Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Grand Sophy

The title: The Grand Sophy
The author: Georgette Heyer
Publication: Sourcebooks, 2009 (originally 1950)
Got it from: Jane Austen Today/Sourcebooks

Last year I was the lucky winner of The Grand Sophy giveaway from Sourcebooks via the excellent website Jane Austen Today (see sidebar for link). And I must say, Sourcebooks totally rocks my world! Not only have they redesigned all the Georgette Heyers with beautiful new covers, they were also awesome enough to send me a copy of The Grand Sophy in the mail, for free! Maybe other book reviewers get free books all the time, but it was a totally novel (heh) experience for me. Believe me, the only thing better than reading this book was having it delivered to my home without having to do a thing.

The Grand Sophy is considered one of Heyer's finest works, and it's easy to understand why. Sophy Stanton-Lacy is one of those fearless heroines, similar to Mma Ramotswe in The #1 Ladies Detective Agency or Amelia Peabody, who will let nothing stand in her way and cares little about the opinion of others. Sophy's hoydenish ways can be largely attributed to her father's careless upbringing on the Continent, and when she arrives on English soil she finds that the rules of propriety in that country are much more restrictive than she's used to.

The story revolves around the Rivenhalls, Sophy's aunt's family, and their various romantic and financial entanglements. Of course, only Sophy has what it takes to straighten them out and she does so in unconventional and hilarious ways. If you can get used to the idea of the hero of the story being Sophy's cousin (it was acceptable at the time!) you will enjoy this. I particularly enjoyed a passage that so perfectly explains the difference between one of her cousin's suitors, a poet, and another more prosy but far more suitable man:

Mr. Fawnhope's handsome face and engaging smile might dazzle the female eye, but Mr. Fawnhope had not yet learned the art of conveying to a lady the gratifying impression that he considered her a fragile creature, to be cherished, and in every way considered. Lord Charlbury might be constitutionally incapable of addressing her as Nymph, or of comparing bluebells unfavourably with her eyes, but Lord Charlbury would infallibly provide a cloak for her if the weather was inclement, lift her over obstacles she could well climb without assistance, and in every way convince her that in his eyes she was a precious being whom it was impossible to guard too carefully. - p.269

Of course, this sort of cherishing applies far more to delicate Cecilia than to Sophy herself, whose temperament is far more suited to her cousin Charles' headstrong and argumentative personality, and it's with particular glee that we see how Sophy wins his affections away from Eugenia, Charles' prissy, boring and self-righteous fiancee (a long-lost twin of Mary Bennett from Pride and Prejudice?). It's the well-drawn characters, more than anything, that make this story come alive. Long after the book is done and the plot forgotten, you'll remember Sophy, and no author could ask more of her heroine.

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