Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Originally published in 1957, Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle is one of Georgette Heyer’s more popular Regency Romance novels. Its protagonist (or maybe antagonist) is the wealthy, arrogant and pragmatic Sylvester Rayne, the Duke of Salford. In his twenty-eighth year he has taken it upon himself to marry, much to the surprise of his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Salford, producing a short-list of five suitable debutantes that meet his exacting standards of an accomplished woman! (Mr. Darcy was more generous in his assessment of the female sex. He allowed half a dozen ladies “in the whole range of my acquaintance, which are really accomplished.”) ;-) However, among the list of beautiful and well-bred young women his mother does not see her first choice, the Hon Phoebe Marlow, granddaughter of his godmother Dowager Lady Ingham.

Sylvester soon travels to London to consult Lady Ingham, but he is put off by her inelegant attempt to fix the match solely based on the fact that her daughter, Phoebe’s mother, and his mother were best friends. Meanwhile, word reaches Phoebe’s spiteful stepmother that the Duke of Salford will shortly make an offer for her hand and commands her to accept. Horrified, Phoebe is also put off by the reasons for the alliance and her memory of the cold, proud Duke of Salford from her London season. When they are formally introduced she is shy and dull, and he is unimpressed. In a panic, Phoebe runs away to London and the sanctuary of Lady Ingram, escorted by her childhood friend Tom Orde. A carriage accident interrupts their journey happened upon by Lord Rayne who thinks he has discovered a runaway marriage in progress. When a snow storm traps them all together at the local Inn, Sylvester begins to see that Phoebe is actually quite intelligent and interesting, and not at all the young woman of his first impression. Gallantly, he removes any concerns that she may be harboring on his proposing marriage to her. She in turn, is gratefully relieved sharing that nothing could possibly induce her to marry him!

In typical Heyer fashion her independent heroine and staid hero are the most unlikely couple imaginable. How she will bring them together is a humorous and engaging adventure, filled with pride, prejudice and misunderstandings. In addition, Heyer’s cast of secondary characters are predictable, but most welcome: Ianthe the spoilt and impulsive widow of Sylvester’s twin brother who thinks he is a villainous brute, Sir Nugent Fotherby her foppish and absurd fiancé, Tom Orde the steady and trusting family friend, and Lady Ingham the meddling but well-meaning older relative, among others.

Heyer excels at bringing out the eccentric and the ridiculous in her characters played against dry humor like few can. The subplot of Phoebe anonymously writing a Gothic novel mirroring the personalities and physical characteristics of her family and friends is brilliant. When Sylvester’s signature devilish-looking eyebrows show up on the villain Count Ugolino, scandalizing the Ton, she unintentionally admits that she was the authoress resulting in hilarious fallout. As with all of Heyer’s romances, there is a hard wrought happy ending. How all the ill-informed opinions and misconceptions will be resolved, I will leave to the reader to discover, but Sylvester stands as one of my favorite Heyer novels and worthy of moving up your TBR list.

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer
Harlequin (2009)
Trade paperback (368) pages
ISBN: 978-0373773855

On a whim, Laurel Ann Nattress created Austenprose, a blog celebrating the brilliance of Jane Austen’s writing and the many offshoots that she has inspired. As a bookseller at Barnes & Noble she delights in selling her favorite author’s works to the masses and in her spare time, she is currently deep into her editing duties for a Jane Austen short story anthology to be published in 2011 by Random House. An expatriate of southern California she lives in a country cottage near Seattle, where it rains a lot. You can follow Laurel Ann on Twitter as Austenprose.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 14 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer (Harlequin, 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 14    Aug 23 – Review: Venetia
Day 15    Aug 25 – Review: The Unknown Ajax
Day 15    Aug 25 – Review: A Civil Contract
Day 16    Aug 27 – Review: The Nonesuch

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

39 thoughts on “Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. I need to reread this one – as I read the review the story came back to me in all its delight, but I can’t remember all the twists and turns. I love the Heyer novels in which the bored and jaded beau falls for the young and spirited lady, especially when they end up stuck at an inn together!

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  2. This is definitely one of my favorites so far. The subplot of the scandalous novel (and Sylvester’s scandalous eyebrows) is so much fun! And I really like how Heyer explores her hero’s character. He’s a person in his own right, not just a foil to the heroine.

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  3. I have not read this one, and this is even the first review I’ve seen. The typical miscues, and misunderstandings will be lots of fun, no doubt, but I’m esp. intrigued by the idea of the heroine writing a novel under an assumed name. What a “novel” twist.

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  4. Sylvestor was the first Heyer novel that I discovered at my local library. I checked it out on a whim and fell in love with the novel and Heyer’s writing style.

    I love all of the characters, but especially Sylvestor and Phoebe. I love how they work through their misconceptions to find true love.

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  5. I’m am intrigued by anything reminding me of my love for Pride and Prejudice and this novel sounds terrific. Thanks for the review.

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  6. Sylvester is my very first Heyer, so it will always hold a special place in my heart… and so far, the Duke of Salford has not been unseated as my favorite Heyero! =)

    I do love the device of the ‘novel within the novel’ and all the problems that it creates for Sylvester and Phoebe. Phoebe is such an unlikely heroine – not a great beauty, but with a lively imagination, an independent streak, and an astute observer of people… she puts me in mind of a young Jane Austen!

    And how can one not laugh out loud about Sir Nugent Fotherby, with his collar points so high he can not turn his head? =D He’s the pinkest of the Pink of the Ton!

    And, of course, there’s the adorable Edmund Rayne! =)

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    • I agree about the ‘novel within the novel’ device in “Sylvester.” It was cleverly done, and I like this one very much, especially Phoebe.

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    • Yes, Edmund! He’s one of the best parts of the book. I especially love the scene where he’s first introduced to Phoebe. (“I won’t have my tooth pulled out again.”) I always think it’s quite an achievement for Heyer to have written such a convincing child. Many writers put too many complicated speeches in the mouths of children, but for the most part Edmund’s dialogue seems to me to be entirely believable for a spoiled four-year-old (is that the right age?). I love that he’s always showing off illicitly acquired words he doesn’t entirely understand.

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  7. This is my favorite Heyer. I only chanced upon Heyer via Richard Armitage reading an abridged Sylvester audiobook. I loved the story, but I loved it far more when I nabbed the unabridged version from my library, which made the building romance more believable. Now I wish only to have my own copy to read again and again. (that, and Devil’s Cub)

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  8. This novel sounds too good to miss! I agree with some of the other posts. I can never pass by something that reminds me of Pride & Prejudice! Thanks for the great review!

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  9. I just received the audio version by Richard Armitage today and can’t wait to listen to it. I’m making a quilt for my daughter’s upcoming wedding and I’m planning on listening to the audio while quilting. Sylvester is one of my favorites.

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  10. absolutely one of my favorite GHs also. would love to get the audio version ready by Richard Armitage too. I love that Phoebe remains as outrageous as ever, while believeably falling in love with Sylvester. And it’s nice to see how Sylvester changes. Love Tom and Sylvester’s cousin as 2ndary characters!

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  11. Yes I agree with all comments. One of my favourite Heyers and I found it particularly touching and sad when, on two occasions, we discover how much Sylvester loved and misses his dead twin brother. Always brings a lump to my throat.

    Reading all these reviews makes me want to read every single book over again!

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  12. Here we have Heyer back in form, Sylvester is one of her best novels all in all. It is difficult to choose which scene is best, because there are several. Furthermore, the cast is amazing, from the two protagonists to the supporting cast which includes even His Grace’s staff trying to get a glipse of the lady who has caught his fancy. Phoebe is certainly an unconventional heroine and I love it for that, and I adore the term of endearment adopted for her: Sparrow.

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  13. I enjoyed this one – especially Phoebe. I found it particularly endearing and believable that, although she had tremendous courage, she had a great dread of being scolded and raked over. And of course her evil stepmother did this on every occasion. Loved the whole sea crossing/seasickness business – a variation on the invalid-in-an-inn theme. The other variation of course: being-snowed-in-with-an invalid-in-an-inn.

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  14. I like the way their perceptions of eachother change as they get to know each other, and every time Edmund says, “I want my Button!”

    This is one that does have layers in the characters. Every time I read the scene on the dance floor I cry.

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  15. Of course I live the romantic aspect of this novel (like Meredith, I love love/hate plots) but what really caught my eye was a heroine who writes novels. As one who has done it, I can say that the whole story within a story thing is not as easy as it sounds, and I really want to see how Heyer managed it.

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  16. i’m very new to Heyer. I’m currently listening to a most lush reading by Richard Armitage which I believe is abridged. I will now seek to read the full version when I get hold of a copy. I had no idea such fun was ahead when I first began the story. It’s gorgeous!

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  17. I still remember that, the first time I read this, many years ago, having involuntary laugh-out-loud moments in the middle of the book. Phoebe’s shrinking from loud voices and confrontations was a character trait that instantly made me identify with her.

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  18. Oh, and don’t forget the lovely lovely character of Sylvester’s mother. So worried about her son and so nice to Phoebe in the end. That scene is one of my favorites in the Heyer universe.

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  19. I was introduced to Georgette Heyer novels by my mother when I was a teenager some forty years ago. She gave me Friday’s Child to read. I have been an ardent fan ever since and re-read most of the novels ever since. Some of them I’ve read more than others and Sylvester is one of those. It is probably my favourite Heyer, although Venetia and The Grand Sophy are also up the top of the list. I have recently started to listen to audiobooks and found an unabridged Sylvester which is just delightful. The ballroom scene, the first proposal scene, Sylvester’s scene with his mother when he tells her he has made a “mull of it” and Phobe’s scene with the Duchess all bring a lump to my throat, no matter how many I read them. Great review! thank you for reminding me how much I love Sylvester!

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