From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:
I will state unequivocally that Venetia is my favorite novel by author Georgette Heyer (1902-1974). That is quite an accolade considering the depth of her oeuvre including 26 Regency, 8 Georgian, 6 historical fiction, 4 contemporary, and 12 detective fiction novels. That’s 56 in total, and in my book, Venetia tops them all.
Ergo, it was no surprise to me that The Folio Society selected Venetia as their first Georgette Heyer book to trot out and showcase with their exquisite selection of beautifully bound and illustrated collector’s editions. They have assembled an impressive artistic team with Illustrations by Sally Dunne, binding design by Jessica Hische, and an introduction by Stephen Fry, the British actor and broadcaster who is a great champion of the author.
Here is a slide show to illustrate the entire package and a guest review by Heyer’s biographer, Jennifer Kloester. Enjoy!
GUEST REVIEW BY JENNIFER KLOESTER
I have long loved the glorious Folio Society editions of famous books. With their elegant slip covers and beautiful illustrations. They often give new life to old favourites and over the years I have collected Folio Society editions of some of my most beloved books.
Imagine my delight then when I learned that 2021 would see the first-ever Folio Society edition of a Georgette Heyer novel and that the book would be Venetia. Written in 1958, Venetia is one of Heyer’s “Golden Age” novels and is considered by many readers to be among her finest books. It seemed a perfect choice for a first Folio Society edition, and I awaited its arrival with eager anticipation. I was not disappointed.
Opening the parcel, I found the book snugly encased inside its deep purple slip cover, on one side of which is a superbly rendered black-and-white pencil drawing of Venetia, the novel’s eponymous heroine. Clad in an elegant walking dress with puffed sleeves and wearing a bonnet over her charming curls, Venetia’s intelligence, and sense of humour—both so important to the story—show in her eyes and in her smile. As a taste of things to come, it is a satisfying picture and I felt reassured that the illustrator, Sally Dunne, had not only read the book, but also understood its themes and characters.
Slipping Venetia from its case I found a sumptuous purple cover with tan and gilt embellishments. On the front Georgette Heyer’s name is writ large in gilt above a graceful central medallion, below which appears the novel’s title in flowing gold script. On the back cover the initials GH are intertwined and look rather like a hallmark—a hopeful sign that this is to be the first of many Folio Society imprints of Heyer novels.
This edition is beautifully illustrated with half a dozen drawings, each depicting an iconic scene from the book. Of course, every reader has their own vision of what a novel’s characters look like, but I found Sally Dunne’s pictures of Venetia and Damerel, Aubrey, Edward Yardley, Oswald Denny, Mrs Scorrier, and poor, naïve Charlotte, delightful.
One of the highlights of this new Folio Society edition is the Introduction written by the inimitable Stephen Fry. Not only is he an ardent fan of Heyer’s novels, but Stephen Fry is also undeniably erudite and perceptive. It was with real pleasure that I read his comprehensive account of Heyer’s achievements as,
“…one of the wittiest, most insightful and rewarding prose writers imaginable.”— Stephen Fry
More than that, Mr Fry reminds readers of many of the historical realities of the English Regency—the period that Heyer made her own—and why she refused “to stint on the reality of the world she as escorting us to”. He also elaborates on what that reality was like for women in that era and on Venetia herself: the “independent, intelligent, well-read, wise, alert, strong-willed” heroine of this beloved book.
It was John Aubrey’s (1626-1697) description of Venetia Stanley in his Brief Lives that inspired Georgette Heyer to write Venetia. As she told her friend and publisher, A.S. Frere of Heinemann:
“You may think this frivolous of me, but have you ever read what Aubrey said of Venetia? ‘A beautiful, desirable creature’ Also, ‘about the eyelids great sweetness.’ Well, you see what I mean?”— Georgette Heyer
Heyer’s story of beautiful Venetia Lanyon and her encounter with the devastatingly charming Jasper Damerel has long captivated readers and justly so. It is a novel about honesty and selfishness, about a woman’s lot in a restrictive and constrictive society and the choices she must make if she is to be happy. Heyer herself described the novel as,
“A short one, I fancy, and not a lot of plot, but I like my heroine, and I think the hero should please the fans.”— Georgette Heyer
She was right: he did and, more than sixty years later, he still does. But it is not only the presence of Rake Damerel that explains the enduring appeal of this clever, complex book. The novel is replete with the ironic comedy at which Heyer excelled and has several surprising twists, not least the arrival of the detestable Mrs Scorrier, one of Heyer’s most artfully drawn characters and one who reveals her creator’s acute understanding of human nature.
Venetia is a book rich in character, comedy and pathos and it is fitting that in this, Georgette Heyer’s centenary year, the Folio Society have recognized her extraordinary talent in publishing this gorgeous edition of Venetia. Heyer was proud of Venetia, and she would have been elated to see her novel so exquisitely produced; she would also have been delighted to see it in the Folio Society catalogue on the same page as The Jane Austen Collection and Novels by the Brontë Sisters.
5 out of 5 Stars
Jennifer Kloester is the bestselling author of Georgette Heyer’s Regency World and Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller and an avid Jane Austen fan. Persuasion is her favourite Austen novel, though Jennifer readily acknowledges that Emma is Austen’s most brilliant book and Pride & Prejudice her most romantic.
Thanks to Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer Jennifer has a love of all things Regency and is a popular presenter on the subject. In 2015, with Stephen Fry, she was thrilled to speak at the unveiling of Georgette Heyer’s English Heritage Blue Plaque in Wimbledon. Jennifer has given talks, writing workshops and public presentations in the UK, USA, Australia, and New Zealand on Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, and the Regency. She recently published her third novel, the genre-bending Jane Austen’s Ghost—a contemporary-historical-paranormal novel with a Regency twist! Visit Jennifer at her website.
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- Venetia, by Georgette Heyer
- Folio Society (2021)
- Slip cased, clothbound, illustrated edition (376) pages
- Genre: Regency Romance
Cover image courtesy of Folio Society © 2021; text Jennifer Kloester © 2021, Austenprose.com