Desert Isle Keeper

The Grand Sophy

Georgette Heyer

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.


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Book Details

Reviewer :      Maria K

Grade :     A

Sensuality :      Kisses

Book Type :     

Review Tags :     

Recent Comments


  1. oceanjasper June 26, 2017 at 5:27 pm - Reply

    I had never read a Heyer romance until this year, although I liked her mysteries. I started with The Grand Sophy on audio. It was such fun, with delicious use of all the precision of the English language. However the romance is so subtle it makes Pride and Prejudice look racy in comparison.

    • Caz Owens
      Caz Owens June 27, 2017 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      This is often cited as many peoples’ favourite Heyer – it’ s not mine (that would be Venetia), but I can understand why it’s so popular. The audio narrated by Sarah Woodward is excellent – your introduction to Heyer on audio was a good one! Naxos’ recordings of Sylvester, The Black Moth, Venetia and The Corinthian are also highly recommened, and the older recording of The Unknown Ajax is great, too.

      • Eggletina June 27, 2017 at 1:19 pm - Reply

        Venetia is my favorite by Heyer, too.

        I think the comedy in her books translates well to audiobooks that have a great narrator. I’ve liked several of the audiobooks better than the actual books. Laura Paton’s reading of Faro’s Daughter is quite good, too.

  2. Frances June 26, 2017 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    @oceanjasper : ” never read a Heyer romance until this year” !! I’m so happy you enjoyed it. I realise I read my first GH over 50 years ago and I still read, or listen to, my favourites. I agree with all the observations in your comments above. I think I enjoy them so much because they are fun, well written and full of humour. My only regret is that I would prefer a little less subtlety in the romance!
    I have been thinking about the top 100 listings. For authors like a Georgette Heyer, Nora Roberts, etc who have a long list of eligible books is there a mechanism to first vote to identify which GH, for example, is considered her best so that we don’t dissipate her vote by all voting for different books?
    As an aside I haven’t read one of GH’s mysteries for a long time so you have inspired me to try one again.

  3. Susan/DC June 26, 2017 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    I loved The Grand Sophy when I first read it as a teenager, but when I reread it years later two things bothered me and so made it significantly less romantic: the fact that Charles and Sophy are first cousins (not necessarily unusual at the time but bothersome to me after I worked for two college professors on a genetics textbook) and the anti-Semitic portrait of the money lender. Both things pulled me out of the romance, as charming as the rest of the book might be. Obviously YMMV, and I certainly understand those for whom this book remains a favorite.

    • Amanda
      Amanda June 26, 2017 at 9:30 pm - Reply

      Susan, there is really great conversation about this very topic (the antisemitism) in a review on SBTB. (Sorry, not to plug another review site on here!) It’s also something that made me deeply uncomfortable after rereading this as an adult several years ago. This was one of the very first Heyer books I ever read as it was one of my grandmother’s particular favorites, but it’s just not a book I will recommend anymore or reread.

      • Keira Soleore
        Keira Soleore June 27, 2017 at 3:37 pm - Reply

        I agree with you. I have never liked this book exactly for the anti-Semitism. She may have been a product of her time, but that doesn’t mean, she wasn’t anti-Semitic. Just as I don’t give the 18th C. British nobility a pass for their involvement in the slave trade, I don’t give Heyer a pass for her anti-Semitism.

        Having said that, I love Heyer’s other books and I love Georgian/Regency historicals. I just won’t read The Grand Sophy again or a book that extolls the virtues of white people keeping slaves.

        • Amanda
          Amanda June 30, 2017 at 7:28 pm - Reply

          I will still read plenty of Heyer’s books. Like you, I choose to keep this one off my list.

  4. Caz Owens
    Caz Owens June 27, 2017 at 11:59 am - Reply

    I’m going to say something which is bound to be unpopular, but I can’t judge something that’s over seventy years old by modern standards . The book and the author are products of their time, and there is no doubt that the attitude GH expresses was prevalent at the time the book is set. That doesn’t make it right and I don’t condone it. But it doesn’t spoil the book for me.

    • Dabney Grinnan
      Dabney Grinnan June 27, 2017 at 2:05 pm - Reply

      My take is that we should all read what we like and never apologize for it..

      I just read an interesting article about Marti Noxon who is adapting Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects into a series for HBO. That book is horrifying to me and, honestly, I wish I’d never read it. It’s so violent and dark. But if you like it, read on. If the mini-series floats your boat, watch on.

      • Keira Soleore
        Keira Soleore June 27, 2017 at 3:29 pm - Reply

        I’m in agreement with you here. There is so much shaming of readers going on these days on social media for liking what they like. This is not to say that you should not diversify your reading — I, for one, am hugely gratified that there is so much choice available in books these days — however, you shouldn’t have to apologize for what you read, just because it doesn’t match what is currently popular.

    • Blackjack
      Blackjack June 27, 2017 at 3:51 pm - Reply

      We should judge books by the historical moment in which they were written. However, when it comes to **favorite** romances, I have a hard time enjoying and taking pleasure in books that perpetuate hatred or demean people or groups of people. For me there is a clear distinction between respecting history and intellectually appreciating books from a historical perspective as opposed to promoting a book as pleasurable by today’s standards. The Top 100 list is not a literary book list of the best books but instead are a list of people’s favorites. I would have difficulty putting an anti-semetic book on a favorites list because as a reader I would always find the concept jarring.

      • Amanda
        Amanda June 30, 2017 at 7:33 pm - Reply

        Agree, Blackjack.

        I’m not saying people have to cut problematic books off their favorites list–I’m sure there are problematic elements in some of my favorites, although I’ve had to stop rereading plenty of romances I used to love for various reasons. I don’t really miss them beyond a sort of nostalgia, I guess. There is plenty of great romance out there that doesn’t demean other people.

  5. Mlle. Irene June 30, 2017 at 3:47 am - Reply

    My favorite Heyer is THE NONESUCH. I agree about the heat levels in her books, you are lucky to get one passage to swoon over, like, when Sir Waldo put Ancilla’s shawl on her shoulders at the ball !!… Fraught with genteel restrained passion, sigh. And imagine their waltzing, he is holding her to music, how romantic, but seen from third party characters’ viewpoints … And of course, the meeting of their refined minds, but then, the Big Misunderstanding, just to mention a few tropes. I envy first time readers.

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