Regency Turns 80 — Simon the Coldheart

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

Over the course of her career, Georgette Heyer wrote only three novels set in medieval times. Simon the Coldheart was the first. In today’s article, romance author, Becca St. John, explains why it is unlikely any romance publisher today would accept this as a new manuscript. But she also shares with us some of the things which attracted her to this story of a strong, determined and honorable man who does seem to have a cold heart. Until he meets an equally "cold" woman who makes the sparks fly between them. Once you have read Becca’s article, will Simon the Coldheart go on your list of must-read Heyers?

All are welcome to share their views on this novel, or the historical romance genre in general, in comments to this article.

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Dark-haired woman in medieval gown with a gold lace bodice and blue velvet sleeves is in the top half of the cover, with a scene on a battlefield in the lower section.

Ten years before her debut as a Regency author, Georgette Heyer released Simon the Coldheart, a 15th century medieval novel. As his name implies, Simon is no warm romantic. His story falls back to the sort Heyer used to make up for her younger brother. It’s full of battles and skirmishes and the business of knights and the pursuit of righteousness. Yet, the coldhearted won this romantic heart.

Simon is a self-possessed, illegitimate, fourteen- year- old who rises above every other man. He has both the wit and the audacity to apprentice himself to his father’s greatest rival, calling himself Simon Beauvallet in contrast to his noble father’s Malvallet.

Malvallet tries, unsuccessfully, to win Simon’s loyalty. He offers richness and honor, claiming a kinship refused at birth. Simon’s allegiance is no fickle thing, he dismisses Malvallet’s offer as too little too late. But this is not an act of bitterness. Simon will go on to fight side-by-side with a half-brother who had been raised with everything denied to Simon. They become trusted companions without any ill feeling. In this contrast, Heyer illustrates the fine line a hero walks, between hard yet fair, cold but just.

Unlike current romances the heroine, Lady Margaret, is not mentioned until the second half of the book, but hearts are already caught. Although surrounded by men who love and are loved, Simon fails to acknowledge how alone he is, a victim of his own stoic strength. However, the reader knows, and yearns for him to find love, just as Heyer, in her subtle way, directs us to.

So how does Heyer do this? Today, her style, in this case medieval, would not get past a publisher’s desk. Yet she still manages to capture modern readers.

Language is her tool, word usage and rhythm carrying readers deeply into other days and ways. Her Regencies do not have the same beat or sound as her medievals. In Simon the Coldheart, rather than whisk us off to a time of drawing rooms and manners, she leads us into a romanticized time, when life is hard and only the strong survive. She hits the core of chivalry and knighthood; strong, silent, fierce, feared heroes who stand for justice.

In this case he is a flaxen haired warrior, beyond perfect.

…compelling in his appearance, an elusive air of rulership and haughtiness, and a suggestion of a hidden force that was invincible.

Big, strong and capable, his expression alone, counters opposition,

He had but to use that upward glance of his and all insubordination was at an end.

That glance, it turns out, is a family trait. Typical Heyer to give a full description, including lineage, in a mere line.

(Simon) was startled to find that he was the object of a directly piercing stare, cast upward at him from under heavy brows.

She goes on, showing how he fit within his world with little need for approval.

… every inch a man, men liked him and were eager to call him friend. Friendship he never courted, caring nothing for man’s opinion of himself, nor seemed he to have an ounce of affection in him …

Women fair no better, as we learn through two knights discussing Simon’s lack of love life.

‘There is no woman as yet?’
Geoffrey laughed.
‘Holy Virgin, sir, if though couldst but see Simon with a maid! He pays no heed to them, nor seems to notice their presence! I tell him he will fall one day, and Alan tells him, too, but in truth, sir, I think he never will!’
‘I wonder,’ Malvallet said.
‘Or if he doth, ’twill be before some timid, pale-faced wench who will make herself a carpet for his disdainful feet.’

Both Simon and his fellow knights are in for a surprise. Timid, carpet of a woman, indeed!

Margaret, like a pillar of ice. Her regal head, crowned by a cloud of black locks, and a great horned head-dress, from which hung a veil of gold net, pearl embroidered, was held high. Not a muscle in her long white throat quivered; her face was a mask-like, oval and pale, with thin, disdainful lips, and black eyes that shone between lowered lids. The lashes, long and curling, seemed to cast a shadow on the perfect skin beneath them.

Our man, who cares little for the opinion of others, becomes awkward. He’s in the one sphere he neither understands nor can control. Fortunately, the cold Margaret proves to be a woman of fire and a merry dance she leads.

There are so many reasons this book, like many other Heyer novels, should not appeal to the modern reader; too much narrative, not enough dialogue, the over-use of exclamation points and ‘was,’ a heroine who isn’t introduced until the second half of the book.

Despite all that, Simon the Coldheart left me with a satisfied sigh even as it had me rereading to figure out just why I wanted to read it again. In the end, rather than analyze, I sat back to enjoy the journey into an age of chivalry, riding along with a hard cold hearted man who stayed strong, and lonely, until he met his perfect match.

For Becca St. John, writing was a tool, not a toy, until a stay in a haunted hotel. Howling wind and creaking floors sent Becca to a bookcase full of dog-eared romances. Fascination swept away sleeplessness. Hooked, she read old romances, new romances, both sexy and sweet, until her own tales begged to be written.

Living in Florida, Becca divides her time between dreaming up stories, diving deep into history, kayaking, and swimming. Her husband gives her the space she needs by fishing mangroves and waterways, or watching football (the English sort) with his British buddies. Becca and her hubby break the routine with adventure travel; though, at heart, Becca is a homebody believing there is no greater playground than inside the mind.

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  1. I liked him. I think there is a place for heroes who have no time for women until the perfect woman for them appears. It’s so different when you think about how the modern “historical” hero (and contemporary hero) is more often a manwhore, as if the capacity to bed any woman he wants is some measure of manliness.

  2. ‘Simon’ has always been one of my favourites, though for me the romantic second half is far less interesting than how he took and how he held. It influenced me heavily when my renaissance hero and heroine find themselves in possession of a ‘gift’ from the king, with rebellious servants in control.
    I always wished Heyer had done a sequel in the turbulent times of the Wars of the Roses rather than ‘Beauvallet’, which is somewhere near the bottom of my list of Heyers to re-read. She doesn’t always succeed in her compromise of language over readability but perhaps readability comes first; I suspect I am one of a minority who can read ‘My Lord John’ without recourse to the glossary. ‘Simon’ is an exploration, and like all explorations, not everything works, but I am glad Heyer did not have her way in having it destroyed.

  3. That’s a wonderful analysis, maybe the most persuasive in this series, and I am definitely going to reread Simon. Thanks!

  4. Becca, I’ve never read “Simon”, and now I think I must! It does sound like a fascinating book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about it.

    From Jane Aiken Hodge’s book on Heyer, I know “Simon the Coldheart” was one of only two historicals that Heyer supressed. Do you have a feeling as to why? (Everyone I know who has read it likes it, so I wonder.)

  5. I only read this recently, because it was free on Scribd, and I loved it! It’s a great adventure tale, and the romance is icing on the cake.

  6. Immediately after submitting this review I left for months of travel to twelve countries and missed all these comments! Thanks for taking the time and so pleased others enjoyed Simon the Coldheart.

    When young, she entertained her brother by making up stories of knights and gallantry. I wonder if her few medieval books are a hang-over from that time, while Regency was more for herself.

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