Lively, lovely, and headstrong, young Phoebe Mayhew is disappointed that her visit with her brother, the new Earl of Drake, does not include the elegant balls and parties of her imagination – simply because she has not yet made her debut in Regency London’s high society!
Determined not to return to her small village without attending at least one fashionable event, Phoebe undertakes a risky plan…one which could end in scandal and her ruin…until Drake’s friend Lt Tommy Hazelton comes to her rescue.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Night at Vauxhall is a short “interval” story [approx 14,000 words] It’s neither a prequel or a sequel – it’s an interval of events that occur during the same time as The Magpie Masquerade.
The story stands on its own. If you’ve already read The Magpie Masquerade, you will recognize some of these characters; if not, you will meet them in Night at Vauxhall. Enjoy!
In the late 1600s, Vauxhall was a rustic village on the south bank of the Thames, with a large plot of trees known as Spring Garden, where locals could wander and seek a refreshing break from the squalor and noise of city life.
By the mid 1700s, Jonathan Tyres, a leather tradesman, had transformed the plot into Vauxhall Gardens — an exotic and verdant space for people to enjoy art, music, and dancing. There were numerous pavilions, grottoes, illuminated pathways, and a Grecian-style grove that could accommodate 3,000 people.
In the octagonal Orchestra building, patrons could sit in colonnades of large, open-air boxes to savor refreshments while listening to the concert.
During its heyday, in the late Georgian era, the Prince of Wales and the elite of London society were frequent visitors, and a “silver ticket” or season pass cost one guinea – a huge sum in those days.
But Vauxhall Gardens was open to anyone who could pay the regular one-shilling admission, and all could enjoy the music, singers, dancing, sculptures, and fireworks displays. There were over 100,000 visitors every season.
Henry Fielding wrote, “That delicious sweetness of the place; the enchanting charms of music, and the satisfaction which appears in every one’s countenance, carried my soul almost to heaven.” Amelia (1752)
In Georgette Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax, young Richmond Darracott is mightily impressed when his rakish cousin Vincent arrives,
“…driving himself in a curricle to which were harnessed three magnificent black geldings, randem-tandem…and exclaimed: ‘Here’s my cousin at last! Oh, he’s driving unicorn! He’s the most complete hand!'”
[He asks] ‘What’s this new quirk, Vincent? ….Is it now the high kick of fashion to drive–unicorn, do you call it?’
‘Yes, or Sudden Death,’ replied Vincent…’And no, little cousin, you may not drive them. We have had enough sudden deaths in the family.’
When I first read The Unknown Ajax, there was no Google-search, and the dictionary only described the mythical horned beast, so I had to guess what the term meant.
Later I learned that driving a team of horses unicorn-style means there are 3 horses pulling the carriage — a pair of wheelers behind a single lead horse.
Farmers would hitch their horses in this fashion in order to negotiate closer turns along the edge of the field. Coachmen might drive unicorn when one horse in a team of four went lame and had to be left behind.
This difficult style of driving, also known as “randem (sic)-tandem,” requires a particularly well-trained lead horse and an experienced driver (see, e.g., Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, p. 169)
During the Regency, sporting gentlemen (and the occasional dashing lady) would drive unicorn-style as a display of their prowess.
Even trickier was driving a coach in a pickaxe hitch — five horses, three across at the front and two wheelers behind them. Apparently the fashionable Corinthians and Go’s wanting to show off restricted themselves to driving tandem (one horse in front of another) or unicorn, and left the pickaxe hitch to professional coachmen.
Really a delight, this is a Regency romance in the Georgette Heyer tradition, with engaging characters, a clever plot, and witty dialogue.
From the blurb:
In Regency England, young ladies make their fortune by marrying it. But Cleo Cooper has come to London with a different idea – she’s going to make her fortune by stealing it. Raised abroad by unconventional parents, Cleo has no use for the rules and strictures of the ton. She’ll pretend to fit in, but she has a secret scheme.
Arthur Ramsey, Duke of Winton, is in the market for a wife. He imagines a sweet, conformable young lady who will gracefully fill the role of Duchess, secure the succession with an heir, and not interfere with his scientific pursuits. That’s what he’s looking for – but what he finds is Cleo. (Author’s Note: A Feather To Fly With is a traditional Regency. If it were a movie, it would be rated PG, or even G.)
Harmon is also the author of a cozy mystery series, and anyone who has read Died on the Vine or Bidding on Death will recognize her talent for understated humour and well-drawn characters.
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Check it out! Particularly if you like Joan Smith, Georgette Heyer, or Barbara Metzger, A Feather to Fly With is a highly enjoyable read.
(and also for Equal time – Darcy got his own post for D, and Elizabeth deserves her own post for E :-)]
Elizabeth Bennet, one of my favorite heroines of all time! Maybe she doesn’t kick ass like Katniss or solve mysteries like Harriet Vane, but she manages to push the boundaries of her narrow social sphere, with grace, style, and humour.
Elizabeth is bright, spirited, witty, and kind. She’s also pretty – not as beautiful as her celebrated sister Jane, perhaps, but quite appealing, as Mr. Darcy reluctantly admits.
“…no sooner had he made it clear to himself and his friends that she had hardly a good feature in her face, than he began to find it was rendered uncommonly intelligent by the beautiful expression of her dark eyes.
To this discovery succeeded some others equally mortifying….he was forced to acknowledge her figure to be light and pleasing; and in spite of his asserting that her manners were not those of the fashionable world, he was caught by their easy playfulness.”
Elizabeth is admirable, but not perfect. She’s too pert for Bingley’s fashionable sisters, she defies propriety by “scampering about the country” — walking miles alone to visit her sick sister — and she enjoys music but doesn’t practice enough to be truly “accomplished.”
She does prefer books to cards, which is seen as a fault by Mr. Hurst, but Darcy considers that (in general) a woman should improve her mind by “extensive reading.”
Elizabeth is the “prejudice” in Pride & Prejudice, because she misjudges Darcy. After reading his letter, where he explains the truth about Wickham and his sister, she is stunned.
“She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd.
‘How despicably have I acted!’ she cried…..‘Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were concerned. Till this moment I never knew myself.’”
Frankly, I’ve always thought Lizzie was perfectly justified in disliking Darcy, who behaved with such rudeness and arrogance. It seems hardly fair to blame her for overlooking his admirable qualities, considering that he did such a good job of concealing them.
It is another sign of a worthy heroine that she can learn from her mistakes, but not dwell on them. “You must learn some of my philosophy,” she tells Darcy when she eventually accepts his second, much-improved proposal. “Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”
So…who is your favorite version of Elizabeth Bennet?
Greer Garson in the 1940 MGM movie, with Laurence Olivier?
Elizabeth Garvie, in the 1980 BBC miniseries, with David Rintoul?
Jennifer Ehle, in the 1995 BBC miniseries, with Colin Firth?
Keira Knightly in the 2005 movie with Matthew Macfadyen?
Or maybe your favourite incarnation of ‘Elizabeth’ turns up in one of the contemporary riffs on Pride & Prejudice:
Aishwarya Rai in the 2004 Bollywood spin, Bride & Prejudice, with Martin Henderson? Renee Zelwegger as Bridget in Bridget Jones’s Diary, with Colin Firth as Mark Darcy?
Or Jemima Rooper in Lost in Austen, as the Pride & Prejudice fan who exchanges places with Elizabeth, goes back in time to fictional Georgian England (!)…and falls for Elliot Cowan’s Darcy?
Elizabeth Garvie was wonderful in the 1980 miniseries, and for many years I couldn’t imagine anyone better – but I was blown away by the 1995 miniseries. Not only was it a gorgeous production, but I thought Jennifer Ehle was the quintessential Lizzy. She is still my personal favourite.
Who is yours?
Who would you cast as Elizabeth Bennet in the next version of Pride & Prejudice?