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The Classics Circuit is taking a Georgette Heyer Tour this month. I thought I would piggyback in a circuitous way, and add my own reviews where they fit in. Such fun! For those who have not read Georgette’s sparkling novels, mostly set during the Regency era, you have missed a treat. Although Ms. Heyer’s writing lacks the depth of Jane Austen’s novels, they are historically accurate and largely FUN to read. Going backwards, here is a recap of the first four days of the tour (I am including only the novels set in the Regency era), with my own reviews thrown in:

March 4  Sparks’ Notes Review: Friday’s Child, My Review of Friday’s Child

March 3 Michelle’s Masterful Musings Review: Devil’s Cub

March 2 Enchanted by Josephine Review: Beauvallet

March 1 Austenprose Review: Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

March 1 One Librarian’s Book Reviews Review: Frederica; My review of Frederica

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Inquiring readers: I have no doubt you shall enjoy this review of Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders by my good friend, Lady Anne, an expert when it comes to the subject of this author. Lady Anne has read Georgette Heyer’s novels for most of her years upon this earth. Smart, sassy, fabulous, well tressed and well dressed, she has read every GH book backwards and forwards. There is not one tiny detail of Georgette’s novels that escapes Lady Anne’s attention or opinion. As to her review of The Masqueraders– please enjoy. For first-time readers: Spoiler alert.

Such a daring escape…

Their infamous adventurer father has taught Prudence Tremaine and her brother Robin to be masters of disguise. Ending up on the wrong side of the Jacobite rebellion, brother and sister flee to London, Prudence pretending to be a dashing young buck, and Robin a lovely young lady…

Although we know her as the queen of the Regency Romance, in fact, many of Georgette Heyer’s books take place a half-century or so earlier in Georgian times, with its gorgeous clothes, stylized social occasions, and convoluted intrigues. The Masqueraders could be set in no other time; it requires both the artifice and the intrigue to work.

We first meet the brother and sister, Robin and Prudence, in their elaborately contrived costumes; Robin disguised as the elegant and enchanting Kate Merriot, and Prudence, appearing as Kate’s equally elegant, if somewhat more retiring, brother Peter. They are on their way to London, to settle with a family friend and await the arrival of their father. The reason for the disguise is simple: Robin and his father backed the Stuarts in the 1745 uprising, and there is a price on each of their heads. But the reason they are indulging in this amazing masquerade of switched genders is due to their father, who has led them a precarious and wildly improper upbringing through most of the major cities of Europe. The old gentleman, as their not entirely dutiful children refer to him, married their mother, a farmer’s daughter, against his family’s wishes and left England without a backwards glance. But there is more mystery here, and the return to England in this fantastical make-believe plays into it.

In the opening chapter, the brother and sister meet an enchanting young lady who had wished for some excitement in her life ,but turned to the wrong person. Kate and Peter rescue her, and shortly after that delightful bit of playacting and sabotage, Sir Anthony Fanshawe, a close friend of Miss Letitia’s father, appears. Letitia becomes great friends with the lovely Kate, who in his real person is on his way to falling in love with the young lady. Sir Anthony also takes a shine to the attractive young man, who is so surprisingly worldly and well traveled, if slightly too smooth of cheek. We watch these circuitous wooings with delight; the young lady is all unaware, but what of Sir Anthony? He is a large man in his mid-30s, said by many to be sleepy, if not altogether dull, and slow to quarrel. But, large as he is, there is more to Tony Fanshawe than meets the eye. For several chapters, we wonder as Heyer walks a careful line; Sir Anthony is clearly interested in the young man, but before we start feeling any discomfort or seeing homoerotic overtones, we become aware that Fanshawe is not so sleepy, and he has ascertained the truth, not only behind Prudence’s masquerade, but also Robin’s, and perhaps as well, the mystery of the old gentleman. He asks if they had thought of what could have happened to Prudence had her identity been discovered by someone not in love with her. Such an occurrence had not been anticipated, and they wonder what had given her away:

“I should find it hard to tell you…some little things and the affection for her I discovered with myself. I wondered when I saw her tip wine down her arm at my card party, I confess.

My lord frowned, “Do you mean my daughter was clumsy?”

“By no means, sir. But I was watching her closer than she knew.”

As the two romances work towards their happy conclusion, the larger story of the old gentleman, who he is really, and the place that he and his children will take in England plays out brilliantly. As is always the case in a Heyer historical novel, the times and the place are carefully laid out. The political fallout, the harsh measures taken against the Jacobites, and the dangers of living in London at that time all play their part in the plot, adding some weight, if not gravitas, to this fine caper. And too, there is great opportunity to enjoy several of Heyer’s delightful young gentlemen and their conversations among themselves. In fact, the stylized society that was so much of the mid-18th Century is what makes this plot work. Only in the elegant velvets and laces, the swordsticks and elaborate hairdos, long full petticoats, boots and full-skirted coats with fine gilt lacings could the brother and sister pull off their amazing disguises and the incredibly intricate plot unwind.

“I contrive,” said the old gentleman, and indeed he does. So too does his creator, in this charming tale of adventurers. The Masqueraders is a delightful romp from beginning to end, with one of the most romantic interludes, a ride in the moonlight, ever penned by this delightful and dependable author.

Other Georgette Heyer Book Reviews on this Site:

Gentle readers: Until Amazon.com stops strong arming publishers like McMillan about the pricing of their ebooks, I will not link to their site for book orders. Rather, I will link straight to the publisher’s site until the bullying tactics are resolved.

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Inquiring readers: I have no doubt you shall enjoy this post by my good friend, Lady Anne, an expert when it comes to the subject of Georgette Heyer. Lady Anne has read Georgette Heyer’s novels for most of her years upon this earth. Smart, sassy, fabulous, well tressed and well dressed, she has read every GH book backwards and forwards. There is not one tiny detail of Georgette’s novels that escapes Lady Anne’s attention or opinion. As to her review of  These Old Shades- please enjoy.

Set in the Georgian period, about 20 years before the Regency, These Old Shades is considered to be the book that launched Heyer’s career. It features two of Heyer’s most memorable characters: Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, and Leonie, whom he rescues from a life of ignomy and comes to love and marry.

The title of the book, These Old Shades, is a subtle allusion to the fact that this book is a far superior reworking of Georgette Heyer’s first book, The Black Moth, a book she wrote for the amusement of her brother who was ill. The characters in The Black Moth are at best two dimensional, but like most of Heyer’s creations, have enough humor and idiosyncrasy to catch our interest. In her case, it was the character of the villain whom she wished to revisit, develop and deepen.

These Old Shades is the first of the Alistair trilogy – she really did like these characters – and is not Regency, nor does it take place primarily in England. Like many of her early books, it falls more accurately into the category of historical romance, and is cast in mid-18th century Paris, with a short idyll at the English county seat of our hero, Justin Alistair, the Duke of Avon. He is known by the soubriquet Satanas, for his cold exactitude and prescient understanding of what his opponent will do next, as well as a certain elasticity in his moral fiber. The Duke has restored his family’s fortune through gambling; he is, as one would expect of one of the first peers of the realm, an arrant snob, careful, although certainly flamboyant, in his dress, and punctilious in manner. The historical background is the court of Louis XV, complete with its intrigues and excesses. It is the perfect backdrop for this story, for which one must be willing to suspend disbelief for pages at a time. It is such fun, and so sparkling in its writing, that one is indeed willing.

We first meet the Duke, dissolute, languid, apparently unaware of his surroundings, when a gamin comes hurtling from a side street and provides Avon with the weapon he has been waiting for to bring about the destruction of the Comte de Saint-Vire, the man who famously insulted Avon beyond courtesy. Avon buys the youngster from his brother, and establishes him as a page dressed in sober black, who attends Avon at parties, assemblies, and the Court at Versailles. The youngster, called Leon, attracts considerable attention, not only for his utter adoration of his master, whom he calls Monseigneur, but also for his startling red hair and dark eyebrows. Such hair and eyebrow combination is evident in the Saint-Vire family. As le tout Paris buzzes, Avon begins laying his plans. Leon is revealed to readers as Leonie, and goes to England in the country to learn how to be a lady. The Duke adopts her and returns to Paris with his ward. His friend Hugh Davenant returns to Paris at the same time and Avon tells him, in a passage that makes clear both the character and performance of this Duke:

“I am becoming something of a patriarch, my dear.”
“Are you? Davenant said, and smiled to himself. “May I compliment
you on your ward?”
“Pray do! You find her to your taste?”
“Infinitely. Paris will be enchanted. She is an original.”
“Something of a rogue,” conceded his Grace.
“Justin, what does Saint-Vire to do with her?”
The thin brows rose.
“I seem to remember, my dear, that your curiosity was one of the
things I deplored in you.”
“I’ve not forgot the tale you told me – in this very room, Justin. Is
Leonie the tool with which you hope to crush Saint-Vire?”
His Grace yawned.
“You fatigue me, Hugh. Do you know, I have ever had a fancy to
play my game — alone.”
Davenant could make nothing of him and gave up the attempt.”

But it is not the plot that carries the reader along; it is the delightful characters. The Duke, the darkest of Heyer’s heroes, has real charm, albeit a little sinister. He is not one you would wish to cross, as we see. Leonie, the heroine, is an effervescent charmer with a ferocious temper and an inherent sense of her own worth that grows through the book. Her character is honest and instinctively noble. She also, like any adorable pet of a large circle, gets away with being outrageous – except when Monseigneur is displeased. The supporting characters have charm and individuality as well. It is no wonder that Heyer comes back to the family twice: once in The Devil’s Cub – to revisit the Duke and his family, with a focus on the Cub, definitely the son of both his parents, and then in what is generally considered her finest novel, in An Infamous Army, where the grandchildren of the second book’s couple play out their roles at Waterloo.

If the story that unfolds is outrageous and unbelievable, the characters develop beautifully, the dialog bubbles delightfully, and we love the rollicking ride.

These Old Shades/Black Moth comparison from Wikipedia

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Gentle Readers, Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy has been reissued by Source Books. This 1950 novel features a feisty Mark I heroine who flies against social conventions at almost every turn. Georgette Heyer, who was known for her research and historical accuracy, wrote a novel about a single young woman who frequently bent the rules. Given the strictures of the age, this post explores why Sophy’s actions were tolerated.

Lady Sarah Jersey, Almack's patroness, from a drawing by Richard Cosway

Lady Sarah Jersey, Almack's patroness, from a drawing by Richard Cosway

By 1820, a strict code of conduct had evolved for polite society that protected the upper crust from vulgar and improper behavior. The code was particularly stringent for young ladies of good breeding, for one false step could permanently injure their chances of making an excellent match. As the century progressed, the rules of precedence became so complicated that inexperienced Victorian hostesses would often consult Burke’s Book of Precedence or their relatives and friends in order to avoid critical mistakes in leading guests to the dining room in the right order and seating them properly at the table. Rules of conduct covered visitations, invitations, introductions, balls and assemblies, morning and afternoon walks, rides in the park, relations between men and women, and modes of dress. A budding young hostess would spend countless hours learning the code in order not to offend family, friends, strangers, and guests.

While a young lady of high rank would enjoy some protection from Society’s censure when she made a mistake, those who were rising up the social ladder or whose families were placed on the lower rungs or moved along the fringes of the Ton, were given no such license. It was particularly important for them to develop a certain elegance of manners and deportment, and to adhere strictly to the rules. One snub from a major patron could end one’s social standing, as Beau Brummel fatally discovered when he offended the Prince Regent. In Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, Miss Eugenia Wraxton never quite understood how highly placed Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy was in the eyes of the world. While it was true that Sophy had largely lived abroad with her father and had been allowed a great deal of freedom in her actions, her father’s exalted rank protected her to a certain degree and allowed her some leeway when she broke the rules outright* (as in the case of visiting the money lender unescorted in a bad part of Town) or disregarded its strictures (as when she drives Charles’s carriage without his permission through The City.)

The snobbish Miss Wraxton, mistakenly thinking that Sophy has no social standing to speak of, tells her fiance, Charles Rivenhall: “I am afraid her visit has brought extra cares upon you, my dear Charles. Much must be forgiven as a girl who has never known a mother’s care, but I confess I had hoped that under your Mama’s guidance she would have tried to conform to English standards of propriety.” Charles, who at first sides with Miss Wraxton in his opinion of his cousin, exclaims,  “It’s my belief she delights in keeping us all upon tenterhooks!”

How true. Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy is a larger than life heroine who oozes self-confidence. Combining  brains, connections, and ability, she is an unstoppable force. Although she is the object of Miss Wraxton’s jealousy, Sophy commands the respect of her influential family and father’s friends, as well as that of Lady Jersey, Lady Castlereah, Countess de Lieven and Princess Esterhazy, who were the gatekeepers of Almack’s. Just after Miss Wraxton cautions Sophy about the difficulty in obtaining vouchers at Almack’s, she discovers, much to her chagrin, that Sophy is already well acquainted with these ladies and that her entry into that select club is assured.

Pall Mall

Pall Mall

Miss Wraxton is the sort of person who outwardly follows the rules of propriety, but whose sense of self-importance and mean-spirited intentions prompt her to overstep the boundaries time and again. Sophy will brook none of her interference and her hackles are raised when Miss Wraxton lectures her, “I wonder if I might venture to put you a little on your guard! In Paris and Vienna I am sure you would be able to tell me how I should go on, but in London I must be more at home than you.” Miss Wraxton continues in this vein, saying, “I do not think you can be aware of what is expected of a woman of quality! Or – forgive me! – how fatal it is to set up the backs of people, and to give rise to such gossip as must be painful to the Rivenhalls…” Unaware that she has put Sophy’s aristocratic nose out of joint, Miss Wraxton goes on with her harangue, prompting Sophy to say, “I am only afraid that you may suffer for being seen in such a vehicle as this [high perch phaeton], and with so fast a female!” Miss Wraxton reassures her, saying that her own character was sufficiently well established to withstand a faux pas or two.

“Now, let me understand you!” begged Sophy. “If I were to do something outrageous while in your company, would your credit be good enough to carry me off?”

“Let us say my family’s credit, Miss Stanton-Lacy. I may venture to reply, without hesitation, yes.”

This is all the boasting Sophy needs to spur into action, and she swings her phaeton out of Hyde Park and into the streets of Mayfair. When Miss Wraxton orders her to stop, Sophy tells her she can always walk. “What, and walk along Piccadilly unattended?” Miss Wraxton retorts. Heedless of her pleas and saying that Miss Wraxton’s spotless reputation will protect them, Sophy drives her phaeton down the exclusive male haunts of Pall Mall and past the famed bow window of White’s Club. “No lady would be seen driving there! Amongst all the clubs – the object of every town saunterer! You cannot know what would be said of you!” Miss Wraxton screeches. But Sophy, intent on teaching her a lesson, continues to drive along a section of London that is strictly forbidden to single young ladies. By the time Sophy drops her rival off in Berkeley Square, Miss Wraxton is white with rage.

Berkeley Square, 1813

Berkeley Square, 1813

In this masterful scene, Georgette Heyer captured the essence of Sophy’s and Miss Wraxton’s characters, and taught us in her delightful style about the 19th century’s narrow expectations of women and how their every move was controlled. Except for her spitefulness, Miss Wraxton represents the traditional Regency society woman, whose life was strictly proscribed by a seemingly endless list of rules. The most important decisions in her life were made by her male relatives and, because she was not allowed to work  or manage her own money, she had almost no opportunity to break out of her gilded prison. When she had no choice but to work, only a few poorly paid positions were open to her. A rich widow seemed to have the most liberty in leading a self-fulfilled life, but even she needed to arrange for an acceptable companion when traveling or attending public gatherings.

By disregarding society’s rules, Sophy demonstrates her independence of spirit, as well as the absurdity of those strictures. In reality, many smart, capable, and resourceful women of that era, like Mary Wollstonecraft or the Duchess of Devonshire, must have chafed against these constant restraints. Thankfully, Sophy’s father was rather progressive and he provided her with sufficient funds to allow her a degree of freedom in making her own choices, such as purchasing her own carriage and arranging for a stable. Sophy’s independence and control over her own finances rubs her cousin Charles the wrong way, for this goes counter to everything he knows about dealing with women.

Grand SophyWith the exception of her visit to the money lender, Sophy ignores the more banal rules that define her world, but she does adhere to a strict code of honor, which sets her apart from Miss Wraxton. It is this code, her unerring sense of what is right and wrong, her loyalty, generosity of spirit, and her unassailable rank in Society that save her time and again. Towards the end of the book, Charles eyes are opened to Sophy’s warmth and humanity, but he is still stuck with his pragmatic and unromantic fiancee, for, in another one of Society’s arcane rules, a man cannot cry off an engagement. Only the woman has that power. Half the fun of the plot is in discovering how Sophy manipulates Miss Wraxton into seeing Charles’s “true character” and releasing him from his bond.

The Grand Sophy is so much more than a mere love story. In this outrageous and funny tale set in London two hundred years ago, Georgette Heyer manages to inform the reader in the most charming way about the customs and mores of a bygone era, and how dramatically women’s lives have changed since then.

*Plot spoiler: Some comments about Sophy’s visit to Mr. Goldhanger in a seemy part of London – because she told no one where she was going and because no one caught her in the act of visiting such a disreputable man unescorted, Sophy’s reputation escaped being ruined. Had she been caught in the act, her Social standing would not have provided her with enough protection to save her. By the time Charles learned of Sophy’s actions, he had become inured to her willfulness. Because her intentions were pure and because she was successful in saving his brother, he cut her some slack and chose to remain silent about her deed. He even found humor in her use of the pistol. Had Miss Wraxton learned of the visit, she could have used the information to harm Sophy, and then the novel would have taken another turn.

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Grand SophyThe Grand Sophy, the latest Georgette Heyer release by SourceBooks, is a page turner that will keep the reader guessing and wondering when and how the heroine will top her previous outrageous acts. Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy, a rich widower who has recently returned from the Continent, convinces his sister, Lady Ombersley, that his sweet, motherless daughter ought to stay with her while he returns abroad. Several weeks after their discussion, Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy makes a grand entrance:

Lady Ombersley, meanwhile, standing as though rooted to her own doorstep, was realizing with strong indignation, that the light in which a gentleman of great height and large proportions regarded his daughter had been misleading. Sir Horace’s little Sophy stood five feet nine inches in her stockinged feet, and was built on generous lines, a long-legged, deep-bosomed creature, with a merry face, and a quantity of glossy brown ringlets under one of the most dashing hats her cousins had ever seen.

Sophy could not exactly be called a beauty, but no one who had met her could ever quite forget her. Not ten minutes after her dramatic arrival, Lady Ombersley wonders: “What kind of niece was this, who set up her stable, made her own arrangements, and called her father Sir Horace?” The entire family, nay all of London, would soon find out.

Georgette Heyer wrote about two types of heroines. The Mark II heroine, who was a biddable and quiet young girl, and the Mark I heroine whose independent habits and dominant character invariably clashed with the hero’s personality. Sophy is the quintessential Mark I Heyer heroine: a tall, bossy, outrageously rich and independent, problem-solving, smart and capable young lady who will let nothing, not even Mr. Charles Rivenhall’s censure and outrage stand in her way. Arriving at the Ombersley’s house wearing a sable stole and carrying a sable muff, she alights from a coach and four with an entourage that includes several liveried footmen, a doyenne, an Italian greyhound, a monkey named Jacko, and a parrot in a birdcage. Even as Lady Ombersley struggles to hide her dismay, Sophy’s cousins are delighted, except for Charles. Everything about Sophy sets him on edge, especially when she won’t give way to even his slightest wishes.

High Perch Phaeton

As heroes go, Charles is a bit of a prig. He cannot help himself, for his father, Lord Ombersley is an inveterate gambler. Charles unexpectedly came into an inheritance from a rich relative who had made his fortune in India and he uses his wealth to pay off his father’s debts. In doing so, Charles becomes the de facto head of the family. A sensible man, he proposes to a patronizing young lady of impeccable character, Miss Eugenia Wraxton, and leads a bland existence … until Sophy turns his well-ordered life upside down. The reader learns one thing about Charles that others don’t seem to appreciate – children, dogs, monkeys, and parrots turn instinctively to him, and although he might seem harsh on the surface, he has a soft heart and is an easy touch. However, his dictatorial ways intimidate two of his siblings, Cecilia and Hubert, to the point where Sophy feels she needs to help out. This causes Charles to gnash his teeth at her presumption. At the core of this book are the crackling scenes between Sophy and Charles, and thankfully they are numerous.

The Grand Sophy is one of Georgette Heyer’s “larger than life” books. Everything – from the characters to Sophy’s antics to the settings – is bigger and grander than in most of her other novels, and the side characters are unforgettable. Augustus Fawnhope is a beautiful but a gloriously silly poet whom Cecilia loves. Cecilia, Charles’s lovestruck sister, is a sweet Mark II heroine with backbone and pluck, who sees the error of her ways, but can do little to rectify the situation. Enter Sophy to the rescue. Sancia, Sir Horace’s Spanish fiancee, is singularly lazy and unforgettable in her ability to drop off to sleep in front of guests, but Sophy knows she can solicit her support whenever it is needed. Lord Bromford, a terminally boring hypochondriac and Mamma’s boy, woos Sophy with the tenacity of a bulldog, much to the glee of her younger cousins, who watch with awe as their older cousin deftly skirts his advances.

Charles’s fiancee, the horse-faced and prudish Eugenia Wraxton, is Sophy’s perfect foil. On the outside, Miss Wraxton is all that is proper, but on the inside she is small and mean of spirit. Sophy sees right through her and is determined to open Charles’s eyes before he is leg-shackled to her through marriage. Where Miss Wraxton merely pays lip service to being a lady, Sophy is warmhearted and generous to a fault. Her rarified social status allows her to behave outrageously with impunity, a fact that the jealous Miss Wraxton never quite realizes. Miss Wraxton constantly lectures Sophy or, worse, tattles on her, as the following scene between Sophy and Charles suggests. In it they are discussing her purchase of her high perch phaeton, to which Charles has strenuously objected:

“I have no control over your actions, cousin,” he said coldly. No doubt if it seems good to you to make a spectacle of yourself in the Park, you will do so. But you will not, if you please, take any of my sisters up beside you!”

“But it does please me,” she said. “I have already taken Cecilia for a turn round the Drive. You have very antiquated notions, have you not? I saw several excessively smart sporting carriages being driven by ladies of the highest ton!”

“I have no particular objection to a phaeton and pair,” he said, still more coldly, “though a perch model is quite unsuited to a lady. You will forgive me if I tell you that there is something more than a little fast in such a style of carriage.”

“Now, who in the world can have been spiteful enough to have put that idea into your head?” wondered Sophy.

He flushed, but did not answer.

Although this book provides us with a fun romp through Regency London, it does possess one flawed scene. The scene is pivotal and demonstrates Sophy’s fearlessness in helping Charles’s brother Hubert out of an impossible situation, but Georgette Heyer is a product of her snobbish upbringing and time. Her description of a stereotypical Jewish lender, the villainous Mr. Goldhanger, is old-fashioned and ruffles our modern sensibilities. For many readers, this scene is a deal-breaker (see comments in link). Some stop reading the book at this point, others feel that the book loses some of its lustre, and others like myself manage to move on, realizing that authors cannot help but be influenced by the age in which they live. A friend of mine observed that Huckleberry Finn is full of racial slurs, but these statements did not prevent it from becoming a classic. Having said that, Georgette’s description of the Jewish lender did give me pause, but after a few pages, I was once again absorbed by Sophy’s antics and rooting for the characters I had come to love. When I turned the last page, I could only wish them all the happiest of ever afters.

3 regency fansI give The Grand Sophy three out of three regency fans. Order the book at this link.

Read this blog’s other Georgette Heyer reviews here.

Gentle readers: The Grand Sophy will be released today. A reissue from SourceBooks, this 1950 novel was one of Georgette Heyer’s best. Look for a month-long kick off of this highly entertaining book on Jane Austen Today, Austenprose and this blog.

Also:

Regency Manners and The Grand Sophy

Read the review on Austenprose at this link.

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