feel like such a curmudgeon when I read what’s intended to be a light-hearted romp and find every character revolting.
So Georgette Heyer is mainly known for her regency romances, but she also wrote many murder mysteries (one of which was the first and last Heyer I actually enjoyed this year) and some books set in the earlier powdered wig era … and The Transformation of Philip Jettan is one of those. In fact the fashions of the era are even more entwined with the premise than usual — as you can tell by the fact that this has also been released with some edits as Powder and Patch.
The hero, the Philip Jettan of the title, is a country squire who enjoys his country seat, likes wearing a coat that’s loose-fitted enough that he can shrug it on himself without a servant, and disdains the powdered fop who comes in to town and starts trying to charm his ladylove Cleone. Meanwhile Cleone likes a bit of polish and very much likes getting flattered and complimented, and tells Philip as much. So he goes to Paris to learn how to be a fop. Wigs, tailoring, jewelry, makeup, “mincing” (God how many times this word is used), dueling, horrifyingly insincere flirting, the works. He turns out to be enormously good at this sort of thing, to a Mary-Sue level, and is soon the darling of the Parisian scene. Cleone, meanwhile, is wondering whether he still loves her or wants her, or if he’s been completely transformed inside and out.
And the answer is yes, to both. By the happily ever after, he has proposed and been accepted by Cleone … and they move to Paris, and the big end scene is him being super nitpicky over the placement of the roses and jewels in her hair before they appear at a ball.
I guess there are two main things that leave a sour taste in my mouth about this one.
One is this kind of miasma of … I’m not sure if homophobia is quite precise, but femme-o-phobia maybe? As lovingly as Heyer describes the various clothing and adornments, there’s a removed disdain in her descriptions whenever it’s the men “mincing,” and a lengthy conversation near the end about how Philip needs to “master” Cleone as that’s what all women want, dontcha know.
And the other is an overwhelming feeling that these two don’t belong together. Philip in the beginning is a country squire who’s rough around the edges, and Cleone is his neighbor and childhood friend who’s pretty in love with him back and just wishes he would compliment her once in a while. Philip at the end is the dandiest dandy who ever danded and wants to live in Paris among high society, so like, a completely different life than Cleone has had or wanted. And not for nothing, if he’s so changed, why does he still want Cleone of all people to share it with him?
(It’s because she’s pretty.)
Anyway … that’s enough Heyer for a while. Maybe for good.