The Riddle Of The Deplorable Dandy
Patricia Veryan is lauded as one of the grande dames of Regency writers, and has long been in my TBR pile. It seems, however, that with the Georgian romance The Riddle Of The Deplorable Dandy, this experienced writer has fallen prey to the most simple of writer edicts: show, don’t tell. Not to mention that there is not one memorable character, the romance is practically nonexistent, and the plot is just plain weak. But let me show you what I mean.
Elspeth Clayton is a young woman making her debut under the auspices of her godmother. Her brother, Vance Clayton, is in France making a living as a courier for Madame Pompadour, even though that position definitely comes with certain traitorous aspects. Elspeth is told that her brother has been captured, and she is determined to go to France to rescue him, since the English government cannot intervene.
Elspeth, being pretty, charming, and smart (we are told), nonetheless dithers around like an idiot concocting half-baked plans. She cannot see what any person with a brain would spot right away (transvestitism and nefarious relatives) and although every man in sight swoons at the sight of her, we are informed that she has “remarkable” or “beautiful” eyes, not that they sparkled like the sea or were mossy green or anything remotely resembling a description. (I would have clung even to a banal one, like a drowning man grasps a life preserver.)
Elspeth meets and dislikes immediately Gervaise Valerian, a dandy who has a sharp tongue, and whose “features were so clean-cut that despite his obvious arrogance he could only be judged exceptionally handsome.” (I don’t know what that means, either.) Gervaise’s attributes include a fine pair of grey eyes (At last! A description!), a wicked wit, a leering eye (Why are bawdy remarks a hallmark of a Georgian novel?), and a quick temper. Oh yeah, a heartbreaker for sure. When he’s not making lewd suggestions towards Elspeth, he too is engaging in some traitorous activities. He and Elspeth, of course, journey to France together and, also of course, fall in love. Along the way, they meet and fool people apparently as stupid as they are.
Since Elspeth is so poorly described, it is hard to see what Valerian would have seen in her, beyond her passionate determination to get her brother out of France. Oh, and those “remarkable” eyes. Valerian is better described (see above), so Elspeth loses her heart to a good-looking, well-dressed man with a flair for ribaldry. And grey eyes. No common interests, no sensitivity, no emotional communion. Just two young people of equal social standing found in the same place at the same time.
Much of the time, the action was described in a detached, play-by-play analysis, almost as if Veryan was recounting the events of another book. The actual dialogue, when it occurred, scatters about the two or three thoughts that must have once graced Elspeth’s brain. The secondary characters were one-dimensional and obvious, the plot confusing and needlessly convoluted. The Georgian details were well detailed, but they seemed like research filler, adding nothing to the action.
Riddle me this: why would you choose to read this when there are perfectly good dental procedures to undergo, or floors to be mopped?