Regency Turns 80 — Frederica

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

Frederica is one of a handful of Regencies which Georgette Heyer titled with the heroine’s first name. In today’s article, historical romance novelist, Miranda Neville, gives us some tantalizing glimpses into both the humor and romance of the story, combined as only Heyer could. What is your view with regard to Frederica’s late recognition of her love for Alverstoke? Do you consider it a flaw in the story, or the typical response of a young woman of her time and station in life?

All visitors are welcome to share their opinions on Regency romance, or Frederica in particular, in comments to this article.

*         *        *

A dark-haired woman n a pink satin dress is just rising from a small table while a dark-haired man in a brown jacket and white shirt is still seated.

Frederica:   When do they know they’re in love?

Frederica sees Heyer at the height of her powers. It’s laugh aloud funny—the episode of the Baluchistan hound is comedy at its best—and contains wonderful secondary characters as well as a delicious main couple. The banter between Frederica and Alverstoke is brilliant. Neither allows the other to get away with anything—in a teasing never antagonistic way—and it’s clear almost from the start that they are made for each other.

Alverstoke is a splendid creation, inspiration for numerous perfect, bored noblemen:  good-looking, superbly dressed, excellent at every sport, witty and extremely intelligent. His fault, which he acknowledges, is selfishness. Early on there is an exchange with Frederica about his own cold childhood.

"I came into the world hosed and shod, and was so precious to my parents that a special establishment was created for me. Until I went to Harrow, I enjoyed the undivided attention of nurses, valets, grooms, tutors, and — oh, all that money could provide!"

"Oh, poor little boy!" she exclaimed involuntarily.

Thus in few words does Heyer explain how Alverstoke became the man he is. That he confides this much in Frederica, whom he doesn’t know well, signals his early attraction and sets up the theme of his transformation. For Frederica is a novel all about family.

While Frederica has devoted her life to her adored, though not perfect family, virtually raising four younger siblings, Alverstoke barely does his duty to his relations, and never at the expensive of his own comfort. When he takes on the informal guardianship of the cash-strapped Merriville family, it’s only to annoy his sisters.

When the "guardianship" turns out to be more demanding than he had expected (see the Baluchistan hound) he begins to enjoy the responsibilities of family, and to fall in love. The lack of a suspense plot and the focus on the feelings of the central characters make Frederica one of the most purely romantic of Heyer’s novels.

Reflecting Alverstoke’s unusual degree of self-awareness, the author shows us the development of his feelings for Frederica, through the eyes of observers and in extensive passages in his point of view. To an unusual degree for Heyer, we see him pass from liking to cautious affection to passionate love.

"His own doubts were at an end. The more he saw of her the more he loved her, and as he’d never loved any woman before. Not the most beautiful of his mistresses had inspired him with a desire to shield her from every adverse wind."

But what of Frederica? Heyer’s heroines often fail to acknowledge their feelings until the hero speaks. Judith in Regency Buck, Eleanor in The Reluctant Widow, and Drusilla in The Quiet Gentlemen come to mind, and there are others. We know that they are in love but we don’t see it, at least in the point-of-view passages we are given. There are reasons for this, ranging from denial because the hero can’t possibly love them to—perhaps—a dislike of overt sentimentality on the part of the author.

In Frederica the boot is on the other foot:  Alverstoke hesitates to declare himself partly because he can’t tell if she feels the same way. Frederica’s denial seems almost willful. Yes, she is too busy looking after her siblings to think of marriage, but still, how can she not realize her feelings—obvious to almost everyone else—for such a fabulous man?

Even toward the end of the book, when the dauntless heroine pretty much falls to pieces whenever Alverstoke is absent (a brilliant display of showing not telling), she has to be told what her feelings mean and they come as a surprise.

"But I am not blind to your faults, and I do not think that everything you do or say is right! Only—is it being—not very comfortable—and cross—and not quite happy, when you aren’t there? …. Now I know! I am in love."

I’d love to know whether other readers find Frederica’s emotional ignorance plausible, or if it’s a small flaw in an almost perfect novel and a wonderful romance.

Miranda Neville’s historical romances include the Burgundy Club series, about Regency book collectors, and The Wild Quartet. She grew up in England and now lives in Vermont with her daughter, her cat, and a ridiculously large collection of Christmas tree ornaments. Her novella in the anthology Christmas in Duke Street will be available October 15, 2015.

Connect with Miranda online at:
Web Site:
Twitter: @Miranda_Neville

Similar Posts


  1. “Frederica” is a Heyer book that I have never gotten around to reading, and I’ll have to remedy that. But from what you describe, it’s a nice turnaround to have the hero more in touch with his emotions than the heroine. Certainly it’s believable to me. It sounds like Frederica is used to being in charge of everyone around her, and falling in love would mean vulnerability and a loss of control.

    1. Both in charge, Karin, and obsessed with her plans for everyone – which don’t always jibe with theirs! She’s a great character and (I use this positively) not without flaws.

  2. My take is that Frederica was so busy caring for her family that she had not really had time to dwell on what constitutes “true love.” She had only heard the definitions other young women, including her sister, shared from their own ideas or readings of the romance novels of the time. That is why I believe she did not realize she was in love. It did not rock her world, she continued to function just as she had always done. Nor did she suddenly think Alverstoke was perfect and without fault.

    I think it is rather like happiness. Unless you have defined what happiness means for you, you are not able to determine whether or not you are happy. So, since Frederica’s definition of “true love” did not fit how she felt about Alverstoke, it simply did not occur to her that she was in love with him.



  3. Ah, that Baluchistan hound! What a fabulous bit. “Frederica” is definitely one of my favorite Heyers, for its comedy, its heroine, its wonderful world (that balloon!)

    Miranda, you ask an interesting question about Frederica not knowing she’s in love. I always liked that fact! I think along with Abby in “Black Sheep” and some other Heyer heroines, she’s so busy taking care of other people that she never even thinks of taking care of herself. And I agree with Kathryn that she’s also a young woman who hasn’t been in love before, and doesn’t know what it looks like from the inside! (And I think it’s also a Heyer comment on what real love is — not some romantic belief in the perfection of the other, but a real emotional bond.)

  4. Well, Heyer sets it up reasonably convincingly for Frederica to not realize that she’s in love. I think it’s sort of in the Sense and Sensibility tradition—the girl doesn’t quite dare acknowledge her feelings until the boy has spoken first, and the simplest way to avoid acknowledging feelings is to not examine them. She must keep too busy to indulge in navel-gazing.

    1. I think that’s absolutely right, Lillian. But if she has any kind of physical awareness of Alverstoke – and how could she not, even if the author makes the choice not to discuss it – then surely she must have a clue!

    2. A further thought, Lillian. The message of S&S is that a woman shouldn’t give into her emotions in her behavior. But even with sensible Eleanor everyone, including her, knows she’s in love.

  5. I too love this story. I do think part of Frederica’s responses are the author’s distaste for sentimentality. It shows up in so many of her books. It may even have been a reaction to the earlier books of Radcliffe and others who were so over the top. But sometime I find that the implied undercurrent of feeling to be as powerfully touching as things expressed in words. She shows us the growing trust Frederica has for Alverstoke which says a great deal about her feelings. Thank you for all the reminders about this lovely story.

  6. Yes, one of the very best Heyers. But though I love her books to pieces (literally), it’s in part because she was the first HR author I read so I have a strong sentimental attachment to her books. That’s not the only reason for loving them, of course (and your comments on Frederica illustrate all her strengths), but I find myself mentally re-writing each one as I read it, to even up the increasingly obvious discrepancies between the brilliant characterisation / scene setting / plot etc and the woefully underdeveloped emotional side. Frederica is a good case in point, as is Sprig Muslin. In SM, there’s a rare case of a character feeling genuine angst – for a paragraph or so – then the emotional development takes place more or less off stage. We’ve had lots of cases of fanfiction for Jane Austen – don’t you think it’s time someone took on the job of writing the bits GH couldn’t, and republishing expanded versions? (Bother the copyright laws.)

    1. Thank God for copyright laws!!! At least Georgette Heyer’s work will not be subject to the repulsive and sacrilegious abuse visited upon Jane Austen’s novels.

      A true fan enjoys and respects an author’s work, they do not butcher it to suit themselves and/or to rake in a pile of filthy lucre!

    2. She was my first HR writer too, Georgina. I’m not a big fan of fan fiction – I prefer to read the originals. I sometimes wish Heyer had been a bit more generous with the lovey dovey stuff but she is who she is as a writer. In a way, just about every subsequent Regency romance, sweet or sexy, is a riff on Heyer!

  7. I recently tried to describe (to a young adult reader) the current scope of romance novels as swinging from one extreme to the other; from erotica on the one hand, to ‘the kiss on the last page’ style of Georgette Heyer. I can take plenty of heat in a novel when it accompanies true regard. But the wild romp that a Heyer novel provides, that takes the ‘will they won’t they’ right up to the very end is so much more exciting than can be described to someone who hasn’t been initiated. Oh, and we can’t forget the wit, and the intelligence.

    I could talk about Frederica for pages, but will spare you. I do think that with the way young ladies were raised in that time period, it is not unrealistic that Frederica just wouldn’t sit around daydreaming of Lord Alverstoke and examining her feelings. She has too many responsibilities and has been the most responsible member of her family for some time when the novel begins. She believes she’s on the shelf, and couldn’t be of romantic interest to just about anyone let alone Alverstoke.

    The question you posed is an interesting one, but having read so many other (Fredrica is in my top five) Heyers I never really think about that when remembering Frederica. I remember her sister and brothers, and Alverstoke slowly coming to regard them with humorous tolerance, then care and loving responsibility aside from his love for Frederica. Like many a Heyer hero, Alverstoke has to wake up to his own feelings first, indeed in his case his own life. It’s not the only one where the hero knows himself before the heroine does and even though Heyer does it again and again, it’s somehow different every time. I love how Alverstoke delays his declaration with equanimity while taking care of another crisis (the most crucial one) for her.

    Gosh, I love this book. This is the one I begged my husband to read, and have made him a Heyer fan now!! Can you believe that?

    1. So glad you love Frederica, Michelle. And that your husband does too.

      I agree that young women had to protect themselves emotionally since they took the passive role in a courtship. But in real life that’s hard to do. Emotions, inconvenient as they may be, have a way of making themselves known. Thus I think a lot of heroine obliviousness says more about Heyer than about the human condition in general.

      I particularly love how much of Alverstoke’s thought we get in Frederica. Often Heyer keeps the reader has much in the dark as the heroine.

      1. I wish I knew more about Georgette Heyer. I have read some biographical info. Enough to know she had many a difficult period throughout her life, with her family, husband, writing career. I’ve often wondered about her writing style, and her motivation in making them the clean, ‘kiss on the last page’ romances her regencies are. (Except obviously when she wrote them the ‘bodice ripper’ was yet to be invented. Correct??)

        But some of her books make me wonder if the story came a little close to home for her, in the sadness they show (A Civil Contract) or the contentment that devotion to duty and steadfastness, and the reality that the one that shows up every day and stays the course is a more desirable mate than the pretty, immature party girl. And so many of her books involve women who are older, who think themselves on the shelf and are responsible for many others. So who chiefly was her audience at that time?

        I know she was fanatic about her research, too, and valued her own historicals over some of her other works. She had a tough life as a writer, not getting the promotion of her books from her publisher that she thought they deserved.

        1. Michelle, if you can find a copy of “The Private World of Georgette Heyer” by Jane Aiken Hodge, it will answer at least some of your questions about Heyer’s life. Hodge does argue that Heyer did seem to be fictionally arguing in some of her most (presumably) autobiographical books (like “Helen”) that the trustworthy, honorable, slightly boring man was a better mate than the sexy, adventurous, impulsive man…so you’re definitely on to something!

          Though I think that Heyer felt free in her historical romances to play with things, and be less realistic, if she wanted to be…

        2. Heyer published her novels between the early 1920s and the mid-1970s. If she had written a novel which went beyond the chaste kiss, let alone the bedroom door, she would almost certainly have lost most of her audience and thus, her career. Such content would have been considered well beyond the pale by most readers of that era and she would have been considered little more than a pornographer. Attitudes to romances with more detailed scenes of sexuality were not being published until the early 1980s, some years after Heyer’s passing. Even then, most people thought them quite obscene and low-class. More than likely, so would Georgette Heyer, who was very much a woman of her time.

          Though bodice rippers were published in the 1980s, they were all historical romances, which is what helped make them even marginally acceptable. It was not until well into the 1990s that contemporary romances with more detailed scenes of sensuality and sex were published. Even after the sexual revolution of the 1970s, it took literally decades for sex to be accepted in popular entertainment, either books or films. Those who were born after the mid-1970s seldom seem to understand how much things have changed in the last few decades.



  8. Hi Miranda, I don’t know how FrederiCA escaped my notice; I thought I had read all of Heyer’s books. Now i have another of her books to look forward to! One of my other favorite of her heroine named books I loved is VENETIA. I RECOMMEND IT HIGNLY.

  9. Regarding the question of why doesn’t Frederica realize she loves Alverstoke – I think that the piece around her total focus on raising her family and finding a good husband for Charis is an important part of it. But, Heryer also makes it clear that Frederica has it firmly in mind that she is “on the shelf” and unmarriageable – indeed this is several times cited as a reason that she can be relaxed with Alverstoke and spend time with him that might otherwise have been considered inappropriate in the Regency period. The suitors who approach her anyway, (the boring and dutiful son of one of Alverstoke’s sister, and a confirmed bachelor who doesn’t really want a wife so much as a porcelain statue) don’t do much to help dispell her misconceptions. And, of course, one of the charms of the book is that we as readers are WISHING she would get a grip and realize that she’s in love wit him!

    1. Good point about her ease with Alverstoke, Alicia. Their conversations are so natural and charming. And of course neither Buxted nor (?) Moreton – who is Alverstoke’s best friend – do a single thing for her. Although actually I think she might have considered the latter if she wasn’t certain he wouldn’t be able to handle the young brothers. Frederica is nothing if not practical.

Comments are closed.