“The Game Is Up”: Georgette Heyer, Regency Buck

The moment when the dashing, exceedingly well-dressed, but annoyingly remote Earl of Worth declares “The game is up!” is the moment I finally understood fully that the reason I hadn’t liked him much throughout the rest of the novel is that he’s both the romantic lead and a detective hero–part Regency rake and part Sherlock Holmes.

I had realized before that point (which is very near the end of the novel) that a mystery plot–or at any rate a “someone’s up to no good” plot–was unfolding alongside the romance plot, and that Worth had an instrumental part in it. It’s also not that subtle who he suspects and why: I haven’t read any of Heyer’s actual mysteries, but I hope they are more, well, mysterious! But here it’s the central relationship between the hero and the heroine, Lord Worth’s ward Judith Taverner, that is the real impetus for the novel, not clever clues, red herrings, or other detective devices.

The problem is that a detective plot does by its nature require a fair amount of withholding, both from the reader and from other characters, and the potential problems of this approach to a romantic hero are compounded in Regency Buck by Worth’s individual character. From the beginning of the novel, he is arrogant and controlling, and one of the first things he does early in his acquaintance with Judith is kiss her, against all rules of propriety and, much more important, completely against her will:

Miss Taverner’s hands clenched into two admirable fists, but she controlled an unladylike impulse, and kept them in her lap. She was both shaken and enraged by the kiss, and hardly knew where to look.

Considering that one of the pivotal scenes later in is one in which she is sexually harassed and at risk of much worse from another man who is depicted as very much the villain of that moment, it’s uncomfortable, to say the least, that the eventual hero himself doesn’t show much more respect for her. Then there’s this little speech of his:

‘Do not look daggers at me: I am wholly impervious to displays of that kind. Your tantrums may do very well at home, but they arouse in me nothing more than a desire to beat you soundly. And that, Miss Taverner, if ever I do marry you, is precisely what I shall do.’

If he clearly renounced this intention later on, maybe we could write it off as an unfortunate fit of temper on his part, but not only is he cool (as always) when he says it, but given the opportunity to apologize, instead he doubles down — and this is once they are in fact engaged:

‘I am as disagreeable as you are,’ [Miss Taverner says]. ‘You would like to beat me. You told me you would once, and I believe you meant it!’

‘If I only said it once I am astonished at my own forbearance. I have wanted to beat you at least a dozen times, and came very near doing it once … But I still think you adorable.’

Judith is not in fact particularly “adorable”: she’s feisty even for a Heyer heroine, strong-willed and independent. She’s an excellent driver, preferring to hold the reins herself (clearly symbolic!). She even takes snuff! But because Worth keeps her in the dark about what is really unfolding around her, she is put in a position of relative weakness. He even exploits her vulnerability, “allowing” her to be carried off by the villain as part of Worth’s great scheme for making the case against him.

There are definitely charming aspects of their relationship. Their verbal sparring is often fun, though I didn’t often find it flat out funny, which was a disappointment: usually Heyer makes me laugh more. Overall, in fact, I’d say Regency Buck is one of the darker Heyers I’ve read, with more anger, violence, and threat, including, again, the overt sexual threats against Judith. It also had more, or at least more conspicuous, “period” detail in the form of both literary allusions and references to or parts played by actual people, including Byron, “Monk” Lewis, and the famous dandy Beau Brummell:

The exigencies of his toilet occupied several hours; he had been known to spend as many as two on the nice arrangement of his clothes, to which, however, he gave not another thought once he had left his dressing-room. Unlike most of the dandies he was never seen to cast an anxious glance at a mirror, to adjust his cravat, nor to smooth wrinkles from his coat. When he left his room he was, and knew himself to be, a finished work of art, perfect in every detail from his beautifully laundered linen to his highly polished boots.

We even meet the Prince Regent himself, who is in some sense the eponymous hero of all “Regency” romances. He is a bit in decline by the time of the novel, but “there were still some traces to be found of the Prince Florizel who had captivated the world thirty-odd years before.”

But to get back to Lord Worth, he is in some ways a typical alpha hero. I was hoping his desire to dominate would be blown away by the end of the novel, but Judith is no Mary Challoner. For the reasons I’ve given, I didn’t find him a very satisfactory romance character, and I don’t think Regency Buck is likely to become a favorite of mine.  But Worth is a pretty good detective, at least if you like the Sherlock Holmes “I’m much smarter than you and have everything well in hand” kind. The scene in which he finally confronts the villain is a classic “reveal” scene: Worth goes back over everything that has happened and explains what he knew or suspected and how he found it all out. As I said, the case is not particularly subtle, but Judith at least is wholly taken aback by his revelations, and then reassured by his Holmes-like promise that “there will be no scandal.” I just wish that he’d also promised there would be no beatings.

“Infant, it’s madness!” Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades

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‘Monseigneur, I do not think that I can live without you. I must have you to take care of me, and to love me, and to scold me when I am maladroite.’

I had met the Duke of Avon and the irrepressible Léonie, the hero and heroine of These Old Shades, before, in Devil’s Cub — but there they are the long-suffering parents of the Marquis of Vidal, who in that novel follows his own madcap course to true love. I had heard that the full account of Avon and Léonie’s own romance was delightful, and it is, from start to finish, but especially once Léonie has thrown off her initial disguise as Léon (it’s a complicated story) and begun the vexing transformation from pert page to elegant lady.

Léonie is very entertaining during this transition, and I enjoyed the way Heyer uses it to highlight restrictions on women, from their literal freedom of movement (Léonie especially hates trading in her breeches for layers of skirts and petticoats) to their inhibited speech (“Bah!” as Léonie would say). Léonie insists on learning to fence, hates riding side-saddle, and rather likes the idea of shooting villains dead: her hot temper is something she passes on to her son, Vidal.

Léonie actually isn’t my preferred kind of heroine — I usually like the more severe bookish ones (I wonder why), like Mary Challoner in Devil’s Cub. But Léonie is splendid, subversive fun. I wasn’t so sure about Avon: he’s very controlling; the plot turns on his determination to get revenge, which he does, with particularly nasty results (though Heyer does her usually brilliant job putting all the pieces together, not to mention sustaining the action); and from start to finish he calls Léonie “infant” or “child,” which got me thinking again about my objections to Hero and Sherry in Friday’s ChildI was particularly sensitive to the issue of child brides when reading These Old Shades, in fact, because of a recent comment left on my post about “Hero as Kitten,” arguing that my discomfort in that case was both anachronistic and culturally narrow-minded.

As I wrote in my reply to that comment, I’m not convinced by the argument that marrying very young was just normal “in those days” (and I am convinced by the U.N. arguments against child marriage). But my key dissatisfaction was with the maturity of the sixteen-year-old heroine in that novel: she just didn’t seem marriageable to me, which is another way of saying I had trouble imagining her transition from being adorable to being sexual.

these-old-shadesIn These Old Shades, however, despite the age gap (the Duke is forty, Léonie is twenty), I was quite reconciled to the romance by the end, and not just because twenty is older than sixteen. Avon protests too much about Léonie’s youth, for one thing; as one by one the other characters perceive the romantic potential in their relationship, he keeps insisting that it is a strictly platonic one, even declaring more than once that she sees him as a grandparent. “Infant, it’s madness!” he exclaims about the possibility of her marrying someone as decrepit as he.

But his real concern, we realize, is not her age, or his own, but his belief that his own scandalous past makes him an unfit husband. Literal age doesn’t matter in this novel as much as experience and perspective — as one wife says sagely, “all women are older than their husbands,” and Léonie herself has  experience that makes her, somewhat sadly, wise beyond her years. For all her playfulness and zest for adventure, she has, as Avon observes,

a certain cynicism, born of the life she has led; a streak of strange wisdom; the wistfulness behind the gaiety; sometimes fear; and nearly always the memory of loneliness that hurts the soul.

Avon’s family believes Léonie will save him from his own bleakness — they are thrilled to see the rare tenderness in his eyes when he gazes at her, and perhaps even the absence of obvious desire is a good sign, as it distinguishes his feelings for her from his previous amours. (“You are not the first woman in my life,” he cautions her; “Monseigneur,” she boldly replies, “I would so much rather be the last woman than the first.”) She transforms his ancestral home, letting in light and air; she adores him but isn’t afraid of him — and, perhaps most important, she makes him laugh. The disparity in their ages comes up over and over in the novel, so clearly we are meant to be aware of it, but it turns out not to define either their characters or their romance. Even though Avon still calls Léonie “infant” after their marriage, her response only highlights her spirited independence:

“My infant,” he said, “duchesses, do not dance on chairs, nor do they call their brothers ‘imbecile.'”

Léonie twinkled irrepressibly.

“I do,” she said firmly.

Hero as Kitten: Georgette Heyer, Friday’s Child

fridayschildEarly in my Heyer adventures I was advised to stay away from the ingénue heroines. I’ve read about a dozen of Heyer’s novels now, and by and large I have followed that wise advice, seeking out and greatly appreciating the more mature, sensible, or knowing heroines of Venetia, Frederica, Devil’s Cub, or Black Sheep, for instance. Friday’s Child, however, features a heroine who is not just an ingénue but very nearly a child bride, an uncomfortable set-up indeed. Hero Wantage is just 16 when she is carried off to be married by special license to Lord Sherington, who is himself a bit anxious that he’s out of line. “Damme,” he exclaims as they hatch their scheme, “you’re nothing but a baby! . . . I don’t mind people calling me a libertine, but I’m damned if I’ll have them saying I took advantage of a chit not out of the schoolroom.”

He does marry her, however, though what he proposes and then establishes appears to be a marriage in name only: “you needn’t fear I shall be forcing my attentions on you,” he tells her at the outset, and there are no signs of passion or intimacy between them for nearly the entire novel. I wrote once before that I was finding Heyer’s novels “romantic but not sexy.” This reserve is a bit of a relief in this case, since Hero is so very young, not just in age but in outlook. She adores “Sherry” but follows him around craving his attention and approval in a manner more like a pet than a person — which makes it all the more cute but also irksome that he nicknames her “Kitten.” It would be creepy if he did sleep with her, or at least if he did so before they both grew up a bit.

I found it interesting that this very un-sexy relationship is at the heart of a novel that is actually quite sexually frank. Sherry is something of a libertine, known for his “bits of muslin” and his opera dancer. His associates are not much better, and one of them is such an unrepentant rake that there’s a pivotal scene involving a confrontation with his abandoned mistress and child. Hero’s marriage propels her, quite unprepared and without proper chaperonage, into the midst of this wholly unsuitable milieu. She is protected by her perfect innocence, but eventually even Sherry realizes that he isn’t doing at all right by his wife by exposing her to such habits and people. His friends, quickly won over by Hero’s good humor and guilelessness, become her allies and attempt to correct Sherry’s bad judgment. At the same time, though, his marriage clearly strikes them as odd, and one reason seems to be that they realize it is not a full marriage. The most explicit suggestion that to them, Sherry is wronging his wife by not consummating their relationship, comes from the Byronically handsome George Wrotham, who enrages Sherry by kissing Hero at a ball. It’s all just friendly (“There was nothing passionate in this embrace, and Hero had no hesitation in receiving it in the spirit in which it was clearly meant”), but it sure looks bad, and Sherry calls Wrotham out. Urged by his cronies to apologize, George bridles:

‘Sherry’s a dog in the manger!’ said George, his eye kindling. ‘Why don’t he kiss her himself? Tell me that!’

‘Nothing to do with the case,’ replied Mr. Ringwood. ‘What’s more, not your affair, George. I don’t say you’re wrong, but it don’t alter facts: you ought not to kiss her!’

Why should it be that Wrotham and Ringwood can see their precious Kitten in this different light but not her husband? As the novel tells it, the fault lies entirely with Sherry, whose maturation is brought about by his dawning awareness that being a good husband to Kitten means living more responsibly and, eventually, loving her entirely. It’s not so much Kitten who’s not ready, that is, despite her youth; it’s Sherry, who sees Kitten as so entirely separate from his own world of self-indulgent pleasures that it doesn’t seem to occur to him that she might have desires of her own beyond fun and bonnets.

If Kitten were a lot more than he thinks — if we knew what he doesn’t, namely that she is not a “chit” or a child but has strengths and resources and some adult perspective on the world — all would be well. But Kitten never does show herself as an adult. She’s forever getting into scrapes and being rescued; even the dénouement, which shows all Heyer’s unbeatable talent for bringing her various story lines together into a great comic finale, turns on other people’s planning, with Kitten never rising to the level of her real name. Her feelings for Sherry seem like a school girl crush from beginning to end, and when they do finally fall into a “passionate embrace” it doesn’t deter him from calling her a “brat” with his usual air of superiority. Add to that his tendency to bully her and box her ears — behavior that, to their credit, Ringwood and Sherry’s other friends find offensive (“he’s got no right to behave like a curst brute”) — and he’s far from my favorite Heyer hero, even if (like all good romance rakes) he does repent and reform.

And yet Friday’s Child serves up a lot of fun and laughs. It’s especially rich with Regency slang: I didn’t understand half of what Sherry’s “Tiger” Jason says (“Lor, you must have had a shove in the mouth too many, and I never suspicioned you was so lushy, so help me bob! Werry well you carries it, guv’nor! werry well, indeed! Gammoning me wot knows you you was sober as a judge, and all the time as leaky as a sieve!”), and the repartee among Sherry’s friends, if not exactly witty, is endlessly amusing. Also, the one truly nasty fellow gets his comeuppance just as he should. It’s just that to really enjoy these things that Heyer does so well, I had to fight off the faint queasiness induced by the other aspects of the novel.

Holiday Reading

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! It is a beautifully crisp sunny fall weekend here: I treated myself to an amble through the Public Gardens on Saturday, where the gold-tinged foliage provided a lovely backdrop for the remaining bright flowers. The Gardens are my favourite spot in the city, a perfect place for “a green thought in a green shade.”

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For one reason or another, I was feeling pretty grim by the end of last week, so I decided to treat the holiday weekend like actual time off from my day job. This means that although today I have had to turn my attention back to reading for work (The Big Sleep and Jane Eyre are up next week), I managed to get through two books just for fun. They are polar opposites, too, which made it just that much more entertaining to read them one after another.

venetiaThe first was Georgette Heyer’s Venetia, which a number of Heyer fans I know have identified as one of their favorites. It also came up in a discussion here in the summer about whether Heyer’s books ever get sexy, as opposed to romantic. I thoroughly enjoyed Venetia: it is brisk and witty, which is typical, but also full of lines of poetry (which is not quite so typical). It also has a more adult heroine,  and it does have more of that frisson that I was wondering about: “She had not enjoyed being so ruthlessly handled,” Venetia reflects after the first, quite improper, kiss,

but for one crazy instant she had known an impulse to respond, and through the haze of her own wrath she had caught a glimpse of what life might be. . . . if Edward [her dull suitor!] had ever kissed her thus! The thought drew a smile from her, for the vision of Edward swept out of his rigid propriety was improbable to the point of absurdity. Edward was sternly master of his passions; she wondered, for the first time, if these were very strong, or whether he was, in fact, rather cold-blooded.

Meeting her morally problematic mother, Venetia is struck by her lacy lingerie:

It was not at all the sort of garment one would have expected one’s mama to wear, for it was as improper as it was pretty. Venetia wondered whether Damerel would like the sight of his bride in just such a transparent cloud of gauze, and was strongly of the opinion that he would like it very much.

Well! Hardly the ruminations I’m used to from a Heyer heroine! And much later, when the usual convolutions of the plot have been managed, she “melts” into her rakish lover’s arms:

He held her in a crushing embrace, fiercely kissing her, uttering disjointedly: ‘My love — my heart — oh, my dear delight! It is you!’

It was a bit of a relief to be able to enjoy the courtship plot without any shadow of concern that the heroine seemed just a bit too young and naive to play her part in it. But it was Venetia’s smart independence that made the book particularly delightful for me: she doesn’t appreciate anyone making decisions or speaking for her, and she doesn’t hesitate to do what she thinks is best to orchestrate the outcome she desires.

brokenMy other book was Tana French’s Broken Harbour. It seems odd to call it ‘fun,’ as it is just as dark and intense and frightening as the other books in her Dublin Murder Squad series. It’s also just as well and artfully written, with just as convincing and distinct a narrator and just as complex and psychologically fraught a plot. By the end, though, I found I was actually a little weary of the melodrama and the self-consciously brooding interiority, the heavy-handed revelations and insistent reminders of just how much the case resonated with (and screwed up) the detective. Rattling off my first impressions on GoodReads, I found myself wondering if my problem is related to the subgenre of crime fiction French is working in: I don’t usually read suspense novels or psychological thrillers, and Broken Harbour is as much of that kind as it is a detective  novel or police procedural. I found myself eventually skimming a bit through the confessions and backstories just to find out what had actually happened and what would come of it. This is my way of saying “it’s not you, it’s me,” I suppose! But the novel did seem too long (not unlike some of Elizabeth George’s more recent ones). There is an awful lot French does brilliantly though: setting, in particular, and the theme of people becoming desperate as they try to hang on to their dreams, or to reach the futures they yearn for — at whatever cost, it often turns out. French is definitely the best new crime writer I’ve tried in a long time — so thanks especially to Dorian for bringing her to my attention!

And now it’s back to work, though I will pick out something to read in the interstices. My book club has chosen The Talented Mr. Ripley for our next meeting, so it might be that, though I also recently picked up Beautiful Ruins (which looked like it might be refreshingly different).

Georgette Heyer: Romantic but not Sexy?

heyer cotillionI’ve just finished Cotillion, which is one of my favorite Georgette Heyer novels so far. Like The Grand Sophy (which was the one that helped me finally “get” why people enjoy Heyer so much), it’s laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s also very sweet. I was so pleased with the resolution to the romance plot, which turns on its head the expectation that the dashing rake will settle down under the influence of a good woman — or just that the dashing rake is in any way the best marriage prospect. Sure, he’s the sexiest one . But this time sexy just means  trouble — and in fact, so far I haven’t read another Heyer that is as explicit about someone’s rakish behavior, including his intention to make a beautiful young innocent his mistress (or one that is as blunt that this young girl’s mother will happily prostitute her daughter if she can’t score a rich husband for her). In this one respect, Cotillion is not just one of the funniest Heyers I’ve read but also, in the interstices, one of the darkest.

It got me thinking, though, that while Jack’s sexiness is set up as a particular kind of problem in Cotillion, due as much to his particular character as to the behavior itself (he’s quite the smug amoral rascal, is Jack), I have found Heyer’s novels generally much more romantic than sexy: in the ones I’ve read (still a relatively small sample, I realize), there’s been really no perceptible acknowledgement of desire, little of the frisson of physical attraction. And I’m not thinking just in comparison to other more contemporary Regency romance novelists I’ve read (Mary Balogh, for instance, whose books are both much less funny and much more sexually explicit, or Cecilia Grant, whose books conspicuously up-end conventions), but in comparison to 19th-century novelists including Jane Austen (the obvious comparison) or George Eliot.

I’m thinking, for instance, of the intensity of the scenes between Anne and Wentworth in Persuasion. Remember when he helps get her naughty nephew literally off her back?

In another moment, however, she found herself in the state of being released from him; some one was taking him from her, though he had bent down her head so much, that his little sturdy hands were unfastened from around her neck, and he was resolutely borne away, before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it.

Her sensations on the discovery made her perfectly speechless. She could not even thank him. She could only hang over little Charles, with most disordered feelings. . . .  neither Charles Hayter’s feelings, nor anybody’s feelings, could interest her, till she had a little better arranged her own. She was ashamed of herself, quite ashamed of being so nervous, so overcome by such a trifle; but so it was, and it required a long application of solitude and reflection to recover her.

Persuasion-coverAFOr, a bit later, when he assists her into Admiral Croft’s carriage:

Yes; he had done it. She was in the carriage, and felt that he had placed her there, that his will and his hands had done it, that she owed it to his perception of her fatigue, and his resolution to give her rest. She was very much affected by the view of his disposition towards her, which all these things made apparent. This little circumstance seemed the completion of all that had gone before. She understood him. He could not forgive her, but he could not be unfeeling. Though condemning her for the past, and considering it with high and unjust resentment, though perfectly careless of her, and though becoming attached to another, still he could not see her suffer, without the desire of giving her relief. It was a remainder of former sentiment; it was an impulse of pure, though unacknowledged friendship; it was a proof of his own warm and amiable heart, which she could not contemplate without emotions so compounded of pleasure and pain, that she knew not which prevailed.

She’s so overcome with her feelings that “Her answers to the kindness and the remarks of her companions were at first unconsciously given.”

Or the equally intense encounters between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, when for all their hostility they can hardly take their eyes off each other? Their deliciously awkward encounter at Pemberley is quite erotic enough without a wet shirt: “They were within twenty yards of each other, and so abrupt was his appearance, that it was impossible to avoid his sight. Their eyes instantly met, and the cheeks of each were overspread with the deepest blush.”

And speaking of blushing, what about Dinah, in Adam Bede? She can’t be in a room with Adam without becoming suffused with feeling: “It was as if Dinah had put her hands unawares on a vibrating chord. She was shaken with an intense thrill, and for the instant felt nothing else; then she knew her cheeks were glowing, and dared not look round.” The details of Arthur Donnithorne and Hetty’s affair may have been specified to what some contemporary readers found a shocking degree, but we know what they do (and what consequences it has), not what they feel in the moment.* It’s impossible to miss, though, that Dinah’s attraction  Adam is both physical and nearly irresistible.

millflosspaperbackAnd speaking of physical attraction, what about Stephen and Maggie in The Mill on the Floss?

 Who has not felt the beauty of a woman’s arm? The unspeakable suggestions of tenderness that lie in the dimpled elbow, and all the varied gently lessening curves, down to the delicate wrist, with its tiniest, almost imperceptible nicks in the firm softness. A woman’s arm touched the soul of a great sculptor two thousand years ago, so that he wrought an image of it for the Parthenon which moves us still as it clasps lovingly the timeworn marble of a headless trunk. Maggie’s was such an arm as that, and it had the warm tints of life.

A mad impulse seized on Stephen; he darted toward the arm, and showered kisses on it, clasping the wrist.

Are there “mad impulses” in Heyer? There may be, but so far I have yet to detect any such erotic undercurrents. More, I have sometimes felt mildly uncomfortable at the romantic resolutions precisely because the relationship considered as a sexual relationship seems inappropriate given the heroine’s youth — not just in years, but in outlook and behavior. This was most conspicuous to me in The Corinthian, but I had a similar reaction, if milder, to Sylvester, and even to Cotillion — where things are not improved in that respect by Kitty’s openly thinking of Freddy as a big brother pretty much until they finally kiss. Even Esther squirreling away Alan Woodcourt’s flowers in Bleak House seems more like an adult awareness of sexuality than anything I’ve read in Heyer.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! I’m not complaining: just observing, and then wondering what, if anything, the novels’ aura of innocent fun might have contributed to their enduring popularity. Unlike the 19th-century novels I’ve quoted, her novels surely would not “bring a blush to the cheek of a young person.”

I’ll be interested to hear from those of you who’ve been reading Heyer longer than I have. Do you think I’m right that her novels give us love but little or no desire? Might it be Heyer, not Austen, who fits G. H. Lewes’s remark that “there are worlds of passionate existence into which she has never set foot”? Or am I missing something (see fn below!), or have I just not read the sexy Heyers yet?


*This is arguably not true. It hadn’t occurred to me until I read the notes to the Broadview edition of Adam Bede, for instance, that in this scene after he kisses Hetty in the woods, we may be meant to understand that Arthur has an erection:

Arthur too was very uneasy, but his feelings were lit up for him by a more distinct consciousness. He hurried to the Hermitage, which stood in the heart of the wood, unlocked the door with a hasty wrench, slammed it after him, pitched Zeluco into the most distant corner, and thrusting his right hand into his pocket, first walked four or five times up and down the scanty length of the little room, and then seated himself on the ottoman in an uncomfortable stiff way, as we often do when we wish not to abandon ourselves to feeling.

I may just be being equally obtuse about the sexiness in Heyer — there may be signifiers I’m just not attuned to.

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.