Sep 10 2013 5:00pm

When Beauty Does Not Transform the Beast: Venetia

Georgette Heyer VenetiaUnlike many of Georgette Heyer’s heroines, twenty-five year old Venetia Lanyon has never dreamed of having a London season and dancing at Almack’s. She has never even left Yorkshire, although she has attended some of the balls and other social events at Harrogate and York, and is mostly content with us. Partly because, also unlike most of Heyer’s heroines, Venetia has a job, one, moreover, that she’s very good at: she is the estate manager for her easy-going older brother, currently overseas with the Army.

The job involves everything from worrying about chickens to supervising servants and tenants, discussing winter sowing with the bailiff, doing the estate’s accounts, with occasional excursions to gather blackberries. Her life is, admittedly, somewhat lonely and dull despite the ongoing attentions of the worthy Edward Yardley and the romantic Oswald Denny. The neighborhood apparently has no girls of her age, leaving her with only two people to talk to freely: the older Lady Denny, mother of children not that much younger than Venetia; and her younger brother, Aubrey, who walks with a limp, and is more interested in books than in people.

Until a Byronic hero, or, if you prefer, a Beast, stalks into her life.

Lord Damerel owns the crumbling estate next to the Lanyon lands. As always in Heyer novels, “crumbling estate” means “moral degeneracy” which more or less defines Damerel. After running away at a young age with a very married woman who then abandoned him in Venice, Damerel has spent his time happily indulging in various vices: massive spending, extravagant travels, gambling, mistresses, and even a—gasp—drunken orgy in his house which provided neighborhood gossip for years. (And yet, not a single detail of the possible sex because, well, Heyer.) On this visit (free of drunken visitors), he encounters Venetia, kissing her before she has the chance to say anything. It’s pretty classic sexual assault, and Venetia is not strong enough to fight him off. She does, however, have an overly friendly dog who manages to interrupt things anyway (mostly because the dog, being a dog, wants the YAY STRANGER to scratch her chin). One sentence from her, and he (er, Damerel, not the dog) realizes that Venetia is a girl of quality, not a mere village girl. Since he doesn’t seduce that sort of girl (good to know you have standards, Damerel), they instead exchange a few insults. A few days later, Aubrey is injured on Damerel’s lands, and taken to the baron’s house for treatment. Venetia arrives in distress, and a few hours later, she and Damerel have fallen in love.

It’s an unpromising beginning, made more difficult by the fact that Venetia at first believes this is just friendship, not love (despite Damerel’s very obvious physical attraction to her), and Damerel’s growing realization that Venetia is far, far too good for him—and that any relationship he has with her is doomed to lead her into social ruin. Venetia, having never had social success, is not too worried about this—it’s difficult to worry about losing something you’ve never had—but Damerel believes, with some justification, that marrying her, when she has never experienced anything else, would be a terrible thing.

They might still be discussing it, except that both fortunately (for the plot) and unfortunately (for the comfort of the characters), Venetia’s new sister-in-law Charlotte arrives without a hint of warning, accompanied by her overbearing mother, Mrs. Scorrier. Eager to defend her daughter’s rights, Mrs. Scorrier is soon fighting with everyone. It’s a fairly subtle portrait: absolutely no one seems to like Mrs. Scorrier, for excellent reasons: she grates upon characters and readers alike. At the same time, Heyer quietly notes that Mrs. Scorrier’s personality flaws stem from sheer terror. It’s another example in a book filled with such examples of what happens to women denied the right to make their own choices. Not that this makes Mrs. Scorrier any less unpleasant, and Venetia realizes that she cannot remain in her own home, and the estate she has been running for years. Fortunately, her uncle arrives with an invitation to join him in London, and after a terrible breakup with Damerel (one of the most emotionally poignant scenes Heyer ever wrote) and a final rough kiss (like, NOT HELPING, DAMEREL) heads to London, and a few further surprises.

Despite these surprises, Venetia is mostly a character driven book, thin on plot. Venetia and Damerel’s romance is considerably more emotional, and adult, than most of Heyer’s romances. But for all that, it never quite loses its fairy tale elements. We’ve talked before about Heyer’s subtle use of fairy tale tropes, particularly from Cinderella, in previous books, and it’s certainly on display here. But although the book’s characters frequently reference Sleeping Beauty—with Venetia as the beauty waiting to be awakened—the real underlying fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast. Venetia, after all, like many of Heyer’s other later heroines, is content to remain unmarried: she has a small fortune, and if the life she envisions horrifies Damerel with its dullness, it is a life, and not a completely uncomfortable one. It is Damerel—again, like many of Heyer’s later heroes—who is miserable without a partner. He is also portrayed as a Beast: living in a crumbling estate, physically unattractive if capable of charm, and dangerous—especially to a young innocent maiden. Unless, of course, he can fall in love with her—and convince her to fall in love with him. And, like the Beast, Damerel does send Venetia away, despite the agony that this causes him, and needs Venetia to return to save him. (Although unlike the Beast in the Madame de Villaneuve and Andrew Lang versions, he at least doesn’t say, “If you cared about me, you’d never leave!”)

It’s a bit of a shock, therefore, when the book does not end with Damerel’s transformation. Venetia openly admits that Damerel will not change, and that she, instead, will be the one to embrace his lifestyle. The Beast remains a Beast.

This also involves, for Heyer, a rather startling openness about sex. Admittedly, we don’t get any details about the orgies. But otherwise, not only do Venetia and Damerel discuss his previous romances, but in those last few pages she agrees to allow Damerel to continue to have other women, and even orgies in her house. Exactly how well she’ll follow through with this idea is another question entirely, but for Heyer, even raising the question is quite something—even as it offers another illustration of Heyer’s basic belief that sex is really not the main thing in marriage.

Venetia and Damerel, however, are not merely fairy tale tropes, but basically variations on characters Heyer had created before. Aubrey is something quite new: a fiercely intellectual teenager with a sharp, biting wit, more focused on books and Classical history than people. He also walks with a limp, something he would prefer that people ignore. Very few of them do, something that never fails to infuriate him or lead him to say something fairly reprehensible. Not surprisingly, he has turned into a fairly selfish person—he suggests that Venetia and Damerel go on a honeymoon to Greece so that he—Aubrey—will have a chance to tour Greek ruins— but one who notices more than people realize, and who, when asked to try to restrain his biting wit for the sake of his sister, manages to do so. Also not surprisingly, he has no problem bonding with Damerel.

It’s all very satisfying, even if this cannot be said to be a perfect book, and even if I find myself wondering how on earth Venetia ended up able to have any concern about anyone else, surrounded as she has always been by thoroughly selfish people. Two other plot bits really stretch credibility: one, that this the first time Venetia and Damerel have met, since they have been neighbors ever since she was born, and she has rarely left her home. True, Damerel has spent most of the past eighteen years travelling extensively—going all the way to the Middle East, rather unusual for Heyer’s characters, and Venetia’s father didn’t encourage any contact with any neighbors. But given that both of them also seem to spend significant time tramping around the countryside, that Venetia knows and is on excellent terms with his baliff, and Venetia does visit and know all of her other neighbors, right down to the tenant farmers, and also given that her household servants are well aware of the domestic arrangements at Damerel’s estate, right down to the chickens, cockerels, and pullets, it seems odd. It only gets odder when Mrs. Philip Hendred, who like Venetia grew up at Undershaw, which borders Damerel’s land, and seems to be only a few years old than Damerel, also has apparently never met him, even though by all accounts Damerel’s family spent time in Yorkshire when he was a kid—about when Mrs. Hendred would have been in Yorkshire—fleeing to London only after Damerel joined the diplomatic service, presumably at the age of 20 or so. It’s not at all surprising, then, that no one in the neighborhood knows Damerel well—his visits in the last 18 years have been few and far between—but he shouldn’t be a complete stranger, either. Especially since he seems to know his former neighbor Lady Aurelia Steeple quite well.

Which brings me to the even less plausible part of the plot: that no one told Venetia that her mother was still alive. I can absolutely believe that while her father was alive, no one dared mention his wife’s name. I can also readily believe Edward Yardley’s explanation that by the time Venetia came out of mourning for her father and began occasionally visiting Harrowgate and York with the Dennys, that the gossip about her mother had completely quieted down. I can also readily understand why Damerel decides that he’s not the best person to tell Venetia the truth. That all makes sense.

What does not make sense is that nobody, and by nobody I am specifically referring to Lady Denny, Mr. Hendred, Mrs. Gurnard, Ribble (the butler), Edward Yardley and Conway, bothers to take Venetia aside after her father’s death to say, er, you know, your mother isn’t dead. Especially since Conway, criticized by all for his lack of communication skills and laziness, does make the effort to tell Aubrey—and of course, someone had to tell Conway. It makes even less sense that Mr. Hendred, Mrs. Gurnard, and Ribble choose to say nothing when Venetia goes off to London. Lady Steeple, after all, may spend most of her time abroad, but she has previously chosen to flaunt herself all over town, and it is not impossible that someone will mention her to Venetia—or that Venetia will recognize her. As it happens, Venetia does, although that recognition is considerably helped by her aunt’s dramatic reaction to Lady Steeple’s appearance. I suppose we could argue that Mrs. Gurnard and Ribble are by now accustomed to silence, and that Mr. Hendred is following the dictates of his brother-in-law, but bluntly, in a book about gossip, where people are still chatting about the way a footman always followed Lady Harriet Cavendish whenever that great letter writer left the household, Venetia is bound to find out, and has every right to be furious to find that this was kept from her.

In fact, arguably that anger is one factor that drives her back to Damerel. Certainly, Venetia is very much in love; without Damerel, she is deeply depressed, and misses him terribly. As soon as she learns from Mrs. Hendred that Damerel, too, was in love, she immediately makes plans to get back together with him. She is so in love that her main reaction to finding out that her scandalous mother is still alive that her chief reaction is not “yay! my mother is alive!”, or even understandable fury, but joy that the scandal will allow her to marry Damerel. To be fair, she does not seem to have ever been close to her mother, and her entire family is not exactly a poster group for Happy Families, but still, some bit of YAY MOM might have been expected.

But even being in love does not cause her to jump on a coach back to Yorkshire until she finds out that her mother is alive and that her entire family and all of her supposed friends have lied to her about this, while urging her to trust their judgment about Damerel. Venetia has reason to hurry—she’s intelligent enough to realize that Damerel will soon leave Yorkshire and can easily entertain himself with someone else—but she does not hurry until this moment. Nor does she write Damerel (although, to be fair, Miss Austen assures us that an unmarried woman writing an unmarried man who is not a relative is equally shocking.) Instead, she takes off.

I am also somewhat impatient—as is Venetia, for that matter—with the ongoing statements from several well-meaning persons that Venetia is completely ignorant of the world. It is true that Venetia has never left Yorkshire. But as the text shows, she regularly reads magazines and newspapers from London and other cities; corresponds with a wealthy aunt and uncle in the city and receives regular political reports; vaguely remembers her mother heading to parties at Castle Howard; has been managing an estate, which is more than we’ve seen most characters do, and stays in regular touch and gossip with her neighbors. She is, in fact, so well educated and in touch that she has no problems holding both intellectual and purely gossipy conversations with her new London acquaintances, and she can converse easily with Damerel on the subject of his foreign travels and his past affairs. She may not know that much about London, but she knows enough about the world to make shrewd and correct judgments not only about Damerel, but also about her new sister-in-law and Mrs. Scorrier. And yet, the only characters who do respect her judgment are those in lesser social positions: her servants, her younger brother, and her disgraced, scandalous mother and stepfather.

It is infuriating to see other characters, constantly dismiss her judgment, if highly satisfying to see her wealthy, well travelled stepfather recognize her good qualities in an instant, still more satisfying to see her worldly, experienced mother trust her judgment about men, and greatly satisfying to see Venetia decide to make her own choices.

One other note may make readers uncomfortable: the threat of rape. Venetia is almost raped twice: first by Damerel, who appears to think that it’s just fine to sexually assault lower class women, and later by Oswald Denny before Damerel rescues her. Her stepfather later insists on accompanying her for her own protection. Heyer had certainly acknowledged the threat of rape before—nearly all of her young women are escorted by men, older relatives, or servants for a reason, especially in London. She had also featured two relationships that started with the threat of sexual assault (Devil’s Cub) or actual sexual assault (Regency Buck). But these had all been single incidents: in this novel, the threat lingers.

Venetia lacks the high humor of many of Heyer’s other novels. It is, at its heart, a book about choices and gossip, about the anger that can arise when a woman is judged competent enough to run a house and an estate, supervising a large number of tenants and servants, but not competent enough to choose her own husband—or, for that matter, be trusted with the knowledge that her mother is still alive. For all its seeming placidity, and self-assured heroine, it is a book brimming with quiet anger, and despite its major plot holes, a satisfying read.

Mari Ness has decided that she could handle most of the aspects of estate management except the chickens. She lives in central Florida.

Barb in Maryland
1. Barb in Maryland
Ah, my favorite Heyer. I just re-read it for the umpth time. Happy sighs.
Great review.

(psst--the younger brother's name is Aubrey, not Audrey)
Barb in Maryland
2. Sean Bircher
Hmm... This reminds me of the plot of a Loretta Chase novel, except missing all the steamy bits. I obviously need to read more Heyer before I polish off my Regency RPG.
Pamela Adams
3. PamAdams
It is infuriating to see other characters, constantly dismiss her judgment,

I think it's because she's blonde. Personally, I love this one- and did so right from her original meeting with Damarel.
Him-I'm Damarel, you know.
Her-Yes, so I supposed at the outset of our delightful acquaintance. Later, of course, I was sure of it.

This is one of the few Heyers where you know the characters will not only have sex, but that both (or more, with those orgies) will enjoy it. No 'close your eyes and think of England' for Venetia.
Andrew Barton
4. MadLogician
Typos. Is Charlotte's mother Mrs. Storrier or Scorrier? Is Venetia's brother Aubrey or (I doubt it) Audrey?
Shelly wb
5. shellywb
Wow this certainly prompted a reaction from you. I don't think I've ever seen you write half so much about one of these Heyers. That might have something to do with why this is one of the Heyers I like better. There's some meat to the characters and their relationships (including sexuality and emotions she doesn't show in many Regencies) and too, plenty to make you think.
Mari Ness
6. MariCats
My bad -- it's Aubrey, not Audrey. I blame still being exhausted from Worldcon. My edition has both Storrier and Scorrier, which is where I got the Storrier from, but it looks as if Scorrier is used more often and Storrier is the typo in that book, so let's go with Scorrier.

@Sean Bircher -- Heyer has pretty much zero steamy bits and even less of that as she goes along. The "passionate" kissing of early books (not steamy by anyone's standards, let alone current romance novels) vanishes from about this point on. Heyer's just not interested in what happens in bedrooms.

@Pam Adams -- I think half the reason she wants to marry Damerel is she knows he's experienced and probably very good in bed, although that's not stated. The two of them have what are the closest to steamy sexual scenes in the later Heyer novels although we are definitely stretching the definition of "steamy" here.
Mari Ness
7. MariCats
@Shelleywb -- It's weird -- I really haven't had much to say about some Heyer novels, and arguably too much to say about others :)

But there's quite a lot going on in this one, thus the wordiness.
Barb in Maryland
8. Anna_Wing
Some thoughts:

On the silence about Venetia's mother, it is very easily explained. It was a huge, huge, shameful scandal, so bad that no-one wanted to talk about it. And Venetia, as a maiden lady, would not be someone with whom such things could be discussed with propriety anyway. This is not a society where sexual matters are treated casually.

Venetia was not at risk from Damerel from the moment she opened her mouth. She was never at risk from Oswald. A threat to tell his mother would have been sufficient to deal with him. Social status counts in Heyer's world.

I had the impression that Damerel was in fact reformed (he had started taking his estate in hand). Venetia's offer of a carte blanche therefore was a very nice gesture, but not one that he would have taken advantage of.
Fred Learn
9. octobercountry
I have to disagree about the rape comments; I don't think that was ever a real threat. It's true enough that Venetia suffered from unwanted male attention---sexual harrassment, as it were---but I don't think an actual rape would have resulted in either case. Damerel certainly was introduced as a cad right from his first appearance, more than willing to fool around with any village lass. But in no way did I ever get the impression that he would have actually had sex with a woman unless she was was also willing to indulge in a tryst.

Likewise (after looking through some of the Amazon reviews), I disagree with a lot of readers who were left with the impression that Damerel would have continued on with his womanizing ways after marriage, even when being given permission to do so from Venetia. I think in her he at last found someone he both respected and wanted to please---his other half, as it were. And with this woman, who he truly loved, at his side, he really was ready to give all the philandering a rest at long last. Plus, I was left with the impression that they would have had a very healthy and active sex life---I don't think he'd be tempted to stray!

Intelligent, pragmatic Venetia is one of my favourite Heyer heroines. This book may not be quite as light-heartedly comic as some of the others, but it's one of my favourites and I've read it several times.
Beth Mitcham
10. bethmitcham
In the Heyer-world, I find it very believable that no one tells Venetia about her mother. Remember that she looks just like her -- everyone who knows has an unsettling worry that Venetia is hiding a similar debauchery. The neighbor explicitly says this is why she's pushing the marriage to boring-guy. And no one would ever say anything implying sex to a maiden -- Venetia feels very edgy asking Dameral about his bastards.

I love this one -- it's one of my favorites. I keep meaning to find it on audio since I think it would be a wonderful travel book.
Barb in Maryland
11. Tehanu
but in those last few pages she agrees to allow Damerel to continue to have other women, and even orgies in her house.
I don't agree. She says it in a joking way, in front of her uncle, as I recall, and I have always had much more of a feeling that she is telling Damerel how much she loves him, and that he understands it and is responding in kind -- not saying, Oh, OK, I'll keep on having other women, thanks, but instead acknowledging that they are past the point of any pretense. Well, perhaps I'm not phrasing this very well, but I think you're taking the conversation much too literally. Anyway, this is my favorite Heyer too; I think it is the most romantic of all her romances, precisely because Damerel is nobody's paragon and Venetia knows it.
Barb in Maryland
12. etv13
"What, lurched, O well-read Miss Lanyon?" What this review completely omits is one of the aspects that made this my favorite Heyer in my teens: that Damerel and Venetia and Aubrey are all very well-read; Damerel and Venetia throw Shakespeare and Drayton at each other with abandon, and everybody knows Aubrey is a brilliant classical scholar.

I agree with the commenters who think it's not implausible that Venetia wouldn't have been told about her mother. It makes sense that Lady Denny and the Hendreds wouldn't have told her, and it's perfectly in keeping with the characterizations of both Aubrey and Conway that they wouldn't, either. I also agree with Tehanu about Venetia's and Damerel's future sex lives.
Barb in Maryland
13. JaneW
For years this was my favourite Heyer. I haven't read it for a while though. I think it is very funny, as well as angry. And although there is no sex there is a fair bit of sexual tension, which quite a few heyers just don't have at all!

On the fact that she was not told about her mother I don't find it a huge stretch while she was in Yorkshire and not likey to meet her. When she goes to London I agree she should have been told but I suspect the Hendreds' plan was to try to get her respectably married and then let out the secret once she is no longer this innocent to be protected. Which I agree she is not but it was very much the convention of the time to treat unmarried girls as if they were ignorant of real life.

i am reminded a bit of the scene in Bath Tangle where Hector is disapproving of the scandalous book, and Serena says something along the lines of "do you take me for an innocent.? Rotherham knows better" and Hector's immediate reaction is shock assuming she is admitting having had sex with Rotherham. Although Serena and Fanny put him right , Fanny does tell her she needs to watch what she says. Unmarried girls have to pretend to live in this bubble, even when they are not fresh from school.

i also agree with the comment above that the reference to orgies in the last few pages is mostly gentle teasing of the uncle, showing that Venetia and Damerel are on the same wave length. But also a recognition by Venetia that he is this rake who has a past and that he will fundamentally still be that person. I think she realises that there is a risk he will stray if she does not make him happy. More realistic than say Leonie's naive "I would rather be the last woman than the first" in These Old Shades
Barb in Maryland
14. bookworm1398
I love Aubrey's character in this book. I love the way his disability is handled, seems very realistic. Also, I love that he loves to read. And that people who do not have much interest in books think that this makes him ignorant (maybe because they have never gotten anything out of a book themselves?) but actually he has a pretty good understanding of the world.
Mari Ness
15. MariCats
@everybody Regarding Venetia's mother:

Sure, there's a tendency in Heyer novels to protect the innocent, virginal heroine -- except Venetia isn't really in that category. The text also tells us that people have had no problems repeating other equally scandalous stories to her -- stories about Damerel, the Devonshire House set, the mistresses of George III's various sons, and so on. To the point where Venetia is not shocked to find out about her mother's divorce -- she's just shocked to find out that her mother is alive.

But it works for the plot.

Regarding the rape threats:

With Damerel, here's the text:

"Before she had recovered from her astonishment at being addressed in such a style he had an arm round her, and with his free hand had pushed back her sunbonnet. In more anger than fright she tried to thrust him away, uttering a furious protest. He paid no heed at all; only his arms tightened around her, something that was not boredom gleamed in his eyes, and he ejaculated: 'But beauty's self she is....!'

Venetia then found herself being ruthlessly kissed. Her cheeks much flushed, her eyes blazing, she fought strenuously to break free from a stronger hold than she had ever known, but her efforts only made Damerel laugh, and she owed her deliverance to Flurry."

So. Damerel pulls her from some blackberry bushes (good), then grabs her without her consent or asking her name (not so good). She verbally protests (so, yes, she's already spoken.) Damerel ignores her verbal protests and the fact that she is physically fighting him off. What saves her is the dog.

So the argument here that Venetia was safe as soon as she opened her mouth isn't completely supported by the text -- since Damerel wasn't listening to her until the dog interfered. I am somewhat more sympathetic to the argument that Damerel prefers willing women for his trysts -- he does start this encounter off with a flirtatious moment, and later explains in some detail how to make a woman willing -- but, and this is key, he assumes that any pretty lower class woman is willing and doesn't seem able to tell when a woman is unwilling. At the very least he's willing to kiss an unwilling woman and ignore her protests.

Having said that, I think Venetia is in less danger from him than from Oswald Denny. The text is very clear here: Oswald is furious and trying to prove his "manhood,"; Venetia is not able to physically push Oswald off of her, and she is able to threaten to tell Oswald's father about this only AFTER Damerel has physically and violently pulled Oswald off of her to save her from being raped.

In the comparable unwilling kiss scene in The Quiet Gentleman, the aggressor is stopped with words. Here, things have gone past that part.

Regarding the orgies -- sure, part of this is teasing on Venetia's part. But there's also a very realistic acknowledgement from her that she's not going to change Damerel, and that the sex doesn't matter to her nearly as much as the friendship and understanding does. That's very much part of Heyer's worldview as well, and I think it speaks very well of their chances for happiness, since she accepts Damerel for exactly who he is, and just adds to the realism of this romance.
Barb in Maryland
16. PhoenixFalls
I guess I'm in the minority -- I couldn't get past the threat of rape in this one, for the reasons laid out @15, the fact that Venetia *both times* attempted to physically remove her assaulter and *both times* was unable to. So even though there was a lot that I liked about the book otherwise (yay to Venetia having a job! yay to everyone reading!) this is one I don't like to reread.
Azara microphylla
17. Azara
I can just about believe in the conspiracy of silence between Venetia's family and the rest of the local gentry, but I don't believe this could be carried through by all the servants and tenants as well. I would bet on the child Venetia overhearing enough servants' gossip to work out the situation within a year or two.

A fairly standard trope in actual 19th century novels is for the local pariah, when criticised for not bringing up her daughters correctly, or being late with the rent, or entertaining sailors or whatever, to let fly with some shocking scandal about the local gentry. Given what a dreadful character Venetia's father seems to have been, I think a fair dose of "Curse you, Squire Landon, how dare you say such things when your own wife is living in sin in London!" from disgruntled (ex-)tenants is far more likely than the discreet silence from the whole working class of the district that is presented in the novel.
Barb in Maryland
18. between4walls
Re: Aubrey's name, it's significant because the quote about a historical Venetia being "a beautiful desir'able creature" comes from John Aubrey's brief lives.

Conways' name probably comes from the (female!) seventeenth-century philosopher, Anne Conway- all the siblings names are linked by seventeenth-century nerdiness.

I love this book, especially the friendship between Aubrey and Damerel. And just Aubrey generally. He's a great character. And Venetia's awareness of her family's flaws, and her distinctions between degrees of selfishness, and her determination at the end.

The forced kiss in the beginning felt formulaic and annoying; the story only really gets gripping imo when Venetia and Damerel's friendship gets underway.

Someone, I forget who, pointed out that Oswald would have seen some really bad stuff in the Caribbean. I did identify with his ridiculous teenagerness a bit.
Barb in Maryland
19. between4walls
About no one telling Venetia about her mother- I wonder if those who could have thought it cruel to replace a dead, devoted mother in her imagination with a mother who was alive but had abandoned her? I do find it a bit implausible that Aubrey never even let it slip when they were each other's only real company for so long.
Pamela Adams
20. PamAdams
Venetia's mother didn't live in London, but in Paris, which, I think allowed everyone a certain level of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. For all the servants and neighbors knew, she really could be dead, especially since the Napoleonic Wars had just finished. Most important from their point of view was keeping Venetia unaware of the scandal, with the hope that she wouldn't fall victim to her 'bad blood.' As someone said above, Venetia's unmarried status kept her in the 'young girl' stage, with her abilities and intellectual capacity being ignored. I'm sure that Aubrey didn't avoid telling Venetia on purpose- he merely set the information aside as being totally unimportant, and only remembered when Venetia brought it up.
Barb in Maryland
21. Janhavi
An excellent review! Some very thought-provoking insights about Venetia being driven back partly by her anger, and about the anger that does permeate the novel. It is not that funny, but this is one of Heyer's most powerful and emotional books.

At the outset, Venetia's life and her future is quite terrible, although she doesn't think so. I agree, it is infuriating how other characters treat her. And most especially Edward Yardly, who doesn't understand her at all, and doesn't respect her in the least. The very idea that without Damerel, her best option was to marry Yardly, that stuffy man who constantly puts her opinions down and treats her like she has no brains, is terribly depressing! Bath Tangle is another book that depicts the limited choices women have, but even there, Serena's skills as a political hostess, her intelligence, etc are always admired. She is not treated with the kind of dismissal Venetia routinely faces.

As for Venetia and Damerel not having met- this doesn't seem that surprising. In the last 3 years, he must have made very few trips, and Venetia may well have refrained from trespassing when he was around. Before that, her father wouldn't have allowed it. Similarly, why would Mrs. Hendred particularly recall meeting a small boy 25 years prior? Her sons are in college, we can presume her marriage was at least 22 years ago, when Damarel was 6 years old. As for his knowing Lady Aurelia Steeple, I got the impression that this was in Paris and other places, after both characters became rather disreputable.

Somehow, Oswald Denny's behaviour never worried me, perhaps because Venetia isn't in the least scared (though she is more angry than scared by Damarel as well). The reason that Venetia couldn't phsycially fight him off and slap him was mostly because she was worried about the kittens she is holding- she didn't even try. Damarel's behaviour on the other hand, I have always hated.

The orgies may be a bit of a joke, but Venetia is not at all confident that Damarel will be faithful. She tells her mother that although she doesnt know if he will be faithful, she thinks he will always love her as they are such great friends. Jennifer Kloester, Heyer's biographer seems to think this is a good description of Heyer's marriage.

Damarel does reform quite a bit- managing his estates, selling his 'disposible assets' to get rid of debt, using his aunts to re-enter society and become more respectable.
Barb in Maryland
22. Kate Pearce
I think Venetia was speaking 'tongue-in-cheek' at the end about the orgies, it's a very self-deprecating British Humor thing to do. :)
Barb in Maryland
23. Alx Uttermann
I have to disagree with the premise that the Beast in this novel remains un-changed, and un-transformed in the end. Venetia is a one of Heyer's novels that never ceases to amaze & inspire me, and my feelings are so strong precisely because of the radical transformation I see in Damerel's heart, life & expanded understanding of life, finally, through love.

when we first meet him, he's a cynical, heart-broken guy, incapable of love & highly self-deprecating (his comments about his early love having only wanted him for the money are quite revealing, & obviously set the tone for the rest of his life until meeting Venetia - in terms of how he sees himself vis-a-vis women). he's in so much pain, internally, so overly well-masked by outrageous behavior, that he couldn't possibly spare a real thought for another human being.

but the love of Venetia, a real friendship that goes far beyond the obvious early physical attraction, coupled with his own growing affection for Aubrey, starts to melt that internal ice. I think it's a brilliant exposition of the mechanism of initial desire becoming, over time, something much more lasting and potent, between two people who understand one another deeply.

at the end, it's pretty obvious that Damerel is so much in love with his wife-to-be (he would even sacrifice his own selfish happiness for what he thinks would be better for hers, namely, NOT a marriage with such a reprobate as himself) that he's not bloody likely to go looking anywhere else for his sexual or other satisfactions.

her comments about presiding over orgies with him -- as I recall, said mischievously in front of her uncle, lol, to fan the flames of the uncle's righteous moral indignation -- are uttered with the acceptance of Damerel's past inclinations and the surety that he HAS, in fact, changed a great deal & won't need to indulge in those any more.

either way, she's willing to accept him as he is -- to me, that's the real essence of love. no one can resist that kind of unconditional understanding.

we've seen enough of Damerel's character throughout the novel to know that he's going to do his best to live up to deserving this amazing woman as his friend and life-mate.

I feel that Venetia is less about 'choices and gossip' than it is a novel extolling the transforming power of love. no wonder it's so compelling!!!!

(on a personal note, too, I must say that oddly enough, in my own life, the love of my life is a man whose past was rather rakish... & since we met, fell in love, friendship and understanding -- coupled with my acceptance of his wild ways -- he's been the 'pattern-card of virtue' & fidelity for years now. I've often thought of the story-line of Venetia (or These Old Shades,) and the character of Damerel, with a rich chuckle, appreciative of the kind of in-joke it represents to me, personally. so, yes, life sometimes can be just as strangely fraught with apparent impossibilities - and transformations! - as fiction.)

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