Swashbuckling girls and foppish men: the unusual pleasures of Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances

Jade Armstrong (Curtain University) –  Swashbuckling girls and foppish men:  the unusual pleasures of Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances

Jane is a lecturer at Curtain University.  Her PhD thesis and research interests focus on adolescent femininity and popular culture, and one of the things that interests her about Heyer books is how they belong to the heroines.  Despite their archly conservative author, the Regency romances in particular feed the reader’s proto-feminist desire to engage with action and power.

The inconvenient truths of the female body present no problems for Heyer’s masquerading heroines who pass into male domains unhampered by binding breasts or visiting the toilet.  Moreover, the vainglorious heroes are the object of the female gaze as reader, heroine and narrator examine their clothes and demeanor before acquiescing to marriage.

– several novels have heroine dressed as a male for a long time
– only the hero notices that it is a woman dressed as a male, displaying the acuity of his masculine gaze
– it is a textual rather than sexual discovery (they do not engage in sexual activities)
– female characters are unhampered by the visible effects of female bodies while they are dressed as males (eg breasts, menstrual cycles) and are able to engage in male style activities such as rapier fighting unhampered

Stories considered
These Old Shades – 1926
– hero collides with a boy, ‘buys him from his brother’, makes him pageboy.  Half way through, pageboy is revealed to be Leonie rather than Leon.  However Duke takes ‘boy’ to places that are traditionally not accessible to women.  When she is drugged and kidnapped, she is able to escape herself – not rescued, rescues herself (despite her drugged mind)
The Masqueraders
– cross dressing brother and sister – Peter and Kate are really Prudence and Robin.  Hero takes an interest in ‘the young man’ who is really a female and gets taken to places not allowed to women (although she tips the alcohol down her sleeve so as not to get drunk).  She is prepared to do a duel as a male, although is safely betrothed to the hero at the end (as her brother Robin /Kate is betrothed to a suitable female at the end also)
The Corinthian – 1940
– the hero meets a runaway dressed as a boy.  Immediately realises her as a girl, but decides to accompany her on her adventures, posing first as her tutor and later as her uncle.

Sally Fletcher:  Heyer fetishises and eroticises her settings and fabrics.  That allows her to describe characters such as Robin / Kate in detail as a female without any sign whatsoever as a male in female clothing.

  • fluidity of gender, almost prepubescent in style.  Nothing is fixed when it comes to feminine or masculine
  • the dandy is also feminised, and is not a manly man
  • the females cross dressing is not so shocking, but the complete lack of female characteristics is interesting, as there is no acknowledgement of any efforts to bind breasts etc

Note: In the Masqueraders, when Peter is apparently completely believable as Kate, and able to fit easily into the female world in terms of dress, appearance and behaviour (including his walk).  However when it is time for him to leave his female personal and return to his male one, he discards it easily, and is able to pass as masculine to the same audience of females.  Meanwhile his sister has to work at passing as male, although she enjoys the freedoms it provides.

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