The Grand Sophy

Georgette Heyer

Pan Books 1960
A book review by Danny Yee © 2001
My favourite among Georgette Heyer's thirty-odd Regency romances, The Grand Sophy has the most outrageously assertive heroine of them all. Twenty year old Sophy is the daughter of a widely-travelled diplomat, whom she calls "Sir Horace" and whose household she has managed since her mother died. When he is sent to Brazil in the spring of 1816, Sophy comes to London to stay with her aunt and cousins. She finds Cecilia infatuated with an unexceptionable but impractical poet, Hubert with money problems, and eldest cousin Charles, in charge of the household finances on account of an inheritance and his father's gambling debts, engaged to the strait-laced and ultra-respectable Miss Wraxton. Setting about her like a general, Sophy undertakes to fix all their problems, marshalling her resources but letting nothing stand in her way when she strikes.

With careful attention to historical detail, Heyer offers us the comfort of an insular, closed world with clear-cut conventions and rules — London's high society during the Regency. Though much of the entertainment in The Grand Sophy comes from the heroine's pushing at the limits of the acceptable — buying horses and setting up her own stable, dealing in person with bankers and money-lenders, using coarse language (even boxing cant), and engaging in many behaviours then considered masculine — Sophy remains safely within all the important boundaries. Her respectability and essential femininity are never in doubt, except to her ill-wishers, and the foundations of her status in society are never questioned. (Her independence rests on the support of an indulgent father who is conveniently absent except at the beginning and end of the novel.)

What sets Heyer apart from most of her epigones is that she is genuinely clever and funny. In addition to social comedy, she gives us lively repartee, especially when the sparks fly between the heroine and the hero, and splendid caricatures. The Grand Sophy has a memorable supporting cast: the absent-minded poet Augustus Fawnhope, for example, who forgets everything else when the muse seizes him, and Sir Horace's relaxed Spanish fiancée, capable of suggesting to a visitor that they take a siesta together. Plot, historical detail, characters, and dialogue come together to make The Grand Sophy a grand entertainment.

October 2001

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%T The Grand Sophy
%A Heyer, Georgette
%I Pan Books
%D 1960 [1950]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0330200704
%P 316pp