In my introduction post, I wrote that one of the five books I would grab in case of a fire was Georgette Heyer’s Venetia. Well, I’ve just finished yet another read of it (I’ve lost track of what number this is) and I thought I’d tell you a bit about why I love this historical romance so very very much.
I consider myself to be a relative newbie when it comes to Georgette Heyer; I only “discovered” her work about two years ago after a trusted friend told me that Heyer’s Regency novels were “as witty and lovely as Jane Austen.” Being an Austen nut, a romance nut, and a library nut, my fate was sealed. I believe it was the very next day that I went to the library and checked out a couple of her novels. By wonderful chance, I happened upon Venetia.
At that time, I had no idea of the vast number of Heyer readers out there, each with their favorite of her 50+ novels. I have since discovered a few other things that make me want to be a part of this lovely club even more: Heyer fans are loyal to the author, each other, and their favorites; they are highly intelligent and always willing to engage in sparkling conversation (much like Heyer’s characters themselves) about their favorite characters and stories; and they love a handsome rake. (But seriously, who doesn’t?)
Even though I have only read about a third of her novels so far, I feel confident in saying that Venetia is my absolute favorite.
Venetia takes place during the Regency era of British history, a time when strict social mores dictated every movement men and women could make, down to which neckcloth knot was acceptable for proper gentlemen and which time of the day it was appropriate for young ladies to go driving (with a chaperone, of course) in the park. Part of what makes Heyer’s novels so wonderful are the vivid and extremely well-researched descriptions of this world, which will already seem familiar if you are an Austen fan (but are easily penetrated even if you aren’t).
Venetia Lanyon – our intrepid heroine – is alarmingly in danger of being “on the shelf” (i.e. off the marriage market) at the ripe old age of 26. She lives a secluded life in Yorkshire, where her social circle includes two neighborhood families and her bookish younger brother Aubrey. Throughout the novel, these neighboring families yield comic relief and interfering busybodies, as well as Venetia’s two unwanted suitors, Edward and Oswald. Edward is a practical man, older than Venetia, and looking for a staid wife to breed and run his household. Thinking himself wise in the ways of the world, Edward takes Venetia’s repeated refusals of his marriage proposals as proof that she wants to accept and is simply too much of a lady to do so. Oswald is just 19 years old, has read too many poems by Lord Byron, and wants a grand and tragic love affair. Venetia doesn’t want either of them, but is quickly running out of time and options.
Enter the rake next door whose last visit to his Yorkshire estate – including rowdy parties well into the night and scantily clad women – scandalized the village. The gossip is that Lord Damerel has been forced by less-than-favorable financial circumstances to retrench at his country estate until he can build the capital to reenter the social world of London. Whatever his reasons, he is not planning on residing there very long.
Luckily for us, it is not long into the novel that Venetia and Damerel meet. Sparks fly between them. I can’t say more because I don’t want to ruin one of the best scenes in the novel! However, it looks like Damerel is still resolved to leave the village until, that is, he happens upon Aubrey, who has taken a tumble off of his horse. In true romance fashion, Aubrey must be kept at Damerel’s home, forcing our hero and heroine into a closer acquaintance. Though society frowns upon this, we rejoice, knowing before they do that Venetia and Damerel are just the thing for each other.
However, as in all good stories, they do not simply live happily ever after. Though they are clearly in love, Damerel believes his soiled reputation will be too much for Venetia to withstand in society. She tries, but there is nothing she can do to convince him otherwise. Heartbroken, Venetia takes up her aunt’s invitation to spend a season in London. While there, she discovers a secret that just might be the proof she needs to convince Damerel that they are made for each other.
I cannot overstate how absolutely charming Venetia is. Each time I read it, I am carried away, even by the characters I am supposed to dislike. Heyer builds a world I am happy to inhabit for a few hours and characters I am delighted to call friends. I highly recommend this novel for any fans of Jane Austen, romance novels, historical fiction, or a darn good story.
There is also a delightful audiobook (one of the only ones I actually own) read by the hunky Richard Armitage. I highly suggest it. You can listen to a sample here.
Are you a Heyer fan? Have you read Venetia? What do you think? Or do you have another favorite novel by Georgette Heyer? Please share your thoughts below!