Venetia: Georgette Heyer Book Club 25

(55 Posts)
HowGoodIsThat Fri 27-Sep-13 20:20:56

Venetia is possibly one of my favourite Heyer novels. Her light comedic touch combines with an acerbic yet sympathetic view of human foibles and is displayed through sharp dialogue, acidic pen-portraits and two of the most humorous-yet-human protagonists since Beatrice and Benedict.

Venetia is surrounded by friends who cling rigidly to social dictates while her family, sublime egotists to a man (and mum), flout them entirely. From a cloistered and confined childhood, she has somehow emerged with a clear-sightedness and a sense of humour that has preserved her from both the narrow-mindedness of her neighbours and the eccentricities of her family. Small wonder then that she should be so seduced by a “a friend to laugh with”.

Damerel is the first person in her to see her clearly as an individual, esteem her for who she truly is and offer her real companionship. She is also the first to view him in such a way. It is a meeting of like-minds and intellectual sparks fly from their first encounter, deepening into affection and then love.

Society stands in their way. It is Venetia’s challenge to side-step the protocols that have always governed her life just as Damerel’s chosen challenge is to return to them. “Will they, won’t they” plays out against a grand supporting cast of finely-drawn, well-rounded comic characters from Aubrey to the appalling Mrs Scorrier to Venetia’s portly newly-found step-father Sir Lambert.

So – what’s not to like? Two mature, funny, clever, likeable people find each other against all odds. A fine supporting cast, lots of lovely literary references and a skilfully rendered Regency world. Georgette Heyer at her finest .

Cheeky placemarker. Good start though HowGood wine

I completely disagree with you, btw. grin

HowGoodIsThat Fri 27-Sep-13 20:46:38

<cracks knuckles>

Bring it on, Horry.

edam Fri 27-Sep-13 20:49:43

I love this novel so much I occasionally dream about it... What happens next seems to occupy a space in my sleeping mind.

joanofarchitrave Fri 27-Sep-13 20:57:14

I adore Venetia the novel. I like the opening (gh gives great opening) and it's satisfyingly long. Aubrey is unusual as a GH character, I can't think of any equivalents in any of the other novels though she usually deals in types. Damerel comes across as more lively than Venetia, again very unusual in a GH novel. She doesn't enjoy her time in London due to her emotional life. It has some queasy aspects like all gh novels but it's certainly in my top 3 of hers.

TheYamiOfYawn Fri 27-Sep-13 21:09:46

This is my favourite of her novels.

Gigondas Fri 27-Sep-13 21:13:19

I like this one too as it is a change-offers a flawed hero and a heroine with a mire intelligent and different view of life.

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 27-Sep-13 23:16:09

This has been my favourite GH novel ever since I first read it. I just love it and have reread it so many times I find I am quoting it in my head as I read smile

Venetia herself is not my favourite character, the combination of her naïveté and frustrated desire for something more out of life, whilst understandable, make her a little too simplistic for my liking. She trusts it will all work out because she knows she and Damerel love each other but refuses to recognise the difficulties that really will exist in their future.

However, the rest of the characters are superb, GH could surely have titled this one 'Self and Selfishness', Conway and Aubrey, the late Sir Francis, Edward, Mrs Scorrier, Aunt Hendred, Sir Lambert and Lady Steeple, all monstrously (and very funnily) self centred and selfish. And so well drawn, probably her finest cast of supplementary characters. There is, however, an edge of real nastiness here. Their selfishness leads some of them into unpleasant behaviour which can really hurt or damage others, in this case generally Venetia. There are also the standard wet, irritating girls in Clara and Charlotte and the wiser older woman in Lady Denny and the besotted schoolboy in Oswald.

Damerel is a very sympathetically drawn figure, far more so than most of GH's heroes, particularly her type two models. He's a rake and has run through most of his money but we see it is done through his hurt pride and feelings after the rejection by his first love and his parents. His worthlessness leads him into his self destructive behaviour until his love for Venetia leads him to pull himself out of it.

I also love the fact that he is quite clear that whilst she was falling for him early on he still harboured no more thoughts than a dalliance and possible seduction, he doesn't pretend more than he felt. But above all, despite him forcing a separation on them, I like that there is none of the bickering and faux hatred for each other such as Serena and Rotherham or Judith and Worth display, which always irritates me.

And then there's this. And I feel like a swoony 17 year old every time I read it and I expect I will do still when I'm eighty.

"When you smile at me like that, it's all holiday with me! O God, I love you to the edge of madness,"

That is really why I love it I think blush

penguinpaperback Fri 27-Sep-13 23:36:35

I'm only on page 71, I had some books I had to finish today but I have a lovely GH Sunday lined up. This is my first Heyer book and I'm really enjoying it and I'm only a quarter way in. I wondered if I was going to 'get it' the humour especially, but I have. Edward is Julian Fellowes, he just pops up in my head everytime Edward speaks or enters a room. So Aubrey has only just fallen off his horse and Venetia has just woken up and realised she has a friend. So touching.
Georgette is very good at hooking you in isn't she? Is this one of her best?
I'm so glad I found your threads, your enthusiasm.thanks The last time I went 'whoop' was when I discovered Dorothy Whipple through Persephone. All those GH books waiting for me.

penguinpaperback Fri 27-Sep-13 23:46:20

Oh BTW I'm finding the Kloester book useful, blush to a newbie it's quite handy. I've already looked up a couple of things and (v. childish) I'm throwing some words in conversations with my OH.
No faradiddles. smile

My favourite ever GH novel which I fell in love with (and Damerel!) 40 years ago! I still find myself fantasising about what happens to all the characters after the end of the book. Perhaps I should start writing fanfic? blush

And the scene where she where she comes back from London and finds him drunk! <swoon>

HowGoodIsThat Sat 28-Sep-13 07:50:42

To a certain extent, now that I am of advanced years, I find it less credible that Venetia should have emerged as level-headed as she is from that household. I like to attribute her pragmatism to the influence of the team of loyal Yorkshire retainers. I am not convinced that she is naive or unrealistic about the future with Damerel (interesting pre-cursor to A Lady of Quality and the future relationship between Annis & Oliver Carleton). I think it a sign of maturity that there is some reference now given to the life beyond the romance that doesn't exist in books like The Convenient Marriage at all.

THere are just so many gems in this book - Mrs Hendred being convinced that by having a plate of hard biscuits placed at her elbow during meals equates to a strict reducing diet, Oswald's dark and dangerous thoughts, Nurse's conviction that Dameral's increase shall be given to the caterpillars, Bess being in an "interesting condition" - I laugh and laugh.

The romance bits are swoonsome - Leonie's quote is a fave and the end scene where she finds him nine sheets to the wind at the dinner table and is seized is so touching - mainly for the deft touch that there has been, even up to that point, a faint doubt in Venetia's mind as to whether this has been the right course of action.

I totally agree, Leonie, that the absence of histrionics is a huge plus point - I think that, as a couple, they have roots in Tristram and Sarah Thane. Its a friendly romance. Damerel in particular is a welcome change from the aloof, all-knowing, ever-so-slightly supercilious heros like Worth or Avon. I think he was a Vidal in his youth.

joanofarchitrave Sat 28-Sep-13 08:30:02

Oh yes HowGood, I love the line about Oswald's mother being inclined 'to press a Blue Pill on anyone suffering torments of the soul'. GH is so good on male adolescence, though very harsh on the female version.

LeonieDeSainteVire Sat 28-Sep-13 09:22:11

I am sorry Penguin as I think there are undoubtedly spoilers on this thread!

Yy to Oswald's dark thoughts - his portrayal is very funny and touching, from his extravagant 'I've been where they hold life cheap' at the start to his clumsy attempts to kiss Venetia to his sudden enthusiasm for something completely different when his father sends him away. Such a recognisable teenager.

And yes the drunk scene - more swooning, reminds me of Rhett in GWTW, all floppy forelock and passion. (I'm glad it's not just me getting all schoolgirlish over this book)

But I don't think Damerel was a Vidal in his youth, not initially anyway. Vidal was always a 'wild' one, dissipated, passionate, directionless, until Mary comes along. Damerel says himself he was romantic, intellectual and did it all for love, I think he had more in common with the school boy characters like Oswald back then. He may have turned wild later but that was a way of hiding his hurt.

I've thought about this a lot smile

JeanBodel Sat 28-Sep-13 09:39:54

The only thing missing from the book is the scene where Conway comes home and throws his mother-in-law out. I wish she had put that in somehow.

ancientbuchanan Sun 29-Sep-13 13:08:34

I love this one.

The feel and tone are autumnal, but the season is less of a plot device than it is, say, in Sylvester. There is warmth in the description, the wonderful scene if Audrey on the sofa in Damerel's library, with Nurse looking on as they discuss the essence of being or horses with a white spot ( iiryc). Venetia waking up to hear a pheasant.

I love the outstanding portrait if the Asoergers Audrey, different in his selfishness from Conroy who is just stupid. I love Venetia's statements eg about the Bacchae, just the sort of companions one would not wish a boy to have.

Damerel too is an interesting study. From seduction he moves to accepting that Venetia is too good for him and sacrificing himself.

I enjoy the portrait of his valet, one of the best drawn servants we come across. Mason explaining why he stays with Damerel is touching and human and not a caricature, for once.

The only sentence I dislike is alas in the final scene when Venetia herself offers to retract and his response is weak, imv.

The portraits of all those mentioned above are masterly, although put like that, there are few truly admirable characters.

I don't find Venetia unrealistic, given her circumstances. She has had to run a household from.an early age, she has the combination of Audrey's intelligence and Conway's practicality. She has had excellent advice from her experienced servants and above all from Lady Denny.

I find it a surprising book, a gentle one despite the very unpleasant wrangling in the middle, and a more adult tone. It is less immediately sparkling than eh TOS or TCM but one has confidence that the pair is well matched. They will laugh together as friends. Venetia has, as she shows her uncle, considerable self reflection and emotional intelligence.

She is also up to Damerel's intellectual wright, even if het education has not been so good.

As you can see, I love it. Next to TOS it's probably the one I read most.

MooncupGoddess Mon 30-Sep-13 13:37:42

I think A Civil Contract and An Infamous Army are GH's masterpieces... but of the straight romances Venetia wins hands down. The plot is textbook (beautiful but lonely woman + man with a dark past but looking to settle down; all goes wrong two-thirds of the way through the book but is redeemed by an act of courage on the part of the heroine) but the treatment is fresh and delightful.

It's much franker about the relationship between sex and marriage than most of the others; lots of chat about dodgy classical myths, Venetia and Aubrey speculate on whether Conway 'had to' marry Clara and we hear about Damerel's loose past (closely based on Mr Rochester's... just as the battered manor house in a lovely part of Yorkshire is clearly based on Thornfield Hall). Similarly, Venetia's mother and the dem

i-monde she is part of are only seen in passing in the other novels. I think there's something about the setting in the middle of nowhere that allows GH and her characters to be much freer than would be possible in London. (What was it about GH and Yorkshire? I don't think she ever lived there but she clearly loved the area to bits, and to a lesser extent Lincolnshire too.)

The minor characters are the best of any of the books, I think, though like Jean I've always wanted to read a resolution of the Charlotte/Mrs Scorrier situation. It just gets forgotten about, which is sad.

penguinpaperback Mon 30-Sep-13 14:13:49

My first Heyer, all done and dusted. And I really enjoyed it. I'm glad this was my first book and not The Black Moth, I was going to read them in order. I knew I was reaching the end of the book but it felt, to me, a bit of a hurried ending. And I was quite surprised by Venetia's acceptance of Dameral's past but I liked Venetia. For a young woman who had never travelled and knew just a handful of people she was very clued up.

HowGoodIsThat Thu 03-Oct-13 07:59:50

SO - we all love it and Horry is too scared to come back and disagree! grin

Mooncup Your theory about it being set away from London is interesting - being located on the fringes or beyond the Pale is a fairly common literary device to allow freedoms not otherwise accepted. THe UnKNown Ajax is similarly in the sticks and I would say it it much more convention-bound than this one - although Anthea has much in common with Venetia. When I think about the other heroines who I credit with similar clear-sightedness and humour - Sophie, Frederica, Abigail Wendover and Annis - they are all firmly in the bosom of the Ton.

MooncupGoddess Thu 03-Oct-13 13:21:49

That is very true, HowGood. And certainly there are a lot of similarities between Venetia/Damerel and Abigail/Miles Calverleigh.

One of the interesting things about GH novels is looking at the ways in which GH manoeuvres for the hero and heroine to spend time together alone - which was not always easy given the constraints of the period. Quite often they are related (Grand Sophy, Unknown Ajax), pseudo-relations (Frederica) or the heroine is the hero's ward (Regency Buck, Bath Tangle - I always find this rather unsatisfactory because of the power inbalance involved). When this isn't the case GH has to engineer situations, sometimes v. implausible (as in Sylvester and The Corinthian).

Where are you, Horry? <experiments with darkling look>

It's boring. I am going away for the weekend so have been packing like a byotch. I will elaborate anon.

ancientbuchanan Thu 03-Oct-13 18:54:30

Horry!

You have the effrontery, the forwardness....( rest of quote doesn't work.). Just because Venetia has conventional eyebrows and no stammer....

But perhaps it is because you are 17. When you are Rule's age...

Have a great weekend.

wink

A few thoughts/justifications:

Nothing much happens for the vast majority of the book. Other "rural idyll" books have humorous episodes, but here it's just page after page of nothing in particular. I feel GH is trying a more grownup style - after the romps with teenage girls and older heroes, she's moving to twenty-something acerbic heroines and jaded men, with knowing looks and no "front". She's trying a new style and it doesn't quite work for me.

The characters are two-dimensional, almost painfully so. The awkward selfish bookish teenager, the pompous suitor, the lovelorn lad, the proud provincial lady, the awful MIL, yawn. No development in any of them despite pages and pages of opportunity. I don't know who any of them is by the end of the book. None of them is remotely memorable so the book slides into oblivion. The best Heyers are supported by a strong "cast" of extras whom we like or loathe but recognise and understand and invest in.

That said, I agree there are some interesting themes to look at. London as a modern Babylon by contrast with idyllic Yorkshire is new: refusing to hold up the Season as the pinnacle of existence is sort of middle-aged and faintly subversive. Venetia's mother (how I hate her, again a roughly drawn caricature I'm not interested in) is the archetype of the Society Figure, disdained but admired, superficial and fantastic and insubstantial.

And who is Venetia? I feel I know her as little as we know (The Grand) Sophy - the action, such as there is, generally revolves around her but doesn't necessarily include her. Things happen to her and she is just too bloody passive...

... until, gloriously, she digs out Damerel's hidden decency to save her from her threatened immorality and permanent expulsion from society. I love that he's drunk: it's glorious. But it's out of character for her and I don't believe it.

Bah humbug.

MooncupGoddess Fri 04-Oct-13 13:50:28

Hmm. I agree that Edward and Oswald are utterly two-dimensional (but then they both exist purely for narrative purposes), but don't think Aubrey is at all. He is quite unlike anyone else in GH's novels and immediately believable and distinctive.

For me and I suspect other posters on this thread much of the pleasure of the book lies in simply hanging out with Venetia and Damerel, seeing their relationship develop and enjoying/identifying the literary banter. It is more subtle than many of GH's other plots, certainly. Venetia is a little bland, perhaps, but I think deliberately so in order that readers can project themselves all over her.

HowGoodIsThat Fri 04-Oct-13 19:26:11

Aurelia is who Fanny Marling would have been if Edward hadn't been so grounded and sensible!

I disagree that Venetia is bland - CHarlotte is bland AND insipid. Venetia is too clever to be bland and has too much humour. I think there are lots of subtle clues about her - but without going back and hunting for minute references, I'll not convince Horry! I am thinking about the scene where she is troubling over the Scorrier v AUbrey situation and Damerel finds her or where she asks Marston about Damerel's drinking or this:

"In her aunt's company, too, she found endless amusement, for, having lived with selfish persons all her life, she was not in the least alienated by Mrs Hendred's determination to let nothing interfere with her own comfort, but continued to think her comical, and to like her very well. But under her enjoyment there was a dull ache of unhappiness, never forgotten, and sometimes turning to acute anguish."

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