The Grand Sophy
The Napoleonic Wars are over. Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy, abroad on diplomatic business, leaves his daughter, the strong-minded Sophy, in London with his sister, Lady Ombersley. Sophy is distressed to find the Ombersley household is an unhappy one. Her cousin Charles, betrothed to the tiresomely virtuous Eugenia, is something of a domestic tyrant; his sister Cecilia is besotted by a handsome but feckless poet; and Hubert, up at Oxford, is in debt to a moneylender. Sophy, impatient of social convention, thinks they need sorting out. Charles is furious; to his mind, his cousin is thoroughly meddlesome. If only someone would offer for her and take her off his hands. So why, then, does he disapprove of all her suitors?
I’ve always enjoyed Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, and The Grand Sophy is one of her best. Her research is impeccable but lightly worn; I love her ironic wit, and her characters are terrific. So how do Georgette Heyer’s novels stand up nowadays? Much though I love them, I must confess that, by today’s standards, her books have more than a tinge of snobbery. Her depiction of the Jewish money-lender Solomon Goldhanger also makes one wince. Her heroes might be Alpha males par excellence – though not all of them are – but the lower orders, on the whole, are in supporting roles only and content to be so. All the same, at her best, Heyer’s novels offer fantastic plots, a perfectly-realized Regency world, heroes you can fall in love with and delightful heroines. Margaret Drabble called her, ‘Stylish, romantic, sharp and witty’, which about sums it up.