CROSS DRESS­ING WITH GE­OR­GETTE

India Today - - LEISURE -

The magic of Ge­or­gette Heyer’s Re­gency nov­els is the way in which her hero­ines man­age not to dance the mar­riage min­uet, their awk­ward re­fusal to ‘fit’ the model of the ea­ger, con­form­ing debu­tante. Her hero­ines aren’t proto-fem­i­nists: they ac­cept the mar­riage mar­ket as the way of the world, but they work to make room for them­selves and their na­tures within its con­straints.

Their re­fusal to sub­mit to the ma­chin­ery of match-mak­ing, and to yet find love, this is what makes her books habit-form­ing. It’s why my older girl-cousins, who in­tro­duced me to Heyer, loved them. In­dia is a place where young men and women have to try to find ro­man­tic love in and around the ap­pa­ra­tus that ex­ists to ar­range mar­riages. In Heyer’s in­trepid hero­ines, her In­dian read­ers find the com­fort of know­ing that given spirit and a lit­tle luck, true love can find a happy end­ing in a plau­si­bly real world.

This doesn’t ex­plain why I, as a tenyear-old desi boy, be­came ad­dicted to them, an ad­dic­tion that per­sisted into adult­hood. Her books al­lowed me, as fic­tion does, the plea­sure of in­hab­it­ing bod­ies not my own. I could be a debu­tante, a cross-dress­ing run­away and an elfin French urchin with­out ef­fort or imag­i­na­tion. I liked them for the same rea­sons as the girls who read them, with the thrilling bonus of cross-dress­ing at one re­move. Heyer taught me that the most se­cret ex­cite­ment of fic­tion is not that it makes you a voyeur but that it al­lows you to be pos­sessed.

by MUKUL KE­SA­VAN who is an es­say­ist, his­to­rian and the au­thor of the novel Look­ing Through Glass

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