May 28 2013 1:30pm

Regency Manipulations: The Grand Sophy

Georgette Heyer's The Grand SophyBy now entrenched in the Regency subgenre she had created, for her next novel, The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer created a protagonist able to both challenge its rules and manipulate its characters, and a tightly knitted plot whose final scene almost begs for a stage dramatization. The result is either among her best or most infuriating books, depending upon the reader. I find it both.

The eponymous protagonist, Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy, stands out from Heyer’s previous heroines in many respects. For one, although her direct control of her finances is somewhat limited, and a fortune hunter agrees with her assessment that her fortune cannot be large enough to tempt him, she is financially independent, able to buy and outfit her own expensive perch phaeton and horses and stable these horses and another riding horse, Salamanca, without blinking. She can also finance a lavish ball, complete with the band of Scots Greys even if her cousin insists on picking up the bill for the champagne. And if for any reason she has any unexpected expenses, she has jewelry to pawn.

This immediately puts her in a more powerful position than most of Heyer’s other heroines, who tend to be poor. It also changes her relationship with the hero. Sophy’s love interest has certainly inherited some wealth (the idea of a financially indigent hero was not something Heyer could contemplate in her escapist romances), but his finances are tied to a nearly bankrupted family and failing estates, making Sophy one of the few Heyer heroines to be more financially free than her hero.

To this, Miss Stanton-Lacy adds something else: her mother is long dead, and her father more than indulgent, allowing her a degree of independence mostly unknown to Heyer’s other wealthy heroines, who typically remained under the strong and unhappy control of relatives. Running her father’s household has also left her with a remarkable self-confidence and insight into people, only bolstered by the various adventures she lightly alludes to—Spanish bandits, chats with the Duke of Wellington, entertainments in Portugal and so on. It has also given her the irresistible urge to manage other people’s lives.

As another commentator noted in the discussion of Regency Buck, to a large extent, Sophy is essentially, Jane Austen’s Emma, with her independence, social standing, large fortune, and desire to arrange the lives of other people. With just two exceptions. One, Sophy, even wealthier than Emma, and on excellent terms with some of the leaders of Society in England, can dare to go against social conventions: buying a sporting phaeton meant to be used by men; riding a stallion; driving down a street where ladies are not supposed to drive, and above all, carrying, and knowing how to use, a gun. And two, Sophy, greatly unlike Emma, is almost always right. Her main flaw—apart from her propensity to manipulate people—is her temper. And that is a bit more forgivable than Emma’s sanctimonious misjudgments, especially given a few of the incidents that set her temper off.

Right. The plot. Sophy arrives at the home of her aunt and uncle and many, many cousins. The uncle, alas, is friendly and jovial enough, but also a spendthrift, a gambler, and a womanizer. As a result of the spending, he has been left nearly bankrupt, putting the entire household under the control of his son Charles, who inherited an unrelated fortune. This, as you might imagine, has caused certain household tensions, and turned Charles in particular into a man constantly on the edge of losing his temper. To add to the problems, Charles has become engaged to the excruciatingly proper Miss Eugenia Wraxton, who feels it is her duty to help improve the moral tone and discipline of the household.

...He said stiffly: “Since you have brought up Miss Wraxton’s name, I shall be much obliged to you, cousin, if you will refrain from telling my sisters that she has a face like a horse!”

“But, Charles, no blame attaches to Miss Wraxton! She cannot help it, and that, I assure you, I have always pointed out to your sisters!”

“I consider Miss Wraxton’s countenance particularly well-bred!”

“Yes, indeed, but you have quite misunderstood the matter! I meant a particularly well-bred horse!”

“You meant, as I am perfectly aware, to belittle Miss Wraxton!”

“No, no! I am very fond of horses!” Sophy said earnestly.

His sister Cecelia, meanwhile, has ignored the love of the well-to-do and sensible Lord Charlbury for the love and adoration of a very bad poet, Mr. Augustus Fawnhope. The family, and especially Charles, deeply disapprove, not so much because of the poetry, but because Mr. Fawnhope has no money and no prospects whatsoever, and Cecelia, however romantic, does not seem particularly well suited for a life of poverty. His brother Herbert has run into some major financial troubles of his own. And to all this Sophy has added a monkey—an actual, rather rambunctious monkey not exactly good at calming things down.

Add in several other characters, including the fortune-hunter Sir Vincent Talgarth, an indolent Marquesa from Spain, various charming soldiers, and the now required cameo appearances from various historical characters (the Patronesses of Almack’s and various Royal Dukes), and you have, on the surface, one of Heyer’s frothiest romances—and one of her best and most tightly plotted endings. (Complete with little baby ducklings.) It’s laugh out loud hilarious, but beneath the surface, quite a lot is going on with gender relations and other issues.

Back to Sophy, for instance, who perhaps more than any other character, both defies and is constrained by gender roles. Unlike any other woman in the novel, she handles her own finances. Told that, as a woman, she cannot drive down a street patronized by aristocratic men, she instantly does so. And despite knowing that a woman of her class does not go to moneylenders, she does that as well.

But Sophy also admits that she cannot call out Sir Vincent because she is a woman—this only minutes after she has not hesitated to shoot someone else. And even Sophy, for all her ability to defy gender roles, does obey many of its strictures: she follows the advice of Sir Vincent Talgarth when assured that she cannot, as a woman, shop for her own horses; she displays cautious, ladylike and thus “correct” conduct at a company dinner; and in her final scenes, ensures that she is properly chaperoned at all times to prevent any scurrilous gossip. Each and every action of hers that goes against expected gender roles is described in negative terms: “Alarming,” “outrageous,” and “ruthless,” are just some of the terms leveled at her by other characters and the narrator.

Some of this may be deserved: Sophy can be actively cruel, and not just when she’s shooting someone. Her initial humiliating of Eugenia (by driving down Bond Street, something ladies are absolutely not supposed to do) may have been sparked by genuine anger, but as Sophy is correctly informed, it is also deeply cruel and distressing to Eugenia. (We’ll just hop over the many reasons why it shouldn’t have been cruel and distressing for Eugenia to be driven down a street—especially since she is only a passenger—since this is one aspect of gender relations that Heyer chooses to accept even in this novel that questions certain gender relations.)

For all that Eugenia functions as a semi-villain in the piece, a joyless figure determined to enforce propriety and ruin everyone’s fun, I find myself oddly sympathetic towards her. Perhaps Heyer felt the same; certainly Eugenia is the one woman in the end matched to a partner who will exactly suit her, and who she can live in comfort with. And speaking of Sophy shooting people, I can’t help but feel somewhat less sanguine than Sophy about Charlbury’s chances of a full recovery in this pre-antibiotic age. Sure, the wound works as a romantic gesture that binds Cecelia and Charlbury together, but what happens if the wound becomes infected?

But back to the gender relationships, something this novel takes a fairly sharp look at, not just with Sophy, but with others too. Lady Ombersley, for instance, is never told the full extent of her husband’s debts or the family’s financial troubles. The men agree that this is appropriate, but attentive readers can tell that the failure to tell Lady Ombersley and Cecelia the truth has added to the family stress. This is one reason why Sophy stresses that women have the ability to manipulate men, if they choose (Sophy most decidedly so chooses) and must not allow men to become domestic tyrants. But for all of Sophy’s insistence that men are easily manipulated, she is the only woman in the book (with the arguable exceptions of the Patronesses of Almack’s, in cameo roles, and the indolent marquesa) able to manipulate men. The other women find themselves under the control and management of men, legally and otherwise, despite the fact that some of these men probably shouldn’t be managing anything at all:

He had the greatest dread of being obliged to face unpleasantness, so he never allowed himself to think about unpleasant things, which answered very well, and could be supported in times of really inescapable stress by his genius for persuading himself that any disagreeable necessity forced upon him by his own folly, or his son’s overriding will, was the outcome of his own choice and wise decision.

(I just like that quote. Moving on.)

The Grand Sophy also reiterates Heyer’s point that the best marriages focus on practicality and kindness, not romance: Charlbury is not the best sort of suitor because of his wealth and respectability, but because he is the sort of man who can find umbrellas in the rain. At the same time, Heyer recognizes that Cecelia, at least, needs some of the romantic trappings: she’s unable to speak her true feelings (despite a lot of sniffling and hints in that direction) until Charlbury is shot. The only “romantic” pairing is that of Cecilia and her poet, and it doesn’t go well. Charles and Sophy fall in love because—well, that’s not entirely clear, but Sophy seems to respect Charles’ focus on his family and the respect he has gained from his friends, and Charles realizes Sophy’s genuine kindness when he sees her nursing his younger sister.

This distaste for romance is quite possibly why Heyer presents us with not one, not two, but three unconvincing couples. (She was probably also still reacting to fears that novels focusing on romance would never be taken seriously by male critics—not that her novels of this period were taken seriously by anyone other than fans and booksellers.) Indeed, the only two that feel at all suited for each other are not even officially together by the end of the book (though quite obviously headed in that direction.) Even the passionate kiss between Sophy and Charles is sorta quashed with the phrase “I dislike you excessively” which does seem to sum things up. Still.

Anyway. I’m stalling a bit, because I’m not happy about having to talk about the next bit, the most problematic element of the book, the one that (along with the manipulative heroine) can make it uncomfortable for most readers: the scene where Sophy confronts the Jewish moneylender, Mr. Goldhanger.

Brief aside: most editions have edited out the more objectionable phrases in this scene. The current ebook available from Sourcebooks put the words right back in, including the bit about Mr. Goldhanger’s “Semitic nose,” and greasy hair, as well as Herbert’s comment that his brother Charles is as tightfisted as a Jew, things I missed in my original reading because they weren’t in my original reading. Which means that anyone saying, “But that’s not in the book—” It might not be in your copy. But the bits I’m discussing were certainly in the original text and are still in some of the editions available today.

In any case, even without those references, Mr. Goldhanger, a moneylender who has illegally lent money to Charles’ younger brother Herbert at outrageous rates of interest, is every negative stereotype of a Jewish character. He is easily bested by the younger Sophy. It’s a moment that I could take as a wonderful bit of a woman triumphing over a man—if not for the stereotypical, anti-Jewish statements. In a book written and published in 1950.

World War II did not magically eliminate racism and stereotyping from British culture, and Heyer was not of course alone in British literature in penning stereotypical descriptions of Jews. What makes her slightly unusual here, however, is that she was still penning this after World War II, when her other peers (notably Agatha Christie) were backing off from such stereotypes of at least Jewish characters. And if Heyer’s brief sojourn in Africa had not precisely turned her into an advocate for civil rights, or indeed inspired her to think about racial relations at all, she had never formed part of a blatantly racist sect. Nor is the scene without historical basis: multiple aristocrats of the Regency period did turn to moneylenders—some of whom, but not all, were Jewish—when they found themselves burdened with heavy debt. The moneylenders could and did charge crushing levels of interest, trapping their clients in a cycle of debt; in that, Heyer is accurate.

Nonetheless, the entire scene makes for uncomfortable reading for me. Worse, I think, Mr. Goldhanger represents a step backwards for Heyer. She had previously featured a Jewish character in The Unfinished Clue, but although that character displays numerous Jewish stereotypes, he is also shown as practical, kindly and of definite assistance. She also had a Jewish character in The Blunt Instrument, but although this character is definitely depicted negatively, he is also seen through the eyes of two police shown to have multiple biases; the stereotypes here are theirs. That character is also a possible murderer with reasons to distrust the police (and vice versa), so a certain negativity can be expected. In The Grand Sophy, the stereotypes—and they are much more negative than those in the previous books—belong both to the narrator and to Goldhanger himself.

It’s a pity because, without this scene, I could easily rank The Grand Sophy as Heyer’s very best (if not quite my all time favorite.) Certainly, she was rarely to surpass the perfectly timed comedy of the book’s final scenes, with its little ducklings and distracted cooks and makeshift butlers, and the book has other scenes that still make me laugh out loud, no matter how many times I’ve read them. And yet that laughter now has an uneasy tinge to it

Mari Ness lives in central Florida.

1. CirceHellene
I'll admit, I always wondered if Heyer had been inspired by Pippi Longstocking when she wrote The Grand Sophy.
2. houseboatonstyx
So, which editions have these objectionable lines, and which omit them? Perhaps some readers can supply dates and publishers.
Fade Manley
3. fadeaccompli
What I found infuriating about the book--aside from the anti-Semitism, which was pretty darn bad in the copy I read, edited or otherwise--was that...well. As said above:

"And two, Sophy, greatly unlike Emma, is almost always right."

One of the reasons I enjoy Emma as a protagonist in her own novel is that it becomes rapidly clear that manipulating people For Their Own Good is a terrible idea and tends to end poorly. But with Sophy, the author is on her side, so virtually every idea of hers is shown as entirely right and insightful and successful; even her one significant failure, with setting up her father, turns into a cascading series of coincidences that leaves everyone better off and happier all around, so even when she's wrong, the universe makes sure it's still Best For Everyone.

And that's just...irksome. Unrealistic, in a way that silly entertianing coincidences aren't. (Let us not even get into the potential for infection, or someone suddenly moving just as you're lining up a shot and thus putting your aim off, in the "shoot that dude, no problem, it's just a flesh wound!" plan.) I like seeing protagonists struggle to overcome some challenges, but Sophy waltzes around being eternally perfectly correct, and her only real "struggle" is when she is angelically, perfectly, saintly-ly caring for a sick child.

I mean, I like happy endings. I like a lot of silly coincidences that make everything turn out for the best. (I wouldn't read so much Heyer otherwise.) But reading The Grand Sophy was like reading Heyer fanfiction, complete with sparkly-perfect Mary Sue. Good fanfiction, mind; I read about the first half of the book in excellent humor. But the further it went on and the more Sophy was Right About Everything and everyone who disliked her in the slightest was soundly proven wrong (or to be a bad person for disliking her to start with), the less I liked the story. Having the universe hand you the I Win Button right at the start makes for not a lot of fun in the reading.
Azara microphylla
4. Azara
I think there's another way in which Sophy's situation is different from Emma's, apart from the way that Sophy usually reads people quite shrewdly, while Emma misses a lot and misunderstands what she does see, so that Sophy's schemes are mostly successful, while Emma's all fall apart. On the surface, Emma has everything, but in fact her life is so limited by attending to her invalid father that she is actually leading a very cramped and confined life, whereas Sophy (though she always keeps an eye out for what is required by convention) basicallly does whatever she likes. For me, Lady Serena in Bath Tangle is in many ways more of an Emma analogue - she also should have everything, but is constrained by her father (in her case, posthumously) into leading a far more cramped life than would be expected, and ends up marrying an older man whom she's known all her life.

While the clockwork winding up and unwinding of all Sophy's schemes provides some of Heyer's most amusing writing, I think one serious disadvantage is that Sophy herself really doesn't develop or change through the book - her feelings and opinions about the rest of the cast at the end of the book seem very much what they were at the beginning.

I'd agree that without those unforgiveable few pages of anti-semitic stereoptyping, this would also be one of my favourites.

A piece of trivia - The Grand Sophy was a name used by some 18th century writers for the ruler of Persia, the way The Grand Turk was used for the Ottoman Sultan, so it made sense for the young officers to have used it as a nickname for Sophy.
Azara microphylla
5. Azara
I think there's another way in which Sophy's situation is different from Emma's, apart from the way that Sophy usually reads people quite shrewdly, while Emma misses a lot and misunderstands what she does see, so that Sophy's schemes are mostly successful, while Emma's all fall apart. On the surface, Emma has everything, but in fact her life is so limited by attending to her invalid father that she is actually leading a very cramped and confined life, whereas Sophy (though she always keeps an eye out for what is required by convention) basicallly does whatever she likes. For me, Lady Serena in Bath Tangle is in many ways more of an Emma analogue - she also should have everything, but is constrained by her father (in her case, posthumously) into leading a far more cramped life than would be expected, and ends up marrying an older man whom she's known all her life.

While the clockwork winding up and unwinding of all Sophy's schemes provides some of Heyer's most amusing writing, I think one serious disadvantage is that Sophy herself really doesn't develop or change through the book - her feelings and opinions about the rest of the cast at the end of the book seem very much what they were at the beginning.

I'd agree that without those unforgiveable few pages of anti-semitic stereoptyping, this would also be one of my favourites.

A piece of trivia - The Grand Sophy was a name used by some 18th century writers for the ruler of Persia, the way The Grand Turk was used for the Ottoman Sultan, so it made sense for the young officers to have used it as a nickname for Sophy.
Pamela Adams
6. PamAdams
Sigh- the dog on the pictured cover is incorrect- that seems to be some sort of bull terrier, not an Italian Greyhound.
Alan Brown
7. AlanBrown
Anti-semitism was unforgivable before WWII, and doubly so afterward. When reading books from the late 19th and early 20th century, it is sometimes necessary to hold one's nose as you encounter blatant and unthinking racism, which was rampant in the days of social Darwinism, manifest destiny and the like.
And I hate any story that turns on someone being deliberately wounded. It is too hard to aim, and too hard to predict a bullet's effect to do this in real life. And as for it being the heroine who does this, well, this one looks like one I will take a pass on...
Percy Sowner
8. percysowner
I agree fadeaccompli Sophie being perfect and always right is why The Grand Sophy is not one of my favorite Heyer books. Sophy grated on me. The anti-Semitism also hurt the book.
9. Andrea K
This is one of my like but not love books.

Though I'm not bothered by Sophy's near-infallability, since I simply put her in the category of "James Bond". I don't mind reading the occasionally James Bond story and watching Mr Bond be awesome, roll with every punch, and always come up with a clever quip. I don't mind having the occasional female character do something similar.

I'm always a little sad that we have little tolerance for female James Bond characters, and keep calling them Mary. Particularly when for every Heyer hero who is humble and human, we also have a nonpareil infallable in all but a touch of temper or pride.
10. etv13
I'm in the "like but don't love" camp on this one. The ending plays out like clockwork, but I never understood how Sophy could possibly have expected her plans to work. It seems to me they only work because Heyer wanted them to. On the other hand, there actually aren't all that many Heyers set in the London Season, and I enjoy the clothes, and the drive down Bond Street, and planning the ball, and generally Sophy's competence as a lady of the ton even while she pushes the envelope. And I like when Charles finally tells Herbert how big their father's debts were, and they get on a better footing, and that Charles is a really involved and loving brother (as are many Heyer heroes from Max Ravenscar on).

It's kind of weird to think that one day Charles and Sophy will be Lord and Lady Ombersley, isn't it?
11. Abigail N
When I first read that the anti-semitism had been toned down I was shocked - how could what I read be the edited version! - but as it turns out, I read the ebook, so no editing for me. It certainly did a great deal to dampen my enthusiasm for what was otherwise a successful book, but I think I would have been able to look past it if I found the central romance more persuasive. I can easily see why Charles would fall in love with Sophy - she's exactly what he needs and doesn't even realize, and for a person so used to (and burdened by) being in control, having someone else forcibly take the reins could be attractive. But I don't understand why Sophy marries Charles, and the only explanation that makes sense to me is that she isn't in love with him at all, but only likes him and the idea of managing his house and family.

This book (and mainly the anti-semitism) are the reason that I've stopped my self-directed explorations of Heyer's bibliography. I've been relying on this series to point me towards those of her books that are not just good but reasonably free of head-slapping politics that will knock me out of the frothy story.
Mari Ness
15. MariCats
@CirceHellene -- Interesting idea. The dates certainly make it possible, but I'm wondering when/how Heyer would have encountered Pippi -- at the time when she was writing Grand Sophy her interactions with children seem to have been somewhat limited.

@houseboatonstyx -- The current Sourcebooks ebook uses the original text with all of the anti-Semitic statements.

Harlequin pulled the language from its now out of print edition; if memory serves the now out of print Harper editions also removed the language. I have no idea about the British editions.

@fadeaccompli -- Sophy is called out for the stunt she pulls on Miss Wraxton and then finds herself having to deal with Miss Wraxton throughout the rest of the book, and Sir Vincent kinda pulls a fast one on her, but that's about it.

But speaking of Sir Vincent -- that little incident is one of the reasons I tend to worrythat Sophy's ability to get her way and manipulate people is going to cause major problems down the road. It's very clear that Sophy set up the Marquesa and her father, assuming they were suited; it takes just a few months of separation for both parties to realize that uh, yeah, us marrying, not such a great idea. Which suggests that Sophy is not, despite her triumphs here, always right. Problem.

@Azara - And yet, oddly, Serena is much less of a snob than either Sophy or Emma, even though she's of better birth than either of them. But you raise a good point: Emma and Serena are much more limited than they appear to be. Sophy is...exactly as unlimited as she appears to be, and the book doesn't give her any limitations. Nor does she change at all by the end of the book.

@Pam Adams -- Hey, at least they got a dog in there. Compared to most of the Sourcebooks covers, this is astonishingly close.

@AlanBrown -- The book makes a point of noting that Sophy is an excellent shot (almost everyone in a Heyer book is an excellent shot) and doesn't miss her aim. My issue was less about the aiming and more about the fact that even a "minor flesh wound" in the shoulder, however much her characters might shrug this off, could in those days be very serious indeed if an infection developed, and although it's a very funny scene that emphasizes Sophy's ruthlessness, I can't help wishing that she'd thought of another way to bring that pair together.

@Andrea K -- But most of the time, Heyer's ultra competent heroes are also described as the "rudest men in London." Or they can't completely control events -- witness even Mr. Beaumaris, who manipulates most of London and Arabella at the end, but completely screws up the situation with Bertram because he doesn't anticipate it. Part of the point of those characters is to demonstrate that they can't control everything. Sophy is ultra competent, but not rude, and her one error is with Sir Vincent Talgarth -- who has known her for years. Though marrying Charles might turn out to be a second error.

@etv13 -- The scenes between Charles and Hubert are really well done and help redeem Charles as a character.

@Abigail N -- In theory, other characters -- well, mostly Eugenia -- seem to notice a physical attraction between Charles and Sophy, and they do have those nice moments of bonding over a gun and Sophy caring for his sick sister.

But that's about it -- and although Sophy's nursing skills give Charles a reason to finally fall in genuine love with Sophy, instead of regarding her as a disruption and an irritation, they don't give Sophy a reason to fall in love with Charles. All Sophy has seen is Charles being disagreeable, Charles initially screwing with Hubert (although he does fix this), Charles screwing up with his sister, Charles taking Eugenia's side, Charles...it goes on. I can only see a couple of positives: Sophy has seen that Charles is genuinely devoted to his family and working on straightening out the family finances, and will provide a level of stability that she's never had, and Charles can and does admit when he's wrong. Otherwise...I'm with you; I find her interest in Charles completely inexplicable, even more so than with Heyer's other quarreling couples. At least Charles seems to realize what's he's getting into.
16. ErisianSaint
As far as the anti-Semitism goes, it initially made me very uncomfortable. I'm Jewish and it hit close to home.

Then I re-read it, and decided that, while uncomfortable and repugnant, it made sense for the time-period. Not every Jewish person is going to be a moral, stand-up kind of person and if you're going to be a money-lender, (and a not-terribly successful one, from the sound of things,) you're rather less-likely to be a clean sort of person. And if you take out every reference to the guy's religion/ethnicity, you still come up with a reasonable sort of villain, even if he's a caricature. (To tell the truth, I felt sort of sorry for him that he /didn't/ have a daughter like Sophy: if he had, he would have been a much more successful person.)
17. Abigail N
Another thought about the comparisons between Sophy and Emma Woodhouse: what's important about Emma isn't simply that Emma herself is wrong about her ability to control and direct the lives of other people, but that everyone in the novel is wrong about this. The theme of the novel is that no one can ever fully understand another human being, and it's full of example of all the characters - even the saintly Mr. Knightley - misinterpreting the behavior of people around them, or how their own behavior is perceived. It's basically a refutation of the whole notion of people like Sophy, who can somehow arrange their entire social circle to their (and everyone else's) satisfaction, and in other Austen novels characters who think that they can do this are either figures of fun (Mrs. Bennett, Mrs. Jennings) or grotesques (Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mrs. Norris, to a much lesser extent Lady Russell) and hardly ever effective.
Mari Ness
18. MariCats
@bayushi -- The anti-Semitism was easier for me to deal with in the edited version, which is what I read before Sourcebooks reprinted the original. In the edited version I think he does come across more as a cariacture of a villain instead of an anti-Semitic stereotype.

I agree, though, that he would have been better off with a daughter like Sophy.

@Abigail N -- Though to be fair, most of the people in Emma aren't trying to manipulate other people -- that's mostly Emma herself and to a lesser degree Frank Churchill and Jane who are mostly trying to make sure he doesn't lose their inheritances. Well, and Mrs. Elton, I guess. Still, most of the people in Emma are just misjudging others, not trying to control and manipulate them.
Cassandra Cookson
19. cass
Perhaps I read the book differently, but I think Charles is physically attracted to Sophy almost as soon as she enters the house. It's certainly evident when he encounters her in her dashing riding habit and sees her ride. She likes him too which is why they spar so much with each other. Eugenia certainly senses it which is why she is so jealous of Sophy. It's fun to watch Sophy maneuver Charles out of his engagement and it is a good pairing for both of them. Charles gets another source of income from Sophy's inheritance, a manager who will help him restore the estates properly, a partner who will love and guide his younger siblings, and someone who will make him laugh and enjoy life again. Sophy gets to be a viscountess, she gets a partner who admires her for what she is and will give her scope for her talents and perhaps restrain her when she gets too fond of managing everyone else. They will probably have a healthy physical relationship and lots of children.

Eugenia gets what she deserves too. Her surface sweetness disguises a nasty personality. I don't feel much sympathy for her probably because I've known a few women like her.

One thing you didn't focus on in the review was the wittiness of this book. The dialogue is delightful and it really shines in an audiobook. I love the repartee and the closing sequence, as you mentioned, demands to be staged (so does the conclusion of The Unknown Ajax).

I reread this one quite a bit and I will admit to skipping over the moneylender scenes. It's there more to show Sophy's courage and resolution than to make a statement about Jews in London, but I agree that Heyer should have known better and I'm relieved to see it has been edited out of the later editions.

PS Thanks for the h/t about this being Austen's Emma book in the Regency Buck thread. Emma is not my favorite Austen, but this is in my top five for Heyer.
Sean Arthur
20. wsean
Loved this one, if not as much as Cotillion. Sophy reminded me strongly of Miles Vorkosigan, funny enough--I think it's the way she sees something that needs fixing and then just goes ahead and does it, damn the torpedoes. That and her wit and intelligence.

Cringed my way through the moneylender scene. :/
Shelly wb
21. shellywb
I love this book, aside from the awful moneylender scene. I don't see Sophie as always right. She thinks she is and has the self-confidence to act upon it, but her actions don't always lead to things working out the way she'd planned, and Heyer is quite clear about that. But she is quite shrewd at reading people, and if this were to be seen in a hero I thnk it would be better accepted and just called worldly. But she, despite her worldly background, tends to be considered a Mary Sue. She leans that way, yes, but she doesn't cross over into Sue territory by a long shot because we the readers see her foibles quite clearly.

I have always been convinced of the attraction between her and Charles. It's obvious what Charles is drawn to, isn't it? I think she is drawn to similar things in him. I think that she is drawn to his earnestness, honor, intelligence, and the fact that he respects her and doesn't give in to her. She is also practical and wants to marry, and I think that pushes her decision as well because she won't find someone better for her than Charles. But I find their growing awareness of each other and their growing regard to be lovely and am convinced they have a healthy marriage, something I can't always say for Heyer's couples.
22. Abbi
This has been an interesting review (plus comments) for me as I never gave much thought to the moneylender scene as he sounded so 'Dickensian London'. In this respect - to me - he was very much more a London moneylender than a Jewish one.

I'm English, so my copy is English (1970's Pan edition) with no editing from what I can gather, so presumably this wasn't seen as being bigoted portrayal of 'a race', so much as a stereotyping of a Jewish moneylender working in London of the time. One character being portrayed as bad (within context) doesn't seem to me to be a sweeping generalisation. On that basis it could be said that the Marquesa is a racist depiction of all Spaniards as fat and lazy.

I've always enjoyed this book, probably because on top of the 'froth' it has such objectionable characters in the form of Eugenia and Buxted who get their (sort of) comeuppance.
23. elvira
The cousins are Cecilia and Hubert, not Cecelia and Herbert; and the street no lady could drive down was St James' not Bond (come on, pay attention, this taboo comes in loads of the books!)
24. Nemia
I find the moneylender scene disturbing, too. (And I was a bit shocked that on the German amazon reviews site for the book not even one reader seemed to have noticed or mentioned it.)

Cecilia is a chip from the block that Charis, Marianne Bolderwood and many other sweet, silly, pretty blondes were made. Sir Vincent Talgarth resembles Lucius Kennet, Vincent Darracott and probably some more. Lady Ombersley has many sisters in other Heyer books, too.

Eugenia Wraxton, on the other hand, is quite unique and I'm glad she finds a congenial partner. Very funny scene where the woman who shrank back from real illness cares for a hypochondriac.

I never understood what Sophy saw in Charles. I find this pairing somehow disappointing and uninspired.

No, not one of my favorites, but always a nice read.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment