Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy

sophyI’ve tried Heyer before but without great success: I found Sylvester stilted and predictable when I read it a year or so ago, and more recently I finished The Convenient Marriage and though its madcap escapades amused me for a while, by the end the fun had gone out of it for me. Undaunted, I moved on to The Grand Sophy — and it completely won me over. I can’t remember another recent read that has made me laugh so often, and in such an uncomplicated way. Sophy herself is enormous fun, and Heyer manages the array of other characters and their mix-and-match relationships so deftly that there’s a wonderful air of inevitability as they arrive one after another for the dénoument. The only one I got a bit tired of was Eugenia (we get it — she’s no fun!), and Goldhanger the moneylender is an unfortunate lapse. But Charlbury and his “ill-judged” mumps (“‘I cannot conceive what can have possessed you, sir, to contract mumps at such a moment!’” “‘It was not done by design,’ said his lordship meekly.”), the hopelessly ineffectual poet Fawnhope (“I have abandoned the notion of hailing you as Vestal virgin: there is something awkward in those syllables”), the languid and well-fed Marquesa, dear sweet Cecilia, and of course, the upright, uptight, and inevitably seduced cousin Charles: it’s an irresistible ensemble.  And as if there’s not enough to enjoy in those last scenes, there are ducklings!

The Grand Sophy is not a particularly romantic romance. I’m starting to wonder if that’s the secret to success where my romance reading life is concerned. The minute things get too sincerely sentimental, I tend to disengage…which means I haven’t really read read the last 15 or so pages of most of the Mary Balogh novels I’ve gone through! I’m not so allergic to sappiness in other kinds of novels (I love Dickens, for crying out loud), so I wonder why the romances I’ve really liked so far have tended to be more comic than serious. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I kept trying with Heyer. I figured if so many smart readers have loved her for so long, there must be a door for me to go through. Now that I’ve found it, the only question is: which one should I read next?

Update: So far, the top recommendations coming through on Twitter are: Black SheepCotillionArabellaFriday’s Child, and Sprig Muslin. That sounds like enough to start with, but if any of your favorites are missing, let me know.

9 Comments to Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy

  1. January 31, 2013 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    I often wonder how I would feel about Heyer if I had not discovered her in high school. As it is, her books bypass almost all my critical filters. Given your experiences so far, I am going to suggest you stay away from anything with an ingenue heroine, and also perhaps Venetia, which is often a good staring point for longtime romance-readers, because it’s probably her most purely romantic book (on the other hand, you’d probably enjoy seeing how many of the literary quotations you could identify).

    Books with sensible heroines (mostly older than Sophy)–none with anything quite as good as the ducklings but still funny: Frederica (the Baluchistan hound and the pork jelly! Yeah, maybe that next), Black Sheep (great hero–the black sheep of the title), Sprig Muslin, The Nonesuch, and Lady of Quality (which is somewhat similar in plot to Black Sheep but with a chillier hero).

    No, I am not in the least obsessed. I’m glad you found one that was fun for you. Heyer has given me so much pleasure over many years.

  2. January 31, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    A minor emendation: The moneylender’s name is not Goldenhanger but Goldhanger (first mentioned on p. 200, Sourcebooks edition).

    I enjoyed the Grand Sophy save and except for the “romance” between Sophy and Charles. She manipulated him into falling for her, and I was unpersuaded that she had conceived a grand passion for him. And the way her strong personality wilts into meekness at the end just because he kisses her roughly! (Brutality leading to submission occurred all too often in Heyer.)

  3. January 31, 2013 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    I’ve only read two Heyer novels, but I think both qualify as not romantic romances. I see someone else already recommended Cotillion, and it is a lot of fun. I’d also add A Civil Contract, which actually starts with the wedding and features a very sensible heroine.

  4. February 1, 2013 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

    I love Grand Sophy! and Sprig Muslin too. The Grand Sophy is one of the funniest, seems to be in the style (plotwise) of Cold Comfort Farm and I Capture the Castle. I normally dislike romance novels but I enjoy Heyer. Though I was rather miffed that Heyer chose to vilify bluestockings and glorify Byronic heroes – so unlike her idol, Jane Austen.

  5. Rohan's Gravatar Rohan
    February 2, 2013 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Caroline, does Heyer routinely “vilify bluestockings”? If so, I agree that would be a disappointment in a general kind of way, however pleasurable the individual novels are. A number of Mary Balogh novels have teachers as their heroines, which I’ve appreciated…another sign, I guess, of the way I want to pick and choose among romances for those that pander to my own prejudices!

  6. Ros's Gravatar Ros
    February 10, 2013 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Devil’s Cub has the most wonderfully prosaic heroine and is absolutely my favourite Heyer.

  7. Rohan's Gravatar Rohan
    February 10, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Devil’s Cub: duly noted! And “wonderfully prosaic” certainly plays to my biases.

  8. Min's Gravatar Min
    February 22, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Hello Rohan, late to the party – sorry (but have tons of excuses, none of which reference interfaces between family pet and homework …).
    Thought you might be interested to have a quick look at this http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/adult_fiction/1674283-The-Grand-Sophy-Georgette-Heyer-Bookclub-17 (one of several entertaining and illuminating threads on the very same topic).
    From memory, I’d recommend ‘Sylvester’ and ‘Venetia’; otherwise check out some of the above, which should give you just the information you seek.
    Enjoy!

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Summer Reading 2014

Rohan:
1. Julie James, It Happened One Wedding
2. Dorothy Dunnett, King Hereafter
3. Miriam Toews, All My Puny Sorrows
4. Elizabeth George, Just One Evil Act
5. Dorothy Dunnett, Niccolo Rising
In progress: Ferrante, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Maddie:
1. Judy Blume, Forever
2. Rob Thomas, Veronica Mars, an original mystery
3. John Green, Paper Towns
4. Judy Blume, Then Again Maybe I Won't
In progress: Dessen, Dreamland

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