If a book has the words “Barbara Metzger” on it, I have bought it, and it will stay in my Keeper Vault until the end of eternity.
What makes me such a rabid devotee of her traditional Regencies?
First, it’s the humor. I love humorous books. I can tolerate a dash of angst now and then in my reading repertoire, but it’s like eating Brussels sprouts or broccoli. I know it’s good for me to try things I’m not big on every once in a while. However, I want my reading to deflect real-life problems, not reflect them.
I can always count on Ms. Metzger’s books to distract me from the world’s insanity with her Regency-flavored brand of crazy hijinks. Some may consider her stories a bit over-the-top, but she writes them with a giddy delight that is impossible to resist.
I also love Ms. Metzger’s clever wordplay. It seems clear to me she’s having a ball writing these stories, reveling in the witty banter between her characters, and giving her narrative an exuberant twist. There’s often a little wink to the reader, letting us in on the inside joke while she points out the absurdities of Regency society and humanity in general.
And Ms. Metzger can make me misty-eyed at least once in each book, which is an admirable feat considering these are comedies of the highest order. Still, she manages a poignant moment that always has me reaching for my lace-edged monogrammed lawn handkerchief, even while I’m marveling at how such a thing is possible after all the belly laughs I’ve just experienced.
I’ve recently indulged in a re-read of several classic Metzger Regency stories that I’ve owned, and treasured, since their initial release (way back in the 20th century). So far I’ve read An Affair of Interest and Lady in Green, with Christmas Wishes and An Enchanted Affair next in the queue. I’ve temporarily misplaced The Luck of the Devil, but I’m not panicking. Yet.
While each book is as charming as ever, my favorite remains A Loyal Companion, and somehow it’s gotten even better since the first time I read it.
On the surface it’s a simple story of Sonia, a headstrong miss who is sent to London to find a husband, and Darius, the scandalous, disgraced soldier she falls in love with despite her chaperone’s efforts. But what sets this story apart is the dog, Fitz, and his keen observations in each chapter about helping Sonia find true love. It seems like a gimmick, and it is, but in the hands of a master, it is also brilliant.
Fitz is a mutt who has been Sonia’s companion since he was a puppy. He accompanies her to London, and does his dogged best to help her find a husband. When Sonia says she wants someone with a nice smile who smells good, Fitz drags home the butcher’s delivery boy. Oops.
After that disaster, Fitz realizes he has much to learn, yet he is aghast at what he discovers about human mating rituals:
Of all the courtship rituals I have studied, the London Season sounds the most bizarre. My information comes from Muffy, the greatest feline impersonator of my experience. I have seen that cat portray a snowdrift, a dish towel, and a tea cozy. Such virtuosity!
According to Muffy. . .human persons’ mating behavior seems contrary to nature.
For one thing, the proper breeding age is arbitrarily set—by a committee, mind you—regardless of individual maturation. Then all of those selected (debutantes) to meet the most eligible males (catches) are herded together (the Marriage Mart) and dressed alike. In white, no less. The brightest colors, the most sparkly jewels, the finest plumage, are reserved for those who already have a mate! If a female loses her mate, she is forced to wear darkest black, even if she wishes to encourage another male.
In many species, the males fight for the females. Muffy says the London gentlemen often participate in fisticuffs, swordwork and marksmanship contests, even hold races. But the young women are not permitted to view these activities, or the unclad males, so how can they select the mate who is strongest, fittest, fastest, best able to protect them and their children? The debutantes are not permitted to be alone with the men, no, not even to dance more than twice in an evening with the same partner. How can they make a proper choice? No wonder they have so many ugly babies.
Fitz is an integral part to the budding romance, even willing to play canis ex machina whenever needed. When his efforts are thwarted, his exasperation is clear when he exclaims, “for barking out loud”. And in one of those hilarious “wink, wink” moments, Fitz details the difficulty of critiquing the poems of his friend Tippy the turnspit dog, and the necessity of writing what you know.
This story is but one of many wonderful Regencies penned by Ms. Metzger. Reading it is guaranteed to brighten your day, and make you wish you had your own matchmaking mutt.