Regency Turns 80 — Bath Tangle

Silhouettes of a man and woman in Regency dress against a background of the number 80

In today’s article, award-winning Regency romance author, Ann Lethbridge, shares her experiences and views of Georgette Heyer’s Regency Bath Tangle. In particular, Ann has a special, even sympathetic, take on the very alpha male hero of this story. If you have read the book, do you agree with Ann, or do you have a different take on this alpha male hero and how Heyer handled him?

Everyone is welcome to share their own views on this story or Regency romance in general in comments to this post.

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Two young women in Regency dress, one sitting on a stone balcony the other standing near the first.

Let me start with a disclaimer. I am an uncritical reader. If the author brings me into her world, I’m a happy camper. I rarely have anything bad to say about a book because words are food for my soul. That said, even I recognize that changing styles and expectations have made Georgette Heyer’s work less accessible to today’s reader. Nevertheless I still love them. Perhaps because they bring back happy memories of my father, who also loved her books and who introduced me to them.

My assigned book, Bath Tangle was among the first of Georgette Heyer’s Regencies I read as a teen. Written around the mid-point of her career, it is full of the charm and style we come to expect from the initiator of our beloved genre, along with long paragraphs of narrative, description and exclamation points sprinkled with abandon. The tangle refers to the lives and loves of the six main characters in the book that must be unraveled before there is any hope of a happy ending.

Our principal heroine, Serena, is intelligent, headstrong and independent, traits a modern reader will like. Our hero, Ivo, the Marquess of Rotherham is the kind of alpha male we love and hate in equal measure, or at least that is how it is for me. Every reader is different. Certainly the modern reader might find his autocratic manner hard to take at first. I personally think Heyer does a pretty good job of redeeming him by the end, but it is touch and go.

Heyer describes him in part as "of medium height only…powerfully built, with big shoulders, a deep chest and thighs by far too muscular to appear to advantage in the prevailing fashion of skin tight pantaloons." He is also cursed with what today we might call a uni-brow, is rude to a fault, with no social graces, but accepted everywhere because he is rich. A Mr Darcy in the extreme.

We also learn he lost his father at a young age and that his mother brought him up to be very proud. However, when he is informed he is behaving badly, he is suitable chastened and swiftly makes amends as Ms Heyer shows us very nicely early in the book.

Reading the book again after several years, I was surprised to discover that for at least the first third and perhaps longer we see little of Rotherham. Indeed, he is so absent after the opening scenes, one almost forgets about him as Serena and her youthful step-mama Fanny, a far more pliable character, take centre stage. This is not something an author would dare these days and it may have been Ivo’s almost unlikeable character that led Heyer to do this. Or it may have been the only way to keep them apart.

During his absence, Heyer keeps us fully engaged and entertained with intricate details of life in Bath during the Regency. There is also the introduction of fascinating and sparklingly odd individuals along with the ubiquitous ingénues, subplots and men of good character who help save the day. Much of the book is spent misleading us as to who will be with whom, and treating us to insights of the lives of single women, both widowed and the yet-to-be-married, during this period of history, with just enough romance to keep us hooked.

The story’s denouement touched my emotions more strongly than some of her others, and oddly enough, it was because of Ivo. I felt there was more at stake for him in this story than there was for Serena, who does her best to marry him off elsewhere. When he says to her "I thought I had torn you out of my heart…."

Yes, that was my kind of happy ending.

Ann Lethbridge is an award-winning multi-published author of Regency Romance. She has over twenty titles with Harlequin Historicals, all regencies. Her next is The Duke’s Daring Debutante, out July 1 (June 19 in stores). She has recently strayed into the paranormal with the self-published Vampire Regency Lady Sybil’s Vampire. If you would like to learn more about her books visit or visit her blog where she travels around regency England at You will find her on twitter @annlethbridge, on facebook, AnnLethbridgeAuthor and a variety of other social sites where she will be chatting and have fun instead of writing the next book.

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  1. Oh…yes…that moment totally redeems Ivo. *sigh* How much he must have loved her to need such violence to be rid of her. I still felt for Serena though. Even in her very determination to marry him off it shows how much she cares. She feels she owes him this. I may have to read this again…

  2. I love Ivo. His character is more real than most romance heroes, gruff, critical, witty, etc. The book was never boring as long as he was on the page. The Major…Pffft. And yes, I love Ivo’s denouement, and the kiss!

  3. Great review although I liked Ivo from the start. Hector never stood a chance I know the description didn’t seem too great but I still thought he had a dry sense of humour. Definitely relieved at the end.

  4. Glynis, I know what you mean about being relieved. You could just see Serena realizing she had made a mistake and being unable to fix it. She could hardly jilt a second man.

  5. Lovely post, Ann. Bath Tangle is a favorite of mine and you are exactly right about Ivo. I love Heyer’s proud, grumpy heroes (Max Ravenscar, be still my heart.)

  6. Joining the conversation late! I really enjoyed your take on “Bath Tangle,” Ann. When I first read all of Heyer’s romances, I felt that Ivo was too harsh, and the heroine in “The Foundling” was too weak, and that made me think. I theorized that Heyer felt the hero always had to be “stronger” or more powerful in some way than the heroine (or often multiple ways; the heroes are often older, richer, and better at card games, all at the same time, and are more often right in arguments), so when she had a particularly forceful heroine (e.g. Serena) or a particularly mild-tempered hero (e.g. the Duke of Sale) she ended up making their partners rather extreme in their characters in order to keep the “hero is more powerful” thing going… Anyway, that was my theory, and I mostly still believe it!

    And I love how Heyer feels free to focus on the hero (as in “The Foundling”) or heroine if she wishes in a book, without having to have them both equally in, or even together, for long stretches. I think the romance genre used to be a much broader genre in that way — I’ve read medical romances that Mills & Boon brought out in the 1960s, and Regencies from the 1980s, which were really just the heroine’s story, with the romance quite tangential. I do like when authors have a great deal of latitude, and can tell the story they want! (Which isn’t to say that I don’t love romancey romance, of course.) 🙂

    That said, “Bath Tangle” will never be my favorite Heyer, because Ivo is quite harsh, and they fight so much. But I do love any story set in Bath, and also the Serena/Fanny relative positions are so interesting! And of course, in the end, Heyer is always Heyer. In my fantasy utopia, she wrote twice as many books…

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