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?