Title: The Black Moth
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: 1921
Length: 355 pages
Genre: Historical fiction/romance
A disgraced lord, a notorious highwayman
Jack Carstares, the disgraced Earl of Wyndam, left England seven long years ago, sacrificing his honor for that of his brother when he was accused of cheating at cards. Now Jack is back, roaming his beloved South Country in the disguise of a highwayman.
And the beauty who would steal his heart
Not long after Jack’s return, he encounters his old adversary, the libertine Duke of Andover, attempting the abduction of the beautiful Diana Beauleigh. At the point of Jack’s sword, the duke is vanquished, but foiled once, the “Black Moth” has no intention of failing again.
This is Georgette Heyer’s first novel, a favorite of readers and a stirring tale to be enjoyed again and again.
The Black Moth was Georgette Heyer’s first novel, published when she was just 19 years old. The author went on to publish over 60 novels and became known as the queen of Regency romances. Apparently (according to Wikipedia and other online articles), she wrote The Black Moth in serial installments as a way to entertain her ailing, bedridden younger brother, and her father thought the story was so good that he encouraged her to publish it. And the rest, as they say, is history!
The Black Moth is quite the adventurous, swash-buckling tale, full of men behaving badly and women steeling their spines and standing up for themselves (with a little swooning thrown in too). Set during the Georgian era, the plot revolves around aristocratic men bound by family loyalty and what would now be considered out-of-proportion concern for honor and reputation.
Jack Castares, the elder son of the Earl of Wyncham, has been living in exiled disgrace for years as of the opening of the book, ever since he was caught cheating at cards — a fatal blow to a gentleman’s reputation. He spends his days as a highwayman, raiding carriages and terrorizing travelers — although he’s actually a highwayman with a heart of gold, more often than not helping the helpless or “donating” his ill-gotten gains to those in need.
But Jack’s younger brother Richard knows the truth. Richard was, in fact, the one who’d been cheating, but Jack took the blame rather than see his brother shamed and disgraced, which would have resulted in him losing the woman he loved.
Richard’s wife Lavinia’s oldest brother, Tracy Belmanoir, the Duke of Andover, was the one who “caught” the cheating. A man nicknamed “Devil”, the Duke is cold, decadent, and deadly when provoked. When he attempts to abduct a young woman who’s caught his eye, Jack intervenes, at risk to his own life. Family secrets, love, and honor become intertwined, until a final showdown involving yet another abduction, a duel, and (naturally) a happy ending.
The Black Moth is highly entertaining, but clearly a product of its time. I had to leave my feminist sensibilities firmly tucked away on a shelf while reading this book, or the paternalism and disrespect toward women would have driven me crazy — although to be fair, there are two lead women characters who are strong-willed, determined, and capable, and I love their portrayals.
On the negative side, however, is the plot climax that includes threat of a forced marriage — or, if the woman will not consent, the implied threat of a rape and marriage anyway. These fates are avoided by the hero’s arrival and success in a duel, but the fact remains that the evildoer goes unpunished and the incident is largely resolved through a gentlemen’s agreement that everyone will be better off keeping this a private affair.
Daring adventure and danger is the name of the game in The Black Moth, and the scenes that include either action sequences or social manners and maneuvers are the most enjoyable. I was less enthralled by the gambling and settling of debts and manly men being manly in their men’s clubs… but there was enough good stuff in the mix to outweigh these bits.
I ended up reading The Black Moth for the Classics Club Spin challenge, and I’m so glad I did! This book has been on my shelf for several years, and I’m happy that I finally had an incentive to pick it up and read it. I started The Black Moth via the Serial Reader app, thinking I’d read it over the course of a month in daily installments, but this approach ended up not working for me. The small bites didn’t give me enough immersion in the story and made it hard to keep the characters straight — I was much happier once I picked up my paperback edition and read straight through to the end.
This is, I believe, my 7th Georgette Heyer book, and I have a stack of unread books by her still sitting on my bookshelf. Overall, The Black Moth was a great pick for a light and easy classic read, and I’m glad to have gone back to this author. And now that I have, I’m feeling motivated to squeeze in at least one or two more this year!
If you’ve read any Georgette Heyer books, please let me know — which are your favorites? I’d appreciate any and all recommendations!