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Sylvester: Georgette Heyer Book Club no. 24

(37 Posts)
LadyIsabellaWrotham Tue 09-Jul-13 22:08:39

"A VERY nice book this time, with a New Plot!" (Georgette Heyer on Sylvester)

The thing that I like most about Sylvester is indeed the fact that it has a fresh plot. Lovely though it is to see Heyer shuffling the deck of her existing cards, and seeing all our favourite characters, tropes and motifs played with in subtly different combinations, it's great to see new characters and situations (mixed in with some old favourites like the scandalous old ladies, and the immature but adorable teenaged boy who keeps getting into scrapes).

Specifically, the novelist heroine and the fatal roman-a-clef is unique to Sylvester, and gives it a special and very Regency quality, and I don't think we've been overseas since Devil's Cub and Infamous Army, have we?

I found this from the Journal of Romance Studies, about an experiment using Sylvester to embed Georgette Heyer in a standard undergraduate Eng Lit degree as part of a module on historical fiction. The particularly interesting section comes in Fletcher's lecture at the end of part 3. I would recommend you reading it yourself, but, briefly, she discusses the way in which Sylvester is portrayed metafictionally as the victim of the "plotting" of Phoebe, Ianthe, the Duchess, and Lady Ingham, who between them enravel him in a Romance despite himself, and hence of course act as proxies for Heyer herself.

Because Phoebe is (I think) Heyer's only writer character, it's tempting to try to spot her own character and views reflected. Until reading Sylvester I think I'd have seen the more grotesque Heyer characters as pure fiction, but after it, I do wonder how many of her acquaintances ended up recognising themselves on the page - or failing to do so.

Questions for the Club:

Am I wrong in seeing a hint of inner vulnerability in Heyer revealed in the characterisation of Phoebe (and hence some of her other "shrinking" heroines as well)? Could she write an inner portrayal of those feelings if she didn't know them herself? She's always portrayed as such a strong person that it seems strange to think of her as socially vulnerable, but she was notoriously private.

Am I alone in seeing Sylvester as Heyer's only real Darcy-ripoff hero, both in his Fatal Flaw, and the way his true loveability is revealed through his relationships with his close family?

According to the Jane Aiken Hodge biography:

"Sylvester was running long, and she could not decide whether to cut it or let it rip. In the end she cut it and was sorry afterwards. 'It could and should have been better.And it was better until I got cold feet and cut out what wouldn't please the Fans."

Neither JAH or Jennifer Kloester give any detail as to what she cut. I would happily read a version of Sylvester that was 25% longer, but I'm not sure what is missing. What, or who, would you like to see more of? Which sections coul be expanded?

And lastly, has anyone actually read Glenarvon? Plot summary in attached link shows that it's totally the model for The Lost Heir. I'm a big Byron fan, and have read around the period a fair amount but I've never been able to face it. Apparently Lady Jersey cancelled Caroline's Almack's vouchers in retribution for the way she was portrayed in the book, and that alone almost tempts me to give it a try, but it is notoriously rubbish.

HowGoodIsThat Fri 27-Sep-13 20:22:23


I have had wine and it is decades since my degree so there is neither searing insight nor critical finesse. I just love the book. grin

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 27-Sep-13 08:35:32

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Wed 25-Sep-13 20:37:28

I quite enjoy "Georgette Heyer's Regency World" but it's more of a fangirly "ooh look, that's where Hero marries Sherry!" book than a beginner's primer. I agree that the Venetia Murray book is a much more informative (but easy) read, although I find it frustrating that so many things mentioned in it are so redolent of iconic Heyer scenes and I feel like a lunatic pointing them out to the empty air.

HowGoodIsThat Wed 25-Sep-13 20:15:02

<lifts cycling disguise>

TIs I - Duchess as was. I had to do a n/c so am not in Heyer garb for a while. I will twirl at some point.

Venetia is my All Time Fave so I am also happy to try a starter if Leonie doesn't want it....

LeonieDeSainteVire Wed 25-Sep-13 14:28:04

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

penguinpaperback Tue 24-Sep-13 15:15:34

Hello, I have just started Venetia and I also have Unknown Ajax ready to read next. This is my first GH so I would love to hear what those who really know GH and her books think of this book and others. So I will be very interested in reading any new thread. I'm strictly A level English Lit level so very nervous to comment much beyond 'a good read'.blush
Reading the Heyer threads and everyone's love of Heyer's books made me feel I was really missing out on some cracking books.
I have Jennifer Kloester's Georgette Heyer's Regency World, I thought it may be a useful companion as a first time reader?
Making note to look for Mistress of Charlecote. smile

LadyIsabellaWrotham Mon 23-Sep-13 23:30:17

Great idea Leonie, we could do a final "Further Reading" thread with all the other books that people have been recommending along the way - Jane Aiken Hodge of course, and the Beau Brummell biog, and Strange & Norell etc etc etc
There's been so many great suggestions for background reading but they're all buried away.

And who knows, maybe someone will even be desperate enough to read Glenarvon.

LeonieDeSainteVire Mon 23-Sep-13 23:02:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Mon 23-Sep-13 20:09:26

Right, we need to get a grip.

My Big Book of Georgette Heyer says the list goes
Unknown Ajax (personal fave)
Civil Contract
These are all absolute crackers so we can't give up now.

I've read Venetia (but it was so many weeks ago I've almost forgotten it) but am not a V-obsessive, so not the best person to start off.

Have people read it? Does anyone fancy kicking off? I'm going to bump and PM people until I get a volunteer - I have a vision of a perfectly indexed complete set of threads, which I will then lobby MNHQ to put in their own little section, possibly with the titles re-edited so they're all in exactly the same format. Why yes, I did work as a librarian, however did you guess?

ShootMeNowPlease Mon 26-Aug-13 19:36:43

What perfect timing: I've just found this thread and I love 'A Civil Contract' - it's my favourite of all her books so will come and join in on the next thread!

sarahtigh Mon 19-Aug-13 21:25:53

I think they are waiting until after summer holidays they are in publication date order so a think the next is "a civil contract" but could be wrong

EJbooklover Sun 18-Aug-13 18:57:01

What's the next book?

MrsFrederickWentworth Tue 16-Jul-13 18:17:40



Ds needs male influence badly after DH died tragically ( see previous threads). DH's brother had offered to provide home for him and me with grandmother. She is badly disabled. DHbro has v busy life which will take him away a lot. Only other adult old and v silly. Home miles away from anywhere, no children his own age. DHBro might get married idc ( tho' only a gold digger would have him - shudder at his views on marriage and who he would end up with) but there would obv be a significant age gap between Ds and any dcs. Would be completely dependent on DHBro. Married young so no cv.

Have been seeing someone. Still love DH to bits, but am single parent and he offers security for both me and Ds. Before I get flamed, yes it is a v different sort of relationship from the one I had with DH as am older now, but a very loving one. And Ds would have both me and OM..

Only problem is that DHBro does not get on with OM. Says if I marry him, I will never get custody of Ds.

Am torn in bits. Love OM and Ds. Ds needs me ( only 6, FFS) and male presence who is there, not an absent man and load of aged crones.

Sorry long. But WWYD?

sarahtigh Mon 15-Jul-13 14:40:17

I do not think edmund is babyish in terms of behaviour but some of his speech is a bit toddlerish there are very few bright 6 year olds that can not pronounce regular words correctly this maybe Heyer not really getting a 6 year old though

I agree that 6 year olds are often too old for their years considering normal toys somehow babyish, sylvester considers him old enough to play in the woods by himself without his nurse/tutor

HowGoodIsThat Mon 15-Jul-13 12:26:58

No its not just you. It just doesn't work. I think her bird nicknames are ill-conceived. Gervaise calls Drusilla a robin in TQG, which also doesn't work, imo.

HorryIsUpduffed Mon 15-Jul-13 10:17:54

On another topic, is it just me who gets annoyed by S calling P "sparrow"? It just doesn't seem as natural as eg Hero being called Kitten.

HorryIsUpduffed Mon 15-Jul-13 10:13:08

I don't know that Edmund is babyish - he doesn't know any other children, after all. I think modern children are too sophisticated too young nowadays anyway ::hoiks bosom:: grin

That said, Phoebe remarks that he needs a more suitable teacher who doesn't mind about torn clothes and so forth, so her more childcentric view is allowing for a lot of childish play whilst at the same time drawing him out from the nursery. Maybe she should speak to Mr Gove.

Anyway I think Ianthe is the product of her own upbringing rather than a monster. Structurally she is there as the opposite of Phoebe (stunningly beautiful v plain, vain and silly v clever and considerate, socialite v wife).

sarahtigh Mon 15-Jul-13 08:44:00

Ianthe visits her own parents regularly who also do not like nugent fotherby

Ianthe is definitely the type that views child as a trophy, dressed in matching clothes for cute portraits like the "virgin and child" no real indication of any genuine affection, while she happily accuses Sylvester of not looking for Edmund at bottom of lake she is not inclined to look for him herself, she repeats the lies so often that she has actually convinced herself they are true; definitely narcissistic tendencies

while it seems that Edmund really likes uncle vester, obviously the toddler talk is a bit unrealistic for a child of 6

in early 19th century it would have been fairly normal for Edmund to be left in guardianship of his uncle rather than his mother and certainly rather than a potential stepfather, he will be sent to Eton or harrow anyway at about age 10/11 it was not considered good for boys to remain in nursery with too much female influence his attachment to Button at age 6 is acceptable

HowGoodIsThat Sun 14-Jul-13 10:33:08

Ha ha Horry

What would Ianthe's A.I.B.U. post be?

My BiL has effectively taken ownership of my only child,not long after the death of my DH. I am trapped with DH's family, on my own, and none of them understand me. I have no access to money and am isolated from everyone I know. A.I.B.U. to run way with my child?

HorryIsUpduffed Sat 13-Jul-13 23:10:09

Yes, Ianthe is comically awful, but it is unfair to judge her by C21 standards.

I mean, she doesn't even have Mumsnet...shock

MooncupGoddess Sat 13-Jul-13 21:30:31

Can't say I have much sympathy for Ianthe. GH puts quite a bit of effort into demonstrating the reasonableness of Sylvester's case: Harry wanted Edmund to be brought up at the ancestral home; Ianthe will have him all the holidays and is welcome to visit at any point; Ianthe is totally unable to put Edmund first, meet his material or emotional needs, or determine and enforce suitable boundaries, and Sir Nugent is a loose fish (and also hopeless with Edmund). OK so a modern family court wouldn't give Sylvester primary residence, but Edmund will clearly grow up better and happier with Sylvester and Phoebe than with Ianthe and Nugent.

Sylvester's mother, by (not unintentional) contrast, is an absolute delight; we see through her eyes at a few points (very unusually), she is instrumental in bringing the lovers together, and I particularly like the bit near the end where she summarises Sylvester's character to Phoebe: he doesn't care about many people, but those he loves he loves very deeply. It's a surprisingly candid analysis of the hero of a romantic novel.

HorryIsUpduffed Sat 13-Jul-13 13:14:54

Also Jenny is particularly interesting because, without getting too far off topic, her father is a Cit but IIRC her mother was from farming stock, and it is that side of her that is most useful to Adam.

Can't wait for Civil Contract.

HorryIsUpduffed Sat 13-Jul-13 13:12:36

Sickly child is Betsy - "typical of her" grin

Eliza is the sickening telltale in this one. Becky sees through her!

MrsFrederickWentworth Sat 13-Jul-13 09:12:39

Arabella's mother still has the dire child, Eliza? In the nursery. Because she is poor middle class she has quite a lot to do with them. Whereas Lady thingy in The grand Sophy, with as many children but servants , is a breeding machine and then a social person. And limited maternal instinct, can't get involved in the illness.

Looking at my DM's family in the 20s, and thinkong of Heyer, if you had the servants the children were dumped.. unless you were v unusual. There is a heart breaking book by one of the Fairfax Lucys called the children of the house which showed this too for the children of the aristocracy pre WW1. I seem to recall that Prince Albert was considered v odd and rather bourgeois to like playing with his children. Ok, that's a father, but casts a light on the English view. And Jane Austen's mother seems to gave been capable, running the school, but not maternal, at any rate to her daughters.. a bit like Mrs Price.

So no, not maternal generally..

Surely Jenny bfing is another proof of her background, and the first indication really that Adam can find something valuable in it.

EJbooklover Fri 12-Jul-13 22:16:51

For me the success of Sylvester lies with its range of minor characters,from Miss Battersby through Georgie and her husband, Sir Nugent (who was a 'loose fish' remember so maybe Sylvester is justified in not wanting his nephew to live with him) to the Duchess they all play a part in bringing the story to life. just asi in 'the lost heir' it's the cast of minor characters whose 'swift unerring sketches' raised TLH 'above he commonplace' . I would like to think that Phoebe continued to write -she only promises Salford not to write a sequel to TLH or a book featuring him as the hero, not to give up writing completely.
GH 's lost 25%- given that she didn't think much of her romances (or her fans) and considered My Lord John as her masterwork, she could have been wrong about the merit of the part she cut!

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