First published in 1950, The Grand Sophy contains one of Georgette Heyer’s most endearingly outrageous heroines. In this newly released reissue by Sourcebooks, you are in for a rollicking good time through Regency era London with Miss Sophia Stanton-Lacy. As one of her many male admirers proclaims, “By all that is wonderful, it’s the Grand Sophy!” Too true.
A diplomat’s daughter, Sophy has traveled the Continent with her widowed father Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy following the British army in their pursuit of Napoleon during the Peninsular War. Two years have passed since the Monster of Elba was finally defeated and Sir Horace’s duties now take him abroad to South America. He feels it is time for Sophy to marry, and who better than to present his motherless daughter to London society than his amiable sister, Lady Ombersley. But, will her eldest son Charles approve? Things in her dysfunctional family are so oddly arranged. Her indifferent husband Bernard Rivenhall, Lord Ombersley has run through his fortune, and now relies on his eldest son Charles, who inherited another estate, to pay his debts and finance his household. Charles, known for his ill temper and tight pocketbook, is engaged to equally priggish young woman, Miss Eugenia Wraxton, whose rigid grasp on social stricture is at odds with everyone who she deigns to look down her very long equine nose at. Lady Ombersley’s beautiful young daughter Cecilia should marry the very eligible and wealthy Lord Charlbury, but prefers instead the handsome poet Augustus Fawnhope whose odds at fame and fortune are slim as his picking a Derby winner. Her second son Hurbert, whose moods sway with the tides of his debt, is ensconced with dubious money-lenders and in need of extraction. They all live a dull life according to Charles’s autocratic commands. If ever there was a family in need of a make-over, the Rivenhall’s present a tall bill.
Enter The Grand Sophy. Quick, intelligent and exuberantly capable, twenty-year old Sophy is a bracing reveille to her cousin’s the Rivenhall’s staid existence at Berkeley Square. From the moment she arrives on her aunt’s doorstep elegantly attired with her entourage of a dog, a horse, a monkey, a parrot, a groom, a maid and a mountain of luggage, they are left with no uncertainty that this is no ordinary young lady. Outspoken and unafraid to stretch the edge of decorum, Miss Stanton-Lacy sizes up the household’s problems and sets about to make them right, much to the chagrin of her cousin Charles and his meddlesome fiancée Miss Wraxton, who thinks she’s a hoyden. Sophy is fearless in the face of propriety venturing beyond the constraints of the Regency women’s world visiting banks, buying horses, a Phaeton carriage, and planning and paying for her coming out Ball, all the while pushing her cousin Charles’ buttons at every turn. Their repartees are absolutely hilarious – Sophy almost always in command of the final outcome – and Charles not knowing what hit him. Life as the Rivenhall’s had known it has been quite undone. Along the way, Sophy has a great deal of fun, and so do we.
Life at Berkeley Square had become all at once full of fun and excitement. Even Lord Ombersley was aware of it. “By God, I don’t know what’s come over you all, for the place was used to be as lively as a tomb!”
Visiting Regency London is always a treat through Georgette Heyer’s astute eye. Her historical references are quite amazing. The descriptions of clothing, fabrics and furnishing were sumptuous. Her attention to the details of Regency carriages and horsemanship, was spot on. The plot kept me turning pages quickly, eager to see what Sophy’s next antic would be, and which couples would be together by the conclusion of the novel. Through Sophy’s exuberant personality we meet a heroine whose qualities of self assurance, conviction and zest for life are infectious. I had to laugh out loud when even the stuffy Rivenhall butler Dassett acknowledged that Sophy is a gem.
“I venture to say, she is a lady as knows precisely how things should be done. A great pleasure, if I may be pardoned the liberty, to work for Miss Sophy, for she thinks of everything, and I fancy there will be no hitch to mar the festivities.”
Yes, The Grand Sophy knows precisely how things should be done, and I would not have it any other way. This was by far my most enjoyable read this year. Fun, engaging and hilarious, I can not recommend it more highly. Sophy is a devilishly fine girl.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks Casablanca (2009)
Trade paperback (372) pages
Enter a chance to win one of five copies of The Grand Sophy and a set of ten Georgette Heyer novels at Jane Austen Today. The contest ends on July 31st, 2009.