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GUEST REVIEW in Limerick Form: The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Complements of Lori S Green aka Jimerick.
So many authors I greatly admire
Have suggested I read Georgette Heyer
book review Who in Regencies name
Has well deserved fame
So The Grand Sophy I thus did acquire.

When Sophie and her cousins first meet
The youngsters fall straight at her feet
She has a dog and a chimp
And a bird who’s an imp
Who swears like a sailor, no tweets.

Her cousin Cecilia has been betrothed
To a dear man who became indisposed
From a case of the mumps
Then he must take his lumps
When for a poet, Cecilia’s emotions grow.

There’s Hubert who hides what he’s done
Silly boy, is under the thumb
Of a mean moneylender
Who shows nothing tender
And Hubert can’t fix his sad run.

Into this household, dear Sophy emerges
With fix-it desires and urges
Her cousin, stern Charles
With Sophy, does quarrel
While his betrothed wishes a familial purge(s).

The writing is fast and has many plot holes
The characters lack personality but play their roles
But with Sophy, no matter
The plot’s mad as a hatter
And is better (not the parts) but the whole.

Contemps are my true cup of tea
But The Grand Sophy delighted me
Friday’s Child is next
And sits on my desk
Waiting to turn me into a fan of Regency.

This book can be purchased in mass market from an independent bookstore. No ebook format.

Guest Reviewer

30 Comments

  1. GrowlyCub
    May 13, 2009 @ 12:31:43

    This is one of my least favorite Heyers.

    I love These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, Venetia (which has the prototype reformed Regency rake hero!) and The Convenient Marriage (not for the plot elements but the very subtle insights into the hero’s thoughts) and also A Civil Contract (which is quite a departure from her usually fairly cheerful style).

  2. Jayne
    May 13, 2009 @ 12:36:11

    I’m amazed this one isn’t out as an ebook yet.

  3. Janine
    May 13, 2009 @ 12:59:09

    I have such ambivalent feelings about The Grand Sophy. I was reading it and loving it — it was firmly in A terrain — when I reached the scene with Goldhanger, the Jewish moneylender. He was a stingy, dirty, lecherous loan shark with if memory serves, dark, curling hair and in the original 1950s edition, “a semitic nose.” His characterization reminded me of the ugly stereotypes of Jews found in Nazi propaganda, and this book was written after the World War II, and after the Holocaust.

    I finished The Grand Sophy, but I just couldn’t enjoy the wonderful romance between Charles and Sophy to the same degree after that, and I haven’t yet been able to read another book by Heyer, even though I adored Frederica and think Devil’s Cub is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever read. So, very mixed feelings about this book.

  4. Lori
    May 13, 2009 @ 13:55:04

    @Janine: I was warned about the moneylender and the anti-semitic flavor of his description so when he showed up in the story I grimaced but kept reading. I didn’t like it but I wanted so much to enjoy the book I put my feelings on that aside.

    Interestingly, I stopped being a Star Wars fan because of the hook-beaked owner of Anakin, the child, which I totally saw as a Jewish caricature. Turned me right off the movies.

    Are there other instances in Heyer’s writing of anti-semitism?

  5. Janine
    May 13, 2009 @ 16:13:23

    @Lori: I had no warning at all and wasn’t expecting it, so it was a rude shock. It is only a brief scene so I can totally understand why others love the book. Also, I was reading an old edition from the library which was published in the 1950s, and the “semitic nose” was expunged from later editions of the book, so I don’t think most readers come across it.

    Interesting comment about Star Wars — I never noticed that!

    I haven’t come across any other instances of anti-semitism in Heyer nor have I heard of any. I have only read These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, Faro’s Daughter, Frederica, Sylvester, Arabella and The Grand Sophy, I think. One of the books had a young black servant who was portrayed somewhat sterotypically, if I recall correctly. I want to say that was in Faro’s Daughter but I may be incorrect. These Old Shades implies that blue-blooded aristocrats are superior to commoners, but Heyer was very young when she wrote it. I haven’t read all her books, and even if I had, I don’t want to make judgements about her as a person. I just couldn’t help having a strong reaction to the Goldhanger scene.

    Otherwise, though, I really loved The Grand Sophy. I think if it hadn’t been for that scene, the book would be in my top ten romances of all time.

  6. Carolyn
    May 13, 2009 @ 16:42:02

    I must be very naive, I think, because I swear, it never occured to me that Goldhanger was anything but a low life character, much like Fagin in Oliver Twist. That he happened to be Jewish was due, I thought, to a hangover of English history, when Christians were forbidden to lend money at interest.

    Heyer is notorious for her cant and the realism of her secondary characters. I think I was concentrated on the battle of wills between Sophie and Goldhanger, and almost cheered at his frustation and dislike as she bested him at every turn.

    But then, I’m a WAS (lost the P long ago!), and I have no experience personally with discrimination (unless being red headed counts). Sorry if that sounds facetious, but back in the 50′s, in a small Canadian town it was a big deal for me.

    I am glad that Lori could get past this one part and enjoy the book. I can’t think of any other of Heyer’s characters that might be considered discriminatory, unless you count the fake Polish count in one of her mysteries. ;-)

  7. Sunita
    May 13, 2009 @ 17:09:21

    Oh, Goldhanger is definitely a basket of Jewish negative stereotypes, and remember that the cant she used for moneylenders was “Shylocks.” There’s also a Jewish figure in one of her mysteries; I think it’s The Unfinished Clue. The character is a theatrical agent or manager and is very stereotyped, similar to Goldhanger in offensiveness. I think the black servant Janine refers to is Avon’s sister Fanny’s servant, probably in These Old Shades but perhaps in Devil’s Cub.

    If Jane Aiken Hodge’s biography of Heyer is to be believed, she was quite conservative and class-conscious, and she possessed many of the bigotries of her social milieu. But she’s certainly not alone among English writers of her era. Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series is studded with attitudes and depictions that we would find pretty unappealing today. And if I remember correctly, you get the same sort of depictions in some older Mills & Boons. I don’t want to venture any names because I’m not sure of details; it’s more of a general impression.

    Loved the limerick!

  8. Janine
    May 13, 2009 @ 18:16:33

    @Carolyn:

    I read Oliver Twist in childhood so I really can’t remember the portrayal of Fagin very well, but I’ve read that some consider that portrayal anti-semitic as well. There are six paragraphs about that on Wikipedia. However, I am much more inclined to overlook something like that in a 19th century novel than I am in a novel written in the post-Holocaust era.

    Re. Goldhanger and The Grand Sophy, it’s been discussed elsewhere on the web, including here and here.

    I think the degree of antisemitism in the characterization of Goldhanger is easy to miss unless one is familiar with the negative stereotype. The traits Heyer gave to Goldhanger were specific to that stereotype. It’s probably good that you are unfamiliar with it, in that it likely means that such prejudices have been relatively absent from your community.

    @Sunita:

    I never read The Unfinished Clue, and now I’ll know to avoid it. I agree that Heyer was not the only writer from her time and place to have those prejudices. And I think I would have been more fogiving had the book been written in the 1920s rather than the early 1950s. I would have liked to believe that the Holocaust would have shamed people who held such beliefs into refraining from propagating them.

    Loved the limerick!

    I really enjoyed the limerick too! That should have been the first thing I said.

  9. Aoife
    May 13, 2009 @ 18:44:27

    I read The Grand Sophy for the first time when I was a preteen, and loved it. At that age, I wanted to BE Sophy, and I definitely wanted my own Charles. I still love it, but only if I totally skip the section with Goldhanger. Kind of the reading equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and humming to block out something unpleasant. Unfortunately, I think the anti-Semitism is very common for Heyer’s time and socio-economic status, as others have pointed out. I was really disturbed recently during a rereading of some of Dorothy L. Sayer’s earlier mysteries to read the same kind of careless anti-Semitism–I had forgotten about it, since I usually just reread a few of her later works.

  10. Sunita
    May 13, 2009 @ 18:48:39

    @Janine:
    Oh, I don’t think you have to be forgiving at all. I tend to skim that part, because it bothers me, but I still like the rest of the book, and I don’t know that I feel particularly good about that!

    I read through the links you provided, and thanks for those. I agree that by 1950 you’d think people knew better, but I know from experience that stereotypes about Jews and many other groups were alive and flourishing among Europeans and Americans well after that. I think it’s instructive (and of course depressing) that Heyer and others could include such characters without encountering significant backlash.

    I mentioned Angela Thirkell previously. She’s an interesting case, because she’s a good Tory middle-class author whose books written in the pre-war and WW2 eras reflect the best of that class, but whose post-WW2 books are increasingly bitter about the Labour government and the decline of the old class system. It’s fascinating to watch. Reviewers remark upon it, and it definitely affects the quality of the novels; it’s as if they lose their bearings.

  11. Janine
    May 13, 2009 @ 20:03:37

    @Aoife:

    I totally relate to your love of the book, because up until I got to the Goldhanger scene, I was feeling the same way, and I was in my thirties when I read it.

    Kind of the reading equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and humming to block out something unpleasant.

    That’s a great way of putting it. I tried to do that with the other mentions of Goldhanger after that first scene, but I was only partially successful. A shame, because the book is so good otherwise.

    Can I ask you which Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries I should avoid? I have always wanted to read her, and now I’m hesitant…

    @Sunita:

    I don’t think you need to feel bad about liking the rest of the book. It is such a good book in so many ways — there’s so much to like about it. But I have liked parts of books that friends of mine found offensive or upsetting, so I totally understand that feeling.

    Re. Angela Thirkell, I have never read her, but that does sound like an interesting change in mindset.

  12. LizC
    May 14, 2009 @ 08:25:24

    Wow. I completely didn’t catch the Goldhanger thing.

    Overall I find Heyer’s stories so engaging that even if I do notice plot holes or other issues and my favorite thing about The Grand Sophy is the ending.

    My favorite Heyer is Cotillion. I just love Freddy so much.

  13. Aoife
    May 14, 2009 @ 09:25:03

    @Janine

    I would suggest you avoid Whose Body? which is the first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery. Fortunately, I think it is also the weakest of the Wimsey novels, so you won’t miss much, and significant events in it are referred to in later books, when those events are relevant. My favorite Sayers book is Gaudy Night, but to really appreciate that you have to read at least some of the earlier ones, otherwise you don’t appreciate the character development of both Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey.

    I also realized that I need to clarify that I am not accusing Sayers herself of being anti-semitic. In fact, she probably was not to any significant degree, but characters make comments and express views that were certainly common at the time, and much later, too. You could make the argument that she was making a commentary on various types of prejudice in her books, including anti-feminine prejudice, and there actually is quite a bit of evidence for that view.

  14. Trudy Shelby
    May 14, 2009 @ 09:45:41

    When I first discovered the GH books I was in heaven but after being a loyal reader of her works for years I noticed that her heroines were becoming very juvenile, immature and vapid to the point of being down right boring. At that time I had to wonder why these manly three dimensional male charachers of hers were interested in simpering, childish, spineless females who speak in a whisper all the time, look at them through downpointed thick lashes (impossible) and would melt like sugar at the first sign of any heat of passion.

    Her women became the most sachirine, childish little girls rather than spunky women and should have been so uninteresting to any mature “bad boy” hero but yet they still attract a “man about town” who is more mature, sometimes jaded, literate, who has more brains, gumption and polish in their raised pinky finger than these namby pamby simpering silly girls that they inexplicably fall almostly instantly in love with. The books started to be a rubber stamp plot as far as the heroines go and were just too sweet and spineless to bear. Sadly I stopped reading her later novels because they had become boring and too sweet to read without a dentist in the house.

  15. Suzanne Allain
    May 14, 2009 @ 10:06:42

    But, Trudy, you can’t accuse Sophy of being that kind of heroine. She’s quite a spunky thing; indeed, almost too much so for me. (I think she goes a little too far with her pistol toward the end of the book, for example.)

    However, I thought Heyer did a great job in this book of making us love Sophy and hate Eugenia, who are really very similar in character. Both interfere in the lives of others, Sophy to an incredible degree, but while we love Sophy for it we hate Eugenia when she attempts to do the same. And Sophy has such great, witty lines; the dialogue is a joy to read.

    I’m not crazy about the romance in this one; it wasn’t developed enough for me, but I did like this book. (Although the anti-semitic part jolted me a little, too. I think I didn’t understand it when I first read it as a girl of twelve or thirteen. It’s amazing how sometimes ignorance is bliss.)

  16. Janine
    May 14, 2009 @ 10:12:50

    @LizC:

    My favorite Heyer is Cotillion. I just love Freddy so much.

    Mine (keeping in mind I’ve only read eight — I just remembered I also read The Nonesuch) is Frederica.

    @Aoife: Thanks, I appreciate the explanation. I have heard good things about Gaudy Night from other sources as well so I would like to read some of the books that come before it.

    @Trudy Shelby: It depends on the book, but I like some of her heroines quite a lot. Sophy is a delightful character, and in Frederica, the heroine was in many ways more mature than the hero (Although Alverstoke was the character who made the book). The same could be said of Mary in Devil’s Cub in relationship to Vidal.

  17. Sunita
    May 14, 2009 @ 10:35:00

    Heyer has quite a few relatively mature heroines. In addition to those mentioned already, there are the heroines in Sprig Muslin, An Infamous Army, Faro’s Daughter, Lady of Quality, The Nonesuch, Black Sheep, Charity Girl, Bath Tangle, and The Talisman Ring. I agree that if you read the ones with ingenue heroines one after the other, they can get a bit wearing. But I find her older heroines, as well as her younger but still on-the-shelf heroines, very appealing, and they’re not all the same.

    One of my favorite Heyer novels is The Foundling; the hero is written against type, he’s beyond beta, and the heroine is shy and sweet. They are set up in an arranged marriage but over the course of the novel they discover that they really suit each other and fall in love.

  18. Aoife
    May 14, 2009 @ 11:28:27

    @Trudy Shelby I honestly have no idea which heroines you are referencing. Which books and heroines are you referring to? Heyer’s best heroines, IMO, are Drusilla (The Quiet Gentleman), Frederica, Venetia, Sarah Thane (The Talisman Ring) Phoebe (Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle) and Mary (The Devil’s Cub, in addition to the heroines listed by Sunita and others, above. None of these women could be viewed as either simpering or namby-pamby, whether you like them or not. And her later novels almost exclusively featured heroines in their mid-twenties or older.

  19. SarahT
    May 14, 2009 @ 14:45:48

    I love Georgette Heyer’s novels and ‘The Grand Sophy’ is one of her best. I own all of her historicals and re-read my favourites every couple of years.

    Has anyone read her mysteries? I have several of them and they’re quite good. If you like Agatha Christie/Dorothy L. Sayers/Ngaio Marsh, you’d probably like them.

  20. Sunita
    May 14, 2009 @ 15:12:13

    I have them all as well. I enjoyed them; I agree that they’re in the Ngaio Marsh/Margery Allingham line. Not quite cozies, but not dark, except maybe for Penhallow.

    I also read the 4 contemporaries that Heyer suppressed during her lifetime. But I don’t remember them very well!

    ETA: I do remember that they lacked the sparkle and wit of her Regencies.

  21. SarahT
    May 14, 2009 @ 15:19:19

    @Sunita: I agree Heyer’s Regencies are superior. Although I like almost all of them, I think she particularly excelled at romantic comedy, e.g.: ‘The Nonesuch’, ‘The Unknown Ajax’ & ‘The Reluctant Widow’.

    I only recently found out that ‘The Reluctant Widow’ was made into a film in 1950, starring Jean Kent.

  22. Carolyn
    May 14, 2009 @ 18:42:02

    I think I can say I have all of Heyer’s Regencies and mysteries. They aren’t in such good shape, but then they’re my original buys over 40 years ago. I’m looking at my copy of Cotillion as I type. It’s missing the back cover, the pages are browned, but it’s still holding together, it’s readable and I bought it new for 60 cents!

    I read Heyer mainly for her romantic comedies, although I loved The Quiet Gentleman and A Civil Contract. (The latter is true to the real Regency, I think and I was pulling for Jenny all the way.)

    The Infamous Army is an amazing book, and I squeed the first time I read it when I realized she’d brought together characters from Devil’s Cub and Regency Buck.

    The majority of her heroines are strong women, but they usually live within the rules of their society. This doesn’t by any means make them pushovers, but is instead the basis of the comedy aspects of the stories.

    I could talk about her books all day, and I guess it’s time for another re-read marathon, lol.

  23. SarahT
    May 15, 2009 @ 01:07:38

    @Carolyn: I’m meticulous about my books but my Heyer collection looks distinctly dog-eared from all the re-reading!

  24. votermom
    May 18, 2009 @ 07:47:38

    The Grand Sophy was also my first Heyer regency and got me hooked.

    My all time favorite is Cotillion. I love her comedies. Faro’s Daughter is also great — very spunky heroine!
    I read somewhere that she wrote many of her regencies during the war, when London was being bombed, and they are meant to be an escape. They make wonderful comfort reads, imo.

    I like her mysteries too, specially Envious Casca. I think Penhallow is very dark & unforgettable, and an excellent picture of class structure.

    The only Heyers I really didn’t like are the medieval ones — just not her period.

    I do see the racial prejudice in Heyers books ( & in Dorothy Sayers mysteries too), but I do find that reflects the settings a lot, as well as the attitudes of the readership at the time the books were written. So I can sort of compartmentalize them when I read them, in a way that I could not in books recently written.

  25. The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer: A Review « Jane Austen’s World
    Jul 01, 2009 @ 07:17:47

    [...] villainous Mr. Goldhanger, is old-fashioned and ruffles our modern sensibilities. For many readers, this scene is a deal-breaker (see comments). Some stop reading the book at this point, others feel that the book loses some of [...]

  26. The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer – A Review « Austenprose
    Jul 12, 2009 @ 02:16:30

    [...] Dear Author [...]

  27. Jayden Thomas
    Apr 29, 2010 @ 08:29:19

    I got mumps last year and it was really very painful. I have to take some pain killers to ease the pain. – ‘

  28. Marie
    Jun 02, 2012 @ 01:00:40

    @Lori:

    All I can say is get over it – I am jewish I have a hook nose and deal in finance – at least I can laugh at myself – I thought the description was hilarious – and I didn’t take offence – neither my mother and she is a real jewish mother

  29. Reading Resources – The Grand Sophy | Highland Book Club
    Sep 10, 2013 @ 14:33:50

    […] Dear Author – a review of The Grand Sophy in limerick form […]

  30. Joane
    Dec 28, 2013 @ 02:33:37

    It surprises me that the ‘only’ problem you have with this book is the Antisemitic thing. Yes, the moneylender is a walking stereotype. I really hate that part. But you never say anything of another prejudiced part: how Spaniards are protrayed in the person of the Villacañas lady.
    I loved this book, but those two characters, so prototypical, really irritated me.
    And reading so much about antisemitism and not a word about the prejudice against Spaniards, makes me think that many people share the same prejudice as Georgette Heyer had.

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