A local author introduced to the term Regency romance a few years ago. A genre dedicated to historical novels set during nine years of British history (1811-1820) intrigued me, but not enough to impel me to seek out examples. Until last month, when I ran across a reference to Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), the originator of the genre, respected for her meticulous historical research and accurate depictions of the era.
The Grand Sophy, one of Heyer’s most popular works, proved a good place to start. Heyer gained my respect by daring to open with an extended discussion between a middle-aged brother and sister about the latter’s financial straits. Her colorful laments, added to her brother’s well-sharpened cynicism, made for animated dialogue. Sentences whose circumnavigations rival Dickens and vocabulary like “rodomontade” and “animadvert” further piqued my curiosity.
Regency Romance novels take place in the years during which Jane Austen published her work. Given the social critique embedded in Austen’s novels, one can’t help but wonder what she would have thought of the grand Sophy. Having grown up roving across Europe with her diplomat father, 21-year-old Sophy takes the stage with aplomb upon arriving at her aunt’s house for an extended visit. She immediately intuits what each member of the household needs and proceeds to make the requisite arrangements on their behalf.
Like most of Sophy’s fellow fictional characters, my reactions throughout the book ranged between admiration for Sophy’s fearlessness and censure of her outrageous presumptuousness. But all her machinations are generated by benevolence. And Heyer sets the stage so that any perceived rebellion is directed not against Sophy’s good-natured but effete aunt and uncle but against her high-handed cousin, who has taken the reins of the household.
Comparison with Austen’s Emma is tempting, but I won’t assay it, as it has been some time since I read the book. Likewise I have not read enough of Heyer’s novels to make an informed generalization; but a well-read Goodreads reviewer (Goodreads review of The Grand Sophy) asserts that Heyer’s novels are written not, like Austen’s, to comment on social forms but purely to entertain.
That being the case, The Grand Sophy provided some welcome levity in the middle of a gray northwest February and following several heavy emotional novels. In addition to Regency Romance, Heyer wrote mysteries and serious historical fiction. This site provides a list of all her titles (as well as those of some contemporaries), including recommendations: Works by D. Sayers, G. Heyer, D.E. Stevenson, and A. Thirkell.