Review of “The Toll-Gate” by Georgette Heyer

This Regency romance by Georgette Heyer employs a great deal of “flash-patter” slang, which apparently actually originated in Derbyshire, a county in the East Midlands of England and the setting for this novel. [There is an interesting history of how flash patter arose in An Analytic Dictionary of the English Etymology: An Introduction by Anatoly Liberman.] Heyer provides no glossary for this slang, but it’s easy enough to get the gist of the dialogue. I also remembered some from the books by Lyndsay Faye set in 19th Century New York, where flash patter was the street argot of the era, especially because Faye did include a glossary with her books.

This story is also unusual in that the focus is on the hero rather than the heroine. Twenty-nine-year-old Captain John (called Jack) Staple is tall, handsome, genial, and honorable. He was a Captain in the Dragoon Guards, but now is mustered out and is at loose ends, and loathe to be bored by the strictures of formal society. He is also bored by women who have no spirit and no interests broader than advancing in society, and so he has remained unmarried. But that is all about to change.

Jack, riding off to visit his best friend, gets a bit lost, and ends up staying at a toll-gate house manned only by ten-year-old Ben Brean, acting for his father, who has gone missing. Ben is scared, and Jack agrees to stay and help out, as much for a lark as anything. But before long he is called to take a toll from 26-year-old local Nell Stornaway, clearly as independent as possible for a woman to be at that time, and with no care for propriety. They are both tall, but Jack is taller. It’s love at first sight.

So Jack decides to stay longer, and soon gets embroiled in “an excellent adventure” related to the disappearance of Ben’s father, that is not, however, without mortal peril for Jack. There are some fun side plots involving the humorous character of Jeremy Chirk, who is a highway robber but a good man, and who is in love with Nell’s former nursemaid Rose. There is also the delightful character of Nell’s grandfather, and the rather less savory characters of Nell’s cousin Henry and his friend Coates. But they are all entertaining, each in his own way.

Jack devises a way to fix everything aright – that is, unless he is killed.

Evaluation: This book, like others I have read by Heyer, is very fun, and reminiscent of the “screwball comedy/romances” of old movies. My only quibble with this book is that Jack’s declaration of love for Nell was so swift I thought he was having another of his larks. Besides being heralded as the true source of “Regency Romances”, Heyer should definitely receive notice for making “InstaLove” a plot feature as well.

Rating: 3.5/5

Originally published in 1954, and published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc., in 2011

Image of an 1835 Flash Dictionary from the British Library

Image of an 1835 Flash Dictionary from the British Library

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3 Responses to Review of “The Toll-Gate” by Georgette Heyer

  1. I like contemporary romance. But I’m not very curious about regency romances. Since I’ve never read one, though, I could be missing out. Oh, well.

  2. Michelle says:

    I have never heard of flash-patter slang; I am sure I’ve read a book where it is included but never knew what it was. Off to go learn something new this morning!

  3. Beth F says:

    I remember the slang from Faye’s books. I haven’t read much Heyer, but sounds like fun.

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