Thursday, 24 October 2013

'The Grand Sophy' by Georgette Heyer (1950)

Synopsis: Sir Horace Stanton-Lacey is a renowned and wealthy diplomat who's spent many years travelling across the Continent with his only daughter Sophia ("Sophy"). They've been following the British army in their pursuit of Napoleon. However, since the Napoleonic Wars are now finally over, Sir Horace is asked to take on a new role in South America. Sir Horace decides not to take Sophy with him because he feels that it would be good for her to settle down in London and marry. He asks his sister Lady Ombersley to take Sophy into her family's home at Berkeley Square and introduce her into society. But when Sophy finally arrives in London she shocks everyone. Sophy is a very blunt, direct and outspoken young woman and she cares very little for English customs and conventions. She also has numerous pets. She has a dog, a horse, a parrot and a monkey! However, Sophy is so kind-hearted that it isn't long before her relatives are won over by her. The only exception is her cousin Charles who finds Sophy so annoying that he longs for her to get married so that the family can be finally rid of her. But Sophy has no intention of leaving Berkeley Square any time soon because she's worked out that all is not well at her relatives' home. Charles is engaged to a woman who is so sanctimonious, stuffy and uptight that it's aggravating all of his worst qualities. Her cousin Cecilia is smitten with a man who is completely unsuitable and her other cousin Hubert is having dire financial problems. Sophy decides to stick around and sort these people's lives out.

I had very high expectations for this book because I loved Heyer's Cotillion and this book seems to be another big fan favourite but I was so disappointed. The only thing that I truly liked about this book was Sophy herself. She reminded me of both Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse and Cold Comfort Farm's Flora Poste. She's self-confident, independent, clever, kind and eccentric (for her time). She loves animals and she has a mischievous sense of humour. If this book had had a better hero then I would have probably rated The Grand Sophy much higher. But I couldn't stand Charles Rivenhall at all (hey, that rhymes!) Charles is so shouty, bad-tempered and uptight! All of my favourite moments in the book were the scenes where Sophy would wind him even though they only made Charles even more angry and shouty. What does Sophy see in Charles?! Okay so he does loosen up a bit as the book goes along but his temper is so short that I really can't help but wonder how he and Sophy's relationship is even going to work :S

Another major problem that I had with the book was Chapter Eleven. This is an extremely racist chapter in which Sophy meets Hubert's Jewish loan shark, Mr Goldhanger. It's awful and it left a really nasty taste in my mouth. I couldn't possibly recommend this book to any Jewish readers. Yes, there were a lot of Jewish moneylenders in the Regency era because of the lack of professions that were available to Jews. Unfortunately Heyer doesn't stop there. She gives an entire chapter of descriptions of Mr Goldhanger's greasy hair, ingratiating leer, "semitic nose", dirty home, and evil and manipulative ways. If The Grand Sophy had actually been written in Regency times then I could have dismissed this chapter as being a product of its time only it wasn't written in the Regency era. It was written post Holocaust. It made me so angry to read such prejudices in a novel that was published in the later half of the last century. It's led me to believe that Heyer was either anti-semitic herself or just being extremely culturally insensitive. A little consideration for the six million Jews that were wiped out would have been nice, Heyer!

I'm hoping that The Grand Sophy was just a rare blip and I'm still planning on reading more of Heyer's books.

Rating: 2/5

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