Heyer, Georgette. Venetia.

NY: Putnam, 1958.

Between 1921 and 1972, in addition to a number of mysteries and other less-remembered works, Heyer turned out nearly three dozen historical romances set in the Regency era — the second decade of the 19th century, during the close of the generation-long war with France. Naturally, though none of them is terrible, some of them are rather better than others. I’ve read most of them over the years, and I put this delightfully complex story among the top three or four.

Twenty-five-year-old Venetia Lanyon is mistress of a comfortable though not huge estate a dozen miles from York, managing the place while her brother, Conway, serves in his regiment during the Allied occupation of France, both their parents being dead. In fact, she’s been expecting him to sell his commission and come home for some time now, but he apparently prefers the life of a gentleman officer. She shares the house with her sixteen-year-old brother, Aubrey, who suffers from a bad hip and a short leg and who loathes pity and being catered to; he’s also a promising scholar preparing to leave for Cambridge, so Venetia isn’t worried about him. She’s never been to London, never “come out” in society, and is on the way to spinsterhood, but she’s of a very independent turn of mind and those trivialities don’t much bother her either. Of course, she’s a stunning beauty and at least two respectable local guys have designs on her — the one a rather smarmy and superior prig and the other six years her junior — and Venetia is frequently annoyed that neither they nor anyone else seems to believe that she really means whatever she says. So the scene has been set, . . . and then things get interesting when Baron Damerel, a noted rake, turns up at the Priory, his estate adjacent to the Lanyons. Damerel is a dozen years older than Venetia but his reputation was established in his youth when he eloped to the Continent with an older, married lady. And he seems to have made every effort to live up to his bad press since. Damerel and Venetia, neither being much concerned with other people’s opinions, quickly become close friends, to the scandal of friends and family. The Baron, of course, isn’t so vile as he’s made out to be and friendship gradually turns to something else. The plot develops gradually and Heyer tosses in a couple of very nicely crafted narrative bombshells later on — the nature of which I decline to divulge. Not only the half-dozen major characters but a good many minor supporting players are carefully portrayed in vivid and multiple dimensions and the dialogue is some of Heyer’s sparkling best. Best of all, it’s not all just frothy fantasy but an interesting picture of a intelligent, capable young woman’s quest to obtain what she discovers she really wants out of life.

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Published in: on 22 September 2011 at 6:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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