Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

When the Classics Circuit featured Georgette Heyer in the author spotlight back in 2010, I pooh-poohed the Regency romances and chose a mystery instead.  It was good but not nearly on the level of Agatha Christie, so I kind of gave up on her -- I'm not much of a romance reader and I'd heard that the Regency stuff was Jane Austenish, and I am a total snob when it comes to Austen.  I rarely read any of those sequels/prequels/readalikes, et cetera.  They just never measure up to my beloved Jane, and I get annoyed when authors borrow characters that someone else has created.  [Note:  I'm not trying to belittle anyone who does like such books, it's just my little quirk].

Anyhow, my Jane Austen book group is meeting this weekend, and this time around we decided to try some of Heyer's Regency books.  Honestly, we have to be really creative to keep it fresh -- Austen only wrote six complete novels, and we've been meeting every month for almost three years, so you do the math.  I don't think we've repeated a book yet -- we stretch it out with movie viewings, related books, and, yes, the occasional sequel.  The library didn't have enough copies of any single novel, so just for fun we decided to each just pick one and we can do a general discussion, kind of like a series of mini-booktalks.  So I chose The Grand Sophy, which is supposed to be one of the best.  And I am SO sorry I didn't read Heyer before, because it was a hoot!!  I was delighted.

In a nutshell:  Sophy Stanton-Lacy is the twenty-year-old daughter of Sir Horace, a widower and some sort of British diplomat.  After years of dragging his only child around the continent, he's going off to Brazil and can't take her along or leave her unattended, so he foists her off on his sister, Lady Ombersley, who lives in London with her spendthrift husband and a gazillion children, some of whom are about Sophy's age.  They're hoping they can get Sophy married off before he returns from Brazil, and Sir Horace has plenty of cash to foot the bill.

However, Sophy is no shrinking violet.  Within weeks of her arrival, she has turned the household upside-down and is rearranging everyone's lives -- she's trying to prevent two of her cousins from making unsuitable matches -- her cousin Cecilia is in love with a poor but aristocratic Byronic-type poet wannabe, and her older cousin Charles from marrying a shrew named Eugenia.  Charles is independently wealthy since his great-uncle made him the heir, so he's paid off all his father's debts and is calling all the shots.  Naturally, he and headstrong Sophy clash from the beginning.   Will this be a Darcy/Lizzie romance?  Will Sophy find a suitable husband for Cecilia?  All will be revealed, naturally!

Sophy reminds me a lot of Emma Woodhouse -- if Emma was in London and had moved in with, say, Mr. Darcy's family (with way more kids) -- and if he was engaged to Caroline Bingley!   Naturally, the writing is not on par with Austen's satire, but it's pretty funny, and Heyer packs in a lot of Regency vocabulary which shows how much research she did on the period.   Her attention to detail is very impressive.

The plot itself was fairly predictable, and I found the characters a little flat.  And I have to admit the ending was a little silly -- it sort of reminded me of a Regency screwball comedy, a bit like an Oscar Wilde farce.  However,  I really enjoyed spending time with the characters in Sophy's world.  It was a fun, light read, and a nice contrast to the rather depressing Zola novel which I finished the week before.  It's definitely a potato chip book, but a very high-class one. So, I guess you could call it a quality potato chips book.  Quality Regency potato chips?  Anyway,  I can see why her books were so popular, and why they've endured.  Heyer wrote more than 30 other Regency romances, most of which are available at my library.

18 comments:

  1. I'm like you as an Austen-ite with no interest the sequels, etc.! I was also quite skeptical of Heyer and ended up being pleasantly surprised. My favourites of hers so far are The Reluctant Widow and Friday's Child. :)

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  2. Georgette Heyer was a new discovery for me last year. I've only read a few of her books but I'm finding them to be fun, entertaining reads. I haven't read this one yet but it does seem to be one of her more popular books so I'm looking forward to it!

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  3. I have a few Janeite friends who love Heyer and so I've read a fair number of the years, and enjoy them. Like you, I eschew Romances in general, but I make an exception for Heyers.

    I really enjoyed your review--definitely Regency screwball comedy :)

    My favorite Heyers are The Reluctant Widow, Venetia, Sylvester, and An Infamous Army. If you like audio books, you should let Richard Armitage read them to you...he does a fabulous job.

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  4. The Grand Sophy is one of my favorites. There are so many wonderful scenes, starting with her arrival complete with Italian greyhound and parrot. I don't think Heyer wrote romances, though her books are marketed that way. I think she wrote novels, historical fiction and social comedies (definitely with a screwball element). It's always interesting to see which books are favorites. Mine are The Quiet Gentleman, The Talisman Ring, The Unknown Ajax, and Cotillion.

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  5. I loved The Grand Sophy! I've made a deal with myself that I can have one Georgette Heyer book at a time, not more than four or five a year, when I really need a comfort book. That way I will make them last really long and I will have new comfort books for years.

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  6. That's almost exactly what I thought...snob, hoot, potato chips. :)

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  7. Eva -- thanks for the suggestions!

    Helen -- it was so much better than I expected. I liked it much better than the mystery I read last year.

    JaneGS -- Richard Armitage narrates!?!? Be still, my heart!!! MUST. FIND. THESE.

    Lisa May -- I suppose it depends on your definition of a romance. I think some of them have been published by Harlequin so that's why I think of them as romances.

    Jenny -- I'm happy to have discovered her but I've just added about 30 more books to the TBR list. Is this good or bad?

    Audrey -- I stole "potato chip book" from my husband; sadly, I'm not that clever!

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  8. I love how you called it a high-end potato chip book! Fantastic characterization. I do like Heyer, who I discovered this year. But I agree, it's pretty light stuff -- perfect for summer.

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  9. Heyer's Regencies are fun reads. I love the period lingo in these novels. Yeah, they're more "comedy of manners" than traditional romances.

    They are light and charming stories, but my favorites are The Nonesuch, The Unknown Ajax, and Venetia.

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  10. I'll second the recommendations for The Nonesuch, Sylvester and The Reluctant Widow! Glad you've finally tried a Heyer "romance".

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  11. My Granny was a big Heyer fan but I always turned up my nose at her books. Thirty years on I'm reading them too. Granny was right!

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  12. This post makes me extra glad to have bought to Georgette Heyer books recently! She sounds like a perfect comfort author.

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  13. This is one author I really need to try. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. I keep meaning to read Heyer and never get around to it. Her books do sound like fun!

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  15. I don't think I will adore Heyer as some bloggers do, but I want to try her anyway because so many people DO adore her. I bought her book Charity Girl in the library book sale recently and hope to see what she's all about soon. I love potato chips so I might surprise myself and like her :)

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  16. I tried one by Heyer and thought it was more of a pork rind of a book--yuck! Maybe I should try this one because I do like potato chips. The Convenient Marriage--that was the one I read.

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  17. I still haven't dipped my toe in with Georgette Heyer, because like you I'm worried about her being Austen-lite. Now you've given a positive review I think I really will try her!

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  18. Like her books so much. Loved the review as well.

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