Heyer for Beginners — The Grand Sophy (1950)

Cousin-based romance is probably the biggest stumbling block in my journey through these Heyer historicals, and for all that I am a big proponent of contemporary fiction, and that cousins marrying cousins was indeed not only condoned but encouraged in the period in which this novel is set — as proven by Mansfield Park, as just one example — it still just really creeps me out in all kinds of ways.

I am sure I am not alone in this.

Despite this defect to the story, however, I still really loved everything else about The Grand Sophy (well… almost everything; see below), and can see why it is so frequently listed in so many Heyer readers’ personal “best” lists.

Sophy herself is one of the main reasons for my enjoyment — she is sassy, and spirited, and full of wit and determination that is just very, very likable. Charles Rivenhall, her disapproving cousin, is another reason — he’s Max Ravenscar reborn, and I do love an alpha hero tamed by the woman of independent spirit who shows him the error of his ways. Theirs will not be a calm or comfortable marriage, but they will have a lot of fun together, and the sex will be intense. (Not that Heyer would ever let us in on that, of course.)

Another thing to really love about The Grand Sophy is the secondary characters, like dopey poet Augustus Fawnhope, the demanding but indolent Sancia, and the dapper Lord Charlbury, who wisely enlists Sophy’s aid in convincing her pretty cousin to marry him. (I would ask Sophy’s aid with everything, if I knew her. The woman knows how to get things done.)

But then, of course, there is that scene. You know the one, with the moneylender that is… super-problematic. Typical of the time, not only when it was written but when it was set, it may be, but it’s still pretty upsetting to read such blatant anti-semitism in print, especially in the middle of an otherwise charming and fun-filled romance novel.

In contemporary fiction, I have had to make allowances — Anthony Trollope can be hard to read for the same reason — but this is historical fiction, and I guess I hoped that would make it better. But then, I don’t suppose I can complain about historical fiction not being accurate to the period and then also complain when it is too accurate about prevailing racist attitudes of the time.

Or can I?

Maura Tan was born in Zanzibar, grew up in Morocco and lives in Singapore, where she is currently studying for her third degree in Contemporary Literature—when not writing reviews for Romantic Intentions Quarterly and eating her bodyweight in durian.