Desert Isle Keeper
Sometimes, when I’ve just finished reading a stream of one kind of romance novel, I start to feel that just maybe I’ve gone overboard. My head feels as though I’ve consumed too many mental Milky Way bars. I long for something with more substance, meat and potatoes, if you will. Maybe I’m not in the mood for James Joyce, but I would like a book with insights that go beyond just a hero and heroine. Now that I’ve read The Nonesuch, I have a wonderful author to pick up when I’m feeling that way, Georgette Heyer.
The Nonesuch begins when the already wealthy Sir Waldo Hawkridge, also known as The Nonesuch, inherits Broom Hall, a Yorkshire estate. When he travels there, Sir Waldo is unaware (as was Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice) that his decision to spend time in the neighborhood is causing an uproar among the local families especially among the eligible young ladies and their mamas. Chief among the interested parties is Miss Tiffany Weld, a spoiled, headstrong seventeen year old heiress, who delights in torturing her aunt, cousins and governess, Miss Ancilla Trent.
Sir Waldo is accompanied by his cousin Julian, Lord Lindeth, and the two are soon welcomed into the social circle of the local gentry. Julian, at twenty-two, is instantly attracted to the beautiful Tiffany and sees none of the selfish and shallow disposition that is apparent to his older and more experienced cousin. In an effort to make Miss Weld reveal herself as the brat that she is, Sir Waldo enchants her himself by alternately charming her and withdrawing his attentions. Miss Trent, who does not entirely disapprove, sees through Sir Waldo as easily as she sees through the silly behavior of her charge. Her hands are full taking care of this obnoxious child and she cannot fault Sir Waldo for protecting his cousin. It is only when Ancilla Trent realizes that it is she who is the true object of Sir Waldo’s affections that she becomes genuinely discomposed. Such attention puts her in a precarious position as all jealous mamas of the neighborhood want The Nonesuch for their own daughters.
Sir Waldo is a thoroughly admirable hero. Not only is he handsome, charming and wise, he is a philanthropist working on making Broom Hall into an orphanage. In the illuminating forward to this book, Mary Jo Putney explains that Sir Waldo is called The Nonesuch because of his “athletic prowess, wealth and fashionable life.” At thirty-six he is experienced in love, but not a rake, and has taken pains not to break the hearts of the many young ladies who have been charmed by him. Sir Waldo exerts himself in good works, not only in the building of the orphanage but in helping the poor.
What is most appealing about Sir Waldo, however, is his intelligence and wit. In Miss Ancilla Trent he meets his match, for that lady, though quiet and understated, has learned how to manage her life. While most governesses are underpaid drudges, Miss Trent recognizes that employers often prize certain services especially if they can find no one else to perform them. Miss Trent charges the Welds a good deal to manage the barely manageable Tiffany and she has figured out many ways to outwit the vain teenager. Watching Miss Trent persuade her charge that she doesn’t want to attend a party, when Tiffany is on the verge of having a tantrum over it, is absolutely delightful.
The Nonesuch requires a bit more patience than many romances written today. Rather than being solely the story of two people falling in love, it portrays a whole neighborhood full of memorable characters. The buildup of the story takes time but the payoff is worth it because you come to care, not only about Sir Waldo and Miss Ancilla Trent, but about the childish Miss Weld, the idealistic Lord Lindeth and a host of other people. One thing that I enjoyed about this book was the variety of settings. Many lesser Regency Romances written today have a claustrophobic feeling that stems from reading the same settings over and over again. One hears of the watery lemonade at Almacks, the shadowy areas at Vauxhall gardens and the rules for waltzing. Georgette Heyer’s Regency England feels big, rich and filled with many kinds of people.
Harlequin has chosen this spring to reprint a number of Heyer favorites some of which had gone out of print in the United States. What a great idea. This is my first Georgette Heyer book. I’m looking forward to many return trips to her special England.