The Masqueraders - Georgette Heyer This is my second Georgette Heyer book, (Venetia was first - le sigh) and I was struck by how different this one "felt" in comparison. Both are high on humor, have a wonderful cast of characters, and smart, snappy dialogue. Perhaps part of its "differentness" has to do with the Georgian time period v. Regency. At any rate I enjoyed reading this book so much. I can certainly understand why The Masqueraders is a favorite Heyer for so many.

If I had not known beforehand that Prudence and Robin Tremaine are not only in disguise but are also, in fact, masquerading as the opposite sex, I'm not sure I would have figured it out before it's revealed in Chapter Three. There is nothing to indicate prior to this that Peter Merriot is Prudence, or that Miss Kate Merriot is Robin, Prudence's younger brother. I was plunked down smack dab in the middle of their rainy journey to London. There was no scene of Prudence binding her breasts or chopping off her hair, or practicing how to walk as a man. Nor is there a scene in which Robin is putting on makeup, panniers, petticoats, learning how to use a fan, or learning to take smaller steps instead of striding. I, as the reader, meet Peter and Kate as a tallish young man and a shorter very pretty young lady. Their masquerade is very effective and believable.

Peter/Prudence doesn't just put on a man's clothes, she does, in fact, live a daily existence as any young man in London. Peter/Prudence takes snuff, plays cards, smokes, gambles, visits a gentlemen's club, gets into a street fight, wields a sword, rides astride instead of sidesaddle, and at one point accepts a challenge to a duel. Almost no one suspects that she isn't a young man. Prudence/Peter is a terrific character, and I liked her so much. Her unflappability is a great contrast to Robin's more impetuous behavior.

Likewise, Kate/Robin is not only "powdered, patched and scented" but also graceful, flirts with her fan, swoons when necessary, dances with beaux at balls, and even becomes BFF to Letty Grayson. Prudence wryly observes that Kate has "more female graces than even [she] could lay claim to." While Kate/Robin finds being a young lady very restrictive, he plays the part very well and has such a mischievous demeanor as he flirts and allows young men to kiss his slender hand. I really enjoyed the scenes of Robin/Kate interacting with his coterie of beaux.

Prudence and Robin are both masters of disguise from long years of practice. Robin's participation in his father's scheme to restore the Stuarts to the throne has left him a wanted man. Their father, referred to as "the old gentleman", has always "contrived" one mad scheme after another and has, among other things, run a gaming house and a fencing school. His latest folly has landed himself (and by extension his children) on the wrong side of the Jacobite Rebellion. And so "the old gentleman" sends Prudence and Robin to London with instructions to stay with Lady Lowestoft until he meets them there.

Along the way, the pair interrupt Gregory Markham attempting to force Miss Letitia Grayson, a rich heiress, to marry him. Letty is, well, misguided is the kindest thing I can say about her. In a "misguided" attempt to find excitement and/or romance as well as to elude an engagement arranged by her father to the "phlegmatic" Sir Anthony Fanshawe , she agreed to elope with Markham. But once on the road, Markham drank too much and all the "pretty things" he said to her before disappeared as he changed into a drunken bully.

Lord Anthony Fanshawe appears at first glance to be a rather dull-witted, indolent, large gentleman who is a "model of prudence and the virtues." He does not exert himself at any time, not even when giving chase to restore Letty to her father. Imperturbability must be his middle name. Therese de Bruton, Lady Lowestoft, assures Prudence/Peter not to worry about Lord Anthony uncovering her disguise because "he does not see a yard before his own nose." But Prudence learns very quickly that Sir Anthony is far more perceptive than anyone gives him credit for.

For example, when Sir Francis Jollyot attempts to fleece Peter at picquet, Peter turns the tables on Sir Francis without him suspecting Peter is, in fact, fleecing him. Sir Anthony is watching from across the room, and then invites Peter to play a hand with him. As she attempts to once again appear as a mere lucky novice by fumbling cards and showing a lack of confidence in what cards to play, Lord Anthony very calmly drawls:

"'Oh, spare yourself the pains, my dear boy! I am no hawk'
Prudence fenced cautiously; she was not quite sure what the
gentleman would be at. 'The pains of what, sir?'
'Of all the dissimulation,' said Sir Anthony, with a disarming smile. 'I
must suppose you were taught to play picquet in your cradle.'" (55)

Apparently, Sir Anthony sees through Peter's disguise pretty early on. One of my favorite scenes is when Sir Anthony reveals he knows Prudence is not a young man and asks her to marry him. Prudence refuses, telling him that she isn't suitable and that he doesn't know her.

"'My dear, I have looked many times into your eyes,' he said. 'They
tell me all I have need to know.'
'I don't think so, sir,' she forced herself to say.
Her hand lay on the chair-back. He took it in his again, and carried it
to his lips. 'You have the truest eyes in the world, Prudence,' he said.
'And the very bravest.'" (175)

Ah, the truest eyes... So romantic.

There are only a couple of things that disappointed/puzzled me with "The Masqueraders." Sir Anthony intervenes in the duel between Prudence and Rensley in order to protect her. It's clear at this point that he knows Peter is, in fact, a female and, more importantly, a female that he admires and has great affection for. I understood that he worried for her safety, but I really would have enjoyed a scene in which Prudence gets to show off her sword skills one-on-one, instead of three ganged up against her as it was in the street fight.

The other little problem has to do with Sir Anthony's explanation to Robin as to what made him suspect Prudence was female.

"'I should find it hard to tell you, Robin. Some little things and the
affection for her I discovered in myself. I wondered when I saw her tip
wine down her arm at my card-party, I confess.'" (186)

It was expected that men drank heavily in those times so it was necessary for Prudence to make a show of drinking but keep her wits about her to preserve her masquerade. If Sir Anthony saw her "quick practised turn of the wrist, over in a flash, and the contents of her glass were sent down her arm" that perhaps at least one other person might have spotted Prudence disposing of wine in this way. Or maybe the other gentlemen were so foxed, they mistook her stained sleeve as proof that she was as drunk as they were. Oh well, I guess it must be true that people see what they want to see. Even if no one else saw her dispose of her wine, how did this lead Sir Anthony to suspect Peter isn't a gentleman? Couldn't a young man who doesn't overindulge in drink come up with a way to make it seem as if he were drinking in order to fit in with his peers?

I was a little disconcerted by Sir Anthony's admission that Prudence HAD to be female because of his "affection" for her. What things exactly did he see Prudence do or hear her say that raised suspicion? Sir Anthony offers Peter lodging at his home should Peter "grow tired of the petticoats" at Lady Lowestoft's. He warns Peter of hawks waiting to fleece her, invites her to a card party, and sponsors her at White's. At White's when Lord Barham snubs Peter, Sir Anthony is quick to defend Peter.

"'You lack finesse, Rensley,' he said in a bored voice. 'I see my friend
Devereux by the window, Merriot. Let me present you.'" (66)

All of these little kindnesses are done as gestures of friendship. He is grateful for Peter and Kate's help with Letty, and these offers are "naught but a seal to what I hope is a friendship" (59) While he may have suspected the Merriots were not all they seemed to be, I read nothing to indicate Sir Anthony suspects Peter is a woman. The only warnings are delivered by Peter/Prudence, telling Robin she needs to keep her guard up around Tony because he "is wide awake for all we think him so dull" (62). Truthfully, she is a bit overwhelmed, complaining to Robin "plague take the man, he must needs load me with favours!" (62) Nevertheless, she attends Tony's card-party and others, playing dice and faro, sober through it all while others drank themselves under the table.

If it's true that he suspected her at that first card party, he doesn't challenge her until much later, and I honestly saw nothing in his manner to suggest he knows her secret until after the invitation to Wych End. Days later, at Belfort's card party, Sir Anthony offers a surprising invitation to Peter to spend a week at Wych End, his house in the country. His anger at her refusal was confusing. As he tells Robin later, he already had suspicions about her at his first card party. This invitation is after that first card party and after more interactions with Tony. Did his anger stem from frustration that she didn't trust him? I'm just not sure.

Peter/Prudence and Sir Anthony have words about his invitation and her refusal after they both leave the party. When she tells him that it wasn't fair to demonstrate quite so effectively that she is "at the mercy of all once away from [his] side", he blandly informs her he simply furthered her education. Prudence accuses him of being angry at her refusal to go to Wych End and that he did it out of "spleen" which he denies. Instead he says his "rendering [her] up to the wolf was a punishment for churlishness." (70) Prudence decides it is not "well to cross the large gentleman". If, in fact, he thinks Peter is a woman, was this his rather asshat way of showing her the extent of his protection should her disguise be revealed? Up to this point, there is nothing to suggest he suspects. So it's a little ambiguous whether he knows or not at this time.

Whatever his motives, it isn't until after his strange invitation to Wych End, that Sir Anthony begins to be openly suspicious of Peter/Prudence.
Sir Anthony hears of the attack on Prudence from Charles Belfort, Peter's friend, who helped Peter vanquish the three Mohocks (street gang). His reaction is telling:

"The strong hand paused for a moment in the act of unfobbing the
snuff box. The sleepy eyes did not lift. 'Indeed?' said Sir Anthony,
and awaited more."(91)

Charles tells Tony that Peter isn't the strongest swordsman and that his arm was "soon blown." Tony replies: "'He was, was he?' Sir Anthony took snuff in a leisurely fashion. 'And -er - was he hurt?'" Charles says Peter took a blow to a shoulder which aggravated an old wound. Tony seems to accepts this with equanimity. Charles is quick to praise Peter's courage and tells Tony he offered to tend to the shoulder but Peter refused. Tony answers laconically and indifferently flicks snuff from his sleeve, even stifles a yawn. While he appears unperturbed, there was a feeling of acute vigilance to what Charles said despite his rather disinterested demeanor. The next day Sir Anthony trots to Richmond to check on Peter/Prudence. It's surprisingly uncharacteristic because Tony is not overly fond of exertion, and traveling on horseback for an hour or so to simply "pay a call" read suspiciously like concern for Prudence's health, not merely politeness.

While riding to Kensington with Sir Anthony, Prudence realizes she is being cross-examined and treads carefully. He questions her world travels (alone?), the amount of time touring Europe. She finally calls his bluff saying, "'Sir, for some reason I don't guess you seem to hold me in suspicion.'" (113) He denies it but then asks if she expects her father to come to town because he would like to "meet the begetter of so worldly wise a youth." Prudence tells him her father would surprise him, and Tony agrees that he probably would and "I find that life is full of surprises" - like the sudden appearance of the lost Viscount, the Pretender, and the Merriots.

Prudence questions why he didn't go to Wych End after all and he says because he changed his mind when "denied [Peter's] company" (114) prompting Peter to ask: "I wonder that you should so greatly desire my company, Sir Anthony." (114) He asks why she questions it, looking at her with "understanding eyes".

"'Well, sir' - Prudence looked demure - 'I have a notion you think me
an escaped rebel.'
'And if you were,' said Sir Anthony,'must I necessarily deny you my
'I believe you to be a good Whig, sir.'
'I hope so, little man'
'I took no part in the Rebellion, sir.'
'I have not accused you of it, my dear boy.'
The horses dropped to a walk. 'But if I had, Sir Anthony... What
'You might still rest assured of my friendship.'
'You are very kind, Sir Anthony - to an unknown youth.'
'I believe I have remarked to you once that I have an odd liking for
you, little man. One of these strange twists in one's affections for
which there is no accounting. If I can serve you at any time I desire
you will let me know it.'" (114-115)

All of this rambling was to try to lay out why I thought Sir Anthony's reasons for knowing Peter is a woman were less than satisfactory. It almost felt as if the author had gifted Sir Anthony with omniscience in lieu of having him question his sexuality even for one moment. Could Sir Anthony not have been drawn to an attractive young man who has seen a good bit of the world, is sophisticated, courageous, calm and cool in temperament? Who in fact possesses many fine sterling, admirable qualities? I know, I know. This is fiction, not reality. But, it just didn't read as honest to me. His explanation on the whole just seemed inadequate and vague.

There's a scene in "Victor/Victoria" in which King Marchand, astonished to find out that Victoria, the persona he's enthralled with on stage, is Count Victor Grazinski, a gay Polish female impersonator. He tells "Count Victor" he finds it hard to believe he's a man because he's attracted to him. Victor tells him there's a first time for everything. King denies it but responds less confidently than before. When Victor presses for his degree of certainty, King Marchand answers "Practically." And Victor tells him: "Ah, but to a man like you, someone who believes he could never, under any circumstances find another man attractive, the margin between "practically" and "for sure" must be as wide as the Grand Canyon." Did Sir Anthony know for certain of Peter's disguise long before the invitation to Wych End? Did he develop feelings/affection for Peter in his guise as a young man? Does his certitude in Peter/ Prudence's gender also span a margin as "wide as the Grand Canyon"? I'm not sure. Perhaps the author wrote herself into a corner and had to assign supernatural powers of observation to Sir Anthony in order to make a credible argument for his having seen through Peter's disguise. At any rate, I still liked the sparks between Peter and Sir Anthony, and the connection that developed between them was palpable.

"The Masqueraders" is a great book. I loved Prudence, Robin, Sir Anthony and, to a lesser degree, "the old gentleman". His arrogance and machinations were a little wearying toward the end, especially his nonchalance about Prudence being sent to jail. He seemed more concerned that Sir Anthony and John had foiled his grand maneuvering by daring to move one of his chess pieces before he was ready for it (Prudence) to be moved. Still, the plot was very twisty-turny, and kept me turning pages to find out what would happen next. The Georgian setting is one of my favorites, and I definitely got the feel and flavor of that time period. "The Masqueraders" will join "Venetia" on my keeper shelf.