Venetia, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer (2011)Guest review by Laura Wallace

I know!  She was the delightful creature who cut up her brother, and cast the pieces in her papa’s way, wasn’t she?  I daresay perfectly amiable when one came to know her.”

—Venetia on Medea.

Venetia is about soul mates.  Two people who, despite completely dissimilar life experiences, recognize in each other a mind that works the same way, a shared appreciation of the absurd, a fundamental decency toward others, and to some extent, a disregard for convention.  The eponymous heroine is not quite so willing to flout convention as her new friend Lord Damerel, who has a reputation as a rake, but as she comes to know him, she becomes more willing.

Our heroine is a victim (though not a bitter one) of the selfish behavior of others.  Owing to her father’s obstinate reclusiveness after the loss of her mother when Venetia was young, she has hardly gone out in society, except among her sparse neighbors near her Yorkshire home.  Her father’s death a few years earlier, rather than setting her free, left her in a situation that is in some ways worse.  She manages the estate for her army officer brother, whom everyone expects home at any moment (since the defeat of Napoleon three years before) but who hasn’t shown any remote interest in taking up his inheritance and merely writes that he is sure Venetia knows best what to do.  Her younger brother, who is preparing for Cambridge, is a brilliant scholar with a deformed hip that causes him to retreat into the world of books as much as their father ever did—but they at least hold each other in affection.

Venetia makes the best of things.  She suffers no illusions about the selfishness of the men who control her life, but she does not bear grudges.  She remains amiable and cheerful, taking people at face value; and her naïveté is natural, without guile, while not preventing her from knowing her own mind or seeing people clearly.  She resists the efforts of anyone to manage her life, beyond what she perceives as her duty to people she acknowledges have a right to control her.  These include her father and brothers, possibly one uncle, and no one else.  If she has a failing it is her inability to force those about her to take her seriously.  It is not so much that she cannot stand up for herself as it is her unwillingness to force an issue when she knows it will lead to conflict and hurt.  It is all the more remarkable because no one in her entire life has ever provided her with a model of self-immolation:  indeed, the members of her family are almost without exception egoists who care only for their own comforts.  But it is not in Venetia’s nature to repine or to hold their faults against them.  Even when she acknowledges that there was no love lost between herself and her father, she is not resentful.

So when Lord Damerel rides into her life, and they discover an affinity of minds that neither has ever experienced before, she is grateful to have found a kindred spirit.  “I always wished for a friend to laugh with,” she says to him.

For Austen fans, it isn’t difficult to find familiar character archetypes, though of course they are well developed, as Heyer’s characters always are.

Edward Yardley, Venetia’s worthy suitor, is similar to Mr. Collins in both his capacity for self-delusion and his supreme confidence in his own qualities even in the face of a firm refusal.  Instead of acknowledging his object’s capacity to think for herself, he attributes her refusals to his proposals to various excuses that comport with his rigid notions of propriety and mistaken view of her character.

He also represents the option of the loveless but comfortable marriage that will give a gentlewoman her own home.  Venetia seriously considers marrying him, but knows how unfulfilling she would find life as his wife.

Lady Denny, a neighboring matron, fills a similar niche to Lady Russell, though Venetia has never allowed her judgment on an important matter to supersede her own.  But she has Venetia’s interests at heart and tries to take care of her protégée, and Venetia generally values her counsel and her society.

There are others, of course, but no space to delineate them all.  And the plot itself, beyond this introductory set-up, deserves no spoilers.  Suffice to say that it is highly satisfactory to see everything work out in the end.  Indeed, for many Georgette Heyer fans, the final scene is their favorite from her entire œuvre.

One final and remarkable aspect of Venetia is the sprinkling of quotations throughout the novel.  Lovers of the Elizabethan poets will find their favorites, as well as references to classical mythology, and, perhaps most entertainingly, choice biblical bits from Venetia’s old nurse when she is strongly moved.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2011)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-1402238840

Laura A. Wallace a musician, attorney, and writer living in Southeast Texas.  She is a devotee of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is the author of British Titles of Nobility:  An Introduction and Primer to the Peerage (1998).

We are rather fond of Venetia and you can find two additional reviews of it here on Austenprose:

© 2007 – 2011 Laura A. Wallace, Austenprose

15 thoughts on “Venetia, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. But what a coincidence! I just read the first chapter of Venetia this evening! I listened to Richard Armitage read it in February, but knowing that was an abridged version, I determined to read it as soon as possible.

    Damerel

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  2. (iPhone oops there)

    Damerel is second only to Rule in my hierarchy of Heyer heroes. The moment when he realizes he loves her is my favorite moment in all her books I’ve read so far.

    I won’t say any more, so as not to give away the plot deliciousness you managed to conceal. Suffice to say, this is a book to be savored and treasured.

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  3. Oh, Venetia is one of my favourite Heyers! I’ve read it countless times!….Although rakes aren’t my cup of tea, Damerel is an exception especially because of his obvious vulnerability where Venetia is concerned. And Venetia herself is an absolute favourite. I love the way Heyer develops their relationship – brilliant!:D

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  4. Nothing beats a great Georgette Heyer novel when you need a little Regency romance in your life! This is one of my faves of hers, but there are still lots more I haven’t read!

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  5. Venetia is one of my favourite Georgette Heyers. Unfortunately, when I purchased it I could only get a used mass market paperback, but I also have the audiobook with Richard Armitage reading (he is really good at this…and many other things!). I assume from the picture that Sourcebooks has now reprinted it. I will check and see if it is available on Kindle!

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  6. Ah, this was a delight to read. I read Venetia a couple of years ago when I first discovered GH. I set out to own all of her regency romances and I even ordered them from the UK to complete my set. I’ll have to reread Venetia this summer. Thanks for the review!

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  7. Wonderful review! I haven’t read any of Georgette Heyer’s books yet, but this sounds like a very interesting story… Putting it on my to-read list! :)

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  8. It’s hard not to be bitter when you’re a victim, so that’s an interesting point made in the review. Makes me think about Austen: considering the infuriating position of women at the time that she wrote, it’s striking how little bitterness there seems to be in her female characters (and Austen herself, from what little we know).

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  9. Such a coincidence! I just finished Venetia and give Laura Wallace “high-fives” for making this superb romance so enticing to prospective readers. Having read at least a dozen of Ms Heyer’s offerings, this one rates near the top in terms of charming characters, story line, and romantic opposites becoming “kindred spirits.” I heartily endorse reading it.

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  10. Wonderful review of one of my favorite Heyer’s. Richard Armitage read it to me, courtesy of Naxos Audiobooks, and that made it all the more enjoyable.

    This is a really great summation of the novel:
    >So when Lord Damerel rides into her life, and they discover an affinity of minds that neither has ever experienced before, she is grateful to have found a kindred spirit. “I always wished for a friend to laugh with,” she says to him.

    Venetia is a true gem, both the character and the book.

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  11. Venetia is my favorite Heyer novel. I love V’s sense of humor and her relationship with Damarel. The book makes me laugh and sigh. The final scene drives me crazy though. I’m glad to see it’s be reissued. I found a mass market paperback at a thrift store recently but I love the gorgeous covers of the Sourcebook reissues.

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  12. Pingback: Top 20 Jane Austen-inspired Books of 2011 « Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog

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