There is no lover of Regency romance who doesn’t have a little crush and a lot of admiration for George Bryan “Beau” Brummel. An elegant trendsetter from modest beginnings (compared with the aristocrats with whom he rubbed shoulders), Beau Brummel served as a captain in the Dragoons prior to the outbreak of the Peninsular and Napoleonic Wars, catching the eye of Prince Regent. Included in the Prince’s inner circle for years, they eventually had a falling out, with Brummel finally fleeing Great Britain with his creditors on his heels and living out his days in poverty in France.
Brummels understated and elegant style of dress not only set a new trend known as “dandyism” but eventually became the foundation upon which the modern men’s suit is based. His fashion sense was only equalled by his wit and he made or broke many a man or woman’s reputation during this time period. Perhaps due to his rapier tongue, I’ve always wanted to include him on my short list of people from history I’d invite to dinner (and I would just make sure to dress really, really well).
When I came across the description of Cecilia Ryan‘s novella, The Sartorialist, and realized it was a male/male romance starring my favorite Regency fashion arbiter of taste, I was extremely curious. Written in the first person, Ryan does a fabulous job at embodying the spirit of Brummel with all his wit (the whole book is from Brummel’s first person perspective), while still crafting him as a far more compassionate and empathetic creature than other renditions of this historical figure I’ve seen fictionalized.
In just the brief biographies I’ve read of him, I really haven’t heard Brummel’s sexuality discussed with abandon (I really need to read a full-length biography to tackle this topic) but since he never married despite his many debts, I could easily believe him to have had male lovers. The Sartorialist does a wonderful job at showing how the recent war hero, Toby, catches Brummel’s and the Prince Regent’s eye with his good looks albeit unrefined taste. Beau tells the Prince he will take him under his wing and make him more presentable, but the more he knows Toby (who is more than happy to fall into bed with the witty and elegant Brummel) the more he realizes he is falling in love with him.
The cover is beautiful, naturally, but I’m also a firm believer in the book cover hinting at the level of sensuality in the text – and this stunning look hints at no more sexual content than a Georgette Heyer novel, which may cause some readers to be misled. The only inaccurate point I noted was the mention in a few scenes where Beau is undressing/dressing Toby were there is a reference to all the “shirt buttons”. Regency lovers know that buttons on men’s shirts the way we envision them came much, much later in time (think of the shirt Colin Firth wears when he jumps into the pond in Pride & Prejudice and you have a good sense of how they were constructed back then). If there were buttons on a man’s shirt, it was likely to be just one to help shut the placket, although the cravat did the majority of the work in that respect. It’s a small detail, but considering Brummel’s attachment to fashion, a point worth noting for the story.
There is a great deal of passion and tenderness in Beau’s and Toby’s love scenes, which Ryan writes with a very Regency voice (in many ways, this would be a good introduction to male/male romance for readers who worry they might be uncomfortable with the material but who still want to dip their toe into this popular sub-genre – it’s just about love and passion, people, like every other romance!). Knowing how Brummel lost favor with the Prince and was drummed out of the country, I was particularly worried about the chance for a Happily Ever After (HEA), but I thought the author did a great job melding the facts of Brummel’s actual life with a very believable happy ending.
I don’t know if Cecilia Ryan plans on writing any other Regency based romances M/M or otherwise, but I would definitely buy them considering the success of this wonderful novella.