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Julia Quinn: Wit, Dishabille, and Mad Barons

In Julia Quinn, List of Summer Reading on June 14, 2012 at 6:26 pm

typical morning dress and walking costume (1815)

As I sit here typing this post, I’m currently sipping English Afternoon Tea in my I ❤ Mr Darcy mug (I promise you, I’m not that cheesy in real life. According to me). There’s really nothing quite like a cup of black, English tea. Nothing. …Well, maybe it’d be a bit better if my future British aristocratic titled husband were sitting next to me, dressed in 19th century gentleman’s garb… But anyway. Back to Julia Quinn.

I believe my favorite novel of hers is What Happens in London. This is for several reasons: Firstly, Olivia Bevelstoke is an incredibly likeable protagonist, and it may have something to do with her sense of humor (for me, at least). Secondly, Sir Harry Valentine is such a romantic name. Harry. Valentine. See what I mean? I’ve always loved the name Harry, regardless of the fact that a devilishly handsome red head who happens to be royal and unmarried also possesses the same name. Harry (The character, not the real person) also works for the War Office, which has always intrigued me. Have you ever read any of Lauren Willig’s books? The Pink Carnation series features tons of guys working for the espionage section of the War Office, and even though Sir Harry translates documents, I still find it fascinating.

(Sidenote: The British War Office was in operation from the 17th century to the mid 20th century. It administered the British Army, and therefore was a very important part of British foreign and domestic policy. The Department’s building–where Sir Harry would have gone when he was summoned– was located at Horse Guards in Whitehall from the early 18th century to the mid 19th century. It became less important after the First World War and especially after Winston Churchill became PM, where he bypassed the War Office completely. Bummer. I’m looking at pictures of the War Office building– and I really do hope it’s the right building I’m looking at– and it’s certainly an impressive structure. It seems very Palladian in style, which I’m a big fan of. I should also point out that I’m an Art History minor, so I’d like to think I got the architectural style correct, but if you are reading this and are more authoritative on the matter, please correct me if I’m misinformed.)

Another reason why I’m so enthralled with What Happens in London is because it has more substance than Quinn’s other novels. I don’t presume to say that her other novels are simply full of fluff (because they really aren’t), but the whole espionage aspect of it, the adorable and sometimes frightening misunderstandings, coupled with a sort of kidnapping, makes it much more intriguing. That, and it’s also her funniest novel (to me, at least). I found myself laughing alone in a room, and more than once I was questioned as to what was so funny.

I loved that Quinn also had the plot of another book within hers– Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron (do you get my title now?), and how it propelled the main plot along. The best part of being an author, I believe, is having the freedom to transfer one aspect of a novel into several different novels. Miss Butterworth, for example, appears in one or two of  Quinn’s other novels. I really want to question Quinn on how she came up with that book. I mean, really. It’s a stroke of genius. For those who are familiar with what I’m talking about, don’t you wish it could be a real book? Or if Quinn could actually write and publish it? It would sell so well!! For goodness sakes, it pokes fun at lurid Gothic novels just about as well as Jane Austen does in Northanger Abbey and even Sense and Sensibility, to a degree (I’m referring to Marianne’s tendency to be more than what is considered decorous in her expressing of emotions). I do not wish to give too much away from it, because it’s truly a work of art, but let’s just say that being pecked to death has never been so enjoyable to read about until now (and I’m not giving away who does the pecking or to whom it is directed–read it for yourselves!). This book also gives hope to having a novel be a direct implement in having two people fall in love with each other. And really, what reader wouldn’t want that?

I gave the title to my post because those three aspects characterize her novels. Wit, because Quinn’s dialogue is quite witty. You can’t read one of her novels without laughing. The dialogue between the characters is so bitingly witty sometimes that I tuck them in my head, in case the need should ever arise for me to use something as good as what Quinn writes in her novels. Secondly, all of her heroines find themselves in some case of dishabille, so I felt that was appropriate. And I put Mad Barons becuase it’s in the title of the aforementioned book. Also, I know Quinn meant “mad” as in “insane,” but I also use it here because all of the men (and they usually possess a title) become angry at some time, the heroines calls them “quite insane,” and they do actions that other people would quality as the 19th century definition of “mad,” although we know it’s because of love.

I do have to ask though—if you do read Julia Quinn’s novels, do you ever feel a bit embarrassed reading them in public? Personally, I used to giggle at the stupid covers of romance novels—you know, the ones featuring a demi-god with his cravat askew and his shirt bursting open, his dark, luscious locks flowing in the wind as if there’s no tomorrow. And then, as if that gets any better, the girl beside him looks like a common trollop (using antiquated terms, sorry not sorry).  She’s generally barefoot, her hair is down (come on, no self-respecting girl in the 19th century or earlier would ever be caught with her hair completely down unless she was inside and in her bedroom—or his, I suppose if we’re to be fair). Anyway, so her hair’s down and weirdly blowing in the opposite direction as the Fabio look-a-like, and her dress is in a state of dishabille. I don’t look at books like these and think, oooh, that’s going to be a good one. No, I look at it and I think, oh, COME on! Doesn’t the author have any self respect for the work of art she has produced? And it’s painful to admit, but I would never have read Juila Quinn’s novels if I hadn’t raided my mother’s bookshelves and trusted in her judgment that she wouldn’t read a book like this if it wasn’t any good. I’m only happy to say that Julia Quinn’s novels aren’t stupid, and I do not think the covers reflect the books in any possible way. I give exception to her books where the front cover consists of the title and then a shoe, or a necklace, or a book with a hand, such as The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever. But, alas, you open to the second page which features a step-back (a second cover), and AHH! There’s another trollop getting seduced, once again, by Fabio’s brother! I know publishing companies think that having a half dressed man on the cover will entice women to buy the book, but it does the exact opposite with me! What about you, readers? Are you more inclined to pick up a book with that type of cover or no? Would you be caught reading it at a Starbucks, or do you only pick it up when at home? Do answer, please. I’m quite curious.

And I just want to reiterate again that I greatly respect Julia Quinn, and I don’t mean to insult her by insulting her covers. She most likely had little to do with choosing the cover (most authors don’t…some do get the luxury of giving some feedback, but it’s not always heeded). I believe Julia Quinn possesses great talent. Her novels are always unique, her characters are fully developed and not one dimensional, and she does a great job of unfolding and resolving plots. I’ve read several other authors who write similar books that also take place in the ton during the early 1800s, and I find Quinn’s more enjoyable than theirs. Do let me know, readers, if you’ve found an author similar to Quinn whom you like just as or more than her.

Word of the Day: Cravat– a cloth, often made of or trimmed with lace, worn about the neck by men especially in the 17th century. A scarf of silk or fine wool, worn round the neck, especially by men (Source: Dictionary.com)

 
 Ah, dangit! I was so engrossed in writing this blog that I only finished half of my tea! This never happens! Oh well. That must be a good thing, right?
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  1. I have to agree with you Julia Quinn is the best regency writer ever! I get her books as soon as they appear on the shelves and I believe I have read every one except the epilogues. I have very limited space so cannot keep them (darn it!) I recently got a Kindle fire so I plan on acquiring them as ebooks. I wish they would come out as an e book set so that I could get them all at one time. ( I love ebooks because I can make the print any size I want and can read even when I am having bad vision days).
    The other author of regency books I particularly enjoy is Jane Feather but her books are not as lighthearted as Julia’s. As you mentioned in your blog I often laugh out loud when I’m reading Julia’s books. There is another new regency book out called Ridiculous by DL carter which Is very good and made me laugh. She has a second one on the way.

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