Lady of Quality, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by historical romance author Elizabeth Hanbury

Lady of Quality was Georgette Heyer’s last book before her death in July 1974.  She suffered chronic ill-health in her later years and fractured her leg in a fall in January 1972.  Despite this, she began work on another book and by April had sent the outline to her agent.  Lady of Quality was published in October – an amazing achievement and a tribute to Georgette Heyer’s talent and dedication to her craft.

The heroine is Annis Wychwood and the title sums her up nicely.  Annis is twenty-nine and unmarried (an old maid in Regency terms), but she’s no dowdy spinster.  She’s intelligent, rich, beautiful, elegant and charming, with a sense of humour and an independent spirit.  She lives in Bath with an impoverished cousin, Miss Maria Farlow, as her chaperone.

The book opens with Annis travelling home with Miss Farlow after a visit to her brother and his family.  In spite of her comfortable lifestyle and independence, Annis is bored.  Her future holds no promise of excitement and the well-meaning but prosy Maria only adds to her gloom.  Unsurprisingly, then, when Annis encounters a young couple arguing beside an overturned gig, her curiosity is aroused.  She alights from her carriage to investigate and discovers orphan and heiress Lucilla Carleton is running away from home in the company of her childhood friend Ninian Elmore.  Ninian’s parents and Lucilla’s aunt have been urging them to marry, but it’s a match that neither want.

Much to the jealous Miss Farlow’s dismay, Annis invites Lucilla to stay until her affairs can be sorted.  Annis enjoys introducing her protégé to Bath society and things go smoothly until Lucilla’s uncle and guardian arrives.  Rakish Oliver Carleton is the rudest man Annis has ever met and sparks fly from their first meeting.  He’s blunt, sardonic and unheeding of society’s rules,  but he’s also honest about his flaws, makes her laugh and is never, ever boring …

Lady of Quality is a truly delightful read.   Annis is a Regency heroine that modern women can easily relate to and the way her ordered, independent life is thrown into confusion by the arrival of Oliver Carleton lies at the heart of this story.  Oliver is less well-drawn than some Heyer heroes, but I love how he is honest with Annis from the outset and treats her as an adult, and his equal.  Their sparkling exchanges are one of the highlights of the book and their mutual passion oozes off the page.  In a contemporary review, journalist Phillipa Toomey coined Evelyn Waugh’s phrase ‘the bat’s squeak of sexuality,’ to describe the frisson of sexual attraction between Annis and Oliver.

The older secondary characters are unusually interesting too.  Maria Farlow’s annoying traits are masterfully displayed (she’s up there with Mr. Collins as the most irritating secondary character ever!) and family relationships are examined with a knowing and critical eye.  A vein of realism runs beneath the light hearted surface of Heyer’s romances.

In many ways, Lady of Quality is strikingly similar to Black Sheep, but, as Toomey pointed out, ‘Did anyone ever complain of being given another pretty little present by Fabergé?’  A fitting analogy and I highly recommend Lady of Quality, the last literary gem that the inimitable Georgette bestowed on us.  Her books have entertained generations of readers and will continue to do so.  She always delivered on style, wit and elegant prose, but above all, she was a consummate storyteller, one of the few able to recreate an entire world away from everyday life into which the reader could joyfully escape.  So if you’ve never read Georgette Heyer, what are you waiting for?  Read, enjoy, then spread the Heyer love – she’s too good not to share!

Lady of Quality, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2008)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-1402210778

Elizabeth Hanbury lives in a village in the heart of England and writes historical romance whenever she can find time to sneak away to her shockingly cluttered desk.  Her introduction to Georgette Heyer came in her teens when she discovered a battered paperback edition of Devil’s Cub in the bookcase.  Reading it sparked an enduring affection for Heyer’s work as well as a wider interest in the Georgian and Regency periods.  Elizabeth’s latest Regency romance is Ice Angel and her short story collection, Midsummer Eve at Rookery End is also available.  You can follow her blog posts at Elizabeth Hanbury and For Romance Readers.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 19 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Lady of Quality, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2008) 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 19   Aug 31 – Heyer Heroes, by Teach Me Tonight
Day 19   Aug 31 – Event wrap-up
Day 20   Sept 7 – Giveaway winners announced
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Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

49 thoughts on “Lady of Quality, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. What an enchanting review, Liz! =)

    It’s nice to know that Heyer wrote ‘quality’ novels until the very end. Bath seemed to figure more prominently in her later novels. Was Heyer’s health perhaps a reason for this shift?

    Loved the analogy of Heyer’s literary gems to Fabergé’s bejeweled pieces… very apt indeed. And I intend to use the phrase ‘the bat’s squeak of sexuality’ as often as I can in everyday conversation!

    I can’t wait to make the acquaintance of Annis and Oliver… =)

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    • Joanna, I hadn’t considered Heyer’s own health being the reason for Bath figuring more prominently in her later books – I guess it could have been a factor. LOL, good luck on working ‘the bat’s squeak of sexuality’ into everyday conversation!

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    • I agree with RegencyRomantic, “what an enchanting review!” If your own books are as well written as this “Lady of Quality” review is, then I shall have to check into them — I’m glad we have the link included here!

      I, too, liked the fact that Annis is an older heroine. It’s interesting that GH made that transition as she herself grew older. I loved the Faberge’ comparison — absolutely perfect! Thank you, Liz.

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  2. This one sounds wonderful. I like it that the heroine is older, and financially independent, and that the hero is referred to as being rude. A favorite quality of Heyer romances is the sharp dialog between main characters, and Annis and Oliver can be expected to deliver. Another one for my wish list.

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  3. I always enjoy reading this one because of the lines that zing around the pages. I like Oliver because he’s honest with how he feels towards Annis. As it says in the review, he treats her as an equal. The family element adds to the story. The over-protective older brother and his brood of kids and the meddling Maria~funny!

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  4. I started Lady of Quality as my first Heyer and I just couldn’t get into it. The characters felt too modern somehow. Since then, another Heyer fan has introduced me to some of Heyer’s works that are better for newbies and I’ve come to really appreciate her books. I do want to revisit this one eventually, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone just starting off with her novels.

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    • I’d agree there are other Heyer’s better for newbies. Although there is plenty of sharp dialogue in LofQ, there is less humour and less action than in some of her earlier books.

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  5. This sounds like a great read. Thanks for the review. Annis is just what a regency heroine should be and I’d love to read about her time with Lucilla and Oliver.

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  6. I’m glad you enjoyed this, Elizabeth, but I’m afraid I didn’t. It was my second Heyer and a huge comedown after Cotillion. I like that the leading couple is older, and some of their sparring is nice, but like almost everyone in the novel they strike me as “types,” rather than real people or even original caricatures. Maria is irritating all right, but I didn’t find her funny at all. I did like Annis’ sister-in-law, and the abigail, but that was all.

    Further thoughts here:
    http://www.librarything.com/work/16504/reviews/54585977

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    • Thanks for link to your review! Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the novel – when I first read LofQ years ago, it was very much a ‘second tier’ GH for me too, but over time I revised my opinion. Now, while it’s not in my top three, it is a favourite. One of the good things about GH is that she managed to ring the changes while staying within the constraints of the genre, which means there is something for everyone in her oeuvre :0)

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      • That’s very true – and I’m sure there are many more Heyers I have left to enjoy, even if I never revise my opinion of LofQ.

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  7. I love books when the heroine is older and mature and closer to the hero in age than heroines who are teenagers with heroes almost twice their age. This book was one of those and the heroine was very modern and independent with her own establishment in Bath. Only issue I had with this book was there was not much interaction between the hero and heroine. When Annis falls sick, it takes our hero Oliver forever to appear in Bath. Now, if the hero had been sick, I am sure Annis would have contrived to be near him and not doing some “business” in London. Anyway, all in all this was not a bad book.

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    • Hi Vidya, yes, many people prefer the books where the heroine is closer in age and maturity to the hero. When I first encountered these more ‘mature’ romances from GH, I remember being more interested in the secondary romance if it featured a younger couple. I guess different things appeal depending on the age of the reader :0)

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  8. I like how the hero is older, honest and not boring. It’s sad that there are mixed reviews for Heyer’s last book.

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    • Shannon, having read Heyer’s books in chronological order of publication, I find it interesting how her heroes grew ruder and her heroines grew older and more independent. I don’t know whether this was a conscious decision on GH’s part or just a reflection of her maturing as a writer and as a person.

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      • Liz, I too read her books in chronological order of publication and agree with you about her character development. How I wish she was still around so that we could pick her brain and find out what she was thinking as she wrote. She’s been a ‘friend’ of mine for many years and my favourites change with the years, but I really love them all. Even her mysteries.

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  9. Thank you for being one of the few who could appreciate this novel too, Liz.

    This was the antepenultimate Heyer novel I ever read, and although when I had less and less new Heyers to read I thought of saving the bests for last, I also included Lady of Quality in the batch because Black Sheep had been my first one and friends had warned me that they were very similar and considered Lady less succcesful. Maybe I am an oddity, but it doesn’t dissappointed me, in fact unlike many people I like it very well.

    Yes, there is a very close resemblance, but the twists are very subtle. For example, the secondary plot springs not from the heroine’s niece but the hero’s, then that niece is not on the verge of contracting an unsuitable match with a rake, but running away from a match which not be that terrible (in fact I believe that once the childhood friends have matured, they might see they can stomach well enough to get riveted to each other).

    Rhonda in the comments for Bath Tangle had mentioned some similarity to Lady of Quality, and I had mentioned that she might be confusing BT to Black Sheep, but on second thoughts she is not that mistaken. Annis like Serena has moved from her old home to Bath because her father passed away and the heir has taken possession of the family seat, but then their relationship with the said heir is different and worth discovering.

    As Liz had mentioned in the review, there are also very interesting secondary characters, like that Farlow woman, one of the characters one would wish to strangle. But among my favourites there are Jurby and Lindbury, old members of Annis’s staff.

    Last but not least, I consider Mr. Carleton’s actions in the last chapter quite romantic, no matter how outrageous might be seem for the prim and proper, he, he, he, he.

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    • Hi Cinthia *waves*

      I too have wondered if the childhood friends might, after all, get riveted to each other in time ;0) I’ve read somewhere though (maybe in GH’s bio?) Heyer herself mused that Lucilla could end up marrying Harry Beckenham! What a pity we never got to find out :-(

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  10. Wow – what a fantastic review! It makes me want to run out and pick up a copy of Lady of Quality.

    I always enjoy Heyer’s novels where her heroines are more mature and “on the shelf.” Annis and Oliver sound like a delight to read about- I love verbal sparring. Annis almost sounds like the lady that Emma Woodhouse would have become if she would have sadly never gotten together with Mr. Knightley.

    I am also intrigued that Miss Farlow is almost as despicable and annoying as Mr. Collins. Heyer’s secondary characters are such a delight!

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    • Miss Farlow is so well written – she seems a slightly pathetic character at first, but gradually GH reveals the peculiar sort of tyranny she tries to wield over Annis.

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    • Annis is indeed rather like a grown-up Emma Woodhouse, except not quite so meddling. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who thought of that! And Oliver is rather like Charlotte Bronte’s Mr. Rochester – except that he never comes to any sort of repentance. Indeed, one of the things that some readers love about the novel and others hate, is the fact that he never really seems to give up his rakish ways. In fact, he doesn’t change much at all – except in his feelings towards the heroine, and towards marriage.

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  11. I am a relative newbie with Heyer. This was my 4th read. I have to say I enjoyed it tremendously. Maybe it’s because I’m creeping up the age ladder myself being in my 50’s, but I thought the characters were developed. I especially enjoyed Ninian. I could just picture him trying to be mature..trying so hard not to disappoint anyone and be a responsible young man. Having 6 grandkids I’m around young ones daily and I just thought this was funny. I liked the work to be done on Lucilla…bringing her up to par so to speak. Annis was very real to me. I could just picture her being fed up with others trying to run her life for her and figuring out how to work around or out maneuver those involved. You can see the wheels spinning in her mind as she as Elizabeth Bennet in P&P enjoyed watching people’s characters and dispositions. Maria annoyed me since she was just a spy planted by her brother in a sense. But then again that was what made her character. Overall a very fun read. Took me a minute to get into it at the start but it didn’t take long and I was eager to see how it ended.

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  12. When I reread this recently, I found myself looking for the scene where the heroine meets the uncle at the inn – and finally realized that was in Black Sheep – so I was a bit disapppointed. It is a bit too close for comfort – but yes, it does have its own charms. The young non-lovers Lucilla and Ninian were the ones I was trying (and failing) to remember in my post on Sprig Muslin – there are three or four pairs of them throughout GH.

    I find I can’t think of a favourite scene because the ones I remember – even with the book in hand – are from Black Sheep!

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    • AF, it’s surprising that LofQ is so similar to Black Sheep, especially when you consider they were published only a few years apart. LOL, I know what you mean about confusing the secondary young lovers. Sprig Muslin is also complicated by GH throwing Hildebrand (sp?) Ross into the mix!

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  13. I agree with the review about how Annis is a relatable heroine and how Oliver is a good hero because he treats her as an equal. I think Lady of Quality, while not a top-fiver, is too often underrated or overlooked.

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  14. It has been quite a while since I read this. The review makes me want to go request it from my library. I love the way Heyer’s dialogs zing!

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  15. Just to discover Maria Farlow, the female version of Mr. Collins, how can I resist. Add to that “the bat’s squeak of sexuality” between Annis and Oliver, well I just had to take this last opportunity to enter just for those intriguing reasons.

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