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20 April 2006

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Genre: ,
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Prviously published as The Transformation of Philip Jettan: A Comedy of Manners
ISBN: 434328014 c.1923

If you searched among the Downs in Sussex, somewhere between Midhurst and Brighthelmstone, inland a little, and nestling in modest seclusion between two waves of hills, you would find Little Fittledean, a village round which three gentlemen had built their homes.

One of the first books Heyer wrote this is a perfect example of her romances. From the very outset you know exactly what happy couple will end up together, but not until the very very end. Here we meet Philip Jettan, a young gentleman who has lived his whole life in the countryside. His father has, on occasion, asked him to go to town, but he finds all that rather boring. Prefering a simpler life.

Until a Mr. Bancroft turns up, in his very fine coat and red heeled shoes. Bancroft pays many a visit to local girl Cleone, and his polished manners, and polished nails, make Philip jealous. Eventually he even demands satisfaction, and loses in the ensuing duel. Upset by Cleone’s wishes that he act less like a clod-hopper and more like a gentleman, and by his own father’s agreeing with Cleone Philip, heads for his uncle’s, and then on to Paris.

When he returns to England he gives every impression of a painted puppy “from the powdered curls of his wig to the diamond buckles of his shoes” and heads off to woo his Mistress Cleone. Of course things don’t run smoothly, that would be fun, would it, and everyone seems to be at cross purposes before everything works itself out in the end.

It is a fun, quick read, although I’m too sure about Cleone’s desire to be mastered, and lets not get started on some of Lady Malmerstoke’s convictions. Still it is the language and dialogue used that is so very entertaining:

Philip clasped his head.
Mais, voyons! Just now you said that she does not think the worse of me for it!”
“Who said she did? Can’t one think two things at the same time?”
“But surely not two such – such contradictory things! I have never done so in my life!”
“You! You’re only a man! You’ve not our gifts! I can tell you!” My lady spread out her fan. “Why, a woman can think of a hundred different things at once, all of them contradictory!” She nodded at him complacently.
“It’s ridiculous! It’s impossible! Are women’s brains so – so incoherent?”
“Most of ’em,” answered her ladyship. “They jump, you see.”
“Jump?” Philip was thoroughly bewildered.
“Jump. From one thing to another. You’ll arrive at a new thought by degrees, and you’ll know how you got there. Women don’t think like that. Cleone could not tell you why she thinks well and ill of you at once, but she does.”
“But surely if she reasons with herself she’ll see how absurd-”
“If she what?”
“Reasons. I mean-”
“You’re mad,” said Lady Malmerstoke with conviction. “Women don’t reason. That’s a man’s part.”

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