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 .

minipie Mon 07-Oct-13 14:29:32

Ok, I'm late to the party but here are my thoughts. I really like Venetia - unlike Horry I prefer an older more sensible and independent heroine, I always find the teenagers a bit, well, young and the ward/guardian thing a bit creepy. And I love the humour - this is one of the few GHs where the heroine seems able to have a slightly risqué sense of humour, even if perhaps she doesn't always realise that what she's saying is a bit beyond the pale.

Downsides - yes, not a lot happens. Also, I think there is a missed opportunity to see more of Venetia attending ton parties and being bored by the polite small talk/shocking people with her more frank way of saying things. There's a fair amount of that with Yardley but it would have been nice to see Venetia meeting more other people if only so that we the reader can be sure Damerel is the only chap for her.

I am not sure about the mother sub plot. It feels a bit shoehorned in. A mother who turns out to be disgraced rather than dead is a great plot idea, but it's wasted here where it could have formed almost a whole book elsewhere. And it's not really necessary - why does Venetia have to have a tainted reputation in order to get Damerel? Or if she does, I'd rather she did something outrageous in order to taint herself - that would be much more fun to read about grin

But, overall, I really enjoyed it.

DoBatsEatCats Mon 07-Oct-13 21:16:55

I'm deeply fond of this one (though it's not my favourite: that's A Civil Contract). I love Aubrey, as a fellow-classicist in my intellectually respectable younger days. Oswald Denny is good too - she's so good at very young men and boys.

I think it's her best straight romance, as someone says upthread: the sense of two minds meeting is so strong, and you really believe Venetia and Damerel might be happy together. They remind me slightly of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane - it's the perpetual trading quotations, and I wonder if Heyer had read Busman's Honeymoon and Gaudy Night. Someone mentioned An Infamous Army upthread, and I do admire that one enormously, but it's spoilt for me because I can't believe Charles and Barbara will be happy together.

sarahtigh Tue 08-Oct-13 17:32:20

I really like this one I think Venetia and jasper well suited and will probably be happy, their conversation is interesting and intellectual and amusing reporting nurses comments about "increase given to the caterpillars" though I guess the biblical references are maybe lost on a more modern audience who do not recognise them or their context.

I suspect money may cause some problems as Venetia seems to be more on the ball regarding estate management and I do not believe her comment about "preferring to live in debt" the cattle on newmarket road have a short lifespan!

Venetia has plenty of commonsense; is smart and well educated possibly a little green but not completely naive in fact understands far too much for Edward's liking I suspect his disapproval is more about his jealousy of her intellect than morals though he uses that as his excuse hence comment to Clara "the wisest of the sex(female) do not aspire to be clever"

I think Aubrey is a well painted character though not really that lovable but he does understand that Venetia is attracted to Damarel hence his annoyance when she tries to convince him it is a flirtation so I think he is self centred intellectual rather than Aspergers as he seems to understand people and their emotions/thoughts

Charlotte is bland and is meant to be

the MIL does not get quite finished but I like the line about aubrey's dog also being in "an interesting condition" and the temptation to let dog lose on her best bonnet.

Downsides the Dead /divorced mother thing a bit far fetched, Mrs scorrier needs her comeuppance

Takver Thu 10-Oct-13 08:47:10

This is interesting - I used to have a full set of the GH regency novels, but just kept my favourites when we moved abroad. I really couldn't remember Venetia, and wondered if I had actually read it. Got it from the library, and remembered it as soon as I started it. So I guess from my point of view it is one of her more forgettable novels grin

I think the main problem for me is that she has done the same plot, effectively, much better in Black Sheep. I find Abby more credible as a 'I'm on the shelf and going to make the best of it' heroine, and Miles Calverleigh more plausible as an 'unsuitable' groom (and no sexual harassment - Miles would never force himself on anyone, even if he does sort of abduct Abby at the end).

Yes, the recycled plots generally are better second time round. We haven't reached Black Sheep yet.

I agree that Venetia isn't memorable except as an audiobook for swooning reasons but I know lots of people love it. I don't think it's as much of a rollercoaster as some of the others (Devil's Cub or Sylvester with lots of changes of location, jeopardy, etc) which makes it more of a cosy Sunday read.

Takver Thu 10-Oct-13 10:17:49

Its true, I was looking at the list of novels with publication date, and realised that a lot of my favourites are later works (and still to come here) - so Frederica / Civil Contract / False Colours / Black Sheep which I think have some of her best characters. Very much the opposite to a lot of genre writers where the early books are great and then they fall off in quality.

HowGoodIsThat Thu 10-Oct-13 15:09:44

I completely agree - I think we have the best to come although I do rank Venetia as top tier. I like Abigail more than Venetia but prefer Damerel o Miles.

<makes note to develop that into a more compelling and erudite analysis for when we get to Black Sheep>

Takver Thu 10-Oct-13 15:26:36

Now I think that Miles is much nicer - he's funnier, I love the way he sets up his nasty cousin, and I just think he would be more likely to do the Regency equivalent of his share of the housework once they are married.

Takver Thu 10-Oct-13 15:27:12

Not that I have a soft spot for Miles, you understand blush

"Recency equivalent of his share of the housework" grin The mind boggles. Speaking to the DC before their sixth birthdays?

HowGoodIsThat Thu 10-Oct-13 17:06:34

I agree that he is NICER. Hugo Darracott is also NICER. Damerel just makes my heart beat a bit faster.

Takver Thu 10-Oct-13 20:04:52

Hmm, quite like Hugo Darracott too, but agree that he isn't dashing.

LeonieDeSainteVire Thu 10-Oct-13 22:17:46

OK I am actually quite struggling with the fact that this book isn't everyone's favourite! I am channelling my inner Dr Seuss and want to shout 'It is so good, so good, you see'. I'm particularly taken aback by Horry's response, are we reading the same book? Nothing much happens/no humour/ two dimensional characters/nothing memorable/Venetia - bland shock I think I disagree with all of that.

I think the supporting cast are brilliant, some are caricatures but not worse for that. Aubrey is definitely one of a kind and I feel I really do know him. Alright Edward is only a plot device but still he's good enough! I noticed this last night, when he goes to London after Venetia and she tries to tell him she won't marry him "I have rather more sense than you give me credit for, and . . . I know you a trifle better than you know yourself". Didn't we all complain in the earlier books that too often the hero comes out with this line and it is grating to the modern woman. Here it is being deliberately used to show Edward's self centered arrogance and total non-understanding of Venetia. I think it's part of how far GH has come in how she presents her heroine and how much control she has over her destiny.

I also like the way that although Conway never appears in the book we get such a description of him I feel I know him well, I think we don't need to see Mrs Scorrier getting her comeuppance as its quite clear what will happen when Conway returns.

Maybe nothing much happens but it does happen so beautifully it doesn't matter. The meeting of two minds comment above captures it exactly.

But I agree maybe the mother plot line is unnessecary, actually I think if Venetia just went back to Yorkshire and told Damerel they were getting married he would have given in anyway, she only needed to convince him she really understood what she was getting into and I think the stay in London did that anyway.

So, it is the best GH book! And in a Miles/Damerel competition Damerel wins every time for me wink

<<lowers tone - sorry>>

LeonieDeSainteVire Thu 10-Oct-13 22:20:03

Possibly too many 'thinks', 'feels' and 'anyways' in the above post blush

LadyIsabellaWrotham Thu 10-Oct-13 22:30:15

Having harassed you all into doing this I then realised I'd forgotten it since I read it in August, so I reread it very rapidly only to find that you'd already said everything there is to say.

I did enjoy it - both times. I like all the supporting characters, and like the fact that she gives them all happy endings apart from Mrs Scorrier. Conway will get rid of Mrs S and live happily with his bride (if she can get over the dogs). Edward will marry Clara. Oswald will grow up, and Aubrey will spend vacations with the Damerels. I love Uncle and Aunt Hendred as well - Uncle Philip in particular is not recognisable from any of the other books. And the way the plot is driven by the characters of Conway and Sir Francis, who are never seen, is particularly clever.

Less clever is the fact that I didn't see the reappearance of Mama coming - I think it's the only one of Heyer's plot twists that actually fooled me first time around. What about the rest of you?

And I enjoy the awful Steeples, although I shudder, as intended, at the horrible moment where Aurelia talks about Aubrey, and the uncomfortable moments where Sir Lambert switches from fatherly to lecherous. They seem quite out of place in such a light hearted book. Heyer obviously took to the Steeples, as they crop up again in more likeable form as Mama and Sir Bonamy in False Colours, with sons who she doesn't have to be jealous of, and a rather more sexless stepfather.

Takver Fri 11-Oct-13 08:18:34

Not being picky (honest), but I'm sure I recognise Philip from somewhere. Isn't there a Philip type (suffers on travelling, turns up grumpily to try to sort out impossible young woman) in Abigail's older brother in Black Sheep. The more I think about it the more Black Sheep feels like Venetia re-written with more grown up characters.

I like the Mama sub-plot, its the one bit that feels like she hasn't done it better elsewhere, and would have happily seen more of it.

One thing I do think is interesting, though. Almost 100% of the plot of Venetia, as with all GH's regency romances, would be irrelevant today (no-one cares about divorce, V would just get a job, etc).

But, a woman who leaves her husband abandoning her children is still condemned by society, even if she is suffering borderline or actual abuse (which I think we can infer was the case with Mama), and if she is failing to cope as a parent and genuinely believes that her children will be better off with their father. Basically, saying 'I am not willing or able to be a good parent' and leaving your children is still totally unacceptable in a woman, even though men can and do get away with it all the time.

I take your point about "abandoning" children being taboo for women now but at the time it was the default that the father kept the children, not the mother, in cases of separation or (very rare) divorce. That's what kept women with abusive husbands for so very long - because if your choice is getting beaten up or never seeing your children again... well pass the ice pack sad

I don't think Venetia's mother is scandalous for leaving her children - it's really only Venetia and possibly Damerel, vicariously, that even considers that angle - but for leaving her husband and still having a life.

When we discussed Sylvester this came up wrt Ianthe giving Edmund up to Sylvester and Phoebe, and we noted then that the characters were very forgiving and matter of fact about it in general.

Takver Fri 11-Oct-13 16:12:13

Very true - though it does feel as though Venetia's mother is being criticised for not being suitably 'motherly', IYSWIM - maybe not by the characters, but by GH?

MooncupGoddess Fri 11-Oct-13 16:22:09

Yes, she is presented as being very self-absorbed and indeed unmotherly, with the Aubrey comment. If she was that bothered about her children she could presumably have got in touch after Sir Francis' death.

I'm almost afraid to admit that I agre with Horry- I don't find this one funny enough, or the characters as engaging as say Leonie or Kit. But it is probably 20 years since I read it, so I'm going to give it a go with more adult eyes!

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 11-Oct-13 17:31:49

I think that Venetia's mother is just displaying yet another facet of the selfishness theme that runs through this novel. She is so self absorbed and vain she simply has no room left for her children and, indeed, only really values them in adulthood for their beauty. Yes GH is criticising her but whether it's is for her lack of motherliness or just her selfishness I'm not sure. But in terms of the time Aurelia's scandalous behaviour is running off with another man (and her previous affairs) rather than abandoning her children.

Interestingly I think it is worth noting the different responses to the unfaithful wife theme in the book, Lady Sophia's husband won't divorce her when she runs off with Damerel, she has to wait for him to die and by then she's found another 'protector' anyway. Sir Francis, whom we might have supposed would have avoided divorce and the expense and scandal surrounding it, does divorce Aurelia and fairly quickly too so she can remarry Steeple. Obviously these are just to support the plot but had it gone the other way Damerel would presumably have married Lady Sophia and Aurelia, as a long term mistress, would have been even further beyond the pale and therefore more damaging to Venetia. Good job it's only fiction!

VikingLady Tue 22-Oct-13 22:30:49

Has the next thread started yet? Am a long time lurker!

LadyIsabellaWrotham Thu 24-Oct-13 08:41:20

It's Ajax next isn't it? One of my personal favourites - I feel about Romney Marsh the way some of the Tollgate-fanciers do about Derbyshire.

HowGoodIsThat Thu 24-Oct-13 19:01:59

<claps excitedly>

I lurve Ajax. And I am doing Frederica for Book Group so that means two corkers on the go at once.

I love Ajax too!

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