I was interested to read this novel by Georgette Heyer, after listening to the Backlisted Podcast. It is one of my favourite podcasts, where Andy Miller and guests discuss unusual books that are of a bygone era. The tagline for the podcast is ‘Giving new life to old books.’
Georgette Heyer (1903-1974) wrote forty historical romance novels set during the Regency period (1811-1820.) Venetia and The Grand Sophy appear to be two of her most popular novels.
The novel is written in the third person and begins with the main character Venetia Lanyon enjoying some witty banter with her younger brother Aubrey. We discover that Aubrey has a slight deformity – a limp, as a result of a disease of the hip joint. He is an exceptionally intelligent and articulate boy who reads a prolific amount. He and Venetia are very close.
Venetia is mistress of her own home in Yorkshire. Both parents are dead and she remains at home with the help of Nurse, who has cared for them since they were children.
When their neighbour, the dashing and wicked Lord Damerel returns to Yorkshire, Venetia’s life is set to become a lot more exciting and dangerous. Venetia already has two suitors and her reputation as a young woman living as mistress of her own home, (seen as scandalous) is always a topic of debate amongst the great and the good of Yorkshire society. They see it as their duty to get her married off as soon as possible, but Venetia has other ideas.
On the whole, I am not really a fan of reading historical romantic fiction, so it took me awhile to get used to the language of this novel.
However, I was completely in after reading the following scene when Venetia first meets Damerel and he makes a pass at her: (note: she says ‘How splendid!’, in response to him saying he will be staying in Yorkshire for some time.)
‘How splendid!’ said Venetia affably. ‘In general it is a trifle dull here, but that will be quite at an end if you are to remain amongst us!’……’Goodbye!’
‘Oh, not goodbye!’ he protested, ‘I mean to know you better, Miss Lanyon of Undershaw!’
‘To be sure, it does seem a pity you should not, after such a promising start, but life, you know, is full of disappointments, and that, I must warn you, is likely to prove one of them.’
This wit and feistiness from Venetia had me sold. As the heroine of the story, she is full of zest, joie de vivre and mischief.
I did find the story took too long to get going for my liking. The first third could have been cut down substantially, but if you bear with it until after the first third, your patience will be rewarded, as it picks up pace significantly after that, and I thoroughly enjoyed the last two thirds of the novel.
One thing I couldn’t help but notice were the similarities with Jane Austen. I’m surprised she wasn’t done for plagiarism! One of the country houses is called Netherfold (Netherfield in Austen’s P&P!) and the dialogue is incredibly similar. However, Heyer made no secret of the fact that she was influenced by Austen, so it seems to have been accepted without any problem.
Where Heyer is unique, is in her attention to detail of the Regency era. She has this down to a fine art, and it’s a fascinating look at the social mores of the era.
I would have loved to have read this book while lying beside a pool or on a beach, where I could have luxuriated in the wonderful language and taken my time to enjoy it. I felt I didn’t give it the concentration it perhaps deserved. I would certainly read another Georgette Heyer and may read The Grand Sophy next. A perfect holiday read – pure escapism!