Georgette Heyer: Why Does Freddy Standen Talk Flash?

I’ve been re-reading Georgette Heyer’s Cotillion and thinking about Freddy. Many readers, I’m sure, agree with Georgette Heyer’s own comment that ‘My dear Freddy is a poppet’ . But, of course,  he needs to become a hero, too. We follow his journey from an inarticulate young man of fashion to a man who is capable of sorting out a number of sticky social problems and who will show himself to be the perfect husband for Kitty.

Original cover for ‘Cotillion’

As I read, a thought struck me: Why does Freddy talk flash? That is, why does he deliberately talk in a ‘low, vulgar form of slang’, as the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue has it. If he doesn’t drop his h’s, he usually uses the ungrammatical and lower class ain’t instead of isn’t. He relishes calling old Great-Uncle Matthew the old hunks – vulgar slang for ‘a covetous miserable old fellow’ according to the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. He also indulges in constant low level swearing, ‘a dashed lot of cockerels’ and so on. It’s not going to shock anyone, but it’s not really appropriate for use in polite society.

I had a feeling that answering this question might be central to Freddy’s emotional journey in the book which leads satisfactorily to him becoming a proper hero, if an unusual one.

Day suit, 1816

It’s unlikely that he spoke flash as a child, so when did he adopt it, and why? And, we note, he is the only character in Cotillion who uses this deliberately ‘common’ register. Other characters, like his cousin Jack Westruther, use a lot of gaming slang that was around at the time, and the subject matter might not always be suitable for ladies to hear, but they don’t speak in a plebeian accent.

To answer this, I’m going back to the beginning and looking at what we know about the Honourable Frederick Standen, the eldest son of the viscount, Lord Legerwood. He is a ‘slender young gentleman of average height and graceful carriage’, and he’s later described as ‘willowy’. He prides himself on being a ‘Pink of the Ton’, that is, an ardent follower of fashion.  He’s wealthy, his taste and eye for colour is impeccable, and he prides himself on being able to tie the most complicated cravats, like the fiendishly difficult trône d’amour.

A selection of cravats: the ‘trône d’amour’ was one of the most difficult to achieve

Freddy also prides himself on his social address; his accent might be deplorable but his manners are excellent. When he parts from Kitty and her chaperone Miss Fishguard: ‘his bow indicated to Kitty that he had perfectly understood her, to Miss Fishguard the depth of his reverence. The bullied and put upon Miss Fishguard is moved to comment later: ‘Such courtesy … Such exquisite regard for the feelings on one who ‘not scorned in heaven,’ is ‘little noticed here.’’

Heyer doesn’t tell us how old Freddy is. We know he is over 21 and that he lives independently and has a valet who looks after his clothes and helps him to keep his reputation as a Pink of the Ton. I get the impression that Freddy is in his early twenties: he is described as slender and willowy – as young men can often be before they fill out.

His mother worries that his landlady isn’t airing his bed properly and wants him to come back home where he can be properly looked after. His father points out firmly that Freddy is too old to be living at home. It sounds as if Freddy left home not that long ago. He is 18 months younger than his sister Meg who is fairly recently married and expecting her first child. All this suggests to me that Freddy is only in his early twenties.

19th century male mules – for relaxing in

If Freddy is the youngest – by some way – of the male cousins who obey Great-Uncle Matthew’s summons to Arnside, it might explain why he’s chosen the persona of a Pink of the Ton and, somewhat incongruously, speaks Flash. It sounds to me as if he’s making a statement about the sort of man he is – or would like to be; that is someone who isn’t bullied, for a start.

Could Freddy, an Regency old Etonian determined to shock his elders, be compared to a 1950s teddy-boy, emphasizing his winklepickers, tight, narrow-legged drainpipe trousers in garish colours? He doesn’t have the good looks or the muscle to emulate his cousin Jack who Heyer describes as ‘a Corinthian – a man who excels in sport; a Dandy – a man who belongs to the fashionable Dandy set, or a Blood – ‘an out and outer not to be beaten on any sporting suit.’  If Freddy is younger than his male cousins, he may feel vulnerable to their possible mockery; Jack has a pretty cutting tongue; he has no sympathy for poor simple-minded Dolph, for example.

Freddy might not be particularly interested in gambling himself, but he knows the vocabulary and he can talk the talk; and perhaps that’s his camouflage.

Early form of frock coat, 1818

However, there is another problem that Freddy will soon have to face. We know that his mother has already mentioned that he should be thinking of marriage. She doesn’t push – it’s more that she wants it to be on his agenda in the not too distant future. But, as Freddy tells Kitty when she asks him to become betrothed to her: ‘Very fond of you, Kit, always was! Thing is, not a marrying man!’

Why not, we are allowed to ask. We are told that, ‘he was too inarticulate to pay charming compliments, and he had never been known to indulge in the mildest flirtation. But a numerous circle of male acquaintances held him in considerable affection, and with the ladies he was a prime favourite.’ There’s no evidence that he’s gay.

He is an excellent dancer; his manners are just what they ought to be: ‘no hostess, presenting him to the plainest damsel in the room, had the smallest fear that he would excuse himself, or abandon his partner at the earliest opportunity.’  He’s obviously a good listener – probably thanks to having three excitable sisters.

Haircut à la Titus: note the careful dishevelment. This is Freddy’s preferred hair style

He’s capable of kissing a lady’s hand, or even her cheek, but he doesn’t venture further than that. Is physical inhibition a problem? I don’t think so. Take the episode where he teaches Kitty to dance the waltz.

Here are Kitty’s thoughts: ‘She was at first so much embarrassed that she made a great many false steps, for to stand so close to a man, and to feel his arm about her waist, positively constraining her to move in whatever direction he wished, was an unprecedented and rather alarming experience…’

Freddy is fine: ‘there was nothing in the least amorous in Freddy’s light, firm clasp, and such remarks as her addressed to her were of an admonitory nature, she soon recovered her countenance…’

But there is a very interesting episode when Freddy follows Kitty into the Egyptian Hall – where he thinks she has an assignation with his cousin, the simple-minded Dolph. When Kitty protests that, ‘He did not bring me here to flirt with me!’ he doesn’t believe her.

Full dress double-breasted coat, corbeau-coloured, with covered buttons, light sage-green or cream kerseymere breeches. 1810

Kitty ‘laid an impulsive hand on his arm.’ A couple of paragraphs later, she is earnestly clasping his hand as she professes her innocence. Freddy is ‘much discomposed’ and ‘makes inarticulate noises.’ Kitty, thinking hard, is still holding his hand. A couple of paragraphs later, she tells him how good he is to her and ‘presses his hand tightly, her eyes swimming.’  That’s a lot of hand-holding, though neither of them appear to notice it!

At the end of the scene, Kitty again affirms her appreciation of Freddy’s kindness; she ‘lifts his hand to her cheek for a brief moment.’ Kitty follows this up by telling Freddy that, in her opinion, he ‘has got brains. Mr Standen, already shaken by having his hand rubbed worshipfully against a lady’s cheek, goggled at her. You think I’ve got brains, he said, awed. ‘Not confusing me with Charlie?’ (his clever brother)

‘Charlie!’ uttered Miss Charing contemptuously. ‘I daresay he has book-learning, but you have – you have address, Freddy.’  

   ‘Well, by Jove!’ said Mr Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself.’ Interestingly, the expression, ‘by Jove!’ is more upper class than lower class – I like Heyer’s linguistic hint that Freddy’s view of himself is beginning to change.

All this leads me to think that, underneath his polished exterior, Freddy may be suffering from a lack of self-confidence. He’s been labelled the one with ‘no brains’, the much loved, but foolish eldest son. His younger brother Charlie is the clever one.

Chaise-longue from Kenwood House.

His father, Lord Legerwood, is obviously fond of his son, nevertheless, he doubts his ability to come up with a solution which will enable Kitty to remain in London when she can’t stay at the Legerwood house in Mount Street because of measles in the family.

But Freddy does comes up with a solution – and a very neat one, too. He says to Kitty: ‘Meg don’t want to stay with old Lady Buckhaven, don’t want Cousin Amelia to keep her company, can’t have Fanny, because she has the measles – better have you!’  (Meg’s new husband has had to go to China on a diplomatic mission and her ‘antiquated’ mother-in-law is insisting that Meg stays with her in the country – which does not suit Meg at all.)

Lord Legerwood is frankly astonished. ‘These unsuspected depths, Frederick – ! I have wronged you!’

To which Freddy replies, modestly: ‘Oh, I don’t know that, sir! I ain’t clever like Charlie, but I ain’t such a sapskull as you think!’ Freddy speaks lightly – but is he upset underneath?

On left: double-breasted morning-coat, breeches, top boots (1820) Right: Overcoat, trousers and half-boots (1818.)

The reader comes to understand that, in reality, Lord Legerwood is not easily convinced of his eldest son’s competence, as we see when he and Freddy meet at White’s, the gentleman’s club in St James’s St. They have been discussing the problem of Camille, Kitty’s charming French cousin, now living in London. Freddy is beginning to have doubts about Camille – suspecting him of being a card sharp or, worse, an adventurer, determined to make an advantageous marriage – which could be a disaster for  Kitty’s reputation if people start asking awkward questions.

Freddy tells his father that, if Camille is turns out to be an imposter, he’ll have to get rid of him – pack him off the France.

‘An excellent scheme – if you can bring it about’ says Lord Legerwood, sceptically.

‘Daresay I shall think of a way,’ says Freddy.

The readers notice that Lord Legerwood is unconvinced: ‘I almost believe that you will think of a way, for I perceive that you have depths hitherto unsuspected by me.’ Note the word ‘almost’.

And Freddy does indeed find a very neat way to ensure that Camille returns to Paris, eloping with the beautiful but bird-witted Olivia at the same time. Lord Legerwood may not hear about this  but the readers will be cheering Freddy on.

Top hat from 1818

Freddy also brings the essential marriage licence to Arnside (where the cousins meet at the end of the book) which will enable Lord Dolphington to marry Hannah Plymstock. It will be a mésalliance (Hannah is middle-class) but she is also down to earth and will look after Dolph and allow him to breed horses in Ireland which poor Dolph longs to do. They will be happy. And Freddy, now properly grown up, declares that he will support the couple through the inevitable family disapproval.

And finally, when Jack accuses Kitty of having set a trap for Freddy and calls her ‘a cunning little jade’ (a low woman), Freddy knocks him down. The blow came out of the blue – even Freddy didn’t know that that’s how he would react. But it marks his coming of age.

Georgette Heyer, photograph by Howard Coster, 1939

And, we notice that, during the scene when the cousins meet at Hugh’s Rectory towards the end of the book, that Freddy is no longer talking flash quite so persistently. He doesn’t need it anymore.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Twitter: @Hawksley_E

Elizabeth’s The Girl Who Liked Giraffes is now out in e-books








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18 thoughts on “Georgette Heyer: Why Does Freddy Standen Talk Flash?”

  1. Oh, I love this. How fascinating that you’ve picked up his flash talking. I never really saw much distance between that and the other cant that young bloods use throughout Heyer’s novels. I will be more alert from now on.

    And she is very, very good at young men, characters one feels she loves. I adore the trio of SHerry’s cronies in Friday’s Child, and the relationship that each of them forms with Hero probably marks a new stage in their growing up too.

    1. Thank you, Sophie. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post. I agree with you about Gil, Ferdy and George in ‘Friday’s Child’ – all three help Kitten in different ways – and they become loyal friends to her and well as to Sherry.

      But I do think Freddy’s speech is different from that of other ‘young blades’ in Heyer’s novels. Interestingly, he uses ‘by Jove’ – which is surely more Eton than flash- more than once. I mention the first time in the post, but, in fact, he also uses it again at the very end, when he says, ‘Well, by Jove! Here, take this dashed bonnet off! How the deuce am I going to kiss you with a lost of cursed feathers in my face?’ Note how his use of language has changed: ‘how the deuce’, for example. I rest my case!

  2. A very interesting post, Elizabeth! Cotillion is my absolute favourite of Heyer’s books but I’ve never thought about the way Freddy talks (apart from how he speaks in very short sentences leaving words out all the time). I was always fascinated by his father, Lord Legerwood, who seemed to me to be the archetypal Heyer hero himself and he has a wonderful dry sense of humour which shows in his comments to Freddy. I think he does realise that Freddy is growing up and he’s having a great time watching this unfold.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Christina. I agree with you that Lord Legerwood enjoys Freddy’s conversation – especially, perhaps, Freddy’s views on the Elgin Marbles which the readers don’t actually hear. And I like the fact that, the last time we see him, he tells Kitty that he likes her engagement to Freddy and thinks it has done him a lot of good. You are absolutely right that Lord Legerwood is himself a Heyer hero, and I, too, love his dry sense of humour.

      All the same, I still think he underestimates Freddy. Shortly after the end of the book, Lord Legerwood will learn just how clever the son who thinks of himself as ‘having no brains’ can be – and he will have to do some re-evaluation.

  3. Splendid post! I think you are right that Freddy has developed this harmless camouflage for himself to cover his lack of self-esteem. I have always loved the way we see him grow over the course of the book. I also think his father is open-minded enough to realise Freddy is a late developer, has been subtly helping him along the path and is thoroughly enjoying seeing how his heir is turning out

    1. Thank you for your contribution, Jan. ‘A late developer’ is absolutely spot on. And one mustn’t forget that the whole story takes just over a month! Once Freddy starts – unwillingly – to do his duty as an engaged man, and make sure that Kitty is all right, which, of course she isn’t, he develops pretty fast. I expect that all that hand-holding and Kitty’s praise and appreciation helps, too!

  4. Elizabeth, thank you so much for writing this – Freddie is one of my very favourite Heyer heroes. I should never have noticed Freddie’s slang changing as he matures – that is so perceptive! I personally treasure the moment in Cotillion when Kitty and Freddie reveal their ” engagement (Freddie somewhat unhappy and suspicious); Fish, beaming, likens him to the young Lochinvar, who threw his young bride over his saddle bow before galloping away with her. Freddie unhesitatingly damns him as a “dashed loosescrew”… It would be, after all, shockingly bad ton.

    1. Ah! Young Lochinvar! I love the way that Georgette Heyer knows her Walter Scott,’The Wizard of the North’ who was the creator of the Historical Novel. But Lochinvar didn’t throw his young bride over his Saddle bow – she had just been forced to marry Another (‘a laggard in love, and a dastard in war.’) Lochinvar invited himself to her Wedding Feast, danced with her, twirled her to the door, and then carried her off! It’s a terrific poem – no wonder Miss Fishguard keeps quoting bits of it.

  5. what an amazing writer you are, Elizabeth
    I have never read Georgette Heyer
    never was even tempted
    but I couldn’t stop reading this blog!
    maybe I’ll dip my toe into Heyer

    1. I truly think you might enjoy Georgette Heyer, Jess. And you would find your self in excellent company; from Professor Martin Daunton (English Heritage), Professor Mark Noble, University of Aberdeen, Nigella Lawson, Stephen Fry and Selina Walker, publisher, Random House, and thousands more.

  6. I have to admit Cotillion is not my favourite Heyer, I would rather go for the Grand Sophie or Frederica but I might have to reread it now, which is no hardship!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Alice. I assure you that ‘Cotillion’ will repay re-reading. Freddy’s character has much more depth than you think!

  7. Freddy may disparage Lochinvar, but Freddy himself carries Kitty off from the masquerade, rescuing her from unwanted attentions of a villainous fellow…

    1. Hello Tamar, and welcome to my blog. Well spotted re Freddy’s resemblance to Lochinvar – which made me smile!

  8. Freddy Standen is only 21 or 22, being 18 months younger than his 23-year-old sister Meg

    1. Congratulations on your maths, Tamar. 21 or 2 is very young for a hero! Most young men at that age are still wet behind the ears – at least, I would have been very alarmed if my son, at that age, wanted to get married.

  9. Love finding someone else who enjoys these books as much as I do! And I really enjoyed your analysis of Freddy’s speech patterns and his use of slang. It’s very typical young male behaviour (in every culture women are considered to speak ‘better’ than men, more grammatically correctly and with more refined speech, by both men and women alike).
    I love the way Lord Legerwood sees his son maturing before his eyes as he has to use his ingenuity to look after Kitty and the scrapes she gets herself into. And it’s interesting to note that Lord Legerwood realises that Kitty is having such a good effect on Freddy – and approves of both the effect and her.
    I’m really glad I found your page (I was looking up info about regency underwear for children: I want to dress a doll for the little girls over the round to play with, once they can come round again. Two dolls, actually!), as I’ve loved reading about these characters again. My favourite Heyers when I first read them in my teens? The Grand Sophy, Devil’s Cub. Now? A Civil Contract, but I also find The Talisman Ring incredibly funny. Love them all though.

    1. Welcome to my Blog, Kate, I’m so pleased you find my blogs interesting. I agree about ‘The Grand Sophy’ – terrific book; I loved ‘Devil’s Cub’ as a teenager, and ‘These Old Shades’ and ‘Powder and Patch’ but that was then. Now, like you, I enjoy ‘A Civil Contract’ and, yes, ‘The Talisman Ring’ still makes me laugh. I love ‘The Quiet Gentleman’ – and ‘Cotillion’, of course. I’ve done a number of GH blogs but I try to vary the subjects I blog on – not easy during lock down – I’m looking forward to getting out and about again.

      I don’t think I’d have cared for the clothes boys had to wear in Regency Times. That awful skeleton suit for boys. Yes, it was picturesque, but it must have been hell to wear, especially if you wanted a pee!

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