Popular romance writers duke it out (posthumously)

According to a new biography, the hugely successful historical romance writer Georgette Heyer (who died in 1974) had accused even more hugely successful historical romance writer Dame Barbara Cartland (who died in 2000) of plagiarism, an August 4 Guardian story reported. She had gone so far as to call her a petty thief, the biographer, Jennifer Kloester, wrote.

Now, I’d never heard of Heyer, and I had to rack my brain to remember if I ever read a Barbara Cartland novel (I have read a romance novel or two in my day, I’ll admit, so it’s possible I have). And I’m always interested in plagerism scandals, especially involving hugely successful authors. But I soon went off on a different track while reading the article.

Heyer wrote: “On perusing the first two novels of Miss Cartland’s trilogy I was astonished to find the number of identical or infinitesimally altered names and titles … I also found what might best be described as paraphrases of situations I had created, and a suspicious number of Regency cant words, or obsolete turns of speech, all of which I can pinpoint in several of my books.”

What the heck is a “Regency cant” word? I thought. I headed off to find out, naturally.

“Cant” = “the private language of the underworld,” according to Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary. “Regency cant” = phrases used during the British Regency era, roughly between 1811 and 1837, Wikepedia says. Merriam-Webster’s 11th narrows the Regency era down to 1811-1820 — “characteristic of the styles of George IV’s regency as Prince of Wales during (that) period.”

There’s a glossary of Georgette-Heyer’s Regency cant that provides a list of some of these words, which I’m sure some word-lovers will enjoy: http://www.georgette-heyer.com/slang.html. Some are still used at times today, others I’ve never heard of. I bet if I used the phrases, “neck-or-nothing young blood of the Fancy” or “plume yourself on something” in one of my novels and saw them used in someone else’s book, I’d suspect plagiarism, too.

According to the blog Jane Austen in Vermont: “During the Regency it was the fashion for upper-class men to pepper their speech with the language of the lower classes, especially boxing and horse-racing speak as well as that of the Regency underworld.” I guess it’s no surprise that many of the phrases have to do with drinking, then.

  • a trifle disguised=slightly drunk
  • be with malt above water=be drunk
  • bosky=drunk
  • foxed=drunk
  • jug-bitten=drunk

There were also the varied turns of phrases for loose women: barque of frailty, Bird of Paradise, bit of muslin, convenients, lady-bird, Paphians, peculiar, prime articles … these all mean “woman (or women) of easy virtue.”

Many of the phrases relate to crime, telling lies, fighting and illegitimate children. But “dicked in the nob” is not a sexual term. It just means “crazy.”

“Georgina Hawtrey-Woore, senior editor at Arrow, a Random House imprint that is publishing the new biography, said that had Heyer taken legal action today ‘she’d have a very good case’,” the Guardian article said.

The “other side of the story,” Cartland’s son, Ian McCorkindale, was quoted as saying: “I’ve never heard that story. It’s more likely, I would have thought, the other way round.”


About janarzooman

Freelance writer and editor. View all posts by janarzooman

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