The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
William Heinemann 1950
Oh boy, it’s been a while since I’ve read Heyer! And I’d forgotten how much I love her. Grand Sophy did not disappoint, and it’s certainly not considered one of her better novels for nothing.
If you’re not familiar with Georgette Heyer, she’s the mother of Regency romance and, as I tend to tell people, as close to Jane Austen as you get without reading Austen. Sure, Heyer lacks a lot of the social commentary of Austen, but her style and wit is delightful and her heroines have character. Basically she writes some of the best banter, and her novels are so meticulously researched that if she makes a statement on a historical fact, you know she’s got backup for that.
Right, so. Sophy Stanton-Lacy, a young lady of twenty, is left with her aunt’s family while her father traipses of to Brazil. Sophy, grown up travelling the continent during the Napoleonic War and therefore no shy schoolroom miss, takes the Rivenhall family by storm. She’s a force of nature, and I loved her enormously, apart from some of her more rashly manipulative stratagems. She clashes with her cousin Charles, becomes confidante to several people, and doesn’t let the Other Woman bother her (this was written in the fifties, the OW was still very much a trope, and unfortunate as it is there’s nothing to be done about it now – I could discuss the character of the OW in this novel at some length and about the vilification of restraint as opposed to freedom of manner and boldness, but maybe some other time). She quickly figures out how the people in whose company she finds herself work, and when she realises they need some help in reaching their happiness she manoeuvres them at will.
The romance side is super subtle – too subtle, frankly. You know from the beginning that Sophy and Charles (the consummate Alpha male) will end up together, but you don’t really see any of that starting to happen until pretty late in the novel, and I had to squint at it because suddenly they just decided they are in love. The build-up is almost non-existent, although realistic in the sense that even though they fight they are entirely comfortable with each other and, well, they just suit. However, the emotional build that’s the hallmark of romances these days is largely missing.
However, I think that’s because Heyer still writes in the tradition of romance in the sense of adventure (see The Historical Romance by Helen Hughes) where romantic love takes the backseat – here with the difference that the woman is the hero, not the man. Sophy gets into scrapes and engineers situations that require some guts to execute. There’s definitely no lack of action in this novel, although it’s not quite as exuberantly adventurous as, say, Devil’s Cub. This is one of Heyer’s more refined romances, somewhere between Frederica (the most beautifully subtle romance novel I have read) and Regency Buck (a delightful adventure romp around the salons and ballrooms of Regency high society).
In short, I very much enjoyed The Grand Sophy – and grand she is, and not only in height. I recommend this one for summer reading, as its light and fun and takes lots of turns, keeping a good pace. There are no slow moments in this one.