The accomplished Corinthian Sir Richard Wyndham is wealthy, sophisticated, handsome, and supremely bored. Tired of his aristocratic family constantly pressuring him to get married, he determines to run away after meeting the delightful, unconventional heroine Penelope Creed. Penelope – literally – falls into his life late one night as she hangs from the window of her aunt’s house – she too attempting to escape the pressures of forced marriage. The two allies become embroiled in a series hilarious madcap adventures as they cross-dress, run into escaped criminals, have a case of mistaken identity, and save people from their own dramatics. Little do they predict their feelings for each other blossoming into romance.
Rating: A+ for narration; B+ for content
One of the best things about listening to new audio versions of older books is becoming reacquainted with stories I read many more years ago than I care to count! Georgette Heyer’s The Corinthian is not a title I’ve re-read over the years, so coming back to it in audio was almost like experiencing a new book. And a terrific experience it was!
The story is one with which any regular Regency reader is probably very familiar: an older, sophisticated and somewhat ennui-laden man-about-town becomes accidentally embroiled in a hare-brained scheme perpetrated by a younger female. One thing leads to another, in the way of a cartoon snowball rolling down a mountainside, and the couple ends up in the middle of all sorts of madness and mayhem while falling in love.
That’s pretty much the plot of The Corinthian – with more laughs, obviously. Handsome and extremely wealthy, twenty-nine year-old Sir Richard Wyndham is constantly pressured by his family to hasten his betrothal to the lovely, demure and very proper Honourable Melissa Brandon, who, they keep telling him, will make him the perfect wife. Unable to postpone the inevitable any longer and intending to propose the next day, Richard goes out and gets drunk and, on the way home, stops to assist a young lad climbing out of a window. The boy turns out (naturally) to be a very feminine armful, Miss Penelope Creed. Penelope – or Pen – is running away from her aunt and uncle to escape their plot to marry her to her fish-faced cousin to keep her large dowry in the family.
Pen tells Richard she owns a house in Somerset and intends to make her way there to seek the help of a childhood friend. She is about to turn and leave, but Richard is not quite drunk enough for his common sense to have completely abandoned him. He insists that Pen can’t possibly wander the streets of London alone, late at night, dressed as a boy and tells her he will escort her to Somerset. On their journey, the pair cross paths with a jewel thief, a Bow Street Runner and even a dead body, and Richard finds himself having to constantly think on his feet to be able to keep up with Pen’s seemingly endless capacity for spinning yarns and finding trouble – and finds himself having the most fun he’s ever had in his life.
The plot is fairly thin, it’s true, but as is the case with so many of Georgette Heyer’s books, the plot is of secondary importance to the style, the wit and the wonderful sense of the ridiculous. The story is part farce, part mystery, and it races along with feel of a runaway train. The dialogue sparkles, with exchanges between Richard and Pen that are full of humour and affection, showing that despite the disparity in their ages, they’re very well-matched. I’m not someone who is bothered by the twelve year age gap – Emma Woodhouse is sixteen years younger than Mr Knightley, and if it’s good enough for her (and Jane Austen), then it’s good enough for me!
Richard, the eponymous Corinthian is a charming hero – unflappable, funny and kind, with an air of quiet strength and competence about him that is very attractive. I’m not a fan of very young heroines, and Pen is just seventeen, but while she’s certainly got that air of invincibility that so often comes with youth, she’s not stupid or insensitive. She’s got gumption and a degree of self-awareness that makes her seem a little more mature.
There’s a wonderful cast of supporting characters, from the cant-spouting jewel thief to the insipid young woman Pen’s friend is determined to marry, and the various members of Richard’s almost-fiancée’s family. The author’s gift for biting wit and subtle irony brings them all into sharp focus.
I’ve never heard of narrator Georgina Sutton before, but when I saw that she’s recently narrated a version of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, I was sure I was in for a treat. Naxos AudioBooks has done a stupendous job in matching narrators to books with their Heyer recordings, and this one is no exception. Ms Sutton is absolutely superb, bringing all the characters vividly to life in a performance that is nothing short of virtuosic. The aforementioned jewel thief is a character straight out of a Dickens novel, and Ms Sutton absolutely relishes his slang-laden dialogue. She later affects a perfect simpering breathiness for a rather drippy secondary love-interest, and her portrayal of the Honourable Melissa’s brother Cedric is completely over-the-top and utterly hilarious. Richard’s mother is a woman so languid it’s a wonder she can even get out of bed of a morning. Ms Sutton’s characterisations of the two principals are spot on, too. She adopts a slightly lower pitch and a very measured delivery for Richard that perfectly reflects the world-weary persona he presents to the world, and which contrasts brilliantly with Pen’s seemingly endless capacity for wonder and fascination with everything around her.
This is one of the most delightful audio experiences I’ve had in a while. Ms Sutton has a real affinity for the material and the energy and joyousness that shine through with every word make The Corinthian a must-listen for fans of historical romance, Georgette Heyer and romance audiobooks alike. Highly recommended.