I’ve been recuperating from illness with the help of tea and romance novels. During the course of my treatment I have discovered that the most restorative romance novel in the world is The Devil’s Delilah by Loretta Chase.
In part this is because it is a Loretta Chase book. I don’t always love Chase – there have been books of hers that I never finished (Captives of the Night), and others that I finished but was disappointed by (The Sandalwood Princess). Yet she’s one of the first romance writers I recommend to people who ask because when she’s good (Lord of Scoundrels) she’s so very good. The Devil’s Delilah is her under-appreciated masterpiece, and this (the masterpiece part, not the under-appreciated part) is mostly because of Jack Langdon.
Langdon is the Regency version of a geek. He really, really likes books and learning and the like – it seems completely normal to those around him that he should be reading about (or babbling enthusiastically on the subject of) the difference in skull shape of different ancient civilisations, or horticulture in Greece. He’s less good at real life; he’s unhappy and anxious in social situations, and he’s particularly awkward around women. He’s also vague and (when his valet isn’t around) very scruffy.
Langdon appears in two of Chase’s books – Viscount Vagabond and The Devil’s Delilah. He’s a minor character in Viscount Vagabond, where he still gets some of the best moments.
The probability of finding Jack Langdon in a boxing saloon was approximately equivalent to that of encountering the Archbishop of Canterbury at Granny Grendle’s—though the odds were rather in favour of the Archbishop.
“What the devil brings you here?” the viscount enquired of his friend.
Mr. Langdon stood for a moment looking absently about him as though in search of something he’d forgotten. “Not the most pleasantly fragrant place, is it, Max?” he noted in some wonder. “Odd. Very odd. I count three viscounts, one earl, a handful of military chaps and—good God—is that Argoyne?”
“Yes. One duke.”
“All come, it seems, for the express purpose of letting some huge, muscular fellow hit them repeatedly.”
“So what’s your purpose?”
“I suppose,” Mr. Langdon answered rather forlornly, “I’ve come to be hit.”
In The Devil’s Delilah Jack falls in love with and is fallen-in-love-with and it is all very wonderful. Here are some of the reasons for Jack’s amazingness.
1. He’s genuinely nice. He’s not a ‘reformed’ rake, he doesn’t need to learn over the course of the book to treat other people with respect. He just goes through the book being fundamentally decent.
2. When he protects women he does so geekily. How would you stop someone from making snide remarks about your beloved at a party?
Before Lady Jane had time to counterattack, Jack leapt into the fray.
“Really, it is most gratifying to hear the ladies speak so knowledgeably of Benthamite philosophy,” he said hurriedly. “In order to be good, according to them, the object examined must be useful. The object, of course, refers to the matter under discussion, whether it be an abstract quality or a physical fact.”
Apparently oblivious to the bafflement of most of his audience, Jack soared into the empyrean realms of the most abstruse philosophy, citing Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine and others with no regard whatsoever to relevance or coherence, and with a great deal of Greek and Latin thrown in for good measure. He continued in this vein for at least a quarter hour, at the end of which time most of the company had withdrawn from the battlefield to less mystifying conversations.
3. When he does lapse and do something Regency-hero-ish, like kiss the heroine without her permission, he is very penitent. That this is remarkable says a lot about the genre, but it’s nice to have a hero who at least theoretically believes consent is a necessary thing.
4. He can write. Without giving the plot away, it requires him to display considerable literary skills. He also has considerable intelligence
5. We’re told that he’s awkward around women, but that seems to be to do with social situations rather than women as a gender. He has genuine, mutual-respect-and-understanding friendships with some women, while characters who we’re told are good with women seem not to know how to do anything but seduce them.
6. I just like scruffy, vague, gentle, geeky men. And in a genre that spends most of its time depicting them as powerful, suave, etc., Jack is unique.
There are plenty of reasons to love this book other than its hero. The fact that the heroine is allowed to kiss other men and enjoy it; that Jack’s rival is allowed genuine feelings; that Delilah’s father is a bit like a less snobbish version of Justin Alastair. But it is the greatest of modern regencies, and its recuperative powers rank right up with Georgette Heyer.