Regency Turns 80 — Pistols for Two

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

Pistols for Two is the only anthology of short stories which was ever published by Georgette Heyer. A special treat for those of us who love the Regency era, all the short stories in this anthology are set in that decade. Today, Regency romance author, Victoria Hinshaw, gives us a glimpse of some of the stories in this Regency anthology. And, Victoria also offers us some advice on how best to prolong our enjoyment of this volume of romantic bijoux. Would you pace yourself or devour all the stories at once?

Please feel free to share your ideas about this anthology and historical romance in general in comments to this article.

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A young couple in Regency dress walking arm in arm across the foyer of a grand house.

Pistols for Two is comparable to a box of chocolate truffles you hide away to save for special moments. When you really need them. When you have a shortage of time but a desire for your Georgette Heyer fix. Whether to cure the blues, give a lift to your spirits, or simply to indulge in an hour of delight, the eleven short stories in PFT are even better than candy. No calories. And turning the pages, one might even burn a few.

Here you will find all your favorite character types: the naïve country miss who steals the rake’s heart, the bored aristocrat who is unaccountably enchanted by her, the impetuous brother, the spinster suffering spasms, and even a Bow Street Runner. You will find the familiar plots, masquerades, duels, amazing coincidences, mistaken identities, Almack’s, and elopements along the Great North Road to Gretna Green. Here are Heyer’s wonderful expressions — among my favorites are "animadversions, ramshackle, ninny-hammer, the out-and-outer," not to mention the slang and cant sprinkled here and there. You have those regency heroes Ms. Heyer discovered and made de rigeur: the perfect Corinthian in his highly polished Hessian boots with tassels, coats tailored by Weston or Stultz, over his intricately tied cravats. Although secondary characters have lesser roles in the short stories, consider the names: Mr. Waggleswick, Miss Baggeridge, Mr. Thimbleby, Miss Titterstone, and Mr. Marmaduke Shapley. But enough of the lists.

For those of us who have written — or tried to write — short stories and even novellas, we know how difficult it is so condense a good love story into a few pages. Some have asked of Georgette Heyer’s novels’ heroes and heroines, "How are you falling in love? Show us the emotions!" Unlike the today’s Regency novels, full of romantic skirmishes and often explicitly described amorous encounters, Heyer’s romances are more subtle, almost to the point of invisibility. But in the short stories, the suddenness of true love is easy to absorb and admire. At least I think so.

The title story, Pistols for Two, finds two young sprigs preparing to duel over a young lady. They must find suitable weapons, which are provided by a stranger…with shocking consequences for the two friends AND the young lady. No spoilers here!

Among my favorites is Pink Domino, in which Letty, an ingenious heiress, manages to foil her brother’s opposition to her romance with a young veteran of the battle of Waterloo and do brother Giles a favor at the same time. Their overburdened mama always has her vinaigrette at the ready.

Snowdrift made me laugh out loud. Here Miss Sophia Trent attempts to reach her miserly grandfather in Bath before her brutish cousin Joseph. Both travelers hope to win the grandfather’s good graces and a share of his fortune. But when they meet with an accident on the road, rescue comes from Sir Julian Arden, one of Ms. Heyer’s splendid rich and bored nonpareils. The grandfather has a surprise in store when they get to him. He, in turn, is surprised by Sir Julian’s motives in bringing Sophy to Bath.

Pistols for Two was published in 1960 in England and appeared in the U.S., in 1964, under the Dutton imprint. I was most amused when I discovered my paperback copy of Pistols for Two in the third row at the back of my Georgette Heyer shelf. It is a Bantam printed in 1970, with a British "Swingin’ Sixties" girl on cover, looking for all the world like Jean Shrimpton in Carnaby Street. To see this cover, go to my website, and scroll down. I wonder what Ms. Heyer thought of that version, impossible to compare with her early and elegant covers by artist Arthur Barbosa (1908-1995). Or for that matter, to the images chosen for recent editions from Sourcebooks. Do you think Georgette Heyer was appalled by the Beatles, the Stones, or Twiggy?

I cannot recall when I first discovered Georgette Heyer’s short stories. Of course they do not promise the full-course banquet of her regency novels, but they are fun, and they are perfect when one hasn’t the time for a full-fledged novel.

If you haven’t a copy already, find one and set it in an obscure place where you won’t be tempted to pick it up and devour it all at once. Treasure it for those needful moments. If you read it long ago, or not at all, how fortunate you are to have this little cache of delicious bon-bons waiting for you to savor.

So sit back, turn off that internal editor if you can, and simply enjoy.

Victoria Hinshaw wrote novels and novellas for Kensington Zebra’s late lamented Regency Romance line. Most of them are available as e-books now. She also authored a novella in the recent release Beaus, Ballrooms, and Battles: A Celebration of Waterloo, also available wherever e-books are sold. A lover of Jane Austen and frequent speaker at JASNA events, she really owes her style of regency writing more to Georgette Heyer than Ms. Austen. Victoria is a frequent and eager traveler to England; she writes from a desk high above Lake Michigan in Milwaukee at the aptly-named Regency House or in the winter warmth of Naples, Florida.

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  1. Lovely post Kathryn. I love this book and have read it many times although not recently. Now I am thinking I must read it again. My copy is a hardback that I bought from my library when it had a sale. I was lucky enough to get several of her books that way. Thanks again.

    1. I am glad you enjoyed the article, but I want to point out that I did not write it. The article was written by Victoria Hinshaw, so you have her to thank for your renewed interest in this anthology.



  2. I love that cover, Victoria! I may have to acquire it. (Though I treasure her words in hardback with classy covers, I also have a growing collection of Heyer paperbacks with covers ranging from bizarre to beautiful.)

    I do love Pistols for Two – particularly the title story. Take THAT, all ye men who would decide women’s fates between you! 🙂

  3. Thanks one and all for the comments…I almost envy the reader who has not discovered the wonderful GH until now — think of all the enjoyable hours ahead. Nevertheless, I love re-reading too. Pass me that Grand Sophy, if you don’t mind!

  4. I have not read this, but you’ve definitely sold me on it. I don’t read a lot of short stories and novellas, but something about the holiday season makes me gobble them up.

  5. Wonderful article and am simply simmering on the hob to track this anthology down! The RWA Journal (March ’16) just had an article about writing novellas and short stories for those of us who have the attention span of a gnat, or as I would phrase it, are “weekend warrior writers!” Thanks again!

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