The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer – a masterpiece of Regency comedy and life

The Grand Sophy: Amazon.co.uk: Heyer, Georgette: 9780099465638: Books

 

A resourceful, and some would say meddlesome, lead character called Sophy is arguably one of Heyer’s greatest creations. A cheerful young woman who is rarely worried by any circumstance thrown at her, she upsets the life of at least one family in Regency London, as she challenges many expectations of correct behaviour for an unmarried female. With a deft hand, Heyer suggests how she should behave in the words of her surprised cousin Charles and his scandalised fiance Eugenia Wraxton, then show her going way beyond it. With a taste for animals, especially horses, thanks to her upbringing in many places by her father Sir Horace, she knows and is known by many people, and has already experienced some dangerous situations. This is a light hearted look at life and rules followed by the upper set in the Regency period that Heyer so effortlessly portrays with her usual impeccable research and understanding of a time when men usually controlled the way a household was run. A favourite amongst Heyer’s considerable output, this is a novel to be relished by anyone who enjoys a social comedy in a different, but somehow familiar, time.

 

When Sir Horace visits his sister, Lady Ombersley, it is with the surprising news that he is once more to go abroad, and accordingly will impose his only child Sophy on her for an indefinitely long visit. She protests in her apathetic way that her eldest son, Charles, may object, and that as he holds the purse strings for the family due to an unexpected inheritance and his resulting hold on his feckless father. His engagement to Miss Wraxton influences him to a rather inflexible view of life, which is rather unfortunate. The next oldest boy is carrying a secret worry that he cannot share. Cecilia is the oldest daughter, promised to Lord Charlbury but infatuated with a distracted poet Augustus Fawnhope. Charles soon discovers that Sophy is far from predictable, as she arrives with a menagerie of animals including a spirited horse. As she expresses her determination to set up her own stables and more, Charles begins to realise that she is far more strong willed than he was prepared for in any sense. Meanwhile “It seemed (to Sophy) that she had taken up her residence in an unhappy household”, and she resolves to sort it out. Some problems take her a short burst of effort, while others require a more long term policy. She is willing to even use a gun; as she tells one opponent while pointing at him “Well, if you move out of that chair you will discover that it is loaded,” said Sophy. “At least, you will be dead” She shows little fear, devotion to others, and an intelligent actor in any situation, even when things seem to descend to farce.  

 

This is a classic Heyer Regency novel, where a lot of the comedy emerges from a character flouting the rules for the best of reasons. There are many comic moments, and the characters are so well drawn that they are inherently funny. The dialogue is priceless, especially between Sophy and Charles Rivenhall. The character of Sophy is constantly surprising, entertaining and memorable, and she is at the heart of this lively and engaging book. Certainly one of my favourites, this novel is highly recommended.  

 

Since its first publication in 1950 this book has probably been in print in one form or another, and as you can imagine it has had a wide variety of covers, some of which are better than others. Over the last few months people have been putting pictures of the Heyer covers online, and there are some really extraordinary ones out there! How important are the covers in your decision to pick up a Heyer novel, or indeed any book? The cover above is what I have on my copy – how popular is it? Does it reveal anything about the book? Does it matter? How important is a cover to selling you a book?

False Colours by Georgette Heyer – a Regency tale of family, impersonation and memorable characters

False Colours

 

This 1963  Regency novel deals with a delightful deception that is only possible because the Honourable Christopher or Kit Fancot is the identical twin of his slightly older brother Evelyn, the new Earl. Their mother is a widow, devoted to her sons but recklessly extravagant. The novel revolves around the situation in which Evelyn has disappeared, leaving little indication of where he may be for several days. Kit has travelled back from Vienna where he has been engaged in the diplomatic service. His actions stem from the need to rescue his impecunious mother and not to let down a young woman who it seems Evelyn has become engaged to, and whose family is gathered to meet him. As with many of Heyer’s romantic novels, there are some farcical events, some witty exchanges, and most of all some wonderful characters. Kit has to be resourceful and quick thinking to cope with the challenges of impersonating his brother, to deal with his mother, and to cope with his own feelings which soon emerge. A classic tale of humour and subterfuge, this is essentially a light hearted story of London life and a large country house, with a party of people among whom there is some confusion and personality clashes. A super read which as always reveals research into a period of history and a genre of which Heyer was the proponent. 

 

The novel begins with Kit arriving back at the family home unexpectedly late at night. He has had a feeling that Evelyn is in trouble, but the more troubled is their mother who has borrowed heavily to support her lifestyle of reckless purchases and some gambling debts. Evelyn cannot help her much as his father left an uncle as trustee of the estate until he can provide proof  of responsibility or contract a suitable marriage, and he has become involved with a young woman, Cressida Stavely, who wishes to marry to escape her new step mother. In order that she may not be embarrassed, Kit agrees to meet her family, including her fearsome grandmother, the Dowager. After some close shaves, a party of Kit, his mother, one of her long term admirers and her brother and his family all turn up at the family country house, where it becomes vital that Kit maintains the pretence, in the face of all challenges.

 

The humour and strength of this book lies not in the plot, but in the dialogue and characterisation of those who are confused by the deception at the heart of the novel. Lady Denville, the boys mother is a marvelous character, whose self deception works well with her affection for the young men. Her brother, a notable miser, contributes to the story, as well as her admirer whose devotion to her is only exceeded by his appetite for good food. The revelation of the novel is the true characters of Kit and Cressida, especially when dealing with some lively challenges. This is an extremely enjoyable book with some memorable characters and proceeds from a wonderful idea of identical twins and their devoted servants. I recommend it as a wonderful read of its type, a humorous look at a family crisis, and some memorable characters.

 

When I started reading Heyer again, I didn’t realise exactly how many books there are in her Regency collection without taking into account her mystery writing. This one is not quite as funny as some of them, but it depends on wonderful characters who reveal their preoccupations quickly and consistently. I am really enjoying reading my Heyer collection, and knowing I still have quite few to go! Do you have a complete collection? Are them some titles which are particularly difficult to get?

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer – an historical mystery farce with a lot of humour

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

 

Drama, excitement and a massive amount of humour; this classic book by Georgette Heyer has it all, as well as some wonderful characters who all contribute to this near farce. Including such staples as a proposed arranged marriage, a hidden ring and midnight horse rides, this book also includes some marvelous characters such as a frequently bewildered magistrate, an excitable young French woman, and some danger loving smugglers/free traders. Set in the Regency or Georgian period, this is a fast moving story of secrets and deliberate deceptions as well as hidden heroes. The women are resourceful, the men enjoy a good fight, and the element of comedy emerges in the dialogue between a fascinating group of characters who spend most of the time in a coaching inn. I really enjoyed this classic novel which tells a brilliant story in a most entertaining way. Originally published in 1936, it shows Heyer writing at the top of her form, as she tells the story of an inheritance from one remarkable old man which goes anything but smoothly. There is romance, but the main drama is concerned with the discovery of a ring which can prove a man’s innocence or guilt, an inheritance and more. 

 

The book opens with Sir Tristram Shield arriving at Lavenham Court, where his remarkable great uncle Sylvester, Lord Lavenham, lies ill. Shield is an unexcitable character, the complete opposite of his cousin Mademoiselle de Vauban, Eustacie, a young woman rescued from the horrors of revolutionary France by her grandfather. Unfortunately for Shield, she is full of romantic ideas of adventure and romantic death, and both of them have severe doubts about their enforced proposed marriage. Another relative turns up, who is known as the Beau, for his stylish manners and appearance, who discusses with Shield the missing heir, Sylvester’s grandson Ludovic, and why he remains in hiding after an alleged murder to recover a Talisman Ring. Following Sylvester’s death, it is proposed that the marriage take place in the near future, but Eustacie objects and decides that she will have her own adventure travelling to London. After a complicated ride around a forest in the middle of the night, Eustacie and her new, injured companion seek shelter in a post inn, with a sympathetic landlord. They also meet Sarah Thane and her brother, Sir Hugh, a befuddled magistrate, and discover that Sarah is completely undaunted by any adventure, and eager to help with any scheme. As people enter and exit the inn, a secret cellar must be used for safety, and there must be a lot of fast thinking if all is to end well. 

 

It is difficult to pick out one event, scene or character that stands out, as they all contribute to a very enjoyable whole. The two Thanes are probably my favourites, as Sarah is able to deal with any situation by adopting a different persona, and Sir Hugh because he is so unconcerned by what is truly going on, as he is more interested in the drink in the cellar than who is hiding or searching there. With hapless early police, an evil designing character and some impressive quick thinking, this book works in its faultless setting, description and characters. I thoroughly recommend it as a fast moving and very funny book which is a brilliant introduction to Heyer’s genre defining books. 

 

As I am re reading these novels I am discovering just how funny they are, with characters and dialogue that really bring the story alive. Sitting in the sunshine laughing out loud at this classic novel is a great way to spend an afternoon! If you want to investigate Georgette Heyer’s novels, this is an excellent place to begin.

 

Arabella by Georgette Heyer – a genuinely funny social romantic comedy of the Regency period

Arabella: Georgette Heyer Classic Heroines: Amazon.co.uk: Heyer ...

 

A beautiful young woman who becomes the toast of society in her season in London sounds like a standard subject for Heyer, but also being Heyer there is a twist in this social comedy romance. Arabella is the eldest daughter of a vicar and a his wife who, it is alleged, turned down several offers of marriage before they had a bevy of children. Amanda is the oldest daughter and it is hoped that when she accepts her godmother’s offer of a season in London she will receive an offer of marriage from a wealthy man which will help the family. The plot is basic, but the way that it is handled is very skilful and is covered with much humour and insight. Heyer is a genius in creating characters, and in Arabella and the hero, Robert Beaumaris, she has created two who defy expectations with style. The humour comes from Arabella’s determination to adopt helpless creatures and Beaumaris’ attitude to those who she concerns herself with throughout the novel. Arabella is not the most strident of Heyer’s heroines, but she is determined when she perceives wrong, and takes on people who she perceives to be cruel. Beaumaris is a man whose cynicism and confidence makes light of sticky situations, despite his impeccable sense of place and social necessities. There are lines here that are genuinely funny, elements that are touching, and characters whose speech alone is unintelligible even to those of the time, let alone now. Heyer’s sure touch with dialogue, situation and plot means that disaster can soon be averted, true love will overcome, and the Regency world is a secure place to plunge into through the pages of this novel. 

 

As the novel begins, Arabella is at home with her siblings and parents, revealing their strong personalities as they prepare for a great event, Arabella’s departure for London. Her mother is supportive, remembering her triumphs in her youth, pulling out dresses and accessories to be remodelled in the common cause. Arabella is charming, friendly and beautiful, and manages to get the most unlikely people on her side. When an unfortunate accident on her journey south occurs, she breaks her journey at a large house which belongs to Beaumaris. In order to boost her confidence and give herself a confidence she lacks, she pretends to be a wealthy heiress. This impresses his companion, Lord Fleetwood, who is also taken with her looks. He has already pointed out to Beaumaris that he has turned down every beautiful young woman on the marriage market, drawn not only by his considerable wealth but also his undoubted position as a leader of society. When Arabella reaches London, her godmother’s determination to launch her into society together with her acquaintance with Beaumaris makes her quite the attraction at the many social events they attend. 

 

Just how it is resolved is quite a triumph of Heyer’s art with people and life. Her research is impeccable and presented to great effect. This is a superb book for anyone who enjoys a Regency novel, and shows how Heyer can keep the reader guessing.   

 

For me, Georgette Heyer, and to a certain extent her later imitators represent the ultimate comfort read. When a lot of things shut down a friend handed me five of her books to keep me going as my collection of Heyer books bought years ago was inaccessible at the time. I have since discovered a double banked shelf of her books upstairs, and was considering trying to fill in the gaps when another shelf full emerged. Rest assured that I have quite a lot of Heyers to read before I get onto those who copied her. Do you have comfort reads? Are they like Heyer? 

Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer – Real characters rub shoulders with fictional creations

Regency Buck (Alastair-Audley, #3) by Georgette Heyer

 

Guardians, boxing, carriage driving and much else feature in this Heyer novel. Most of her historical novels are seen as “Regency”, but this is one that actually has the Prince Regent, later George IV, as a character, albeit briefly. The novel mainly concerns a couple of young people, Judith and her younger brother Peregrine, and those around them as they discover an exciting new world in London. They have an interesting relationship with their legal guardian, whose appointment comes as something of a shock to them, as well as the challenges of new friends and aquaintances. Judith in particular shows an interest in not only being a wealthy heiress and a lady of society and fashion, but also adopting some singular habits. She takes up driving a matched pair of horses from a fashionable vehicle, and becomes adept at taking snuff from a different “box to match each gown”, both of which accomplishments cause excited comment. Peregrine is a typical younger brother, full of new obsessions and the life of a young man with enough money to have a good time. With Beau Brummell giving advice and counsel which goes beyond  a fashionable appearance, and royal Dukes turning up at social events, this is a Heyer novel which deals with high society in real detail. Not that Heyer ever lets her immense research get in the way of her excellent plot and characters. This is a lovely and exciting read, one of Heyer’s most convincing novels.

 

The novel opens with Judith and Peregrine travelling to London following their father’s death, to discover their legal guardian as specified in his will. They wish to leave Yorkshire where they have had a sheltered life and take a house in London, to enter society and discover a fashionable social life. Peregrine discovers that there is to be a famous prize fight between two well known champions near to a stopping point, and while Judith’s travel guide tells her of interesting sights in the area, he is determined to find a conveyance to take him to watch the fight. It is when he gets an ancient cart stuck across the road, a mysterious stranger is disparaging of their equipiage. They discover that the rather brusque man is in fact the Fifth Earl of Worth, and by a particular twist of fate their appointed guardian. On one level he seems disinterested, permitting some of their different ambitions, but also finding them a suitable house and a chaperon in the form of the wonderfully named Mrs Scattergood. Predictably Peregrine gambles and gets into trouble, and is discreetly rescued. It is only when he is in some danger that the plot really begins to get complex. Meanwhile Judith receives much interest and even proposals of marriage from a variety of gentlemen, but she is unexpectedly grateful for Worth’s help in turning them away. As her friends increase, however, life is not simple and Worth seems to keep a disturbing eye on his wards.

 

This is a novel which revels in the clothes, style and fashion of the period for both men and women. As well known real characters rub shoulders with Heyer’s fictional creations, the writing is seamless and always entertaining. There is a certain dry humour, especially in the dialogue involving Worth, and Peregrine is revealed as a really comic character at times. This is a really enjoyable book, and a memorable Heyer novel.   

 

I am pleased to see that not only are there plenty of Heyers to keep me going, but also that I have quite a few – both historical and murder mystery. I will have to work out which ones I actually had, as when I read them years ago I borrowed a few to read. I can see I’m going to have to consult Fantastic Fiction https://www.fantasticfiction.com/again – as well as my Georgette Heyer Companion.

Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer – a young man behaves badly in the Regency period

Devil's Cub (Alastair-Audley, #2) by Georgette Heyer

 

A Regency romance that is so funny that it made me laugh out loud is rare, especially when I read quite a few! This novel features the young Marquis of Vidal, son of the Duke of Avon and his wife Leonie, who is notorious for his scandalous ways. Lord Rupert, with all his bluster and banter is back in this novel, and there are some wonderful scenes of his confusion. The Marquis is a mixture of his parents, quick tempered and impetuous, not worried about scandal for himself. He is a gambler, a drinker and certainly not adverse to spending time with women who he has no intention of marrying. While Avon was known for his scandals, and Leonie not adverse to using a gun if available, neither was so reckless as to shoot a fellow gambler. His infamy means that while many people admire him, he is known to take risks and gamble with life. This novel also introduces a Miss Mary Chancellor, who decides to take action when one of Vidal’s plans threatens her sister’s future. This chase across France takes on some farcical elements, and the characters involved are brilliantly drawn. Altogether this is a most enjoyable and entertaining read, and an example of an excellent historical novel. 

 

This novel opens with a mysterious traveller who casually shoots a highwayman and shockingly orders the body to be left. Vidal is soon identified, and his actions give quite the impression of a man who cares more for his appearance than the people around him. He indulges in a night playing cards when alcohol is taken, and ignores advice to finish playing and not get involved in weaponry. Meanwhile Juliana, Vidal’s cousin, has fallen in love with an unsuitable but respectable young man, a Mr. Comyn, and they resolve to go to France to be together. Meanwhile, a young woman called Sophia, superficially attractive but not overly clever, attracts Vidal’s attention , so when he realises he must disappear to France to avoid further trouble he makes it plain that he would like her to accompany him. Her elder sister intercepts a letter confirming the details, and decides that she will impersonate her sister to save her reputation. Vidal discovers the impersonation, and forces her to travel to France. When they arrive, they discover a mutual attraction and Vidal decrees that they must marry in order to save her reputation. Mary refuses as she knows that his parents will never accept the match. What happens then involves fast journeys, accidents and much more.

 

This book does suggest a certain amount of violence from the wealthy which is scarcely acknowledged, and at least one point when Vidal is unduly rough with a woman. Having said that, this is a fantasy written in another age, 1932, about a historic period. Vidal is shown to be genuinely concerned for Mary’s reputation. I really enjoyed this book, which is steeped in the detail of the period, even to Vidal’s valet on some of the problems of dressing a gentleman. Some of my favourite characters from “These Old Shades” continue into this book to great effect. Every character behaves consistently and often humourously, and this book is a joy to read from beginning to end. It is a superb example of Heyer’s ability to create a whole new type of historical novel, and I recommend it to anyone who feels like exploring her Regency novels.    

 

One of the things at this moment is the fact that many of us have more time to read without distractions, or at least different ones. I really enjoy Heyer’s novels when I get into them but to begin with I have to pick my way through the titles rather than names of the characters. This book made me really laugh, as an episode towards the end is really is funny. The characters who are in both  books really work in both stories, and in this situation I am glad I read the books in the correct order!  

Snowdrift and other Stories by Georgette Heyer

Image result for snowdrift and other stories georgette heyer

Georgette Heyer is one of the few authors who has created and sustained a whole new genre of fiction writing. Regency romances are not everyone’s first choice of reading; they can be formulaic, they are light and not asking too many deep questions, and they can be incredibly predictable. As to the formula, it is often the case that a couple meet or reunite after many years, there are barriers of society or temperament between them, there is a crisis which often involves a journey at breakneck speed, before the happy couple are united in marriage and live happily ever after. At least that is the basic plan of many regency romances that appear regularly today. The difference is that Heyer wrote them first, and wrote them better than anyone else. She was not worried by political correctness; her women can be startling for their beauty in a disguised way rather than their brains, her main characters are at least of good birth and end up with enough money to be considered rich, and men always have some redeeming quality. I am being negative about the Regency romance patterns but Heyer always added so much to her novels and in this case her short stories. The women always have courage and intelligence, even if temporarily misapplied, the settings are definitely correct in the smallest detail. Only fastidious research can guarantee the correct clothing, language and social behaviour, and Heyer has never been bettered in her incredible writing of the facts.  Her books have been held up as almost teaching resources for not only social history, but also military details of Napoleonic battles.

As you can imagine, I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of this book. Yes, I probably had read some of the stories in old and battered editions, but this book promised recently discovered stories and an altogether concentrated collection of short stories. I found it enormously good fun to read; Heyer has always been my comfort reading but this would be even more ideal for short waits in tricky circumstances. Each story here ticks all the boxes of an unpromising start between a small number of people, a journey and at least one misunderstanding. Often an elopement is proposed, but Heyer is far more sophisticated than depicting a straight dash to Gretna Green as something is always resolved without deceit and enormous hurt to at least the happy couple and the ‘good’ characters. To be honest these stories do get a bit much if read altogether, as in their rich plots and characters can tend to merge. Sometimes Heyer packs an enormous amount into a short story in terms of character development and change, but she was such a skilful writer that implication and characters will work out for the reader without being spelled out.

These stories, and Heyer’s novels, can be an acquired taste. Only one or two stories in this volume involve snow as implied in the title, so while it is an ideal read for winter evenings, it can be read at anytime you need a light read, confident that every setting, costume, language and gesture will be historically accurate, and anything except boring!

As you can imagine, I am a big Heyer fan but have not got round to rereading her books for ages, let along her mystery novels. This book does persuade me to go and see how many Heyer classics I own…

Oh no! More Snow… and some easy reads

Well, we were down to only having snow where it had been heaped up, although some of the mounds stood taller than good self. Just as I was getting used to being independently mobile once more, lo it stared to snow again. Ho hum! So why the gap in posts, you may be wondering. No good excuse, except celebrating the festive season and Son One’s 21st birthday. I will try to do better, and actually finish a book or two. Well, I have finished painting half life sized nativity figures, and even found the knitted sets. What a job… Son Two has just returned from University, and claims that it is colder here. Or is it just the change in size of rooms? As I type, a friend (MHH) is en route from the South. I hope he has packed his thermals.

Just a few words about my current reading. Does anyone else have easy reads that they are not keen on admitting to in polite society? I suppose mine would be Stephanie Laurens (shock horror!) which I got onto from Georgette Heyer, who I started reading after rereading Austen many times. I got onto Austen during a period when I needed comfort reading in which virtually no one dies and any crisis is solved by the end of the novel. I eventually reached a stage when I was rereading Heyer, so became lured onto Laurens by the desperate hunt for a new book (which did not involve the librarian disappearing into the book stock for twenty minutes)

Laurens is not as good as Heyer. That is self evident. She is far more racy as well, and her heroes are often far more rakish in every respect. Her plots tend to be less complex, and her characters less well drawn, at least in my limited experience. Her facts seem to be sound as to clothes and manners; certainly more than other Regency romances I have tried. There is a lot more premarital seduction in Laurens, so do not be shocked!

So, easy, historical reads. If you like Austen, try Georgette Heyer. A good satisfying read is The Grand Sophy

but every Heyer fan probably has their own favourite.  An Infamous Army deals with romance leading up to a really impressive account of the battle of Waterloo, reknowned for its accuracy.

An Infamous Army

Stephanie Laurens is far stronger on relationships within dynasties and indeed writes series of novels centred on a particular family or group. I have enjoyed the Lester series, beginning with The Reasons for Marriage

The Reasons for Marriage (MIRA)

which deals with a girl who does not want to be married, despite her impressive domestic organisational abilities.  I enjoyed the first two of this four part series as unchallenging reads, which while being predictable were definitely the literary equivalent of comfort food. Just what you need in snowy weather, if you can get it delivered (from 1p from a certain internet site) or available in many bookshops. Just wallow!