The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Meg of writemeg

My first foray into the world of Georgette Heyer — and Regency romance — was not a disappointing one. Like the countless lords, fools and gentlemen who fall in love with brash, bewitching Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy, I don’t think I’ll be able to forget The Grand Sophy for a long while.

When her father leaves for South America, Sophy is deposited in the care of her father’s sister, Lady Ombersley, who lives in London with her indifferent husband and great brood of children — among them the beautiful Cecilia, close in Sophy’s age, and Charles Rivenhall, the eldest son and executor of the estate. After arriving at Berkeley Square, Sophy can quickly see she’s needed to set a great many things to rights in her family’s world: Charles and his terrible temper must be contained — and his engagement to Eugenia Wraxton, a pious and droll woman, cannot stand; the infatuation Cecilia has for handsome poet Augustus Fawnhope must also come to an end; and the children need some joy in their lives, which comes in the form of Jacko, the pet monkey Sophy entrances them with upon first stepping out of her carriage. And despite any of their efforts to resist her charms — or their anger at her turning their world upside down — it’s impossible for anyone not to love the Grand Sophy.

After finishing this novel, I count myself among the legion of Sophy’s admirers. Heyer’s novel of manners, family and love is witty, fun, entertaining and romantic. Sophy Stanton-Lacy is such a powerful presence in the story, you’d think everyone else would be totally washed out — but that couldn’t be further from true. Each character comes to life through Heyer’s spot-on descriptions and eye for detail, letting us know just what kind of a numbskull the dowdy Lord Bromford is without having to beat us over the head with the facts. As a writer, her touch is light but effective. And how I would have loved to go “for a turn” in the phaeton of one Lord Charlbury or Mr. Charles Rivenhall. The romantic English turns of phrase enchanted me, and Heyer’s language seems as authentic as I can imagine.

Though I’m quite the Jane Austen fan and love historical fiction, I was a little worried that the language and syntax of Heyer’s writing would overwhelm me — but was surprised to find it relatable, digestible and easy to understand. The potency of the story was what kept me reading frantically; I even considered taking an hour of vacation time to finish the book on a lunch break. The unexpected turns in the story kept it fresh and lively, and I couldn’t have asked for a better — or happier — ending . . . though I was sad to see it end. One of my favorite books of 2009.

The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2009)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-1402218941

Meg is an editor, columnist, blogger and lover of all things British from Southern Maryland. When she’s not watching “Becoming Jane,” taking photos of cupcakes or acquiring nail polish, she’s blogging about books, life and love at write meg! You can follow Meg on Twitter as writemeg.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 09 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2009) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about the plot or characters, or if you have read it, which is your favorite character or scene by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 10   Aug 16 – Interview with Vic Sanborn
Day 10   Aug 16 – Review: Friday’s Child
Day 11   Aug 18 – Review: The Quiet Gentleman
Day 11   Aug 18 – Review: Cotillion

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

48 thoughts on “The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. I really can’t believe I don’t have my own copy of this yet, one of Heyer’s most popular and beloved novels. Nor have I read it either! I’ll be interested in seeing what Heyer does with that delightful archetype, the meddling but good-intentioned young lady.

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  2. The Grand Sophy is one of my favourite Heyer novels – and I wish I could win this beautiful Sourcebook copy! I have so many favourite scenes – it is one of the funniest of Heyer’s books. Sophy is totally unforgettable. How about when Charles says “I will appreciate it if you don’t tell my sisters that Eugenia looks like a horse” and Sophy goes “But I meant no disrespect. You know how I love horses. I meant a particularly well-bred horse…” or something to that effect (I am quoting from memory). And then later, there is Hubert (I think) who says “I want to go and see the giraffe too!” (referring to another animal simile from Sophy) . I never liked Eugenia – but after a while, I was so sorry for her, however disagreeable she was, because she was totally out-classed by Sophy.

    The only warning to those who mind is that this is a romance featuring two first cousins. But then, Queen Victoria married her first cousin (Prince Albert) too. It was quite acceptable in those days.

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  3. I’ve been hearing a lot about this book and wondered what was the big deal. Thanks for the great review. It has given me the answers I sought – and yet another book to add to the tbr pile!
    Margay

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  4. I also loved Sophy – especially her grand entrance to the story.

    However, I think one must acknowledge the nasty bit of anti-Semitism displayed in the incident with the money lender. I guess it shows that Ms. Heyer was really of her era (born in 1902), in spite of writing this book after the war.

    I think my favourite character (after Sophy, of course) is Lord Charlbury, who had mumps at a most inopportune time. I already have the Sourcebooks edition, so I hope I may win one of the other titles!

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    • AprilFool – I don’t think it is just the era that she comes from, but even centuries ago jews were always considered be very rich and heavily into money-lending. I think all of Heyer’s books that mention money-lenders state, either directly or indirectly, that they were Jews. Even Sir Walter Scott in his Ivanhoe mentions the occupation of the jews. Such as been their lot for centuries! I believe Heyer has only put things down the way they were…

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      • Yes, but it’s not just the fact of the Jewish moneylender that she uses, it is the very nasty stereotype, and the way the character is abused and that abuse is approved of.

        Sir Walter Scott’s moneylender is a very human character (as well as being father of one of the heroines). Even Shylock is given a fully dimensional characterization, although much abused. Fagan, although he is also a villain (and gets a very bad end), is a largely sympathetic character (he treats Oliver better than anyone he has met up until that point). And then Dickens made amends for Fagan by creating the (rather boring) “good Jew” Mr. Riah in Our Mutual Friend.

        After WWII, once people had had time to digest the holocaust, such characterizations fell entirely out of favour. But people like GH, who grew into middle age before the war, often didn’t amend the prejudices they grew up with. IMHO (said she, pontificating) :)

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  5. This is my favourite Heyer – the more I read it, the more I love it! Charles may just be my favourite Heyer hero and Sophy is certainly my favourite heroine. My fear of monkeys makes me wary of Jacko: even as he entertains the Ombersley children, he sends shiver down my spine.

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  6. The Grand Sophy is my favorite Heyer book (by a smidge). I love the pace of the dialogue, the wit, and of course Sophy herself. I admire that she writes such spunky independent Heroines.

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  7. The scene where Sophy descends upon her cousins’ household was absolutely pitch-perfect. I had to pause in my progress and reread it three or four times before going on with the book, because it was just that entertaining. It was like watching a small bomb explode in an otherwise tidy Regency courtyard. :)

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  8. I have not yet had the pleasure of reading The Grand Sophy as of yet. It sounds like I am missing a fantastic book from this review! Sophy sounds like a character it would be a delight to read about. I wonder how she relates to Austen’s Emma . . .

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  9. I’ve always thought this was Heyer’s best book; it’s certainly the one I return to again and again when I need a lift. Sophy always seemed to me to be a cousin to the very energetic Miss Emma Woodhouse in Austen’s Emma. Although, unlike Emma, Sophy is never wrong about who everyone should end up with. This book has one of the most perfect conclusions with Sophy setting up all her pieces on the chessboard and letting the whole design play out. The only other book to match it for perfectly plotted conclusion is _The Unknown Ajax_ and I give TGS the edge for wit.

    Cassandra

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  10. I think the Grand Sophy was my first Heyer novel. Recommended by a friend with a Phd in English literature who vouched for the historical accuracy. I love Sophy when I met her over 40 years ago, and I still find her a romp. Like another commenter, I have to caution readers that one scene features a very stereotypical antisemitic character in the form of a Jewish moneylender. I read the book with the same reservations and regrets I have for the racism in Gone With the Wind, but I can’t give up Sophy (to me the heroes in these books are usually of secondary interest) any more than I can give up Rhett Butler (definitely not a secondary interest!)

    Having read extensive contemporary accounts of the battles in the Spanish campaign I’m awed at the idea that Sophy was so closely involved. More women than one would expect did follow closely behind the armies in those days and some even served the troops providing food, water, and sometimes ammunition. In contrast, as is the situation today, ordinary people went about their lives without concerning themselves with the continuing war.

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  11. I loved The Grand Spohy, one of my favorite Heyer novels. I loved the way Sophy deals with her cousin Mr. Rivenhall in her calm, meddlesome but endearing ways. Sophy was The Grand Sophy indeed! I have not read another Heyer novel with heroine (so far) that could match Sophy charms or her bold ways considering it was 19th century. It was refreshing to read that Sophy could buy her own horses or manage her own finances without the help of a male. It must have been a rarity back then. All in all, Sophy is a very modern and extroverted heroine – one of a kind.

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  12. I’ve read five Heyer novels and loved every heroine! It sounds like Sophy is a favorite with many Janeites. I guess I will have to find out myself….:) Thanks for a great review and I enjoy your website (especially the cupcakes pictures)

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  13. This one has always been on my top 5 list, for any author. The scenes where Sophy tells Charles (without telling him) what Eugenia is really like, and her gun, and the ball are all awesome. But the climax is priceless. Eugenia Wraxton (what a name!) is the shrew you love to hate.

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  14. I’ve heard from so many people that this one is absolutely their favorite Heyer novel and that Sophy is a delight to read. I can’t wait to read it myself and find out!

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  15. The Grand Sophy is, without question, one of Heyer’s top stories in almost everyone’s book. She is a distinctive and strong character, and her machinations are delightful. Great story!

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  16. It’s been so long since I’ve read this one, but I remember loving the ending. Everything was chaotic and yet worked itself out, which was just so Sophie. She’s a great character.

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  17. You picked a good one for your first Heyer, meg!

    Indeed, this was one I couldn’t put down either. What makes Sophy an unforgettable Heyeroine is that she’s one of the few heroines that doesn’t change, her character is constant from page 1, while all the other characters surrounding her are upended because she’s a force to be reckoned with. =) The minute she arrives with all her entourage, complete with Jacko the monkey, the Rivenhall family is never quite the same. =)

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  18. An assertive heroine who keeps readers smiling. Problems attacked with tenacity. This sounds like a feel – good story. Though set in the past it could provide the uplifting escapism that I need at present. I must read it!

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  19. I think this is my favourite of all the Heyer novels and Sophy is definitely my favourite heroine.

    I feel that probably in portraying the moneylender (can’t remember his name) Heyer was more likely to be portraying what she saw as historical truth rather than being anti semitic. The moneylender had to be dishonest – he wouldn’t have lent money to a minor otherwise – and the fact was that the Regency times and up to the beginning of the first world war nearly all the moneylenders were Jewish. (My grandmother, born 1882, used them and said she always went to Jewish moneylenders as they gave the best rates.)

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  20. I’ve read about 11 or 12 Heyer novels and Grand Sophy is one of my favorites. I read an old copy and passed it along. I wish I could reread it – a beautiful Sourcebook copy. Like other commenters, I loved the scene when Sophy first arrives on the scene, setting the household on its end.

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  21. This is a title I see consistently leading off people’s personal favorites lists, and I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for your review! It has whetted my appetite.

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  22. Great review…as an Austen lover, I cannot believe I have never read a Georgette Heyer book…this is the one most recommended to me so I would love to win a copy! Thanks!

    Courtney
    stilettostorytime(at)gmail(dot)com

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  23. Pingback: ‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’ at Austenprose – August 1st – 31st, 2010 « Austenprose

  24. I’m not sure (it’s VERY hard to choose!) but this may be my favorite Georgette Heyer romance. From the scene where the “grand” Sophy arrives (with the monkey!) and turns the household upside down, it is laugh-out-loud funny. I’d recommend it as an introductory GH novel, for anyone who has never read her books; it’s that good!

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  25. What a wonderful review Meg! Meg had some of the same concerns I have had, with one of the main ones being able to understand the language and slang that I have heard so much about. I am glad to read Courtney’s comment above that this title is the most frequently recommended to her, especially since she too has not yet entered Heyer’s world. And happy to read Cathy Allen and other Heyerites say that The Grand Sophy is a great book to start off with. So maybe, this will be the Heyer I start with.

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  26. The Grand Sophy is my favorite of Georgette Heyer’s novels (although only by a smidgen as I love Uncle Sylvester almost as much). Sophy is such a strong female character during a time when women were not allowed to be such. I love how she meddles in the family’s life but that it is always done with love. Having read this review I now find myself needing to dig my copy out and rereading it again!

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  27. Almost everyone I ask says The Grand Sophy is their favorite Heyer. I haven’t been able to find a copy anywhere and haven’t yet got around to ordering one. I’m intrigued and definitely want to read it!

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  28. The Grand Sophy sounds fresh and sparkling. Sophy seems to be a one woman whirlwind, putting everything in it’s place somehow. I can’t wait to read this one.

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  29. The Grand Sophy is the top of the tops, several times it has ranked in the first place among Heyerites, always with high marks and that was why it was the last Heyer novel I read when I began reading this writer, I wanted to save the best for last and I was not disappointed. There is not only a great heroine, but also several memorable secondary characters, even Miss Eugenia Wraxton, a character one loves to hate.

    IMHO, Sophy is perhaps the Emma Woodhouse in Heyerdom, however her schemes hardly go wrong, perhaps because Sophy was never a big fish trapped in a small pond, she has seen a larger world.

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  30. This is one of Heyer’s that I do not have. Several Heyer fans have told me this is one of their favorites, so I believe I must add this to my TBR pile.

    Felicia

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  31. Adore The Grand Sophy–it’s one of my very favorite Heyer novels. My favorite scene is the one where Sophy drives the annoyingly smug Miss Wraxton past all the gentleman’s clubs, because Miss W. has kindly told Sophy to mind her ps & qs even though much might be forgiven a woman who is sanctioned by Miss “I’m too proper for my shirt” Wraxton. Sophy’s response it to test Miss W.’s “credit” by a highly improper drive down St. James in an open carriage. Actually most scenes in this novel are a hoot; it has one of the most diverting casts of characters of any of Heyer’s novels.

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  32. I was a little worried about difficult-to-understand language too. Thank you for clearing that up. I would love to read the book that was almost worth giving up an hour of vacation. =)

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  33. This was my first Heyer novel. I loved it the first time, though not as good the second time around. Sophy is her most memorable character. I love her independence and the good she wants and does bring to those around her.

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  34. Wow, the Grand Sophy! I haven’t read it for ages but this review brings back the memories. I was on vacation to relatives and read all their Heyers – didn’t speak a word to anyone the whole holiday ;-)

    I’ll have to buy it and re-visit the wonderful heroine.

    I remember that when I read it as a 15 year old, Sophy was a bit too assertive for my taste. I would never have dared to be so honest and arrange other peoples’ lives! I’m sure that 30 years later, I’ll be able to appreciate her much better.

    Since then, I understand the attraction of hyphenated names. Am I the only one who thinks of Edmund Bertram’s parsonage at Thornton Lacy when reading Sophy’s name….?

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  35. I like Sophy-she is a larger than life heroine. I also like the subplot with her father’s lady friend (whose name escapes me right now…).

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