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Drawing tonight for two Georgette Heyer books. Leave a comment at this link on Why I Love Georgette Heyer. Congratulations winners, Jan and Ginger, chosen through Random Number Generator! Thank you all for making a comment!

Georgette Heyer in 1923, when she was 21 and lived in Ridgway Place. She had already written The Black Moth for her sick brother Boris.

Georgette Heyer was born 110 years ago (August 16, 1902) at 103 Woodside, a mere 500 yards from Wimbledon Library. She was named after her father George, a descendant of a Russian fur merchant who had immigrated to England during the mid-19th century. The family lived at Woodside from 1902 to 1906 before moving to 1 Courthope Road. Georgette’s family lived in several houses in Wimbledon, all middle class, all close to each other.

Tony Grant, who lives in Wimbledon and took the images of her childhood homes and neighborhood for this post, speculates that “Maybe her  father and mother  rented rather than bought. That might not sound  strange to  you  but it is  rare  for us. We generally buy our  houses [and] don’t move  that often.”

Georgette Heyer’s birthplace. Image @Tony Grant

Another view of her birthplace

He adds an interesting tidbit:  “People here don’t really appreciate her that much. They tend to think she was always trying to give them a history lesson. Things they knew anyway…But I can see how someone who  wanted to immerse themselves in the period would love her.”

Woodside, Wimbledon

Georgette Heyer came from a respectable background. She and her family lived  at various addresses in Wimbledon: 103 Woodside (1902-6), 1 Courthope Road (c.1907-9), 11 Homefield Road (1918) and 5 Ridgway Place (1923–5).

The Albany, Mayfair

She was married to George Ronald Rougier CBE QC, a mining engineer who later became a shopkeeper and then a barrister. For 24 years the couple lived in a rented space in Albany House in Mayfair, London, a swanky area where so many of her upper crust characters shopped and danced and found romance. They had one son, Richard. Georgette experienced great success during her lifetime, receiving excellent reviews and seeing the sales of her novels increase yearly. Almost 40 years after her death in 1974, her novels, especially her Regency romances, remain in print.
While Georgette was aware of the popularity of her Regency romances, she was unhappy that her more serious historical novels were not similarly embraced. On August 16th of this year, Tony reports that the Wimbledon Library will have no events to  remember her by. “I feel  quite sad now”, he added, “[She] probably needs a 150th anniversary to  get a mention!”

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Vic at 22 on a sailboat, reading a Georgette Heyer novel. Look at those chubby Dutch cheeks!

I stumbled upon Georgette Heyer during a golden time of my life after college graduation when I had three precious free months before I began school again. Bursting with youthful energy, I didn’t know what to do with my time. And so I hit the books, but this time for pleasure. In those days, I could gobble up a book a day if I was so inclined, and I sped through Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Rebecca. Father and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev, one of my favorite authors, and Pride and Prejudice (for the second time in my life). That last novel with its sparkling wit and clear view of village life seemed like a breath of fresh air after the heightened emotions of the Victorian authors.

To me, Mr. Bennet was the image of my father, whose wry statements always made me pause before I could figure out if he was making sport of me, himself, or some other unwitting target. Mrs. Bennet reminded me of my crazy Dutch grandmothers – both of whom were slightly hysterical and VERY demanding. I read Pride and Prejudice twice that summer (and began a tradition of reading it every summer for the next twenty years). Greedily I reached for more Jane Austen novels until there were none left. I railed against the illness that carried Jane off before she could produce enough novels to assuage my addiction. Where to turn?

The library, of course.

I looked up Regency novels and found … Clare Darcy. Ok, I thought. I’ll give her a try and picked up a copy of Victoire, a most logical choice given my given name, and read the book in one long sitting. How to state it nicely: Clare Darcy is to Jane Austen what a sputtering candle is to the sun at high noon.

My quest was not over.

My apartment roommie, also a Janeite, discovered the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser. She LOVED them. But budding little feminist me wanted books written by humorous females, not a man with no interest in the goings on of small town families and their courtship rituals, and silly clergy, and strong heroines who were able to learn a thing or two. And so I continued my search.

One day I found a Barbara Cartland novel. Hahahahahahahaha! Tossing aside her cheesy book about a 16-year-old-heroine with a heart-shaped face, I wondered if I could charge her for wasting my precious life.

I continued my search.

And there it was. On the bottom shelf at the library. Arabella. It was a pathetic excuse of a book – dog-eared, blemished, and torn partially in the spine. I read the front cover – Arabella by Georgette Heyer – then sat on the floor and began to read. Witty words leapt from the pages. I laughed with delight. Before long I checked out the book and proceeded to read it in one long sitting. My roommie, who had started her new job two weeks after college, came home from work to find me engrossed. “I found a new author,” I said, telling her she could read the book when I was done. I gave it to her that night.

We were both instantly hooked on Georgette Heyer.

I returned to the library and checked out all the Georgette Heyers I could find. My roommie and I fell in love with Arabella, but we became die-hard fans when we encountered Venetia, The Grand Sophie, Sylvester, and Frederica. By summer’s end we had read ALL the GHs we could lay our hands on, even the mysteries and histories. (Thankfully, Georgette was prolific.)

My roommie and I were two young and hopeless romantics. We loved the glittering, detailed descriptions of the characters, the clothes they wore from expensive shops, and the houses, towns, and cities they inhabited. We learned about Regency London and the manners and mores of the Ton. Georgette Heyer characters spoke in cant, and thus we affected British accents and used cant-speech at every opportunity. Our boyfriends, while a bit mystified, played along, even debating which weapon was more effective in a fight – the epee or the sword.

Vintage GHs

But then life intruded and my intense love affair with Georgette Heyer had to take a back seat. I returned to school and began to read academic books again. I left my obsession behind, except for my yearly date with Pride and Prejudice.

Flash forward a number of decades when Sourcebooks began to republish Georgette Heyer novels. Once more I began to read them regularly, only this time I reviewed them as well.  I discovered that my tastes had changed and that I was more attracted to other novels like The Reluctant Widow and The Convenient Marriage. I never reread Arabella, for I did not want to revisit my first love only to discover that she had flaws.

I savor my memory of first discovering Georgette Heyer and thank Sourcebooks for the opportunity to relive that Golden Summer. I keep about 10 GH books on my Nook and Kindle (yes, I have both) so I am not ever very far from one of my favorite authors. If you are intrigued, all of GH s novels are available at Sourcebook’s Discover a New Love Website at http://www.discoveranewlove.com.

WIN A FREE BOOK! Those who leave a comment, have an opportunity to win a Georgette Heyer novel! Just let me know why you love to read Regency romances and/or Jane Austen! Contest ends on August 16th, (Contest ended!)which is Georgette Heyer’s 110th Birthday! Happy Birthday, GH, and thanks for the memories. Congratulations winners, Jan and Ginger, chosen through Random Number Generator! Thank you all for making a comment!

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Gentle readers: Please leave a comment if you wish your name to be be eligible for a drawing of Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, a wonderful Regency romp by Georgette Heyer. The drawing will be held the moment electricity is restored in my house. My best estimate is that this will take another week. Only U.S. and Canadian residents are eligible. (So sorry, but the book is being sent by the publisher, who has requested this geographic restriction.) Update: Contest closed. Congratulations Rebeka! You have won a copy of Sylvester.

Sylvester, Duke of Salford thinks quite highly of himself and is pleased by his impeccable manners and easy smile, which easily influences servants to do his bidding. But Phoebe Marlow, whose mousy manner hides her bright mind and talents as an equestrienne and a writer, was not so impressed when she first met him during her coming out season. She is even less enthralled with the Duke when he arrives for a visit at her father’s estate to look her over as a possible bride.

Sylvester’s fond Mama also harbors concerns for her son, especially when Sylvester announces his intentions to marry and begins to discuss his preference for a bride with her:

‘But I’m inclined to think now that is is more important that she should be intelligent. I don’t think I could tolerate a hen-witted wife. ‘Besides I don’t mean to foist another fool on to you.’

‘I am very much obliged to you!’ she said, a good deal entertained. ‘Clever, but not beautiful: very well! Continue!’

‘No, somedegree of beauty I do demand. She must have countenance, at least, and the sort of elegance which you have, Mama.’

‘Don’t try to turn my head, you flatterer! Have you discovered among the debutantes one who is endowed with all these qualities?’

‘At first glance, I suppose a dozen, but in the end only five.’

‘Five!’

At this point Sylvester’s mama becomes concerned, for she realizes that he is choosing his life’s mate with his head, not his heart. The woman who immediately springs to her mind for her son is Phoebe Marlow, and so our cluelessly haughty (yet kind) Duke collides with the novel’s heroine, who is not in the least willing to spend any time with him, at least not until circumstances throw them together and she gets to know him better.

The plot revolves around Phoebe’s big SECRET: she has authored a book in which Sylvester, with his saturnine brows, is featured prominently as the villain. The more Phoebe gets to know Sylvester, the more she realizes how wrong she was about him and the more she worries about the book’s effect on their budding friendship (for Phoebe was uncannily accurate in her representation about certain aspects of Sylvester’s life).

Georgette Heyer takes us from the cozy settings of country mansions, to London in High Season, to Dover and over to France. A colorful array of her usual characters add liveliness to a somewhat improbable plot, including Phoebe’s good friend Tom, Sylvester’s dodo bird of a sister-in-law, Ianthe, and a supremely idiotic and over-indulged fop named Sir Nugent.

In my opinion, if you are a Georgette Heyer fan and haven’t read this book yet, you will be well advised to do so now. I give it four out of five Regency tea cups!

For a chance to win this book, leave a comment about your favorite Georgette Heyer book! Contest closed. The winner is: Rebeka!

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Whenever a reader asks: Which of the Georgette Heyer books ranks among your favorites? Venetia invariably springs from my lips. Mind you, I had not read this book for decades, but I savored its memory. In recent years I began to question my younger self, for while I loved rereading The Grand Sophy last year, I didn’t find it quite as splendid as the 24-year-old Vic had. As I grew older, other GH books made their first appearance on my favorites list, such as The Quiet Gentleman and The Reluctant Widow.

When Sourcebooks sent me a review copy of Venetia I did not choose it for my first critique, for I did not want to spoil my youthful impression. Once I began reading the book, I discovered that the 25-year-old heroine of Undershaw in Yorkshire captivated me all over again.

Amongst the pick of the debutantes at Almack’s she must have attracted attention; in the more restricted society in which she dwelt she was a nonpareil. It was not only the size and brilliance of her eyes which excited admiration, or the glory of her shining guinea-gold hair, or even the enchanting arch of her pretty mouth: there was something very taking in her face which owed nothing to the excellence of her features: an expression of sweetness, a sparkle of irrepressible fun, an unusually open look, quite devoid of self-consciousness.”

Venetia Lanyon is no ordinary heroine. Like Jane Austen’s Emma, she has largely led a protected life, thanks to her reclusive father, and allowed to go only to the dance assemblies in York and as far as the seaside town of Scarborough. Although she might not have been given a Season in London, Venetia is smart, lively, and resourceful. After her father’s death and in her elder brother’s absence, she runs the estate and makes all the important decisions overseeing the house, servants, herself and her young brother, Aubrey.

Waiting for her brother Conway’s return (he is a soldier), Venetia fends off two local suitors, the priggish Edward Yardley, who is as dull as a post, and ardent Oswald Denny, who, too dazzled by Venetia’s unselfconscious beauty and overly influenced by Lord Byron’s romanticism, is unable to recognize that he is much too young for her. Venetia lives a sedate life in her back country neighborhood, whose denizens are all respectable and predictable, except for one – Lord Damerel, a rake and ne’er-do-well, and a blight upon Undershaw’s spotless reputation.

“His family was an old and a distinguished one, but the present holder of the title was considered by the respectable to be the neighborhood’s only blot. It was almost a social solecism to mention his name in polite company.”

Venetia’s uneventful life unexpectedly changes when she encounters Damerel as she picks blackberries on his lands while wearing an old and rumpled gown.

“He was a stranger, but his voice and his habit proclaimed his condition, and it did not take her more than a very few moments to guess that she must be confronting the Wicked Baron. She regarded him with candid interest, unconsciously affording him an excellent view of her enchanting countenance.”

Mistaking her for a trespassing servant maid, he kisses her. And so the fun begins, for we are still at the very start of the novel.

Which brings me to the hero. As a young woman, I preferred dark brooding heroes like Damerel – men whose vices, dissipations and disappointments turn them into cynics; men whose good qualities are awakened by spectacular women like Venetia, men who on the surface are all wrong for the heroine. And so in Damerel I found my perfect unforgettable hero. Now, in my more advanced age (ahem), I find that I am still enamored of him.

Several qualities make Venetia stand head and shoulders above most of GH’s other novels. The plot is intelligent and complex and gets better and better with each page, continually taking us in unexpected directions. In fact, there were three twists that threw me for a loop and that kept this love story fresh and alive until the last page.

Several minor characters stand out from the ordinary. I could read an entire book about Aubrey, Venetia’s physically disabled but fiercely independent and brilliant brother who likes books more than people. Then there’s Mrs. Scorrier, an unforgettable vulgar character in the mode of a Mrs. Elton. Presumptuous, overbearing, and encroaching, she promises to overset Venetia’s and Aubrey’s well ordered lives (and those of the servants). Then there’s the matter of a little mystery, for as the book progressed I kept asking myself, when will we meet Venetia’s brother Conway? So much of the plot revolves around his absence and his anticipated return, that I was keen to meet him.

I am one of the GH readers who luxuriates in her use of Regency cant, and Venetia offers this language in spades:

She made the shocking discovery that he was a member of the dandy-set – indeed the pinkest of Pinks, a swell of the first stare! Not having the least guess that the old lady holds every Bond Street beau in the utmost abhorrence, the silly pigeon rigged himself out as fine as fivepence, and trotted round to Grosvenor Square looking precise to a pin: Inexpressibles of the most delicate shade of primrose, coat by Stulz, Hessians by Hoby, hat – the Bang-up – by Baxter, neckcloth – the Oriental, which is remarkable for its height – by himself.”

There are readers, I found to my surprise, who are put off by Ms. Heyer’s cant (Ten reasons why I can’t read Georgette Heyer) and who could care less about her historical accuracy. This novel is not for them, for it is filled with colorful antiquated language and wonderful tidbits about the Regency era that I found fascinating but that will turn them away.

I rate Venetia five out of five teacups

Did I like Venetia? No, I loved it, and I hope you will too. I give it five out of five Regency tea cups.

Order the book here
ISBN: 9781402238840

Other Georgette Heyer Reviews on this blog:

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Along with Austenprose, this blog is celebrating Georgette Heyer’s 108th birthday on August 16th. Look for Laurel Ann’s interview with me on her blog that day! Her questions were quite challenging.

The recent reviews featured on Laurel Ann’s blog echo some of the reviews that have been published in recent years on this blog. For your enjoyment and in celebration of the Austenprose event, we are reviving some of our favorite Georgette Heyer reviews.

Read more Georgette Heyer reviews by a wide variety of bloggers on Austenprose.

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The Classics Circuit is taking a Georgette Heyer Tour this month. I thought I would piggyback in a circuitous way, and add my own reviews where they fit in. Such fun! For those who have not read Georgette’s sparkling novels, mostly set during the Regency era, you have missed a treat. Although Ms. Heyer’s writing lacks the depth of Jane Austen’s novels, they are historically accurate and largely FUN to read. Going backwards, here is a recap of the first four days of the tour (I am including only the novels set in the Regency era), with my own reviews thrown in:

March 4  Sparks’ Notes Review: Friday’s Child, My Review of Friday’s Child

March 3 Michelle’s Masterful Musings Review: Devil’s Cub

March 2 Enchanted by Josephine Review: Beauvallet

March 1 Austenprose Review: Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

March 1 One Librarian’s Book Reviews Review: Frederica; My review of Frederica

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Inquiring readers: I have no doubt you shall enjoy this review of Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders by my good friend, Lady Anne, an expert when it comes to the subject of this author. Lady Anne has read Georgette Heyer’s novels for most of her years upon this earth. Smart, sassy, fabulous, well tressed and well dressed, she has read every GH book backwards and forwards. There is not one tiny detail of Georgette’s novels that escapes Lady Anne’s attention or opinion. As to her review of The Masqueraders- please enjoy. For first-time readers: Spoiler alert.

Such a daring escape…

Their infamous adventurer father has taught Prudence Tremaine and her brother Robin to be masters of disguise. Ending up on the wrong side of the Jacobite rebellion, brother and sister flee to London, Prudence pretending to be a dashing young buck, and Robin a lovely young lady…

Although we know her as the queen of the Regency Romance, in fact, many of Georgette Heyer’s books take place a half-century or so earlier in Georgian times, with its gorgeous clothes, stylized social occasions, and convoluted intrigues. The Masqueraders could be set in no other time; it requires both the artifice and the intrigue to work.

We first meet the brother and sister, Robin and Prudence, in their elaborately contrived costumes; Robin disguised as the elegant and enchanting Kate Merriot, and Prudence, appearing as Kate’s equally elegant, if somewhat more retiring, brother Peter. They are on their way to London, to settle with a family friend and await the arrival of their father. The reason for the disguise is simple: Robin and his father backed the Stuarts in the 1745 uprising, and there is a price on each of their heads. But the reason they are indulging in this amazing masquerade of switched genders is due to their father, who has led them a precarious and wildly improper upbringing through most of the major cities of Europe. The old gentleman, as their not entirely dutiful children refer to him, married their mother, a farmer’s daughter, against his family’s wishes and left England without a backwards glance. But there is more mystery here, and the return to England in this fantastical make-believe plays into it.

In the opening chapter, the brother and sister meet an enchanting young lady who had wished for some excitement in her life ,but turned to the wrong person. Kate and Peter rescue her, and shortly after that delightful bit of playacting and sabotage, Sir Anthony Fanshawe, a close friend of Miss Letitia’s father, appears. Letitia becomes great friends with the lovely Kate, who in his real person is on his way to falling in love with the young lady. Sir Anthony also takes a shine to the attractive young man, who is so surprisingly worldly and well traveled, if slightly too smooth of cheek. We watch these circuitous wooings with delight; the young lady is all unaware, but what of Sir Anthony? He is a large man in his mid-30s, said by many to be sleepy, if not altogether dull, and slow to quarrel. But, large as he is, there is more to Tony Fanshawe than meets the eye. For several chapters, we wonder as Heyer walks a careful line; Sir Anthony is clearly interested in the young man, but before we start feeling any discomfort or seeing homoerotic overtones, we become aware that Fanshawe is not so sleepy, and he has ascertained the truth, not only behind Prudence’s masquerade, but also Robin’s, and perhaps as well, the mystery of the old gentleman. He asks if they had thought of what could have happened to Prudence had her identity been discovered by someone not in love with her. Such an occurrence had not been anticipated, and they wonder what had given her away:

“I should find it hard to tell you…some little things and the affection for her I discovered with myself. I wondered when I saw her tip wine down her arm at my card party, I confess.

My lord frowned, “Do you mean my daughter was clumsy?”

“By no means, sir. But I was watching her closer than she knew.”

As the two romances work towards their happy conclusion, the larger story of the old gentleman, who he is really, and the place that he and his children will take in England plays out brilliantly. As is always the case in a Heyer historical novel, the times and the place are carefully laid out. The political fallout, the harsh measures taken against the Jacobites, and the dangers of living in London at that time all play their part in the plot, adding some weight, if not gravitas, to this fine caper. And too, there is great opportunity to enjoy several of Heyer’s delightful young gentlemen and their conversations among themselves. In fact, the stylized society that was so much of the mid-18th Century is what makes this plot work. Only in the elegant velvets and laces, the swordsticks and elaborate hairdos, long full petticoats, boots and full-skirted coats with fine gilt lacings could the brother and sister pull off their amazing disguises and the incredibly intricate plot unwind.

“I contrive,” said the old gentleman, and indeed he does. So too does his creator, in this charming tale of adventurers. The Masqueraders is a delightful romp from beginning to end, with one of the most romantic interludes, a ride in the moonlight, ever penned by this delightful and dependable author.

Other Georgette Heyer Book Reviews on this Site:

Gentle readers: Until Amazon.com stops strong arming publishers like McMillan about the pricing of their ebooks, I will not link to their site for book orders. Rather, I will link straight to the publisher’s site until the bullying tactics are resolved.

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Inquiring readers: I have no doubt you shall enjoy this post by my good friend, Lady Anne, an expert when it comes to the subject of Georgette Heyer. Lady Anne has read Georgette Heyer’s novels for most of her years upon this earth. Smart, sassy, fabulous, well tressed and well dressed, she has read every GH book backwards and forwards. There is not one tiny detail of Georgette’s novels that escapes Lady Anne’s attention or opinion. As to her review of  These Old Shades- please enjoy.

Set in the Georgian period, about 20 years before the Regency, These Old Shades is considered to be the book that launched Heyer’s career. It features two of Heyer’s most memorable characters: Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, and Leonie, whom he rescues from a life of ignomy and comes to love and marry.

The title of the book, These Old Shades, is a subtle allusion to the fact that this book is a far superior reworking of Georgette Heyer’s first book, The Black Moth, a book she wrote for the amusement of her brother who was ill. The characters in The Black Moth are at best two dimensional, but like most of Heyer’s creations, have enough humor and idiosyncrasy to catch our interest. In her case, it was the character of the villain whom she wished to revisit, develop and deepen.

These Old Shades is the first of the Alistair trilogy – she really did like these characters – and is not Regency, nor does it take place primarily in England. Like many of her early books, it falls more accurately into the category of historical romance, and is cast in mid-18th century Paris, with a short idyll at the English county seat of our hero, Justin Alistair, the Duke of Avon. He is known by the soubriquet Satanas, for his cold exactitude and prescient understanding of what his opponent will do next, as well as a certain elasticity in his moral fiber. The Duke has restored his family’s fortune through gambling; he is, as one would expect of one of the first peers of the realm, an arrant snob, careful, although certainly flamboyant, in his dress, and punctilious in manner. The historical background is the court of Louis XV, complete with its intrigues and excesses. It is the perfect backdrop for this story, for which one must be willing to suspend disbelief for pages at a time. It is such fun, and so sparkling in its writing, that one is indeed willing.

We first meet the Duke, dissolute, languid, apparently unaware of his surroundings, when a gamin comes hurtling from a side street and provides Avon with the weapon he has been waiting for to bring about the destruction of the Comte de Saint-Vire, the man who famously insulted Avon beyond courtesy. Avon buys the youngster from his brother, and establishes him as a page dressed in sober black, who attends Avon at parties, assemblies, and the Court at Versailles. The youngster, called Leon, attracts considerable attention, not only for his utter adoration of his master, whom he calls Monseigneur, but also for his startling red hair and dark eyebrows. Such hair and eyebrow combination is evident in the Saint-Vire family. As le tout Paris buzzes, Avon begins laying his plans. Leon is revealed to readers as Leonie, and goes to England in the country to learn how to be a lady. The Duke adopts her and returns to Paris with his ward. His friend Hugh Davenant returns to Paris at the same time and Avon tells him, in a passage that makes clear both the character and performance of this Duke:

“I am becoming something of a patriarch, my dear.”
“Are you? Davenant said, and smiled to himself. “May I compliment
you on your ward?”
“Pray do! You find her to your taste?”
“Infinitely. Paris will be enchanted. She is an original.”
“Something of a rogue,” conceded his Grace.
“Justin, what does Saint-Vire to do with her?”
The thin brows rose.
“I seem to remember, my dear, that your curiosity was one of the
things I deplored in you.”
“I’ve not forgot the tale you told me – in this very room, Justin. Is
Leonie the tool with which you hope to crush Saint-Vire?”
His Grace yawned.
“You fatigue me, Hugh. Do you know, I have ever had a fancy to
play my game — alone.”
Davenant could make nothing of him and gave up the attempt.”

But it is not the plot that carries the reader along; it is the delightful characters. The Duke, the darkest of Heyer’s heroes, has real charm, albeit a little sinister. He is not one you would wish to cross, as we see. Leonie, the heroine, is an effervescent charmer with a ferocious temper and an inherent sense of her own worth that grows through the book. Her character is honest and instinctively noble. She also, like any adorable pet of a large circle, gets away with being outrageous – except when Monseigneur is displeased. The supporting characters have charm and individuality as well. It is no wonder that Heyer comes back to the family twice: once in The Devil’s Cub – to revisit the Duke and his family, with a focus on the Cub, definitely the son of both his parents, and then in what is generally considered her finest novel, in An Infamous Army, where the grandchildren of the second book’s couple play out their roles at Waterloo.

If the story that unfolds is outrageous and unbelievable, the characters develop beautifully, the dialog bubbles delightfully, and we love the rollicking ride.

These Old Shades/Black Moth comparison from Wikipedia

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Gentle Readers, Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy has been reissued by Source Books. This 1950 novel features a feisty Mark I heroine who flies against social conventions at almost every turn. Georgette Heyer, who was known for her research and historical accuracy, wrote a novel about a single young woman who frequently bent the rules. Given the strictures of the age, this post explores why Sophy’s actions were tolerated.

Lady Sarah Jersey, Almack's patroness, from a drawing by Richard Cosway

Lady Sarah Jersey, Almack's patroness, from a drawing by Richard Cosway

By 1820, a strict code of conduct had evolved for polite society that protected the upper crust from vulgar and improper behavior. The code was particularly stringent for young ladies of good breeding, for one false step could permanently injure their chances of making an excellent match. As the century progressed, the rules of precedence became so complicated that inexperienced Victorian hostesses would often consult Burke’s Book of Precedence or their relatives and friends in order to avoid critical mistakes in leading guests to the dining room in the right order and seating them properly at the table. Rules of conduct covered visitations, invitations, introductions, balls and assemblies, morning and afternoon walks, rides in the park, relations between men and women, and modes of dress. A budding young hostess would spend countless hours learning the code in order not to offend family, friends, strangers, and guests.

While a young lady of high rank would enjoy some protection from Society’s censure when she made a mistake, those who were rising up the social ladder or whose families were placed on the lower rungs or moved along the fringes of the Ton, were given no such license. It was particularly important for them to develop a certain elegance of manners and deportment, and to adhere strictly to the rules. One snub from a major patron could end one’s social standing, as Beau Brummel fatally discovered when he offended the Prince Regent. In Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, Miss Eugenia Wraxton never quite understood how highly placed Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy was in the eyes of the world. While it was true that Sophy had largely lived abroad with her father and had been allowed a great deal of freedom in her actions, her father’s exalted rank protected her to a certain degree and allowed her some leeway when she broke the rules outright* (as in the case of visiting the money lender unescorted in a bad part of Town) or disregarded its strictures (as when she drives Charles’s carriage without his permission through The City.)

The snobbish Miss Wraxton, mistakenly thinking that Sophy has no social standing to speak of, tells her fiance, Charles Rivenhall: “I am afraid her visit has brought extra cares upon you, my dear Charles. Much must be forgiven as a girl who has never known a mother’s care, but I confess I had hoped that under your Mama’s guidance she would have tried to conform to English standards of propriety.” Charles, who at first sides with Miss Wraxton in his opinion of his cousin, exclaims,  “It’s my belief she delights in keeping us all upon tenterhooks!”

How true. Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy is a larger than life heroine who oozes self-confidence. Combining  brains, connections, and ability, she is an unstoppable force. Although she is the object of Miss Wraxton’s jealousy, Sophy commands the respect of her influential family and father’s friends, as well as that of Lady Jersey, Lady Castlereah, Countess de Lieven and Princess Esterhazy, who were the gatekeepers of Almack’s. Just after Miss Wraxton cautions Sophy about the difficulty in obtaining vouchers at Almack’s, she discovers, much to her chagrin, that Sophy is already well acquainted with these ladies and that her entry into that select club is assured.

Pall Mall

Pall Mall

Miss Wraxton is the sort of person who outwardly follows the rules of propriety, but whose sense of self-importance and mean-spirited intentions prompt her to overstep the boundaries time and again. Sophy will brook none of her interference and her hackles are raised when Miss Wraxton lectures her, “I wonder if I might venture to put you a little on your guard! In Paris and Vienna I am sure you would be able to tell me how I should go on, but in London I must be more at home than you.” Miss Wraxton continues in this vein, saying, “I do not think you can be aware of what is expected of a woman of quality! Or – forgive me! – how fatal it is to set up the backs of people, and to give rise to such gossip as must be painful to the Rivenhalls…” Unaware that she has put Sophy’s aristocratic nose out of joint, Miss Wraxton goes on with her harangue, prompting Sophy to say, “I am only afraid that you may suffer for being seen in such a vehicle as this [high perch phaeton], and with so fast a female!” Miss Wraxton reassures her, saying that her own character was sufficiently well established to withstand a faux pas or two.

“Now, let me understand you!” begged Sophy. “If I were to do something outrageous while in your company, would your credit be good enough to carry me off?”

“Let us say my family’s credit, Miss Stanton-Lacy. I may venture to reply, without hesitation, yes.”

This is all the boasting Sophy needs to spur into action, and she swings her phaeton out of Hyde Park and into the streets of Mayfair. When Miss Wraxton orders her to stop, Sophy tells her she can always walk. “What, and walk along Piccadilly unattended?” Miss Wraxton retorts. Heedless of her pleas and saying that Miss Wraxton’s spotless reputation will protect them, Sophy drives her phaeton down the exclusive male haunts of Pall Mall and past the famed bow window of White’s Club. “No lady would be seen driving there! Amongst all the clubs – the object of every town saunterer! You cannot know what would be said of you!” Miss Wraxton screeches. But Sophy, intent on teaching her a lesson, continues to drive along a section of London that is strictly forbidden to single young ladies. By the time Sophy drops her rival off in Berkeley Square, Miss Wraxton is white with rage.

Berkeley Square, 1813

Berkeley Square, 1813

In this masterful scene, Georgette Heyer captured the essence of Sophy’s and Miss Wraxton’s characters, and taught us in her delightful style about the 19th century’s narrow expectations of women and how their every move was controlled. Except for her spitefulness, Miss Wraxton represents the traditional Regency society woman, whose life was strictly proscribed by a seemingly endless list of rules. The most important decisions in her life were made by her male relatives and, because she was not allowed to work  or manage her own money, she had almost no opportunity to break out of her gilded prison. When she had no choice but to work, only a few poorly paid positions were open to her. A rich widow seemed to have the most liberty in leading a self-fulfilled life, but even she needed to arrange for an acceptable companion when traveling or attending public gatherings.

By disregarding society’s rules, Sophy demonstrates her independence of spirit, as well as the absurdity of those strictures. In reality, many smart, capable, and resourceful women of that era, like Mary Wollstonecraft or the Duchess of Devonshire, must have chafed against these constant restraints. Thankfully, Sophy’s father was rather progressive and he provided her with sufficient funds to allow her a degree of freedom in making her own choices, such as purchasing her own carriage and arranging for a stable. Sophy’s independence and control over her own finances rubs her cousin Charles the wrong way, for this goes counter to everything he knows about dealing with women.

Grand SophyWith the exception of her visit to the money lender, Sophy ignores the more banal rules that define her world, but she does adhere to a strict code of honor, which sets her apart from Miss Wraxton. It is this code, her unerring sense of what is right and wrong, her loyalty, generosity of spirit, and her unassailable rank in Society that save her time and again. Towards the end of the book, Charles eyes are opened to Sophy’s warmth and humanity, but he is still stuck with his pragmatic and unromantic fiancee, for, in another one of Society’s arcane rules, a man cannot cry off an engagement. Only the woman has that power. Half the fun of the plot is in discovering how Sophy manipulates Miss Wraxton into seeing Charles’s “true character” and releasing him from his bond.

The Grand Sophy is so much more than a mere love story. In this outrageous and funny tale set in London two hundred years ago, Georgette Heyer manages to inform the reader in the most charming way about the customs and mores of a bygone era, and how dramatically women’s lives have changed since then.

*Plot spoiler: Some comments about Sophy’s visit to Mr. Goldhanger in a seemy part of London – because she told no one where she was going and because no one caught her in the act of visiting such a disreputable man unescorted, Sophy’s reputation escaped being ruined. Had she been caught in the act, her Social standing would not have provided her with enough protection to save her. By the time Charles learned of Sophy’s actions, he had become inured to her willfulness. Because her intentions were pure and because she was successful in saving his brother, he cut her some slack and chose to remain silent about her deed. He even found humor in her use of the pistol. Had Miss Wraxton learned of the visit, she could have used the information to harm Sophy, and then the novel would have taken another turn.

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Grand SophyThe Grand Sophy, the latest Georgette Heyer release by SourceBooks, is a page turner that will keep the reader guessing and wondering when and how the heroine will top her previous outrageous acts. Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy, a rich widower who has recently returned from the Continent, convinces his sister, Lady Ombersley, that his sweet, motherless daughter ought to stay with her while he returns abroad. Several weeks after their discussion, Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy makes a grand entrance:

Lady Ombersley, meanwhile, standing as though rooted to her own doorstep, was realizing with strong indignation, that the light in which a gentleman of great height and large proportions regarded his daughter had been misleading. Sir Horace’s little Sophy stood five feet nine inches in her stockinged feet, and was built on generous lines, a long-legged, deep-bosomed creature, with a merry face, and a quantity of glossy brown ringlets under one of the most dashing hats her cousins had ever seen.

Sophy could not exactly be called a beauty, but no one who had met her could ever quite forget her. Not ten minutes after her dramatic arrival, Lady Ombersley wonders: “What kind of niece was this, who set up her stable, made her own arrangements, and called her father Sir Horace?” The entire family, nay all of London, would soon find out.

Georgette Heyer wrote about two types of heroines. The Mark II heroine, who was a biddable and quiet young girl, and the Mark I heroine whose independent habits and dominant character invariably clashed with the hero’s personality. Sophy is the quintessential Mark I Heyer heroine: a tall, bossy, outrageously rich and independent, problem-solving, smart and capable young lady who will let nothing, not even Mr. Charles Rivenhall’s censure and outrage stand in her way. Arriving at the Ombersley’s house wearing a sable stole and carrying a sable muff, she alights from a coach and four with an entourage that includes several liveried footmen, a doyenne, an Italian greyhound, a monkey named Jacko, and a parrot in a birdcage. Even as Lady Ombersley struggles to hide her dismay, Sophy’s cousins are delighted, except for Charles. Everything about Sophy sets him on edge, especially when she won’t give way to even his slightest wishes.

High Perch Phaeton

As heroes go, Charles is a bit of a prig. He cannot help himself, for his father, Lord Ombersley is an inveterate gambler. Charles unexpectedly came into an inheritance from a rich relative who had made his fortune in India and he uses his wealth to pay off his father’s debts. In doing so, Charles becomes the de facto head of the family. A sensible man, he proposes to a patronizing young lady of impeccable character, Miss Eugenia Wraxton, and leads a bland existence … until Sophy turns his well-ordered life upside down. The reader learns one thing about Charles that others don’t seem to appreciate – children, dogs, monkeys, and parrots turn instinctively to him, and although he might seem harsh on the surface, he has a soft heart and is an easy touch. However, his dictatorial ways intimidate two of his siblings, Cecilia and Hubert, to the point where Sophy feels she needs to help out. This causes Charles to gnash his teeth at her presumption. At the core of this book are the crackling scenes between Sophy and Charles, and thankfully they are numerous.

The Grand Sophy is one of Georgette Heyer’s “larger than life” books. Everything – from the characters to Sophy’s antics to the settings – is bigger and grander than in most of her other novels, and the side characters are unforgettable. Augustus Fawnhope is a beautiful but a gloriously silly poet whom Cecilia loves. Cecilia, Charles’s lovestruck sister, is a sweet Mark II heroine with backbone and pluck, who sees the error of her ways, but can do little to rectify the situation. Enter Sophy to the rescue. Sancia, Sir Horace’s Spanish fiancee, is singularly lazy and unforgettable in her ability to drop off to sleep in front of guests, but Sophy knows she can solicit her support whenever it is needed. Lord Bromford, a terminally boring hypochondriac and Mamma’s boy, woos Sophy with the tenacity of a bulldog, much to the glee of her younger cousins, who watch with awe as their older cousin deftly skirts his advances.

Charles’s fiancee, the horse-faced and prudish Eugenia Wraxton, is Sophy’s perfect foil. On the outside, Miss Wraxton is all that is proper, but on the inside she is small and mean of spirit. Sophy sees right through her and is determined to open Charles’s eyes before he is leg-shackled to her through marriage. Where Miss Wraxton merely pays lip service to being a lady, Sophy is warmhearted and generous to a fault. Her rarified social status allows her to behave outrageously with impunity, a fact that the jealous Miss Wraxton never quite realizes. Miss Wraxton constantly lectures Sophy or, worse, tattles on her, as the following scene between Sophy and Charles suggests. In it they are discussing her purchase of her high perch phaeton, to which Charles has strenuously objected:

“I have no control over your actions, cousin,” he said coldly. No doubt if it seems good to you to make a spectacle of yourself in the Park, you will do so. But you will not, if you please, take any of my sisters up beside you!”

“But it does please me,” she said. “I have already taken Cecilia for a turn round the Drive. You have very antiquated notions, have you not? I saw several excessively smart sporting carriages being driven by ladies of the highest ton!”

“I have no particular objection to a phaeton and pair,” he said, still more coldly, “though a perch model is quite unsuited to a lady. You will forgive me if I tell you that there is something more than a little fast in such a style of carriage.”

“Now, who in the world can have been spiteful enough to have put that idea into your head?” wondered Sophy.

He flushed, but did not answer.

Although this book provides us with a fun romp through Regency London, it does possess one flawed scene. The scene is pivotal and demonstrates Sophy’s fearlessness in helping Charles’s brother Hubert out of an impossible situation, but Georgette Heyer is a product of her snobbish upbringing and time. Her description of a stereotypical Jewish lender, the villainous Mr. Goldhanger, is old-fashioned and ruffles our modern sensibilities. For many readers, this scene is a deal-breaker (see comments in link). Some stop reading the book at this point, others feel that the book loses some of its lustre, and others like myself manage to move on, realizing that authors cannot help but be influenced by the age in which they live. A friend of mine observed that Huckleberry Finn is full of racial slurs, but these statements did not prevent it from becoming a classic. Having said that, Georgette’s description of the Jewish lender did give me pause, but after a few pages, I was once again absorbed by Sophy’s antics and rooting for the characters I had come to love. When I turned the last page, I could only wish them all the happiest of ever afters.

3 regency fansI give The Grand Sophy three out of three regency fans. Order the book at this link.

Read this blog’s other Georgette Heyer reviews here.

Gentle readers: The Grand Sophy will be released today. A reissue from SourceBooks, this 1950 novel was one of Georgette Heyer’s best. Look for a month-long kick off of this highly entertaining book on Jane Austen Today, Austenprose and this blog.

Also:

Regency Manners and The Grand Sophy

Read the review on Austenprose at this link.

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my lord john

Gentle Readers, My friend, Hillary Major, a fan of history and recent Georgette Heyer convert, graciously agreed to review Source Books’ latest release of My Lord John, which was published posthumously. You can purchase the book at this link.

Many Heyer readers may be surprised to learn that the Middle Ages, not the Regency era, was the historical period closest to Georgette’s heart. So asserts her husband, in his brief preface to My Lord John, Heyer’s last and unfinished work, which tackles the history of the royal House of Lancaster in the years leading up to the Wars of the Roses. Heyer first began the writing and researching of My Lord John in 1948, and when she died in 1974, she had completed less than half of her planned narrative. The copious research she left behind was proof of a passionate interest in the era; it included index cards noting the important events for every calendar day from 1393 to 1435.
In explaining why Georgette was never able to finish My Lord John (a title chosen after her death), Heyer’s husband G. R. Rougier writes, “The penal burden of British taxation, coupled with the with the clamour of her readers for a new book, made her break off to write another Regency story. … So a great historical novel was never finished.” Heyer fans will find it difficult to regret those “stories” to which Georgette turned her hand – novels ranging from Arabella and The Grand Sophy to Black Sheep.

My Lord John, however, shows a different and perhaps more complex side of Heyer. Romance is barely a flutter in the background of the dynastic tangle that faces readers at the novel’s opening: King Richard II’s reign is seeming more unstable by the day, and with no direct heirs, nearly every powerful noble family is jockeying to take over the throne. As events develop, family relationships will prove to be the driving force for Heyer’s protagonist; when ties of friendship and politics are tested, the family bond prevails. (In contrast, romance proper is banished to a minor subplot, and the parties in the unwise affair are granted no sympathy; Heyer’s 15th-century England has no patience with star-crossed lovers.)

The tale centers on four brothers: the future Henry V, his more dashing but less intelligent brother Thomas, the solid and reliable John, and Humphrey, the spoiled youngest. We first meet the future princes through the eyes (and gossip) of their nurses as they worry about lord Harry’s sickliness and retching and lord Humphrey’s unpredictable toddling. This is a technique Heyer uses again and again to bring the everyday details of medieval life to the fore: the reader is shown the perspective of minor characters, often servants, whose point-of-view broadens the medieval landscape while their observations help round out the characters of the main historical figures. We see Lord John, for example, through the eyes of a squire (who wonders why a nobleman would stop to patronize a street stall like a commoner) and the priest who follows in his retinue as Lord Confessor (who worries much more about the worldly concerns of lodging and meals than does his charge). Heyer takes every opportunity to revel in period dialogue (glossary provided) and even manages to write in cameo appearances by medieval celebrities such as Chaucer and Froissert.

As Heyer paints her portrait of Lord John, he emerges as an unusual hero: moderate, conscientious, loyal, but happy to fill a secondary role. While Heyer may relish the flash of Lord Harry (and the challenge of covering the events that inspired Shakespeare, who was rather less faithful to his sources), it is the slow-and-steady John whom she elevates to hero. My Lord John is in many ways a coming-of-age novel, and the story picks up pace about halfway through, when John travels to the Scottish Borderlands as Lord Warden, the representative of the throne in this rebellious and sometimes hostile region. As he meets with the nobles, clergy, and common folk, John consistently shows that is he more than he appears:

The Abbot himself received the Lord John … At first unhopeful of exchanging ideas with so young a princeling, he soon discovered that the King’s third son, besides having enjoyed the advantages of a careful education, had delved deeply into mundane matters. Sheep-farming was the chief worldly business of the Cistercians, and … [t]hey talked of ewe-flocks, of whethers and hoggets; of the perils of the lambing season; of fells; of the advantages and the disadvantages of a fixed Staple; of the guile of the Lombard merchants, and the wiles of the brokers; of the circumstances which had led great families to lease their farms to tenants; and – this was a homethrust delivered by the Lord John – of the sand-blind policy that induced sheep-farmers to sell their wool for many years ahead to crafty Flemish and Italian merchants.” (p. 210)

John shows himself similarly knowledgeable about falconry and coal-mining, among other pursuits. In passages like this, the reader sees in Lord John a love of the details and intricacies of daily life that is clearly shared by Heyer herself. While Harry has the fire and drives much of the action, it is John, the consummate planner and administrator, who earns the respect of author and readers. Can we see a parallel between the sparkling plots and vivid romances on which Heyer’s fame (and sales) relied and the meticulous research (on multiple historical periods) that she so valued and that infused her work?

It is impossible to know how Heyer would have completed her Lancastrian manuscript (or even how much of the present work would have survived her editing process), though further scenes of battle would have been inevitable and a passage toward the end of the book describing a heretic’s execution may be intended to foreshadow Lord John’s future encounters with Joan of Arc. As it is, the dedication to historical accuracy and the fact that Lord John is not personally involved in much of the action in the first half of the book, make My Lord John a slower and drier read than most Heyer novels. But the reader who takes a lesson from the unlikely hero, and relishes the richness and texture of Heyer’s medieval world, will find much to enjoy.

Other Heyer book reviews:

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corinthianGentle Reader,

As you may have guessed from our reviews, SourceBooks has been reissuing a series of Georgette Heyer novels for summer reading, The Corinthian among them. I ‘ve spent many pleasant hours  journeying through Regency England from London to Bath to Sussex with Georgette’s scintillating characters, wishing I were as bright and witty in my repartee as her heroines, and that the men in my life were as dashingly romantic. If you’ve never tried a Georgette Heyer regency novel before, now is a good time to read one.

Pen Creed, the 17-year-old heroine of The Corinthian might be a tad young and naïve, but she is fearless in her dealings with the world and a most decidedly determined young lady. Rather than wait for her aunt to force her into an engagement with her fish-faced cousin, she has cropped her hair, put on boy’s clothes, and embarked on a journey to find Piers, her child hood friend. Having vowed to marry each other five year before, Pen is convinced that Piers will greet her with a great deal of pleasure and live up to his boyish promise.

Enter the Corinthian. At 29, Sir Richard Wyndham is a little drunk, bored beyond calculation, and feeling that he is the unluckiest dog alive. He is about to become betrothed to a woman so cold-blooded in nature that she could freeze the Arctic Ocean solid for two miles down. The night before he is to formally ask for her hand, Sir Richard encounters Pen dangling from knotted bed sheets several feet short of the pavement. Hearing her cries for help, he comes to her rescue and listens to her with aristocratic aplomb as she explains her convoluted reasons for running away in the middle of the night. Wanting to leave London to buy himself some time, he escorts Pen on a public coach to her destination.

Georgette’s heroine is much, much younger than the hero, which initially gave me a few misgivings, but both characters are so likeable that one can’t help cheering them on as they embark on their splendid adventure. While Pen resembles a fresh-faced urchin, Sir Richard is a resplendent example of the Regency dandy and sporting man. Georgette’s description of him could fit Beau Brummell to a tee:

He was a very notable Corinthian. From his Wind-swept hair (most difficult of all styles to achieve), to the toes of his gleaming Hessians, he might have posed as an advertisement for the Man of Fashion. His fine shoulders set off a coat of of superfine cloth to perfection; his cravat, which had excited George’s admiration, had been arranged by the hands of a master; his waistcoat was chosen with a nice eye; his biscuit-coloured pantaloons showed not one crease; and his Hessians with their jaunty gold tassels, had not only been made for him by Hoby, but were polished, George suspected with a blacking mixed with champagne. A quizzing-glass on a black ribbon hung round his neck; a fob at his waist; and in one hand he carried a Sevres snuff-box. His air proclaimed his unutterable boredom, but no tailoring, no amount of studied nonchalance, could conceal the muscle in his thighs, or the strength of his shoulders. Above the starched points of shirt-collar, a weary, handsome face showed its owner’s disillusionment.

Sir Richard is thrown into situations in which all of his ingenuity and influence are required. He must deal with a mystery regarding a stolen diamond necklace, a murder, things that go bump in the night, and Pen’s discovery that Piers has all but forgotten their childhood pledge. The young man has fallen madly in love with Lydia, a prettily plumb and silly female who, as she ages, will be prone to fits and vapors, and to whom he is secretly engaged. Unlike Pen, Sir Richard realizes at this point that he has compromised her and that they must marry. Not that he quails at the thought. Pen, who has fallen for her dashing and dependable escort, does not want to be his “obligation.” Instead, she concentrates her efforts on uniting Piers and Lydia, whose union is forbidden by their families. By the final pages, the plot and plottings have become so twisted that Sir Richard can only exclaim:

I am recalling my comfortable home, my ordered life, my hitherto stainless reputation, and wondering what I can ever have done to deserve being pitchforked into this shameless imbroglio!

3 regency fansRest assured that Sir Richard has never had so much fun in his life. At the end of the novel, his adventures with Pen lead to a romantic conclusion. To say that I enjoyed myself while reading this fast-paced romp is to state the obvious, and I give this delightful book 3 out of 3 regency fans.

Order The Corinthian here. Coming up next: My review of The Grand Sophy!

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