Frederica by Georgette Heyer
This is a classic novel by Heyer which sums up the humour, incisive character creation and keen awareness of success in this period of Georgian high society and its obsessions. A stunningly beautiful girl is launched into society, there are adventures in some unlikely places, and there are some wickedly funny descriptions of people in all their glorious variety. Frederica is variously described throughout the book as not the radiant beauty of the family, but she is the one with the initiative and the determination to do the best for her family. Vernon, Marquis of Alverstoke is constantly surprised by Frederica and her family; from decades of boredom and easy living where everything is predictable, his involvement with the irrepressible Merriville family represents constant drama in his life. Charis Meriville is the beauty of the season, creating an upset wherever she goes among jealous mothers, lovestruck suitors and keen observers of a social season full of gossip. Much of the considerable humour in this book comes from the antics of the younger brothers, Felix and Jessamy, whose discovery of new family connections gives them even more scope for chaos inducing projects, as Jessamy repents and Felix pursues his passions in a headlong fashion. Altogether the Merriville family are enough to make anyone reconsider their life choices, and in this splendid read from an expert writer there is so much entertainment to be enjoyed.
Alverstoke is a wealthy and somewhat bored man, with his reputation as an elegant dresser and much more. One of his sisters, a widow who is actually quite wealthy, presses him to host a ball at his London house to launch her eldest daughter at the beginning of the season. Aware that Lady Buxted is sufficiently well off enough to cope without him, he refuses, which makes her indignant, especially as she is already of the allowance he makes to his heir, a nephew rejoicing in the name of Endymion. Another of Alverstoke’s relations, Mrs Dauntry, Endymion’s mother, is keen to press the case for Alverstoke to pay for the launch of her daughters, which he also rejects. His attention is drawn by his invaluable secretary to a mysterious Miss Merriville, and wishing to discover more, pays her a visit. He discovers that there is a distant family link, and that Frederica does not demand any financial support for a family she has been managing for years, but would dearly appreciate his help to introduce her beautiful sister Charis to London society. Intrigued and attracted by the unconventional woman who declares herself to be beyond all hope of marriage for herself at the advanced age of twenty four, he agrees to help by hosting the ball that his sister had demanded, shrewdly keeping Lady Buxted from discovering that Charis, who he wants her to sponsor, is outwardly far more attractive than her own daughters. As discovery is made, many men call on the famous beauty, and many suspect that Alverstoke is himself attracted by Charis, complications arise.
Although this book outwardly deals with romance and a memorable social season, much of the appeal comes from the activities instigated by Felix and Jessamy. Certainly they entertain and exasperate Alverstoke. Charis is drawn as an attractive but not very bright girl, which makes her somewhat one dimensional, and is rather dismissed by Heyer. Frederica becomes the real love interest, which is cleverly done as she is steadfast in denying that she has any interest in romance for herself. As with all of Heyer’s novels, there is detailed research on display here, as the descriptions of clothing, setting and behaviour is finely judged. The humour is both subtle and bordering on farcical throughout, especially concerning a boisterous dog which gets the normally calm Frederica into trouble. This is a wonderful read for escapist immersion in another world, beautifully written, carefully constructed and thoroughly recommended.