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“By all that’s wonderful, it’s the Grand Sophy!”

What can I say about this book? It was one of my favorites as a kid. There is nothing spectacular about the book (except of course, Sophy). This book does not particularly have romance in it, neither does it have a lot of action or a huge amount of period information.

What is does have it wonderful characters and a beautifully told story.

(My ratings at the bottom of  this post)

The Grand Sophy begins with Sophia’s inimitable father Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy informing his sister Lady Ombersely that his “little Sophy” (who is a shocking twenty years old and single) would stay with her for for some time while he went to Brazil for his diplomatic work. While Sir Horace is a handsome bachelor-at-heart who works in the Diplomatic Service and is intelligent, his sister is a middle aged, comfortably married, somewhat feather brained lady.

She does not have much choice in front of Sir Horace’s will to oppose him, and so he vanishes as quickly as he came, and the family waited the little Sophy’s appearance – expecting a small, cowed girl (having lived her whole life with Sir Horace and his erratic ways), lost and embarrassed at having to come stay in an almost-unknown house. And considering Sir Horace mentions his daughter isnt exactly pretty, her Aunt looks forward to launching her in London, and getting her married.

Meanwhile we understand that Lord Ombersely lost all his fortune in gambling, while his eldest son Charles Rivenhall got a fortune from an Uncle settled in India upon his death. So Charles now provides for the family and hence makes most of the important decisions. He is also engaged to Miss Wraxton, daughter of an Earl – very ‘correct’ and disagreable and much disliked by the rest of the family. Apart from them there is Cecilia, Charles’ younger and extremely pretty sister who is engaged to Lord Charlbury. However, Lord Charlbury has Mumps, which is quite unromantic for the Romantic Cecilia and she finds herself preferring the beautiful poet Augustus Fawnhope. There are further younger brothers and sisters, but Hubert who goes to Oxford is the only one worth mentioning for the plot.

After months of waiting, Sophy finally arrives.

“Miss Stanton-Lacy’s arrival was certainly impressive.  Four steaming horses drew her chaise, two outriders accompanied it, and behind it rode a middle-aged groom, leading a splendid black horse.  The steps of the chaise were let down, the door opened, and out leaped an Italian greyhound, to be followed a moment later by a gaunt-looking female, holding a dressing bag, three parasols, and a bird cage.  Lastly, Miss Stanton-Lacy herself descended, thanking the footman for his proffered help, but requesting him instead to hold her poor little Jacko.  Her poor little Jacko was seen to be a monkey in a scarlet coat”

She takes the house by storm. Not only by her many pets, but also her disarming manner which makes instant friends with all the children as well as Lady Omberely. She is rich and dressed extremely well, and unconsicous of herself. She enters the house laughing, talking, and unconsicouly imposing her will on everyone.

Sir Horace was right.  Sophy would never be a beauty.  She was by far too tall; nose and mouth were both too large; and a pair of expressive gray eyes could scarcely be held to atone entirely for these defects.  Only you could not forget Sophy, even though you could not recall the shape of her face or the color of her eyes.

Soon the house is turned topsy-turvy. Sophy’s energy is infectious, but more than that, her carefree vibrant nature and her attitude is something that was missing in the house and affects everyone. Sophy is also someone who likes to make everyone around her happy. So she meddles. Only, when Sophy meddles, no one minds and everyone loves her all the more.

So Sophy embarks on helping Cecilia decide between Augustus and Lord Charlbury. She takes every opportunity to anger Charles whenever she can, and has some wonderful exchanges between her and Miss Wraxton (who has a very high opinion of herself).

She drives around the park in a perch phaeton – and carries it off to the admiration of London. Far from being new to the city, she finds Diplomatic and Army acquaintances from her sojourns in Spain and other war places. And takes the town by storm from her first Ball, has numberous admirers and many marriage proposals. Even though she is not a Beauty, she is, as nicknamed by her old acquaintances, ‘The Grand Sophy‘ – and you, the reader, believes every bit of that phrase.

We soon discover that Sir Horace is engaged to a Marquesa, Sancia, a spanish widow who is indolent and rich, and Sophy is trying her level best to keep Sancia engaged and loyal to Sir Horace while he is in Brazil. Sancia is wonderful as the lazy exotic woman who lives and let live.

“but Hubert, making a hearty meal, began to thank the Marquesa a very good sort of a woman after all.  When he saw how many coffee creams, Italian risks, and brandy cherries she herself consumed, in the most negligent fashion, his manner toward her became tinged with respect bordering on awe.”

Augustus Fawnhope is as comic as he is sincere and abstract. He does not realise when he is unwelcome and his manner makes it difficult for anyone to be angry at him directly.

‘I, with my fair Cecilia, to Merton now will go, Where softly flows the Wandle, and daffodils that blow‘–What an ugly word is Wandlel How displeasing to the ear!  Why do you frown at me?  May I not go with you?”

Soon, things start heating up at Obersely House. Hubert, a playful boy studying in Oxford is unable to manage his gaming debts and Sophy comes to the rescue – and How! She manages the money and holds the money lender at gun-point in his own lair. That passage alone is worth the book!

Mr. Goldhanger had the oddest feeling that the world had begun to revolve in reverse.  For years he had taken care never to get into any situation he was unable to command, and his visitors were more in the habit of pleading with him than of locking the door and ordering him to dust the furniture.

The Grand Sophy is full of small adventures. The everyday kind that make the them real, yet can only happen in the presence of Sophy. Like locking people up in gardens, women driving through roads where only men go, mayhem caused by animals, shooting indoors to prove mettle, breaching propreity,  racing away with some else’s horses, meeting moneylenders and on and on. Thoroughly entertaining! There is not a dull moment in the book. Slowly the very serious and correct Charles is seen to be unbending and becoming more human.

At the end all of Sophy’s plots and actions intermingle into one huge drama  where if anything were to go wrong, the house of cards would collapse. But with Sophy around nothing can go wrong. Every aspect is considered and everyone well provided for. The story ends very well in high tempo with Sir Horace returning and his unused house Lucy Manor crowded with couples and Sophy the toast of Poet Fawnhope:

“My opening line now reads Goddess, whose steady hands upheld—  But I must have ink!”

And as Sophy says:

“Well, I think,” said Sophy “confidentially, “that he now means to be in love with me…  He likes the way I hold a lamp, and he says he would like to see me with an urn.”

And so ends the Grand Sophy. Most satisfactory, leaving you thirsting for Oh-so much more!

It is impossible not to read the book more than once and be enchanted all over again.

sophyHere are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Lovable.

Side Characters: Many side characters, and all of them wonderful!

Plot: Interesting, complicated, and yet not confusing. All of them involve Sophy and tied in with the main storyline very well.

Environment: Fun!

Regency Information: The book lightly touches upon the Regency customs and dresses as well as what women were allowed and not allowed in Regency times – the reason Sophy is so special to the society. There is light mention of the war and the needs and importance of diplomatic relations.

Recommendation: Recommended for any book reader who likes a good laugh.

Rating: Five on Five!

(Picture source: Austen Prose and Thought Cat)

The Cotillion is (was) a dance involving two couples, where they have to constantly change partners. It was originally french, but became ‘all the rage’ in England soon enough.

And that, is what the book is about. A dance between couples, some French some English and some both. Quite entertaining. If, that is, you last through the initial chapter.

The book begins rather bleakly, in a cold countryside mansion at Arnside, with a few cousins conversing. Unlike the other Heyer books, there does not seem to be a Hero. Though one man is well dressed, he is a strict disciplinarian; another is married and well settled, talking about his brother at War; and the third, an Earl is cowed and seems a little mentally disturbed (Lord Dolphinton). Finally the irate old man with Gout (their Grandfather) arrives on the scene and forces them to offer for Kitty (his friend’s orphaned daughter who has stayed with him all his life) so that they can inherit his fortune and estates. If none of them marry Kitty, the fortune goes to charity, leaving Kitty penniless in the bargain. Kitty, living on a very meager income as it is, of course, hates the idea and rejects the offers, and secretly runs away, only to meet another of the cousins, Freddy, at an inn.

Freddy is no Hero. He is well dressed, a fashion icon, rich, but pleasant looking and cares too much about his clothing for Kitty to feel anything but ‘like’ for him. Her main purpose is to make Jack (a sixth cousin!) feel bad that he did not come to the gathering and offer for her. The whole family of course knows how much she likes him.

Jack, is a Hero. He is handsome, a wonderful rider, has women falling for him all the time, is “an accomplished flirt”, a gambler, and Kitty’s childhood equivalent of Knight in Shining Armour. Freddy knows that, and tries his best to make Kitty go back home, and wait for Jack.

To no purpose. Kitty decides the only way possible to move ahead would be to be ‘engaged’ to Freddy, so that she can finally go to London and meet an eligible match. The engagement can then be called off. In short, through lack of a formal London ‘Season’, Kitty plans to be launched to Society by Freddy’s affluent mother, and have her own Season and find the man she loves (Jack!).

There is little Freddy can do, for the story melts his heart and Kitty is persuasive, and agrees. And so, finally, the story begins!

Or so you think.

The book is good. It has all of London in it – the balls, the sightseeing, the high-society, the not-so-well-to-do nobility as well as the poorer Cits. Kitty moves into London to Freddy’s family, and headlong into the society of Freddy’s married sister Meg. Though financed by Kitty’s uncle (I shall call him Uncle for ease), Freddy is aware that the money allotted will be too little for good dresses. So he lets Kitty thinks that the Uncle’s money pays for all her dresses while personally financing her purchases from his ample bank balance.

Kitty embarks on choosing wonderful dresses, cuts her hair in the latest fashion, looks pretty (to her own surprise) and choosing unenviable friends. In fact her knack of choosing people of bad breeding and no money are something that one has to marvel at. Olivia is a Beauty, but her family is awful and she has no money. Her French cousin, a Chevalier, (Kitty is half French from her mother’s side) reeks of ‘something wrong’. And she hangs out with Dolphinton all the time! Really!

Everyone smells a rat when the couple act engaged and then forget all about it, and all the while want to keep the engagement a secret. The whole world knows that the engagement is a farce so Kitty can induce Jack to see what he missed and offer for her (everyone including Jack).

But then the book revolves around the perils that Olivia, Dolphinton and the Chevalier have to live through and how Kitty helps or tries to help them. Jack and Kitty, when they meet, have engaging repartee’s for each other, and Freddy is a solid help in the form of the ‘man-engaged’ throughout.

While Jack is handsome, Freddy is pleasant. While both are rich, Jack loves to gamble and Freddy never does. While Jack flirts and has lines of mistresses, Freddy stays away from women except for polite social causes. While Jack is well dressed, Freddy sets fashion statements. While Jack is flippant of convention, Freddy is the Pink of Pinks and convention could be set by his manners. While Kitty loves Jack, Freddy is the one at her elbow providing support to her.

So who does Kitty end up with? I kept wondering throughout the book. Getting embroiled in so many subplots as to make me almost tear my hair out in frustration at times, Heyer kept me guessing till the final chapters. And then, in wonder I read the rest of the book and fell in love with it.

All the characters are well-drawn and deep. The scrapes Kitty gets into are entertaining and (living in modern society as we do) feel for her rationality.

The best of course is the fact that the characters could be the real life version of a P G Wodehouse book! Really! If you don’t find yourself thinking ‘So this is how a real PG Wodehouse Nobility would have been’, well, I will be surprised!

I would say read the book, and find out how a Romance can be anything but! The complete book is a guessing game for the reader, making you eager to turn the pages to discover the secret! A novel mystery, which does not include murder!

By the end of the book you will feel very warm towards the Hero and decide that the Villain deserved it! Kitty grows up, and everything else is sorted. A very satisfying read indeed!

So, here are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Likable.

Side Characters: Dolphinton evokes your pity and frustration! Olivia – well, either you feel like slapping her or helping her. She is the true Beauty in Distress. The Chevalier for all his pitfalls is like-able. Freddy’s family especially his Father are lovable!

Plot: Though slow to start, it picks up at a steady pace through the book. Convoluted plot and keeps one guessing.

Environment: Fun, fun, fun! (There are three main women involved!)

Regency Information: Limited. Past describing the dresses and the latent tension between England and France, the book focuses more on the characters than Regency England. That said, there is mention of the museums and their latest offerings – an insight into what was considered historical and important then.

Recommendation: Recommended especially to those who have read a few Heyers and can somewhat recognise her plot-lines.

The book can be re-read for lighthearted fun anytime.

Rating: Three on Five!

This Blog

I had read Georgette Heyer first as a schoolgirl, on the sly, even on days before exams.
And loved every moment of it.
Today, more than a decade later, I am revisiting each book of hers and all the Romance and Adventure the regency period can offer through her.

This blog is a list of all the books as I read them, with my ratings for it.
I wholeheartedly suggest Heyer to any avid book reader! Not just for the stories, but her inimitable writing style.

-D Chaudhury

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