The Black Moth, Georgette Heyer’s first novel, features not only the rough pattern of her Mark I heroes in the villain, Tracy Belmanoir, Earl of Andover, but also a first draft of her Mark II heroes in the hero, Jack Carstares, Earl of Wyncham. Carstares possesses some of the Byronic qualities that are associated with the Mark I hero, but these characteristics in Carstares are a consequence of his circumstances, not of his character. He is forced into exile because he assumes the guilt that is his brother’s. When he has the opportunity to kill Andover, he spares his life. Even in his role as highwayman, he remains chivalric and debonair, a man of honor with winning ways.
The Mark II heroes who follow Carstares remain essentially true to the pattern. Like Mark I heroes, they are often wealthy and well-dressed, but they lack the Mark I’s arrogance and assumption of omnipotence. Genial, even-tempered, and well-liked, the Mark II hero is generally younger than the dangerous Mark I, and he has a greater respect for conventions. Heyer characterized her Mark II heroes as “suave,” in opposition to the “savage” Mark I heroes. “Suave” in this description carries with it none of the pejorative connotations of insincerity and manipulation but rather the less common meaning of affability, courtesy, and friendliness. As with the Mark I heroes, Heyer never becomes formulaic but creates a variety of Mark II heroes who are more than they appear to be, ranging from Sir Anthony Fanshawe (The Masqueraders, 1928), who disguises his discernment and physical power behind a superficial indolence, to Anthony Verelst, Viscount Sheringham (Friday’s Child, 1944), whose youthful blue-eyed fairness undercuts the Byronic pose he assumes, to the Honorable Frederick Standen (Cotillion, 1954), whose anti-heroism reverses all the heroic clichés.
Sir Anthony Fanshawe, The Masqueraders
For readers conditioned to measuring heroes by Avon and company, Sir Anthony Fanshawe is an unlikely hero. From his first appearance, his size and his lethargy are stressed.
The large gentleman paused on the threshold and put up his quizzing glass, through which he blandly surveyed the room. He was a very large gentleman indeed, with magnificent shoulders and a fine leg. He seemed rather to fill the room; he had certainly a presence, and a personality. He wore a wig of plain brown and carried his hat under his arm. The hilt of his sword peeped out from between the folds of his great coat, but in his hand he held a cane.
He has arrived to rescue heiress Letty Grayson from a rogue and from her own foolishness, but when he discovers her rescue has already been effected, he is more interested in his dinner than in the heiress. Robin mockingly refers to him as a “mammoth” and a “mountain,” both terms perhaps suggesting a large creature lacking in quickness. But the narrator hints that Sir Anthony’s looks are deceptive: “His hand was very white and finely shaped, but it looked to have some strength.” The large gentleman’s sleepy eyes are at times “alert,” and while he is “a most respectable gentleman,” lacking the dash and danger of a Mark I hero, he makes Prudence feel “all woman.”
While Prue as Peter Merriot, and Robin as Kate Merriot are deceiving all of London with their disguises, Fanshawe sees through their deceptive clothing and carefully cultivated mannerisms. He even suspects their connection to the “old gentleman.” Prue realizes that he “had very nearly the full sum of it.” He sees danger “on all sides” and wants Prue out of the masqueraders’ game, but he understands her loyalties and admires the qualities in her that enable her to carry out so successful a deception. He says to her: “I have nothing but pride in you. In your courage, and in the quick wits of you. I have never known so wonderful a woman.” There is nothing indolent about him when he forces a duel on a man to prevent Prue as Peter Merriot from meeting said man, and he demonstrates his physical and mental quickness when he rescues Prue from the officials who have arrested Peter Merriot. And he meets the most essential requirement of a romantic hero, as Prue recognizes when she says to him, “You gave me the happy ending I never thought to have.”
Anthony Verelst, Viscount Sheringham, Friday’s Child
Spoiled and self-indulgent, fashionable in dress and careless in attitude, Sherry Cunningham appears to be if not a full-fledged Mark I hero, at least a Mark I in training. But the key word here is appearance. Even the not particularly perceptive Isabella Milborne, the Incomparable, who rejects Sherry’s marriage proposal, knows that his romantic looks are artful:
No he was not as handsome as poor Wrotham, whose dark stormy beauty troubled her dreams a little. Wrotham was a romantic figure, particularly when his black locks were dishevelled through his clutching them in despair. The Viscount’s fair curls were dishevelled too, but there was nothing romantic about this, since the disorder was the result of careful combing.
Even Sherry’s rakish behavior is more youthful experimentation than committed lifestyle. Sherry is one of Heyer’s youngest heroes, only 23. Heyer herself emphasized his youth in a description of the novel.
There is a certain young man who has appeared in several of my books—he was Cedric Brandon in The Corinthian, Viscount Winwood in The Convenient Marriage—and some others! And once I said idly that I would one day write a frivolous story about that young man. This is it. This time he is Viscount Sheringham (Sherry), the story begins with his runaway marriage to a very young lady whom he’s known since childhood, and with whom he isn’t the least in love. And the story is about all the circumstances which lead (a) to his partial reform and (b) to his falling in love with his wife (of course!).
Like many of the young male characters to whom Heyer refers, Sherry wants to be a Mark I hero, but his youth, his inexperience, his amiability, even his fair coloring all serve to distance him from the dissolution and power of the Mark I. Sherry’s marriage to Hero Wantage begins his journey toward maturity and self-understanding. Since she is a true innocent and even younger than he, her mistakes, most of them resulting from following Sherry’s advice, force him to consider his choices more carefully. When she runs away, Sherry realizes that he loves her and that he can no longer be the impetuous youth he was before he assumed the responsibilities of marriage. Closing references to dogs and babies indicate that his responsibilities are likely to increase, as is his maturity.
The Honorable Frederick Standen, Cotillion
Freddy Standen is the very antithesis of the heroic. He does share with many Heyer heroes an attention to fashion, but unlike Sir Richard Wyndham (The Corinthian) or Robert Beaumaris (Arabella), Freddy is defined by his sense of fashion and his knowledge of “all matters of social usage.” The first description of him makes clear that from his “brown locks, carefully anointed with Russian oil, and cropped à la Titus” to his feet clad in “effulgent riding boots,” Freddy is a very “Pink of the Ton.” The white tops on his riding boots ally him with those like Beau Brummell (who introduced this fashion) that have no interest in the sweat and dirt associated with sporting activities.
Heyer includes in Cotillion two figures reminiscent of a Mark I hero. Reading the description of Freddy’s cousin Jack, a reader might think she has just been introduced to the book’s hero:
…a tall man whose air and bearing proclaimed the Corinthian. Coat, neckcloth, fobs, seals, and quizzing-glass, all belonged to the Dandy; but the shoulders setting off the coat so admirably, and the powerful thighs, hidden by satin knee-breeches, betrayed the Blood, the out-and-outer not to be beaten on any sporting suit. The face above the starched shirt-points was a handsome one, with a mouth as mocking as its owner’s voice, and a pair of intensely blue eyes which laughed into Freddy’s.
It is Jack with whom Kitty Charing imagines herself in love. It is Jack whom their uncle intends to be his heir. It is Jack who is “if not a downright rake, [is] certainly the most accomplished flirt in town.” He has the reputation, the strength, the skills, the cutting tongue, and the arrogance of a Mark I hero. But Jack cares too much for himself and his own pleasures to fall in love.
The other heroic figure is Freddy’s father, Lord Legerwood, a Mark II hero post-marriage and family. A “sportsman and a gentleman,” he is a wealthy, handsome man who possesses “cool, well-bred manners . . . an air of decided fashion, too, and an occasionally satirical tongue.” Somewhat tamed by many years of domesticity, he also has a twinkle in his eye, a decided affection for his wife, and a conviction that his eldest son is incapable of sustained thought.
Both men underestimate Freddy. Jack finds laughable the idea of Freddy as a threat to Jack’s own plans, and Lord Legerwood doubts that Freddy has the mental capacity to bring off a deception. At first, Heyer does little to undercut the image of Freddy as an ineffective fribble. Not satisfied with the first impression of him as a Dandy lacking the intelligence to be aware of subtleties and undertones, she devotes more than a page to describing society’s valuation of him as a graceful dancer, a reliable source of decorating advice, and such safe company for the ladies that not even the most jealous husbands resented his attentions to their wives. He “was neither witty nor handsome; his disposition was retiring; and although he might be seen at any social gathering, he never (except by the excellence of his tailoring) drew attention to himself.” Freddy appears not only to have no heroic qualities, but he also seems to lack most of the stereotypical masculine characteristics.
Freddy has an humble opinion of his own abilities as well. He assures his father, “I ain’t clever, like Charlie, but I ain’t such a sapskull as you think!” But it is Freddy who delivers his clever brother Charlie from the consequences of his own folly; it is Freddy who devises a plan to get Kitty’s “smoky” French cousin and the silly young woman whom he loves out of London—and remembers that the lady will need a toothbrush. It is Freddy who remembers a special license for his cousin Dolph. Again and again, it is Freddy who demonstrates an aptitude for the kindness and pragmatism that makes life saner and more pleasant.
By the novel’s end, Kitty has learned to value reality over appearance. She says to Freddy, “I was never in love with Jack in my life…I thought I was, but I know now it was no such thing. He seemed just like all the heroes in books, but I soon found that he is not like them at all.” Of course, Freddy is not like the heroes in books either, but by this point Kitty and the reader understand that a truly chivalric nature and a kind heart are to be valued more highly than “all the people one was taught to revere, like Sir Lancelot, and Sir Galahad, and Young Lochinvar, and—and that kind of man!”
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.