Venetia, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

One of Georgette Heyer’s most beloved novels, Venetia is set in the countryside of the North Riding of Yorkshire three years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Its eponymous heroine Venetia Lanyon is not your conventional Heyer Regency Miss. Unmarried at age twenty-five she has never been in love, is close to being on the shelf, and has resigned herself to the narrow fate of spinsterhood.

Raised by her reclusive father since her mother’s death fifteen years prior, Venetia has seen little of life beyond the family estate of Undershaw Manor or an occasional country dance at Harrogate. Since her father’s death shortly after the Battle of Waterloo she has been overseeing the household of her younger brothers: twenty-two year-old Sir Conway, a soldier overseas with the Army of Occupation in Cambray, France, and sixteen-year old Aubrey, a brilliant scholar studying for Cambridge who abhors his physical limitations from a pronounced and ugly limp. Also within her small sphere are two improbable suitors who would like to win her hand: Edward Yardley, a dull, pompous, egoist who thinks NO is a YES, and Oswald Denny, a bumbling teenage wanna-be rake who idolizes Lord Byron the mad, bad and dangerous to know poet. Life as a maiden aunt in her brother’s household seems a far preferable fate until a chance encounter with an estranged neighbor, the “Wicked Baron” of Elliston Priory, leaves a surprisingly favorable impression.

Others tell her the Baron, Lord Jasper Damerel is scoundrel, a rake, and a libertine. Not at all a suitable association for any young lady who does not want her reputation ruined. Their first encounter while she walks alone near his estate is one of Heyer’s most famous scenes. (I will not reveal spoilers – but it is very praise worthy.) Damerel is as brazen and unprincipled as his reputation precedes him, but, instead of swooning or running from his advances Venetia firmly holds her ground and pelts him with literary retorts, challenging his intelligence and temporarily belaying his dishonorable intentions. Their verbal sparring snaps and sparkles like dry kindling to a hungry fire confirming Heyer’s brilliance with characterization and dialogue. Venetia does not hesitate to say what she thinks and that makes him laugh, a refreshing change for this world-weary social outcast. Tall, dark and disreputable, everything about rakish Damerel tells her to check herself, but Venetia does the exact opposite, she befriends him.

Lord Damerel is intrigued and continues to seduce her until the green girl before him earns his true respect and deep affection. He is in love and wants her for his wife. Venetia secretly feels the same and awaits his proposal until Damerel suddenly becomes chivalrous and will not sully her reputation by marrying her. Meanwhile her brother Conway’s young bride arrives unannounced from France with her surly mother to take possession of Undershaw displacing Venetia who quickly accepts an invitation to stay with her aunt and uncle Hendred in London. Her family hopes that the change of scenery will help her forget the unsuitable Lord Damerel, but she only fears she may never see him again. However, Venetia is a realist who knows how the world works and a newly discovered family secret spurs her into action. She will need all her wit and guile to challenge propriety and to prove to Damerel that their social standing has nothing to do with keeping them apart.

Venetia Lanyon is one of Heyer’s most liberated heroines and Lord Damerel one of her darkest rogues. They seem a most unlikely pair, but Heyer’s skill at devising impossible obstacles for her hero and heroine is like syllabub and sunshine, we just can’t get enough if it. Upon their first meeting Damerel quotes Shakespeare, ‘How full of briars is this workaday world!’ which is an important theme throughout the novel. Both Venetia and Damerel face the challenges of social stricture – the briars of the workaday world – and overcome them in their own way. The plot is simple and secondary to the romantic tension, scintillating dialogue and playful sparing which is so much sexier than any modern bodice ripper could hope to generate. Cleverly, Heyer’s Venetia does not reform a rake, she discovers that a knight errant is what she needs. (Don’t we all?)

Venetia, by Georgette Heyer
Harlequin (2009)
Trade paperback (368)
ISBN: 978-0373774180

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 Venetia, 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 15    Aug 25 – Review: The Unknown Ajax
Day 15    Aug 25 – Review: A Civil Contract
Day 16    Aug 27 – Review: The Nonesuch
Day 16    Aug 27 – Review: False Colours

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

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

  1. I’ve been reading the reviews hoping they would help me decide my second GH read.
    This is the one. :) I’m excited.
    Andie

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    • Excellent choice Andie. One of my fav Heyer’s and definitely (so far) my fav Heyer hero, even though he over does the endearments! ;-) Venetia is a strong heroine who knows what she wants and goes for it. Enjoy!

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  2. Thank youvfor this review. I adore Venetia (the book) and I find Damerel and Venetia an extremely likeable couple. I love the way that, once Venetia has realised the truth of her situation, she takes matters into her own hands to get what (and who) she needs. I only recently read this book and I wish I had found it years ago.

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  3. Wow – what a wonderful review!! I agree with the other reviewers, I think Venetia needs to go to the top of my Heyer “to-read” list!

    I love the description of the unique heroine and hero . . . especially that Venetia doesn’t feel the need to tame the Rogue. I am intrigued by the description of their first meeting and want to read about it! The great verbal sparring sounds like something right up my alley .. . .

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  4. I adore Venetia. If only modern romantic comedies had dialogue half as brilliant as this! Again, Heyer’s secondary characters are just as fascinating as her hero and heroine. I might have to reread this (and Sylvester) again soon…possibly starting tonight.

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  5. I read one of the, shall we say, “facsimilies” of this story a few years before I actually discovered Venetia. I had not particularly liked those re-hashed versions, but when I read the original, I thought, “YES! This is how it should have been written in the first place!”

    The dialog truly does sparkle here, and I thought the relationship between Venetia and Damerel grew honestly as they came to know one another. It was a treat to watch their affection blossom.

    I also enjoyed Venetia’s brother Aubrey. He is such a typical, oblivious teen-age boy, and the perfect means to bring the hero and heroine together. Already I feel the need to read it again.

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  6. I’ve enjoyed all the Heyer novels I’ve read so far, but I haven’t read this one yet. The very strong minded heroine sounds quite intriguing!

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  7. I understand that Richard Armitage has recorded a reading of this for Naxos. As I have just finished listening to his The Covenient Marrige and still in early stages of recovery, I am going to put Venetia on my list. One of my favourite Heyers

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  8. I love your review, Laurel Ann, but I’m sorry to say I really couldn’t get into Venetia. The brooding Mark I hero and the Shakespearean quotes should have been a sure hit for me, but somehow, Venetia’s ‘stoopid’ endearments irritated me to distraction! =(

    This will be the next book in our cyber group read. Perhaps my eyes will be opened to the merits of this Heyer, as it seems a strong favorite.

    [As an aside, am not loving these Harlequin covers as much as the Sourcebooks ones.]

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    • I will concede that the gooey endearments “darling delight” were over the top. If one can overlook them, and I did to stay sane, I loved the character Damerel. He is very conflicted, penetrating and powerful. A nice change. And, of course I have also listened to Richard Armitage’s reading of Venetia. Even though it was an abridgment, it was a delight. HE made Damerel totally swoonable.

      In agreement on the Sourcebooks covers being more fetching! I believe they now have the rights to the last batch of Heyer novels that were published in limited release in 2009 by Harlequin. Hopefully out in 2011 & 2012. Then readers can have a complete set of beautiful covers and Heyer lining their shelves or gracing their eReaders. Sourcebooks does offer all of their Heyer collection in ebooks by-the-way.

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      • ‘Darling delight’! That’s the one I couldn’t remember… See, I’ve blocked it from my memory because it still makes me cringe every time I ‘hear’ it in my head… Ugh… Perhaps I should listen to Richard Armitage’s reading again (which, if you would believe, I’ve only listened to once).

        I’ve just checked out Sourcebooks’ website. I’m such a technical numpty: Can the Adobe Ebook or Epub versions be read in the iPhone Kindle? Or can I load this onto Stanza?

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        • *scratches head* was it darling delight or dearest delight? Either way it is the one aspect of the novel that Heyer did not get quite right for me too.

          I wonder if she did it on purpose? Damerel is a libertine and a rogue (or at least we are told so from other characters). When he says these flowery endearments it seems so out of place. Like some fop in lace and a powdered wig should be rattling them off.

          Regarding your eReader questions, I know that the B&N eReader software that you download to iPhone or iPad ot Blackberry or your computer will read them. I know that you can purchase Sourcebooks eBooks at Amazon for the Kindle. Mags at AustenBlog or Laura at GirleBooks would know for sure Joanna.

          I am only slightly better than a numpty with eBooks. I know everything the nook can do since I own one and sell them, but not so much on the rest. Can you purchase eBooks from Amazon in the Orient? Or do you order directly from Sourcebooks?

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          • IIRC, it’s ‘dear delight’… *cringe*… =P

            Heyer’s intent is not clear, either, for me. Is Damerel only a sardonic hero at the surface, but the flowery endearments are meant to convey he is a ‘true romantic’ at heart? After all, he impulsively ran off with an older, married woman at a young age…

            I can purchase Kindle editions directly from Amazon, but when I checked out Sourcebooks website, I realized that not all of Heyer’s books that they have on Adobe EBook/EPub versions are available on Kindle editions at Amazon.

            So, before I purchase directly from Sourcebooks, I want to make sure I have the proper eReader for my iPhone. Will research more and ask Mags or Laura.

            Thanks Laurel Ann! =)

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  9. I received the Richard Armitage audio version of this yesterday and it is part of my plan to listen to while I quilt my daughter’s wedding quilt. I enjoy the quilting part and am excited to have this addtion to my quilting time. I’ve received 2 of the 3 that he’s done and am just waiting for the 3rd to arrive. I really enjoyed this book and was surprised at the ending of it, not that the hero and heroine found their way to each other, which is not a surprise in a Heyer book, but the way they did. Definitely a good book!

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  10. I just discovered Heyer’s work a few weeks ago and have been reading furiously. I can’t wait to check this book out.

    I’m intrigued by this rakish nature of Lord Damerel. Thus far, the Heyer books I’ve read have had playful rogues by not ‘dark rogues’.

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  11. Of all the Heyer novels I’ve read so far, Venetia is far and away my favorite. I love Venetia’s spunk, Damerel’s daring, and their witty banter. And, of course, their kisses! Whew. But there are also such great auxiliary characters here: Aubrey and Oswald are two of my all-time favorites. Poor Oswald’s attempt to be a rake had me laughing out loud.

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  12. I have always been puzzled by the intensity of the disapproval surrounding the pairing of Venetia and Damerel. I wondered whether GH had originally intended to make Damerel that actual skeleton in the Lanyon family closet, rather than having an exactly parallel episode with another. (This would be a bit closer to Black Sheep.) I can understand that she might have either dropped the idea or been persuaded out of it by the borderline incest.

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  13. Notwithstanding the gooey endearments, I love this one! Venetia is one of the few GH books where the hero and heroine are equally well drawn. And Richard Armitage’s reading is just wonderful *swoon*

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  14. Hi there Laurel,

    I have to admit to not reading any of Heyers novels, but I mean to rectify this, however should I read them in any order or just jump in and try one.
    I do love Jane Austens novels so I am hoping I will get to love these as much.
    Look forward to the reply ,
    Barbara

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    • Hi Barbara, you do not have to read them in order of publication. I suggest that you start with one of her most beloved novels like, Venetia, Friday’s Child or The Grand Sophy. There are so many great ones to choose from. Read threw the reviews and whatever strikes your fancy will most likely be wonderful. Have fun.

      Cheers, Laurel Ann

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  15. This is one I haven’t read yet, but it sounds wonderful, esp. the aspect of a ‘dark’ hero engaging in Heyer’s great dialogs.

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  16. So many wonderful books to read, it’s hard to choose! With a dark rake, a heroine with sunny qualities, humor and exciting dialogue, I must consider Venetia at the top of my list. Wonderful review!

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  17. What I would like is an annotated edition of this novel, since beside having one of the most beloved couples in Heyerdom, this novel has several literary references and allusions.

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  18. This is a good one, though I was slightly bothered by Venetia wanting to ruin herself just so she could be with Damerel. It just seemed a bit desperate.

    I was fascinated with Aubrey’s character; Heyer’s insights into the mind of a sickly young man are excellent and he’s one of my favorite characters.

    One tiny note: in your last paragraph, “rouges” should be “rogues.” I don’t think Damerel is a shade of blush, dark or otherwise ;)

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  19. There is a link on this site to notes about Venetia. Not exactly an annotated version, but all the literary references and biblical quotations are here (I wish I knew as much as the nurse, even if I don’t think all her quotes fit). There are also other links available. He (yes, a man-fan!) also has a discussion group, sometimes active and sometimes totally silent, but very enjoyable. If anyone is interested, let me know and I’ll get you introduced. It’s pretty much a protected list, to guard against spam, but all are welcomed.

    I enjoy Aubrey and Oswald, and Mrs. Scorrier is another very visual character.

    http://heyerlist.org/

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  20. Another for my list. I live the juxtaposition of a Mark I hero with a liberated female. The family secret intrigues me. I want to hear the over the too endearments for myself.

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  21. I love, love, love this one!!! It along with Devil’s Cub is probably my favorite favorite of them all. At least of the ones I’ve read! I love Damerel as a hero…and Venetia is great too! There are so many wonderful scenes in this one! It was such a joy to read :)

    I would definitely recommend listening to the audio of this one in addition to reading it!

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  22. I enjoy Venetia a lot too. I think I loved it more compared to other Heyers when I was young, but even in my more “mature” years, the dialog sparkles, the characters are well-drawn, and I love the way Venetia takes charge of her own destiny.

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  23. I know that I read this years ago when, as a college student and young mother, I read all the Heyers I could find, but I’ve totally forgotten the plot and characters. I am most intrigued by the age and independence of this Heroine. And who doesn’t love a rake? At least in print. At home, I must admit, I love and prefer my domesticated “Cat.” But those wild “Tom Cats” are a treat to read about.

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  24. Thank you for including me. I love it when a “green” girl has a brain and a spine. I’ve read too many stories where the “green” girl makes so many foolish mistakes.

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  25. Venetia is a heroine of mine; thanks for such a well written and thoughtful review! I’m really enjoying Georgette Heyer month- thank you!

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  26. I love these Heyer characters who understand the world that they live in and use it to their advantage, especially her heroines, who often are not damsels in distress. Venetia sounds amazing, I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

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  27. Beautifully written, Laurel Ann! I especially liked:

    “Their verbal sparring snaps and sparkles like dry kindling to a hungry fire confirming Heyer’s brilliance with characterization and dialogue.”

    So many Heyer’s that I must to read!

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  29. Venetia is one of my favorite Heyers, along with Sylvester. and Devil’s Cub. Damerel is certainly swoon-worthy, whether read by Mr Armitage or no. And I like that Venetia knows her mind, and what to do to get what she wants, even though she’s been sheltered her entire life.

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  30. Venetia is one of my favourite Heyer-oines. A few years back, I discovered my daughter had somehow missed this one. I dug out my copy and was able to watch her fall in love with Venetia for herself. That sparkling repartee can’t be duplicated.

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  31. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this book. It’s my all-time favorite Heyer novel (or is that Frederica? I can’t decide!). I adore the witty exchanges between Venetia and Damarel and what happens when they meet never fails to make me giggle. The last quarter of the novel starts to fall apart, in my opinion, but the last scenes are great with more witty dialogue. I fell in love with Damarel big time, despite his reputation (which is never actually confirmed). This is the way to do the rake plot right. So many authors have tried to copy the meet sequence and the basic plot outline of the novel and fail to understand what makes Venetia and Damarel’s relationship so special. The character development is top notch and this book can’t be beat!

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  32. Another one that I wasn’t looking forward to but was slightly redeemed by the review. Shakespearean quotes definitely add spice and interest to anything! :P

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  33. Venetia was the second Heyer novel that I read, and its the one that cemented my love for Heyer’s books. I reread it right after finishing it. Sadly, it can’t take the spot as my favorite Heyer because I get so annoyed with half of the characters. I sincerely love Venetia, Aubrey, and Damarel, though.

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  34. One of Heyer’s most famous scenes and one of Heyer’s most beloved novels, I would be a fool not be interested in Venetia! Now add the brazen and unpricipled hero on one side up against the intelligent, non-conforming almost upon the shelf, lady on the other side, then let the witty, humurous, sparring dialogue begin. Laurel Ann’s amazing review with remarks like; “Their verbal sparring snaps and sparkles like dry kindling to a hungry fire”, whoa – how can one resist taking this novel on!

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