Cotillion: Shall We Dance?

Cotillion - Georgette Heyer

So here's the setup. Uncle Matthew Penicuik has made his Will, leaving his fortune to his ward, Miss Katherine 'Kitty' Charing with the stipulation that she marry one of his great nephews. If she doesn't, she will be penniless, and his money will go to a charity. Which one will she choose?


- Captain Claud Rattray - away in the Army on the Continent and unable to present himself to Great Uncle Matthew and make an offer for Kitty's hand. Odds: a million to one since he chopped off her doll's head many years ago.

- the Honourable and Reverend Hugh Rattray - brother of Claud the executioner of dolls and George Rattray, Lord Biddenden of the 'starched face' and 'prosy ways.' Present and accounted for but considered to be a 'dead bore.' His rather low-opinion of Kitty's lady-like accomplishments ('no skill with Water-Colours; little mastery over the French tongue: none at all over the Italian.’) pretty much ensures life with Hugh would be all about improving her mind. Odds: same as Claud.

- Foster, Earl of Dolphinton - a pockets to let Irish Earl, cousin of George, Claud, Hugh, Freddy and Jack. Foster is sweet natured but considered 'slow-witted' because he was a 'seven month' infant. His mother rules poor Dolph with an iron fist. Dolph offers for Kitty only because Mum made him do it. For the money, of course. Odds: See above.

- Frederick 'Freddy' Standen - fond of Kitty in a vague way, always elegantly dressed, an excellent dancer, and a welcome escort for young ladies of the ton, considered the 'Pinkest of the Pink' for his fashion sense. Freddy isn't particularly handsome nor is he considered to be particularly smart. Odds: about the same as Hugh and Dolph.

- Jack Westruther - Favorite great nephew of Great Uncle Matthew and the man Kitty has been in love with for years. Jack is a selfish man, a rake who splits his time in London between gaming hells and seducing any sweet young thing that catches his eye. He also laughs with his 'intensely blue' eyes, has a voice 'full of lazy amusement', a handsome face, broad shoulders, 'powerful thighs', is tall, with an 'air and bearing' of a Corinthian. In short, your standard selfish rake romance hero. Oh, and did I mention he's selfish? Odds: Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!


The problem is Jack did not show up to offer for Kitty so she's spitting mad and determined to get her man one way or another. Honestly, I didn't like Kitty very much at first. She was a real drama llama able to turn on and off tears as the occasion warrants, and she didn't seem to understand that she was treating Freddy as no more than a prop, an object with no feelings. Thankfully, she does mature over the course of the book.


Despite the odds and Jack's handsome, if mocking, visage, Freddy immediately won my heart. Mr. Frederick Standen is neither tall nor handsome. His shoulders are not broad. Freddy is not the kind of man to make mamas hide their daughters or papas start cleaning and loading the nearest firearm. He is just 'a slender young gentleman, of average height and graceful carriage' with one distinguishing physical characteristic: an exquisite taste in fashion. Freddy is, in fact, a 'Pink of the Ton', 'a veritable Tulip, or Bond Street Beau, none but a regular Dash.' Even the way he speaks is unlike any other character, using 'flash' with, er, a bit of dash.


Every character in Cotillion will say in one way or another that Mr. Frederick Standen is nothing more than a frivolous fribble, a bacon-brained chucklehead who dresses in the height of fashion and good taste but whose one seriously intelligent thought died of loneliness long ago. For example, Lord Biddenden, Freddy's cousin, cruelly dismisses him as not signifying 'a whit more than Dolphinton' (yet another cousin) who's introduced as 'chewing a corner of his handkerchief' with an 'expression of vacuity.' Kitty has a very low opinion of all her cousins, but Freddy is singled out as being on the same level as poor, simple-minded Dolph.


'I think Hugh is a humbug, and Claud has a cruel nature, and Dolph and Freddy are just stupid, and as for Jack I am truly thankful that he was not coxcomb enough to come here, because I dislike him more than all the rest of you together!' (30)


When Lord Legerwood aims his satirical wit toward Freddy upon learning of his son's very sudden 'engagement' to Kitty, even he pulls his punches because Freddy is not capable of gleaning all the nuances of his rather ironic jabs:


'Lord Legerwood dipped his forefinger and thumb into the box, shook away all but a minute pinch of snuff and held this to one nostril. ‘It distresses me to reflect that you have been labouring under the pangs of what you believed to be a hopeless passion, and that I remained in ignorance of it,’ he observed. ‘I must be a most unnatural parent. You must try to forgive me, Frederick!’
Thrown into acute discomfort, Freddy stuttered: ‘N-never thought of such a th-thing, sir! That is—n-not as bad as that! Always very fond of Kit, of course!’
Lord Legerwood, a sportsman and a gentleman, abandoned the pursuit of unworthy game, shut his snuff-box with a snap, restored it to his pocket, and said in quite another voice: ‘In Dun Territory, Freddy?’ (102)


Freddy himself admits he's not clever like his brother, Charlie, and says things that call his mental acuity into question many times. Take, for example, this funny exchange between Freddy and Kitty on how to finish the phrase 'as rich as _______.'


‘You are as rich as—as—I can’t remember the name!’ said Miss Charing crossly.
‘I expect you mean Golden Ball,’ said Freddy. ‘And I ain’t.’
‘No, I do not! I mean somebody out of history—at least, I think he was, because when you wish to signify that a person is excessively wealthy you say he is as rich as—as him!’
‘Well, I don’t!’ said Freddy. ‘Never heard of the fellow! Nice cake I should make of myself if I went around talking about people out of history! Anyone would think you’d been in the sun, Kitty!’
'Sun? It's snowing!' cried Miss Charing. (37)


Kitty, at least, knows the name she can't recall is a more august historical personage than Edward Hughes aka 'Ball' Hughes or 'Golden Ball', a handsome English dandy known for his wealth and extravagant lifestyle. (I had to Google 'Golden Ball' because I was flummoxed by Freddy's reply.) But this is the point in Cotillion that I knew I was going to love this book. I was urgently whispering 'rich as Croesus' as if Freddy might hear my coaching plus I had a rather dizzying sensation of being plunked into the middle of Abbot &Costello's 'Who's On First?' schtick. It was delightful!


After a few cups of spiked punch and some manipulative tears on Kitty's part affording her the opportunity to take advantage of Freddy's chivalrous and caring nature, Freddy the allegedly empty-headed Tulip agrees to a 'pretend' engagement Kitty. Kitty must be a fan of that old adage: kill two birds with one stone. She honestly wants to visit London for a month to see the sights and attend parties but she also hopes to make Jack Westruther jealous enough that he'll offer her marriage even though she's angry and disappointed he didn't bother to come to Arnside. Freddy isn't so clueless that he doesn't suspect Kitty has ulterior motives for their 'pretend' engagement, but he's so soft-hearted he just can't stand to see Kitty cry. Besides, everyone knows of Kitty's longstanding preference for Jack just as everyone acknowledges Freddy isn't smart.


Freddy may never be a candidate for Mensa (if the Regency ever could have had such a thing), but he is patient, nonjudgmental and kind-hearted to a fault. Freddy also has loads of common sense as well as being particularly adroit at navigating the shoals of London society. Freddy is affable, gallant, steadfast, and not one to be bullied despite his peaceable nature. Freddy the fool can quickly become the Honourable Frederick Standen 'a Pink of the Pinks, who knew to a nicety how to blend courtesy with hauteur' and who can wield 'exquisite politeness' along with a long, hard stare from his quizzing glass as if they were short swords when the occasion warrants. Like father, like son. *sigh* He is neither weak nor one to be underestimated. Do so at your own peril. (I'm looking at you, Jack Westruther!)


It's Freddy who's savvy enough to 'snatch a mouthful' at the Blue Boar before traveling on to his uncle's estate. Freddy knows Uncle Matthew Penicuik keeps 'devilish early hours', a not so 'liberal table', and 'he don't let the bottle go round like it should.' Though both the Honorable and Reverend Hugh Rattray (the 'dead bore'), and his older brother George Rattray, Baron Biddenden, (of the 'starched face ' and 'prosy ways' infamy) are regarded as 'clever,' both hotfooted it to Arnside, suffering through a very early dinner and a menu 'more with a regard to the host's digestive difficulties than to the tastes of his guests.' Now, I ask you: who's the clever fellow here?


Kitty first begins to notice Freddy's finer qualities when he makes up a fairly plausible story on the fly for Mr. Pluckley, the innkeeper explaining Kitty's 'unconventional presence' without escort, on a snowy evening, and traveling on foot.


'Freddy, who had been hurriedly inventing a tale to account for Miss Charing’s unconventional presence in the Blue Boar, now rose to the occasion with considerable address. ‘Lord, no! Nothing of that sort!’ he said airily. ‘Stupid looby of a coachman forgot his orders, that’s all! Ought to have fetched Miss Charing an hour ago. She’s been visiting: obliged to walk back to Arnside. Started to snow, so she had to seek shelter.’


No soon had Mr. Pluckley departed, than she turned to look admiringly at Freddy, and to thank him for his kind offices. 'I had no notion you could be so clever!' she told him. (46)


Freddy may not be a scholar, but he knows exactly what type of man Jack is, and though Freddy states unequivocally he's not in the Petticoat Line, there's almost something wistful in the way he tries to explain Jack's flirtations to Kitty:


'Queer creatures, females,’ mused Mr Standen, shaking his head. ‘Fellow’s only got to be a rake to have ’em all dangling after him. Silly, really, because it stands to reason—Well, never mind that!’ (49)


My favorite part of Cotillion is when Kitty purchases a guidebook (The Picture of London) and shanghais Freddy into seeing the London sights with her. The verger at the twelve chapels of Westminster Abbey brought disturbing flashbacks of being at Eton for Freddy, and though he 'conducted himself very creditably at Shakespeare’s grave, saying that at all events he knew who he was', the Bard's plays inspire nothing more than a good nap:


'...adding a further touch of erudition by telling Kitty an interesting anecdote of having escorted his mother to the theatre once to see Kean in Hamlet, and of having dreamt, during this memorable performance, that he walked smash into a fellow he hadn’t set eyes on for years. ‘And, by Jove, that’s just what I did do, the very next day!’ he said. ‘Not that I wanted to, mind you, but there it was!’ (147)


The effigies in the Henry the Seventh Chapel, particularly the 'ghoulish countenance of Queen Elizabeth, was where Freddy drew the line, however, hustling them away from this 'set of rum touches' before they both became 'as blue as a megrim.' Freddy is sure three hours to visit the British Museum is about two hours and fifty-seven minutes too long and is a 'dashed take-in' run by a 'pretty set of bubble merchants.' He can only give thanks that The Picture of London saved them from 'being done brown as a pair of berries' followed quickly with curiosity if his father, who is a 'downy one' for sure, knows about this.


The only point of interest so far for Freddy is the Elgin marbles because there's been such a 'deuce of a dust kicked up about 'em', and they seem to be 'all the crack.' Unfortunately Freddy is not only doomed to disappointment but struck dumb in outrage at dropping 'the blunt for two tickets and a catalogue' only to find the treasures from Greece were, er, missing heads and arms.


But the disclosure that he had been maced of his blunt by a set of persons whom he freely characterized as hell-kites only to see a collection of marbles of which the main parts were missing so worked upon him that he could not be brought to recognize the merits of the frieze, but seemed instead to be so much inclined to seek out the author of this attempt to gull the public that Kitty hastily announced her wish to visit St Paul’s Cathedral, and coaxed him out of the building. (147)


Freddy is so exercised about the Elgin marbles that he later discusses his astonishing discovery with his father, and it's one of the best exchanges between father and son. St. Paul's Cathedral warrants only a drive-by visit due to its interior being compared to a 'vast vault.' Freddy's relief is palpable as both the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange are bypassed entirely due to descriptions from the guidebook as being 'one of the abortions of art' and the other's architecture 'of the mixed kind, in bad taste' respectively. Freddy's respect for The Picture of London (and Kitty for having the foresight to buy it) has grown exponentially for these discerning insights. The next day is not quite as traumatizing for Freddy with the Guildhall ('an ordeal') first up and then off to the Tower of London.


'...the rest of the day was spent more agreeably than Freddy had expected. He would not have chosen to waste his time in such a fashion, and he could only deprecate Miss Charing’s determination to omit no corner of the various buildings from her tour; but he was pleasantly surprised to find that the Tower housed a fine collection of wild beasts; and he was even roused to real interest in the Mint, where they were allowed to watch the stamping of various coins. A tendency on Miss Charing’s part to brood over the sufferings of such former visitors to the Tower as Lady Jane Grey and Sir Walter Raleigh he quelled, saying that there was no sense in falling into a fit of the dismals about things which had happened in the Middle Ages; and a moving account of the behaviour of the Princess Elizabeth at the Traitors’ Gate quite failed to impress him.

‘Silly thing to do!’ he remarked. ‘Shouldn’t wonder at it if she caught a chill. I had an uncle who got soaked to the skin once. Had an inflammation of the lungs. Dead as a herring within the week. Come along, let us take a look at this Ladies’ Line they talk about!’ (150)


After two days too many of culture and buildings and headless marble statues, Freddy wrangles with a way to distract Kitty and successfully presents a night at the theater followed by supper at the Piazza.


There could be no doubt of this; her eyes were sparkling already in anticipation of the treat. Mr Standen, returning to his lodging in Ryder Street, to change his dress for the evening’s entertainment, nourished a faint hope that a visit to the theatre might give her thoughts a new turn.He was perfectly willing to escort her to any place of amusement frequented by ladies of quality, but he was much inclined to think that any more expeditions such as those which had rendered the last two days hideous would send him into Leicestershire on a repairing lease. (154)


How could I not fall head over heels for Freddy? I love that he's such a decent honorable person, and I know with certainty than when Freddy gives his heart, it will be forever. So does Freddy get the girl? Does Kitty get her proposal from Jack? I'm not telling. If you haven't read Georgette Heyer's Cotillion, it's an excellent place to begin. All I'll say is that I love Freddy and wish there were more characters like him. To take a page out of Cousin Dolph's book, I say: I like Freddy better than Hugh. Better than Jack. Better than Biddenton. Certainly better than Uncle Matthew Penicuik. Better than Camille, Kitty's French cousin. For whatever trouble she caused Freddy, Kitty did one really good thing. She helped Freddy to see a different side of himself.


‘Of course he ain’t a lunatic! Got no brains, that’s all. Well, I ain’t got any either, but you wouldn’t say I was a lunatic, would you?’
‘No, and you have got brains, Freddy!’ said Kitty indignantly.
Mr Standen, already shaken by having his hand rubbed worshipfully against a lady’s cheek, goggled at her. ‘You think I’ve got brains?’ he said, awed. ‘Not confusing me with Charlie?’
‘Charlie?’ uttered Miss Charing contemptuously. ‘I daresay he has book-learning, but you have—you have address, Freddy!’
‘Well, by Jove!’ said Mr Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself. (222)


I think in twenty years, Freddy will be exactly like Lord Legerwood with similar 'cool, well-bred manners', an 'air of decided fashion', and maybe even an 'occasionally satirical tongue' accompanied by a reassuring twinkle in his eye. Cotillion is marvelous fun from beginning to end, but the last chapter is just about perfect in my opinion. It just doesn't get much better than Cotillion.