The Cultural Gutter

dumpster diving of the brain

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

A Fine Pursuit: Loretta Chase

Chris Szego
Posted November 29, 2007

chase 2.jpgSome months back I wrote a column about Georgette Heyer, who re-imagined Jane Austen’s Regency era and popularized it for modern audiences.  The Regency period, 1811-1820, refers to the years of King George III’s insanity, when his son, the Prince of Wales, was Regent of England in his father’s stead.  Given the similarity of style and tastes (and the continuing figure of the former Prince as King) the period is often extended to mean the years between 1800-1830. 


The Regency is still the most popular historical period for romances, in part, I think, because so many writers grew up reading it.  But also because it was a broadly influential time.  Modern European borders were redrawn. Napoleon’s changes to France included its laws, which influenced the way Canada’s own laws were written.  George Brummell, known as ‘Beau’, is the reason men still wear black and white on formal occasions.  He also elevated the craft of the ‘bon mot’ to art, and was known for saying exactly the right thing at the right time.  And, because newspapers devoted a great deal of time to gossip back then (and were highly popular thereby), his witticisms were widely read, and repeated.

Wit is one of the main ingredients of the Regency romance.  Sadly, it’s often misunderstood.  ‘Argument’ is not the same as ‘banter’, and many a promising romance novel has been made tedious by the author’s inability to distinguish between the two.  One writer who truly understands the difference is Loretta Chase.

Loretta Chase was raised in New England, and got her B.A. from Clark.  She held all the jobs a young writer is expected to as she sets out to write the Great American Novel: administrative assistant, file clerk, retail jockey, etc.  She also had a stint as a meter maid that she refers to as ‘Dickensian’.  At the same time, she wrote scripts for corporate video shoots, and it was there that she met a young producer,  whom she later married.  Her husband encouraged her to write what she truly wanted to write, rather than what she thought she should, and the romance genre as a whole is very grateful to him.

Her first novel, Isabella, published in 1987, played against some of the tropes established in modern Regencies.  Instead of falling for the dashing Basil, the titular character chooses his cousin, the proper and upright Lord Edward Hartleigh.  Basil, in fact, turns out to be the villain of the piece.  When, in her next book, The English Witch (1988) the devilish Basil became the hero, discerning readers knew that a rare talent had arrived on the scene.  

    n91378.jpgChase expanded her reputation with her next few novels, but solidified it in 1992 with The Lion’s Daughter.  Set in late trailing edges of the extended Regency period, it is the first in a series of loosely connected, non-sequential books, several of which won RITA awards (the RITA is the OSCAR of the romance genre, except that it’s awarded by jury).  My favourite book in the set, Lord Of Scoundrels, will be reissued next month, which thrills me, as I cannot for the life of me find my original copy (also, it will have a better cover. Yeesh).  The clash between Jessica, a very proper lady, and Dain, a lord steeped in debauchery, is the stuff romance legends are made of.  For all that it is witty and delightful, the story is also about the deep and lasting pain that only parents can cause, and the ways in which one has to overcome that kind of damage.    

After Lord Of Scoundrels came The Last Hellion in 1998, and then… nothing.  There was a pause in Chase’s career.  During the hiatus, several of her earliest novels were reissued in omnibus editions, but there wasn’t a new novel until 2004.   Then, in rapid succession, she wrote four books detailing the exquisite adventures of the sons of the Earl of Hargate, the Carsington brothers:  Miss Wonderful; Mr. Impossible; Lord Perfect; and Not Quite A Lady .  I’m not certain if the fourth book breaks with the title tradition because she just couldn’t find one to fit, or just because it was released by a different publisher.  
 
My personal favourite of the four is Mr. Impossible, about Rupert Carsington, the irrepressible fourth son who is the family’s favourite disaster.  As Benedict, the eldest brother  muses:  “He was aware that his father had told Alistair, his third son, and Darius, the fifth, to find well-dowered brides, because he refused to keep them forever.  But Rupert, who came between them, was excused, on the grounds that no rational person would give a fortune into his keeping.”  Good natured, but absolutely unmanageable, Rupert is sent to Cairo, where he raises havoc and meets Daphne Pembrooke, a bookish widow who requires his aid.  Her brother has been kidnapped, and she needs someone big, strong and stupid to help her track him down.  Rupert, big, strong, and vastly less stupid than he lets on, is happy to join her adventure.  Set after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone but before its translation, Mr. Impossible is full of the flavour of Britain-in-Egypt, but it’s not without a time-appropriate awareness of the colonial cost of that incursion.
  
I’ve no idea what’s up next from Loretta Chase.  No one does – that’s part of her appeal.  She may go forward, and enter the Victorian era;  she may instead go back.  But her readers will follow in hot pursuit, certain of one thing:  a great read.

~~~

Chris Szego really enjoyed re-reading Loretta Chase for this article, and is now suffering from post-book letdown.

Comments

One Response to “A Fine Pursuit: Loretta Chase”

  1. Carol Borden
    December 1st, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

    i love the name “rupert carsington.”

Leave a Reply





  • Support Gutterthon 2015!

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    Gentleman’s Gazette has a piece on the sartorial splendor of Hercule Poirot and of Captain Hastings in the BBC television adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries.

    ~

    At Pitchfork, Barry Walters writes about Grace Jones. “One night in 1993, I finally got my chance to see Jones perform at a local gay nightclub and took my friend Brian, whose partner Mark was too sick to join us….She didn’t back away from the elephant in the room: She dedicated one song to artist and AIDS casualty Keith Haring, who had used her body for a canvas on the occasion of her legendary 1985 Paradise Garage performance. That night’s show was remarkable for the simple fact that Jones just kept on going, granting one encore request after another, waiting patiently while the sound man scoured backing tapes to find the fans’ offbeat choices. When Jones got to such minor numbers as ‘Crush,’ it became clear that she didn’t want to leave. She was giving as much of herself as she could to the beleaguered troops, knowing full well that many wouldn’t live long enough to see her again.”

    ~

    At Pornokitsch, The Gutter’s own dame with a shady past Carol writes about five films noir.  “Do you want to watch some film noir? I hope so, because I have five films to suggest. Films about dames gone wrong, poor doomed saps, murders, sex and modern knights errant.”

    ~

    At The Alcohol Professor, The Gutter’s own Keith writes about Billie Holiday in a fantastic two-part piece. Part one traces “the history of Billie Holiday and NYC nightlife through the Harlem Renaissance to Café Society.” Part two covers “Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and the jazz scene in New York City clubs of a bygone era.”

    ~

    The New Yorker has a profile of author Gene Wolfe. “His narrators may be prophets, or liars, or merely crazy, but somewhere in their stories they help to reveal what Wolfe most wants his readers to know: that compassion can withstand the most brutal of futures and exist on the most distant planets, and it has been part of us since ages long past.”

    ~

    Remezcla has a gallery of Lourdes Grobet’s portraits of luchadores with their families and a bit of an interview with her. (Yes, the luchadores are in their masks and often wearing suits or casual wear, which is the best thing). (Thanks, Matt!) “Father and warrior, the masked wrestler is the perfect metaphor for the duality that Grobet’s photography wants to depict. Her work is resonant because she doesn’t try to demolish the myths that envelop lucha libre – she simply nurtures and expands them in an offbeat way.”

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: