Gentle Readers, This Georgette Heyer book is reviewed by Lady Anne, a paragon of friendship and nonpareil of GH reviewers. She is someone who, to my way of thinking, is “without an equal.” In celebration of all things Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, my regency-loving friends and I will partake of pâté, whole wheat triscuits, grapes, and French wine tonight. Here then, for your summer reading pleasure, is Lady Anne’s review of The Nonesuch, another incomparable offering by Sourcebooks.
A ‘nonesuch’ is something unrivalled, a paragon, or something like nothing else. The hero in Georgette Heyer’s romance entitled The Nonesuch is indeed all of the above. Sir Waldo Hawkridge has been nicknamed Nonesuch by those of the Corinthian set, because he could do it all: drive, ride, shoot, fish, box, dress elegantly in an unobtrusive fashion suiting his splendid physique. The book begins as Sir Waldo has been named the heir to an elderly and eccentric cousin; others in the Family had attended the reading of the Will in vain hope, where we meet also the two younger cousins who have looked up to and been assisted by Waldo – one well, and one poorly –as they have grown from grubby schoolboys to young men about Town. And we discover another attribute of Sir Waldo’s that truly makes him a paragon.
Many of the heroes in Heyer’s frothy Regency romances are jaded with society and its predictable lifestyles. Over-burdened with family members wanting something from them, or chased by match-making mamas more interested in the money and pedigree attached to their names, knowing that they must marry for the sake of the family, they are bored with life as only idle rich can afford to be. Sir Waldo, however, has followed his parents’ examples and precepts: “My father and my grandfather before him,” he tells a character in the book, “were considerable philanthropists, and my mother was used to be very friendly with Lady Spencer – the one that died a couple of years ago, and was mad after educating the poor. So you may say that I grew up amongst charities! This was the one that seemed to me more worth the doing than any other: collecting as many of the homeless waifs you may find in any city as I could, and rearing them to become respectable citizens….”
Here for once is a wealthy man who is interested not only in his own amusements, but also actively considers his responsibilities and pursues good works: the epitome of noblesse oblige.
Waldo plans to house some 50 orphans in his new legacy, but before he has made the renovations to the house and made the contacts with the people in Leeds, he doesn’t want it widely known.
The Nonesuch takes place in Jane Austen’s England, with the village society, country house parties, and gossip. There is a broader range of society here than in London where they would stay stratified within the ton; some of the families here are definitely below the salt. It is another example of the changing times. But like any Austen neighborhood when a new bachelor finds his way there, parties abound. And romance flourishes.
The Nonesuch also tends to his philanthropic business, first by seeking out the vicar to get his assistance in getting his business done in Leeds. The town appears in the book as a nearby shopping mecca for the young ladies, but its interest to our hero is that it was one of the fast-growing factory towns that thrust England into the forefront of the world as the Industrial Revolution changed the way all the classes interacted. The Enclosure Acts of the late 18th and early 19th Century took away the wherewithal of many of the poorest classes to earn their living from the land by assigning the use of previous open land to the local lord. The poor flocked to the cities and the factories to sustain themselves, not always to the best effect for their health. Illness, malnutrition, and drunkenness took their toll, and the Nonesuch found plenty of the ‘brats’ under the auspices of the parish, for whom he could do a great deal.
Which is not to say that we actually see Sir Waldo meeting with the good people of Leeds; his work is alluded to obliquely in several different situations throughout the book, moving the plot along.
More to our immediate interest, Sir Waldo also finds in the neighborhood one Ancilla Trent, a young lady of impeccable breeding, currently working as a companion to a beautiful and amazingly spoiled young minx. Like Sir Waldo, Ancilla is serious-minded person. Not one to become a financial drain on her family, she gives up her chance in the Marriage Mart to work first as a teacher and then to keep the lovely and headstrong Tiffany Weld from destroying her own chances at a good marriage; Tiffany is wealthy, but she is mercantile rather than gentry, barely seeing the point of basic courtesy, and much too sure of her position as most beautiful heiress in the area. With all the young men of the neighborhood, Sir Waldo’s two young cousins, the young ladies of the neighborhood, as well as Tiffany, we have all the ingredients for plenty of delightful parties and outings, an abundance of amusing chatter, and one of the very best last scenes any book could ask for.
The Nonesuch looks like a typical Regency romance, but as Georgette Heyer always provides, there is much more between the covers.