In which we serialize Heyer Society editor Rachel Hyland’s first book in her Reading Heyer series, Reading Heyer: The Black Moth. Called “delicious” by Heyer expert Jennifer Kloester, it is a reading guide, critique and loving homage all in one. But mostly, it’s just a lot of fun. We hope you enjoy. Check back every Monday for another installment, or buy the book here.
CHAPTER VII: INTRODUCING SUNDRY NEW CHARACTERS
Ah, sundry new characters! Joy! (And yet… is anyone else missing Jack? We haven’t seen him for ages.) One of said sundry new characters is, if we’re not mistaken, our heroine. Diana by name, and beloved of Devil Belmanoir himself. She is lovely, good-natured, and highly intuitive, being more than a little wary of His Grace, the Duke of Andover—although she knows him only as Mr. Everard.
Quite how such a lofty and distinctive a personage as the idiosyncratically-clad Duke of Andover can be incognito in such a fashionable gathering place as Bath is something of a mystery. Certainly, we know that he hasn’t abandoned his conceit of only ever wearing black and silver while playing the part, because Diana describes her first sight of him as putting her in mind of “… a black moth amongst the gaily-hued butterflies.” (Why, isn’t that the title of this book? Does that mean Tracy is our hero after all? How confusing!)
One gets the feeling that even if Diana did know he was a Duke, she still wouldn’t encourage his attentions. She’s a young lady of principle, we can already tell, and she just does not like him. He makes her uncomfortable—probably because he’s casually plotting her abduction and rape; which, good call, Diana!—and as a result, she and the sickly aunt who is the reason for her presence in town stop going to the Pump Room to promenade at the fashionable hour. Which neither of them seems to consider a sacrifice; and we like them both the better for it.
Yep. Diana’s our heroine, alright. At last!
Meanwhile, it turns out that the abominable Tracy actually has a friend! Frank Fortescue by name, he drunkenly counsels his “poor Devil” to “… give up this mad life you lead! Give up the women and the drink, and the excessive gaming; for one day, believe me, you will overstep yourself and be ruined!”
(It’s basically the Georgian gentleman equivalent of “I love you, man.”)
But does Tracy listen? No, he does not! We know this, because he says:
“We Belmanoirs are all half-mad,” replied Tracy sweetly, “but I think that in my case it is merely concentrated evil.”
And we also know this because there are still twenty-two chapters left, plus an Epilogue…
I have to confess that my natural ill-feeling towards Tracy at this juncture is tempered by the love I bear for Justin, the Duke of Avon, of These Old Shades fame. An austerely-clad Duke with a wicked wit, shady past, gambling habit and well-deserved reputation as a playa is redeemed by the love of a good—nay, adorable—woman, and there can be no mistaking the similarities between Avon and Andover. While not a sequel, the 1926 attempt is definitely in the light of a self-homage; it sets right some wrongs of the first go round and also brings the captivating cleverness of our titular figure (Coming Soon: Tracy Belmanoir is The Black Moth) very much to the fore.
Although, he’s very much to the fore right now, isn’t he? What with the plotting of rape and all. (And this, more than anything, is why I think These Old Shades is not a direct sequel to this book. Heyer painted Tracy just that little bit too dark and depraved to be able to rehabilitate him – remember, this was written in a time before the Fifty Shades of Grey and its ilk – and so she had to settle for recreating him, but making him slightly less… well, icky.)
Brought out to join him is a new sundry character who is not our heroine: friend Frank, who is Hugh Davenant to Tracy’s Justin, if we are to continue to point out the obvious parallels. (Meanwhile, Lavinia is Fanny, Richard is Marling, Andrew is Rupert and Jack is Lord Merivale. Oh, and there was a card party in Chapter VII hosted by one Lord Avon. Heh. Or, at least, “heh” if there wasn’t so much discussion thereat of good-humored dueling with swords over trifles like a shared sex worker considered little more than property.)
Frank is the only person for whom Tracy exhibits a fondness—even going to the extent of having paid his debts to get him out of prison—and his very existence humanizes our scoundrel somewhat. Which would be a good thing if he weren’t, and I will say this again, plotting the abduction and rape of a young girl. I mean, it’s bizarre: here, he’s portrayed as a romantic if ultimately doomed anti-hero, when he talks of kidnapping and “having.” On SVU, he’d be locked in a room with an irate Christoper Meloni right about now, whose face would be wearing that vein-popping-out look as he accused the creepy, all-in-black thirty-something man of planned sex crimes against a teenage girl who’d previously spurned his advances, reported (one would hope) by his sister, to whom he’d confided the sordid details.
It was a simpler time, wasn’t it? And in many ways, a truly awful one.
But will Tracy succeed in his dread purpose? And where the hell is Jack? Let’s set course for Chapter VIII to find out more, shall we?
New chapters of Reading Heyer: The Black Moth will be posted here at Heyer Society each Monday. Or buy it here.