Book Review: The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

29 October 2013

There's something elusively charming about the Regency period that makes it hard to properly portray on paper. Jane Austen made it a diverting entity, but in many regards, its fame starts and ends with her. The Regency novels I've encountered of late, particularly those released by large Christian publishing houses, leave me disinterested only a few pages in. They lack the sparkling vivacity, biting wit, and attractive decorum of the period; the feel for the era escapes their grasp. Georgette Heyer, however, is quite the opposite. Jenny and Abigail first introduced her to me back in August, and as the premise of The Grand Sophy sounded promising, I did my best to obtain a copy posthaste.

After all, "a little Regency romance would set me up forever!"

The Grand Sophy
By Georgette Heyer
*Summary taken from Goodreads.com

When Lady Ombersley agrees to take in her young niece, no one expects Sophy, who sweeps in and immediately takes the ton by storm. Beautiful, gay, impulsive, shockingly direct, Sophy scatters conventions and traditions before her like wisps in a windstorm. But she soon discovers that her aunt's family is in desperate need of her talent for setting everything right: her uncle is of no use at all, the ruthlessly handsome cousin Charles has tyrannical tendencies that are being aggravated by his grim fiancee; lovely cousin Cecelia is smitten with an utterly unsuitable suitor, a poet; cousin Hubert is in dire financial straits; and the younger children are in desperate need of some fun and freedom.

She beccomes the mainstay of her hilariously bedeviled family, as a horsewoman, social leader and above all, an ingenious match-maker. Using her signature unorthodox methods, Sophy set out to solve all of their problems. By the time she's done, she has commandeered Charles's horses, his household, and finally, his heart. Could it be that the Grand Sophy has met her match...?

My Thoughts: This book is just pure fun. It proved the perfect fit for the last few weeks of summer: light, engaging, and vastly entertaining. Sophy and her hilarious antics (which always seem to turn out right in the end) keep the plot in a constant state of anticipation. I was familiar with the setting already, having grown up on Jane Austen, but it was nice to have some fresh material for my brain to enjoy. True, the two authors have very different styles (they're divided by a century and a half, after all), but their characters and their humor make them both worth the reading.

More than anything, my appreciation for Georgette Heyer as a historical writer grew by leaps and bounds with this book. She captures the Regency period with a fluid accuracy that feels neither rushed nor forced. There were no awkward instances where a character would say something glaringly modern, and no general sense of being jarred abruptly back into the twentieth century (Ms. Heyer lived and wrote in the mid-1900s). Rather than making apologies by adapting the eighteenth century language for a more recent tongue, the book opens on the assumption that you are no stranger, but a longtime friend, and forces you into a familiarity with even the most obscure colloquiallisms the age had to offer. For this and many other reasons, The Grand Sophy stands as an excellent example of historical writing done right.

But the best part about this book is truly Sophy herself, who is every bit as grand as the title indicates. Her wit and matchmaking skills are unrivaled, and the way she wrangles each character to suit her various purposes is both diverting and astonishing. Sophy captures the reader's heart from the minute she steps over the Ombersley doorstep, and she doesn't release it until the final page. She's unlike every heroine there ever was or is ever likely to be, and if you want to understand why, you'll simply have to read the book.

(And don't step on the ducklings!)

Pros: A hilariously rip-roaring plot filled with verbal sparring, matchmaking, and several amusing tangles which Sophy takes upon herself to smooth out. The story sweeps along quite briskly, catching you up in the wind and refusing to release you until the end. While Cecelia's relationship with Fawnhope displays that relationships built on outward appearances have no permanent foundation, Charles' engagement to Eugenia Wraxton argues that a man and woman must share more than a common mind if they are to be suitably wedded. Heyer's unique romantic pairings by the novel's end reveal that marriage must be based on both intellect and affection, rather than an excess of one over the other, if it is to stand time's test.

Cons: Sophy and Certain Other Characters are known to exclaim "Good God!" in moments of great stress or strain. "Damn" also shows up several times. I didn't find the latter as offensive, as it was true to the period, but it's worth noting for the sake of younger readers. Some of the more minor characters also tend towards flat personalities at times, but it does serve to highlight Sophy and Charles' dynamic natures.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I recommend this book for ages 14+

A Bit o' Reading For the Day:
“I promise you, Charlbury, you shall come out of it with a whole skin—well, no, perhaps not quite that, but very nearly!” — The Grand Sophy

Owling About

25 October 2013

You haven't seen much of me around Literary Lane of late, I'm afraid. The truth is, I took a short hiatus so as to focus on studying for the PSAT (so happy to have that out of the way!) and general getting-back-into-scholarly-habits (still working on that one . . .). My reading has been eclectic, as usual: Huckleberry Finn for my American literature course, Dragonwitch for fun, and The Count of Monte Cristo, at which I've been plugging all summer and still have a good three hundred pages to go (why are the French such verbose creatures?). We also threw my sisters a rather large party for their respective October birthdays, and between shopping, planning, and working, my time was stretched thin. The party had a Roaring Twenties theme, which means our attire included significantly more feathers and pearls than usual, and all around, it was quite a splendid affair.

With November creeping up on us, my thoughts have turned rather predictably to NaNoWriMo. No season inspires me to pick up my pen like autumn with all its spice and flame tangling in every breeze. I cannot think of passing by such a month without casting my pen into the fray, but that seems to be the best decision at present. NaNoWriMo will not help me in my goal to finish Rifles in the South Field by year's end; on the contrary, it would probably hurt it. I hardly need say that I don't work well under stress. Every year when November rolls around, the blood tingles in my veins to go full steam ahead on whatever project I'm currently working. Breaking that habit is hard, especially since Bree will be venturing out on her own this time. But when I was planning my schedule in August, I resolved that the wisest decision would be to pull back and not overcommit, no matter the urge to do so come autumn. I'm infamous for joining too many projects, overwhelming myself, and leaving various tasks incomplete as a result. When the month of noveling arrives, though I won't be NaNoing myself, I'll still be standing by the sidelines, cheering each of you further up and further in.

that part where the post title makes sense:

Whenever his daughter Louisa was locked away in her room, either reading or scribbling, Bronson Alcott would say she was "owling about." And that's what I'll be doing this November: stretching my mind through reading, writing, and deeper thinking. Specifically speaking, that will mean

Staying diligent. School continues ever on, down from the institution where it began, but I've made my peace with this semester's workload, and I don't think we'll be butting heads any longer. If I can only manage to keep Spanish and French verb conjugations from tangling together, all will be well.

Writing regularly. Rifles will not be abandoned or dreaded — as it is so apt to be when left to collect dust — but attacked with much prayer, tea, and steady persistance. "For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee."

Reading authors new and old. Sutcliff will soon join the ranks of authors to occupy my mental shelves, as the library copy of Eagle of the Ninth constantly reminds me from its place on my desk. I'm nearly finished with Sayers' Letters to a Diminished Church and I'm already excited to finally dive into The Mind of the Maker. My to-read list runs about a mile and a half, which is no surprise. Thankfully, our library is more than up to the challenge.

Keeping Literary Lane stocked on fresh material. Rather than focusing on NaNo and leaving my blog to various guest posts, I've resolved to post with better regularity. Several new book reviews, writing snippets, and general updates on life can all be expected in the coming month.

Life will move onward, decidedly more inky and apple-scented than usual, but all the lovelier because of it.
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