There’s a lot to like about Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance The Grand Sophy.
It’s had a well-thumbed place in my annual re-reading pile for a good few years.
But should it stay there?
These days Heyer’s anti-Semitic portrayal of a moneylender, a central plot point, and her rather xenophobic dismissal of Spaniards as ‘quite stupid, and dreadfully indolent’, make uncomfortable reading.
It’s a shame because in all other respects this otherwise light-hearted romance, first published in the 1950s, when Britain was even more prejudiced than it is today, is a galloping good read.
Take the episode where Sophy decides to teach her high-and-mighty cousin Charles Rivenhall, a lesson by ‘borrowing’ his curricle and pair and going for a quick spin through fashionable London.
Charles, who had already made it clear no lady could handle his spirited pair of greys, is not amused.
But, of course, Sophy, who is staying with the Rivenhalls while her father is away, is more than a match for the horses – and her autocratic relative.
Charles does not approve of Sophy, whose unconventional upbringing means she dances to the beat of a different drum to the other ladies of his acquaintance – in particular, his upright, very proper fiancé Eugenia.
He certainly doesn’t appreciate it when Sophy invites the penniless poet, who has been courting his sister, to make a morning call.
Or, when she takes Eugenia on an illicit drive along St James’s Street, making her ‘the object of every town-saunterer’.
A bad influence
And he’s absolutely incandescent when he discovers Sophy plans to host a small party at his mother’s house – with 500 guests.
Not that Sophy cares a jot.
She has already decided Eugenia is a bad influence and is determined to free Charles from his engagement, his sister Cecilia from her addle-pated poet, and brother Hubert from the money lender.
And, in between, she find love herself…
This is not great literature – and Heyer’s habit of punctuating almost every other sentence with an exclamation mark is extremely irritating.
But it’s a fun read – light and undemanding.
I’m sorry the novel has some serious un-pc moments.
And I understand why some readers might take offence.
But, as I explain here, if I removed every book in my comfort re-read pile that might upset somebody – Jane Eyre and Swallows and Amazon, for starters – there wouldn’t be much left.
Review by Sue Featherstone.
Available to buy on Amazon.
Pingback: Viewpoint: Old favourites sometimes make uncomfortable reading | Book lovers' booklist