Desert Isle Keeper
The Grand Sophy
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on December 17, 2000
The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romance written in 1950, is a witty comedy of manners which will not fail to delight the sainted Georgette’s admirers and might well prove to be a keeper for others as well.
Lord Ombersley’s family is in a sad scrape. Due to his financial ineptitude they are forced to think more frugally than they want to. Lady Ombersley is basically nice but lacks a certain spirit and seems to be wanting in maternal instinct too. Of the younger generation, the student Hubert has landed in debt and the eldest daughter Cecilia has refused an eligible suitor because she fancies herself in love with a hopelessly unsuitable Byron-wannabe. In the absence of other volunteers, eldest son Charles Rivenhall has been obliged to take on the burden of all the responsibility in the family. He has also become engaged to Miss Wraxton, who embodies every obnoxious virtue his family lacks. Charles’s leadership comes perilously close to despotism. Other family members are a bit scared of him and even more wary of his fiancée, who will change their lives forever.
But the Rivenhalls are in luck, because Lady Ombersley’s niece Sophy arrives just in time. She’s a natural born diplomat who’s been traveling all around Europe with her father but seems to be friends with everybody in London. She is perceptive, quick-witted, and speedily figures out that family is in desperate need of her assistance.
Sophy is an outrageous free-spirit who subscribes to convention only when it suits her purposes. Her methods are unorthodox but effective. She uses reverse psychology and a pistol with equal competency, and is a dab hand at handling horses. She wouldn’t make a believable simpering miss if she tried, she’s got too much common sense (although sense does not seem to be exactly a common characteristic of people in this book). Although she proves to be an invaluable asset to the family in a time of crisis, she’s often at odds with Charles. Sophy’s joyful, confident demeanor endears the heroine to the reader. Such a Miss Fix-It could easily become irritating but Sophy doesn’t.
The subtle humor of the novel is based on intelligent character caricatures, the derivatives of which return to us again and again in later authors’ efforts. The social relationships are richly developed but understated; Heyer does more showing than telling, and consequently a lot is said in-between the lines. Even the romance proceeds stealthily and hintingly, as Sophy is not given to sighing, and the hero does not wear his heart on his sleeve either. Their feelings have to be inferred from their actions, not from internal monologues of love and despair. Love is hardly mentioned and usually discussed in a humorous vein.
Heyer pokes most fun of those who take themselves too seriously. Miss Wraxton, Charles’s fiancée, is an uptight moralist who makes an unpleasant habit of sharing tidbits of her virtuous wisdom with unwilling listeners. Her faintly veiled insults about Sophy and the way she pretends to speak no evil are reminiscent of Miss Bingley’s criticism of Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice. Lord Bromford, who wants to court Sophy, is a twit, and Cecilia’s poet lives in a world of artistic reverie and conceit not accessible to us common mortals.
The more sympathetic characters are a delight as well. With all their faults, the Rivenhall family is a pleasant acquaintance, and Lord Charlbury delivers a hilarious health warning regarding mumps. Beware of children’s ailments, all ye lovers.
I can hardly do justice to The Grand Sophy with mere words, so I’ll just encourage you to locate her and find out for yourself. I defy anyone to read this and not smile. Even if you don’t belong to the Heyer fan club you should give The Grand Sophy a chance.