Monday, December 28, 2009

Pride and Prejudice, chapters 1-5

Jane Austen’s second published novel is one of the best known and best loved in the English language, so much so that it’s almost impossible to see it clearly any longer; it’s become a set of fixed images and responses in our collective mind. Perhaps only Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” has undergone so thorough a metamorphosis from literary work to cultural bulwark, bogged down by the accumulated accretions of generations who know it only second- or third-hand—or who know it only by reputation, a kind of ripple effect across the surface of western civilization; familiarity by osmosis. Whenever it’s mentioned we no longer even hear the dissonance in the title; it's just a series of syllables, a consumerist trigger—not Pride and Prejudice, but Pridenprejudice. It is, in these post-literate days, less a novel than a brand. And like all powerhouse brands, it’s proved capable of spawning sub-brands, the most powerful (and in my opinion the most insidious) being that which currently boasts legions of frenzied, maenad-like devotees who’d as soon rip Austen’s moldering carcass to shreds than grant her even a posthumous claim on her own creation. I speak, of course, of the great, the dreaded, invoke-it-at-your-peril, Darcy.

What’s been lost in all this, alas, is the original novel, which, when it’s read at all these days, is undertaken by people who already "know" it, who are convinced they’ve always known it, that they knew it in utero; they don’t just read it, they read it with intent. We all strive to find what we need in stories; we furnish what we can, in between the lines, to make the text more amenable to us—to reflect us better. But with the possible exception of the New Testament, no other seminal text has been so greedily trawled for evidence of the reader’s own transcendent superiority. Pride and Prejudice is the kind of book certain people make a point of visibly carrying with them in public, exhibiting it like a designer label. Or a weapon.

Astonishing, then, to read it afresh. Make a conscious effort to clear away the layers of received opinion, the yellowing varnish of endlessly parroted consensus, and you find a lean, feisty, spiky little novel, limber and fleet-footed and occasionally even vicious. A bantamweight boxer of a novel. Readers don’t fall for Pride and Prejudice; they’re knocked down. And while they’re on the mat they see twittering birds around their heads, like in cartoons. No wonder so many people are deranged about it. They’ve had their brainpans jostled. Their vision’s still screwy, they talk too loud, and under stress they’ve been known to wet themselves.

This most famous of Austen’s works begins with one of the most famous first lines in literary history: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” What nobody ever seems to get, here, is that she’s being ironic—she’s starting as she means to go on. The “truth” that is “universally acknowledged” is actually neither; it’s the kind of ludicrous attempt to co-opt the conventional wisdom we hear all the time in the modern world (“Everybody knows trees cause air pollution”). Austen even exposes the irony in the next paragraph, when she allows that even the single man in question might not be aware of the “truth” about him.

From there she gets right down to business. We’re thrown into the hearth and home of the Bennet family, a gentleman and his wife and their five grown daughters. Anyone expecting a Dickensian scene of domestic felicity is in for a rude shock. The Bennet home is if anything a kind of capital-B Bedlam, with Mrs. Bennet as the chief lunatic and her husband the sadistic warden who keeps poking her with a stick through the grate.

Both the senior Bennets are, in fact, major comic creations of Austen’s. Mrs. Bennet is all impulse, pure emotion; the delay between her having a feeling, and speaking it, cannot be measured by any instrument known to man. It’s like her synapses are actually in her tongue. She rages, she rants, she pouts, she preens, she exults—sometimes all in the space of a single sentence. Her husband, whose regard for her is clearly long gone, likes to amuse himself by orchestrating this cacophony of feeling—directing it first this way, then that, like a pinball player knocking about a little silver ball. His chief method of doing this is by affecting not to understand a word of what she says to him, even the plainest and most obvious statement of fact. This happens repeatedly in the first chapter, with such frequency you’d think any idiot would sit up and say, “Hey, wait a minute—are you busting my chops, here?” But Mrs. Bennet is not just any idiot. She’s world championship material; a Wonder Woman of imbecility.

And Mr. Bennet is an utterly ruthless tormenter. It’s fairly clear that he’s revenging himself on his wife for getting old and silly; but Austen skillfully implies an element of self-loathing as well. He can’t forgive his wife for losing her youth and beauty; but he can’t forgive himself for not having seen that’s all she ever had going for her.

The chief prod to Mrs. Bennet’s hysteria is that she has five unmarried daughters and a limited income. This is why she’s in such a state of high excitement when the novel opens; she’s just heard news of a gentleman—the aforementioned “single man in possession of a good fortune”—moving into the neighborhood. “What a fine thing for our girls!” she trills to her husband, who of course pretends not to understand her.

“How so? how can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr. Bennet,” replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them!”
“Is that his design in settling here?”

This is exactly the kind of response that causes Mrs. Bennet to sputter bits of foam; but she manages all the same to make her point, which is that Mr. Bennet had better introduce himself to this newcomer, Mr. Bingley, immediately, so that he can then become acquainted with the rest of the family. But Mr. Bennet sees no point in that; if his marrying one of the girls is all that matters, why not just send over all five for him to choose from, like a pack of hunting dogs?

It’s here that Mr. Bennet first expresses some degree of partiality for one of his brood, when he adds that he may have to put in a good word for “my little Lizzy.” All his daughters, he declares, are silly and ignorant, but “Lizzy has something more of quickness than her sisters.” Elizabeth Bennet’s “quickness” is at the very heart of the novel, and of the character’s extraordinary appeal to generations of readers, and I sometimes wonder whether a certain type of female devotee—lethally smart, socially inept, unappreciated by her family and disdained by her peers—might not latch on so needily to Lizzy Bennet as a personal avatar if the first words regarding her super-specialness didn’t come from her father. My own observation of the “Lizzies” and their ilk is that, whoa baby, major Daddy issues.

As for the other Bennet sisters: Lydia, the youngest, is the most like her mother—all wild, unchecked feeling—and is for that reason her mother’s favorite, which she both knows and uses to her advantage. Mary is bookish but very far from wise; she’s always trying to come forth with some wise maxim or aphorism, but it invariably ends up sounding like bad advertising copy. Kitty coughs, and…well, basically Kitty coughs. And then there’s Jane, who’s possessed of no flaw of any kind: she has beauty, grace, charm, humility, and sweetness of temper. By page 19 you’re more than ready to push her in front of a train.

In the end Mr. Bennet does visit Mr. Bingley; Austen doesn’t say why, but it’s pretty clear he’d be only too happy to have one less mouth to feed. If he really can foist one of his daughters onto this new arrival, all the better. But of course he doesn’t tell anyone that he’s paid the call; instead he waits for his wife to snarl about how tired she is of hearing Mr. Bingley’s name since they’re never to know him; then he produces the news of his acquaintance as though it were something he’d agreed to all along, leaving Mrs. Bennet to do one of those whiplash reversals that over time have basically shredded her grey matter to confetti. If someone treated his dog the way Mr. Bennet treats his wife, PETA would have the guy shot.

And yet, we laugh. Of course we do. It’s funny. It’s also funny when Mrs. Bennet says, “If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at (Mr. Bingley’s) Netherfield…and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for.” We hoot because this is exactly the kind of mindless babble you get from women like her. She doesn’t even hear herself. She might as well have added, “and if I can but fly like a bird and live forever” into the mix.

Next thing you know there’s a ball, and in Austen that always spells trouble. She likes lining up all her characters so that they sweep around the room in perfect harmony, while in the ether above them all bloody hell’s breaking loose. In this case the hell is principally provoked by one of Mr. Bingley’s guests, a regal young man who enters the hall like Admiral Perry stepping foot on the island of Japan. This is Mr. Darcy.

The gentlemen pronounced him to be a fine figure of a man, the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.

Even worse, by Austen’s yardstick, is that he refuses to dance—unless it’s with one of Bingley’s two sisters, whose noses are as determinedly tilted skyward as his; they’re like three sea lions balancing invisible hoops. And when Bingley—who of course is having just a swell time, never better, love these peeps and hey how about that Jane Bennet number, woof—corners his friend and pleads with him to dance, Darcy flatly refuses:

“At such an assembly as this, it would be insupportable. Your sisters are engaged, and there is not another woman in the room whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up with.”

Bingley bravely urges him on, pointing out that Elizabeth Bennet is both very pretty and at present without a partner. Darcy looks over to where Lizzy is seated, and either not knowing or not caring that she can easily overhear him, declares:

“She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”

So here’s my message of good will to all those aggrieved single women, smoldering with affronted self-esteem, who go angrily about their lives carrying tote bags that read AN ELIZABETH IN A DARCY-LESS WORLD: Ladies, I can help you! I know for a fact that there are very, very many men who would be only too happy to step reluctantly into your life, offend all your friends en masse, and then insult you in particular. You just say the word, I’ll have a whole rugby team of Darcys at your doorstep.

But then, I’m willing to bet these women meet such men all the time. And I’m guessing that they, like Lizzy, don’t recognize a potential Great Romantic Hero in any of them; or maybe they do, and that’s the point. They don’t want a potential romantic hero; they want one who’s already fully fitted out and ready to drive off the showroom floor. God forbid they should have to do any of the body work themselves. Or that, like Lizzy, they’d have to recognize some of their own failings into the bargain. What, are you fuggin’ kidding me…?
Good luck with that, chiquitas. ‘S’all I’m sayin’. Cheers, stay in touch.

Anyway, Lizzy is sufficiently self-confident to laugh off the incident, in fact to report it merrily to her friends and family, which only increases the general loathing of Darcy. Lizzy doesn’t mind being the figure of fun; it doesn’t leave a scratch on her. She’s invincibly well-adjusted. She knows it, too; when Jane, the next day, is all bewilderment at Mr. Bingley having paid her the compliment of asking her to dance a second time, Lizzy rolls her eyes and says, “Compliments always take you by surprise, and me never.”

We’re then introduced to another family in the neighborhood, the Lucases. Austen’s brief introductory sketch of their paterfamilias is a small comic gem all on its own, and a wonderfully coherent psychological profile as well; by the time you finish it, you’d be able to pick him out of a crowd. It’s worth quoting in full, because it shows how Austen’s comic genius can manifest itself even in the swiftest, most fleeting strokes:

Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the King, during his mayoralty. The distinction had perhaps been felt too strongly. It had given him a disgust to his business and to his residence in a small market town; and quitting them both, he had removed with his family to a house about a mile from Meryton, denominated from that period Lucas Lodge, where he could think with pleasure of his own importance, and unshackled by business, occupy himself solely in being civil to all the world. For though elated by his rank, it did not render him supercilious; on the contrary, he was all attention to everybody. By nature inoffensive, friendly and obliging, his presentation at St. James’s had made him courteous.

Sir William has a daughter, Charlotte, who’s Lizzy’s best friend. She is, we are told, “a sensible, intelligent young woman, about twenty-seven.” We already know she’s no looker, because a few pages earlier, during a scene in which Mrs. Bennet recounts for her husband the goings-on at the ball so exhaustively that the poor man is nearly driven to taking refuge under his desk, she says the following, of Mr. Bingley’s dance partners:

“First of all, he asked Miss Lucas. I was so vexed to see him stand up with her; but, however, he did not admire her at all; nobody can, you know.”

Charlotte thus has all the necessary criteria for seeing the world as it is: she’s smart, she’s old, and she’s unloved. And true to her nature, she speaks truth to Lizzy throughout the novel, though Lizzy—her supposed best friend—hears her without listening. She says something now, as the novel’s principle womenfolk gather to talk over the ball—making this one of the chapters male readers may have some trouble with (except, say, the kind of male who giddily consents to be in the studio audience for The View). As the ladies rise to new heights of indignation over Mr. Darcy’s insufferable pride, Charlotte interrupts them:

“His pride,” said Miss Lucas, “does not offend me so much as pride often does, because there is an excuse for it. One cannot wonder that so very fine a young man, with family, fortune, everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may so express it, he has a right to be proud.”

Such wise words alarm Mary, who’s supposed to be the sage in the room. Accordingly she leaps into an extemporaneous discourse on pride that proves to be another comic high point. It’s a small masterpiece of flat-footed, tone-deaf banality:

“Pride…is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I am convinced that it is very common indeed, that human nature is particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

At this point, she’s in serious danger of Lydia beaning her with a candlestick. Fortunately for her safety, a young Lucas lad chooses this moment to burst in and declare that if he were as rich as Mr. Darcy he’d drink a bottle of wine every day, prompting Mrs. Bennet to say that if she were to see him she’d take the bottle away from him, unleashing a repeated chorus of “No you shouldn’t”/”Yes I should” which, Austen tells us, “ended only with the visit.”

For the record?...If I were to meet Mrs. Bennet, a bottle of wine a day is about the first thing I’d recommend to her.
For the remainder of my analysis of Pride and Prejudice, see the collected Bitch In a Bonnet, which you can purchase from AmazonBarnes and Noble, and other fine sites, or download as an ebook for Kindle or Nook.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sense and Sensibility, chapters 1-5

The opening pages of Jane Austen's first published novel give no indication that her reputation, in this post-literate age, hinges on something rather hazily labeled “romance.” An impartial reader might in fact find “Sense and Sensibility”, at the outset, to be much more like a ledger sheet. Austen explains in exhaustive (and exhausting) detail the means by which the female members of the Dashwood family (mother and three daughters) are reduced from easy living in stately Norwood House to a hardscrabble existence in a mere cottage, with just “two maids and a man” to look after them. (No romantic notions about them, either; once they've been mentioned, they might as well be a microwave oven, a sewing machine, and an Oreck XL Upright for all the humanity they're allowed. Shakespeare at least gave his plebians all the best jokes, and Dickens couldn't get his to shut up.) I expect that people who might have skimmed over these initial pages previously will pay more attention to them now; I know I did. As someone whose 401k has been pretty much decimated and who's seen the value of his house tumble down to meet his mortgage, I've suddenly got a keen interest in the mechanics of financial collapse. Misery loves company, even if it's fictional.

The principal agent of the Dashwoods' ruin is the wife of their stepbrother, Mrs. John Dashwood, the first of many monsters in Austen's fiction. What makes her monstrous—as opposed to merely wicked, or venal—is her thorough and transcendent shamelessness. She is, as Quentin Crisp once described Joan Crawford, radioactive with belief in herself. She's proud, insensitive, and has a sense of entitlement that threatens to devour the entire time-space continuum. For that reason, she's a startlingly timely figure, as we're just now reaping the rewards of years of “self-esteem” programs in junior and middle schools, which have produced a generation of Gap-clad Mrs. John Dashwoods who carry cell phones and drive SUVs and who will feel thoroughly justified in running you down with the latter because dammit WHO SAID YOU COULD GET IN THEIR WAY. (I bet more than one of them has a totebag slung on her passenger seat with the slogan “An Elizabeth In a Darcy-less World.” Oh hell YEAH I do.)

Anyway, Austen's Mrs. John Dashwood (whom the author names Fanny) pretty much steals the show in the early chapters of “Sense & Sensibility,” the way Shelob the giant spider steals the show in the third “Lord of the Rings” film. Fanny's attack is no less lethal; when she hears that her father-in-law has extracted a promise from his son to look after the “interest” of his stepmother and stepsisters—and that her husband intends to fulfill the vow by settling a few thousand pounds on them—she begins methodically demolishing every single inference that has led to this generous impulse, from asking what “interest” really means, to questioning the extent to which her husband even owes his father a deathbed promise at all. When John Dashwood contemplates paying his sisters an annuity, then, instead of a large lump sum, Fanny has one of the best lines in the book. Speaking of her mother having been saddled with such obligations to three old servants, she says:

“Twice a year these annuities were to be paid; and then there was the trouble of getting it to them; and then one of them was said to have died, and afterward it turned out to be no such thing.”

The utter cad! Turning up ALIVE like that! People are just no damn good.

She then goes on to say, of her sister Dashwoods:

“They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and have no expenses of any kind! Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it; and as to your giving them more, it is quite absurd to think of it. They will be much more able to give you something.”

Soon she has so far undermined her husband’s finer impulses, that he begins to think himself spectacularly beneficent if he sends his stepsisters a fresh fish every now and then. It's a wonderfully comic scene, subtle and yet relentless, first revealing, then reveling in, human nature at its appalling worst.

Then there’s this scene, as Fanny watches the family’s belongings being moved from Norwood:

Mrs. John Dashwood saw the packages depart with a sigh: she could not help feeling it hard that as Mrs. Dashwood’s income would be so trifling in comparison with their own, she should have any handsome article of furniture.

How bracingly, scaldingly hilarious. Fanny Dashwood has booted her mother-and-sisters-in-law from the only home they've ever known, and wheedled them out of obtaining a single penny of their inheritance; then she has the sheer cojones to resent them taking their own possessions with them, because what do POOR people need nice things for. This is bravura stuff; world-class ghastliness.

But with that Fanny is moved offstage, and a lot of the energy of the novel goes with her. We’re left with the displaced Dashwood sisters as principals, which is not, at this point, entirely cause for rejoicing. All we know of them so far is that Elinor governs her feelings, and Marianne indulges hers. Maybe that’s all we need to “get” them; after all, these are well-known character types, not only in literature but in life. (Marianne is the girl outside the bar, alternately shrieking “Whooo!” and throwing up on the sidewalk, and Elinor is the one pulling up to the curb to rescue her, while saying, “This is absolutely the last time I do this,” which even she doesn’t believe.)

But alas, Austen is not yet at the height of her powers. This is the only time in the canon where she presents us with two heroines instead of one, and we can see, for the first and only time, some of the thematic scaffolding holding up the narrative. Elinor represents the legacy of the Age of Reason; Marianne, the new Romantic movement that urges instead the primacy of feeling. This was the great matter of the early Nineteenth Century, driven by thinkers like Rousseau and Baudelaire, and debated hotly in coffee houses all across England. (Coffee houses were breeding grounds of intellectual ferment in those days; I don’t know why.)

It’s fairly easy to tell which side of the argument Austen favors. True, she’s a little bit in love with Marianne, who sweeps through the novel in a whirl of crinoline. She’s more filly than human; you almost expect her to neigh and paw the floor with her foot. But Elinor is steadfast; Elinor is measured in all things; she’s a goddamn bionic woman. She self-calibrates so much you can practically hear her go whirr, click. There’s nothing remotely attractive about her except her reliability and her faultless good manners, and when a writer puts a character like this at the center of a novel—like a bottle of milk in the middle of a sumptuous feast—you just know you’re seeing a self-projection. “Here’s me, all scrubbed of imperfections,” she’s saying. It’s a feat she’d try time and again in future novels, with both greater and lesser success (Elinor is a dish of tepid tea next to Lizzie Bennet; but she’s a feral, howling she-wolf next to Fanny Price).

What we still don’t have, five chapters into the Austen corpus, is a hint of romance. And by that, I mean the passionate, worlds-colliding, pull-the-sky-down-from-the-heavens-because-your-hand-touched-mine-in-the-barouche business people have come to expect from Austen because of the way Austen “fans” go on about her.
Oh, sure, we have a He and a She, and the stirrings of interest between them, and a Great Impediment, in the form of an iron-fisted mother (on his side) and a lack of fortune (on hers; Austen never forgets that ledger sheet, and never lets us forget it either). But the manner in which this epic, thwarted love is put forth is scarcely the stuff of Hollywood films:

He was not handsome, and his manners required intimacy to make them pleasing. He was too diffident to do justice to himself; but when his natural shyness was overcome, his behaviour gave every indication of an open affectionate heart.

Jesus. Put that in a personal ad and see how many Elizabeths-Seeking-Darcys flood your freakin’ In Box.

So Austen has, a little perversely, given her melba-toast heroine a rye-crisp hero. It doesn’t bode well for the narrative, from the reader’s point of view; but to her credit, she allows Marianne to stop twirling around like Stevie Nicks with a pashmina long enough to rebuke her sister for her mealy-mouthed praise of her fella:

“Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh! worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again and I will leave the room this moment.”

Elinor of course remains stolid and temperate; Marianne remains voluble and reactive. And as Reason and Romanticism bang away at each other like copper pots, we’re left longing for Mrs. John Dashwood to come back into the story, having figured out a way to extort Marianne’s piano from the parlor where the movers have just set it, and as long as the men are still here could they please move the island of Britain a few inches to the left, thank you and good afternoon.
But never mind; other grotesques are just around the corner.
For the remainder of my analysis of Sense and Sensibility, see the collected Bitch In a Bonnet, which you can purchase from AmazonBarnes and Noble, and other fine sites, or download as an ebook for Kindle or Nook.

Friday, July 31, 2009

A proposition, and a plan.

Like many people, I feel I have a claim on Jane Austen. Though mine seems to me more binding than most: both she and I are authors of satiric novels. I'm not proposing myself as her equal, merely observing that we work the same mine. She habitually strikes gold and I some baser metal, but it's still the same job. I use her tools, I know her trade. We're colleagues.

And yet, whenever I'm asked for my chief inspirations, hers is the name I consistently avoid mentioning. I'm a man, after all, and more than that a man of the world; while Austen is widely considered a woman's writer, scratch that, a particular kind of woman's writer, quaint and darling, doe-eyed and demure, parochial if not pastoral, and dizzily, swooningly romantic—the inventor and mother goddess of “chick lit.” The wildly popular movies and TV serials based on her books are filled with meaningful glances across well-appointed rooms, desperate dashes over rain-pelted pastures, and wedding bells ecstatically clanging over oceans of top hats and shimmering pelisses.

Well, all that's a load of crap. It's not Jane Austen, it's “Jane Austen”—a great writer reduced to a marketing brand, literature retooled as product, genius reconfigured as kitsch.

It's high time I came to my colleague's rescue.

Jane Austen was—is—a sly subversive, a clear-eyed social Darwinist, and the most unsparing satirist of her century. She's wicked, arch, and utterly merciless. She skewers the pompous, the pious, and the libidinous with the animal glee of a natural-born sadist. She takes sharp, swift swipes at the social structure and leaves it, not lethally wounded, but shorn of it prettifying garb, its flabby flesh exposed in all its naked grossness. And then she laughs.

Despite her admittedly limited palette, her psychological acuity easily matches Shakespeare's, and her wit as well; like him, she's also violently allergic to sentimentality of any stripe. If she were alive today, she'd be either a snarky old Doris Lessing type, in tweeds and sensible shoes, abusing journalists who dared to approach her, or a flamboyantly fang-toothed fag hag. Either way, you wouldn't want to cross her. Her tongue could kill at twenty paces.

How did someone whose vision is so darkly, even bleakly, comic—whose work brims with vicious, gabbling grotesques, most of whom are never adequately (or even minimally) punished for their sins (as Dickens, not so many years later, felt compelled to punish his)—become the patron saint of the turgid, chest-heaving, emotionally pornographic genre called “Regency Romance”?

I don't know, and I don't care. I only care to stop it—to fire the opening salvo that will, I hope, ignite the barrage of indignation that brings this travesty to a halt and restores, once and for all, the spit and vinegar to Jane Austen's public profile, raising her to the pantheon of gadflies that she might take her place beside Voltaire and Swift, Twain and Mencken. My goal is to make the world acknowledge, at long last, the bitch in the bonnet.

To that end, I'll be re-reading the entire Austen corpus, one novel at a time, in the order of their original publication, and sharing with you, here, my bellicose pronouncements along the way. Should be a kick.

But it won't be for the faint of heart. Those of you who fear taking offense...consider yourself forewarned. Offense will be generously on offer. So spare yourself, and go mewl in the corner with your goddamn Georgette Heyer.