REVIEW: Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer
The spirited and independent Miss Annis Wychwood is twenty-nine and well past the age for falling in love. But when Annis embroils herself in the affairs of a pretty runaway heiress, Miss Lucilla Carleton, she is destined to see a great deal of her fugitive’s uncivil and high-handed guardian, Mr. Oliver Carleton. Befriending the wayward girl brings unexpected consequences, among them the conflicting emotions aroused by her guardian, who is quite the rudest man Annis has ever met…
I was in one of those moods when nothing I started reading was working for me. From experience, I know when I’m like this, it’s better to set books aside rather than try and force my way through them. But what to read? “Heyer,” I thought. Perking up, I digitally thumbed through my selections and decided to try this one. Sure I’d read something similar before (right? I think.) but the plot sounded fun and I like me a good enemies to lovers story. With that decided, I settled into it.
From the opening chapter I realized one thing. The servants were going to play a large role in this book. From the coachman who’d known the heroine all her life and was aware of the stately pace at which she should travel back to Bath from her brother’s estate, to the lady’s maid who had done for Miss Annis since the lady got out of the nursery, to the proper butler who ran her Bath establishment Miss Annis Wychwood – who reads prodigiously and has books in her bedroom – has devoted servants who will protect, care for and serve her. She’s also got a gabble grinder companion foisted on her by brother Geoffrey when Annis insisted on moving to Bath. A single woman, even one of age, must have someone to lend her countenance and keep the Bath quizzes from shredding her reputation. Annis would never have accepted Maria Farlow if that poor squashed cabbage of a woman hadn’t looked so desperate.
After enduring Maria’s nonstop chatter during the trip back to Bath, Annis practically flings herself upon an opportunity to escape the carriage when a chance meeting with a young couple whose gig has a broken wheel kick starts the story. Young Ninian Elmore is already peeved to have been caught up in trying to keep his childhood friend out of danger when she snuck out of the house on her way to Bath but being stranded by the roadside takes the cake. Luckily for them Miss Wychwood sweeps them up, taking Lucilla with her and allowing Ninian to salvage his pride by manfully following later after getting the gig righted. Their convoluted story of a childhood friendship which their families were applying pressure to see converted to marriage, with histrionics all around, sets Miss Annis on the road to suddenly becoming a chaperone and trying to sort the delicate family relationships and dynamics.
Little does she know that this is just the beginning of her troubles for Lucilla’s guardian is her Uncle Oliver – yes, the man Annis’s brother has named as the rudest man in London. It’s not long before he arrives in Bath, irritated by hysterical letters from Lucilla’s prostrate aunt and determined to snatch his niece from the claws of a woman who might be anyone. Sparks fly as Annis and Oliver are soon at daggers drawn with neither willing to back down nor give an inch. Both have finally met their match. Assured that Annis is no fake out to con his rich niece, Oliver settles down and listens to her suggestion to try and avert scandal. And yes, she admits that her actions might have precipitated that possibility – just a little.
Plan arranged and put into motion, Annis soon discovers that perhaps being in charge of a lively 17 year old is more trouble than she bargained for. Lucilla is delighted in Bath and the town returns the favor. Ninian has also kicked over the parental traces and begins to come into his own as a young man. Meanwhile word has reached Geoffrey via an affronted Maria that The Rudest Man in London is spending quite a bit of time with Annis and the household, bringing Annis’s kith and kin crashing down on her household complete with babies, nurses, and a maid. Needle witted Annis knows exactly why her brother has determinedly foisted his wife and children on her but isn’t about to give an inch in her plans.
Can Annis thwart her brother, placate her annoying companion, keep her charge from becoming an object of gossip, smooth Ninian’s family quarrels, keep her servants happy and finally one up this annoying man she can’t stop thinking about? Well of course, this is a Heyer novel.
What I like about this book is that not everything goes as I thought it would. Yes Annis gets her way and starts to chaperone Lucilla but quickly discovers that this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Introducing a young girl into Society consists of some dull parties with sheltered Lucilla who is charming but still somewhat of a child. Lucilla and Ninian’s arguments are like watching sulking Regency teens because that is what they are – at times. Her companion Maria is enough to drive a saint to commit murder and yet Maria has her reasons for desperately inserting herself into any conversation and clinging to Annis. I also like that Heyer not only tells us that Maria runs on at the mouth but shows us with 3/4 page length verbal spews.
Annis’s sister-in-law Amabel is a sweetheart who cheerfully admits she isn’t as educated or smart as Annis and certainly doesn’t stand up to her beloved husband but she also knows how to delicately manipulate Geoffrey into doing exactly what she wants. The amicable relationship between the two sisters-in-law is a delight and it is Amabel who can pour oil on her husband’s troubled waters in regards to his sister’s independence and Oliver.
Ah Oliver Carleton – that’s with an E as Lucilla conscientiously informed Annis early on. Oliver states his thoughts with no bark covering the words and gets Annis to finally sit up and think about a man. She might have received many brilliant proposals in the past but never felt a twinge at turning them all down – even one from the heir to a Duke. Oliver shakes her up mentally and puts Annis on her mettle. Life around him is never boring.
Heyer subtly shows us their changes in thought as they get to know each other and despite wanting more face time between them – because their clashes are such fun to read – I was in no doubt that each was falling for the other and that it wasn’t just insta-lust. It’s Amabel who puts her finger on the reason Geoffrey shouldn’t worry about their match and who reminds her husband that Annis is of age and since he can’t stop the marriage, he’d better make peace with it. Still Annis is allowed her moments of worry about giving up her cherished state of independence and Oliver’s reasoning is surprisingly persuasive. No, he doesn’t know why he loves her – nor does she know why she loves him – but they do. He can’t make a list nor does he gush on as past suitors have and he certainly can’t promise happiness. He will promise that they’ll probably fight but – yay, they have such fun doing it.
I do wish that some loose ends had hints of resolution provided and especially want to know who ended up getting Maria foisted on them. But I think Oliver and his beloved Hornet will do just fine together. Life around them will certainly never be dull. B+