A novel by Georgette Heyer, published in 1940 by William
A Corinthian, in nineteenth century slang, was a gentleman
whose primary interests were sporting rather than sartorial or social. For a
rich young man during that period known as The Regency, sport meant boxing,
hunting, riding (horses), driving (carriages) and fencing. It also encompassed
such pursuits as gambling on horses, cock fights and boxing, as well as
The Corinthian of the title is Sir Richard Wyndham, a very
privileged young man. Wealthy, intelligent, handsome, articulate, and fashionable,
he has spent his twenties having fun and, bored by his lifestyle and under
pressure from his family, he faces the prospect of spending his thirties
embarking on an arranged marriage to a young lady with whom he has nothing in
Upon this dismal scene enters Penelope Creed, wearing her cousin’s
second best suit and dangling precariously from an upstairs window. Rescued by
an inebriated Richard, Pen explains that she is compelled to flee from a similarly
distasteful marriage, and naturally the best way to do this is dressed as a
boy. Seeing the sense in this, Richard packs a bag and joins her.
Pen and Richard’s journey begins and ends on the stagecoach.
In between they meet a thief who has lately taken to highway robbery, survive a
crash, discover stolen jewels, witness a murder, do a bit of birdwatching, hide
from a fish-faced aunt, assist in an elopement, get arrested and Pen becomes an
unwelcome suitor to a distressed damsel. In other words, business as usual for Heyer.
As always in Heyer’s novels, the secondary characters are
the real stars. Heyer had a better grasp of the contents of thieves cant and gentlemanly slang than any person since Francis Grose himself, and the cast of
this particular book gave her plenty of scope to use it. A thief, a conman-turned-highwayman,
a Bow Street Runner and a couple of young Corinthians have distinct, cleverly
drawn voices and the average reader will come away with a greatly expanded
vocabulary. Mostly centred on being drunk:
“Damme, I knew you’d shot the cat, Ricky, but I never guessed you were as bosky as that!”
“Yes,” said Sir Richard
reflectively, “I fancy I must have been rather more up in the world than I
“Up in the world! Dear
old boy, you must have been clean raddled!”
The Corinthian is pure escapism, a delightful froth of story
constructed on a thorough and meticulous knowledge of the time and place. From my
teens this was my favourite Heyer. Pen, happily wandering the countryside in coat
and breeches, befriending landladies and criminals with equal charm, was the heroine
I wanted to be, and every other page has a snippet of quotable dialogue. Sir
Richard is the ideal hero for real teenagers as much as the fictional Pen.
Just between you and me, he is still my ideal hero.