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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)

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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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