Anne here, and we're trying something a little new. A few times a year, we're going to feature some snippets from the Georgette Heyer posts of Jennifer Kloester, her biographer. Jen has graciously give me her permission to use them, so I hope you find them interesting.
If you don't know Georgette Heyer, she pretty much created the Regency Romance. Jane Austen was writing what was for her a contemporary novel, but Heyer, writing in the mid 20th century, made the period her own, and sparked a whole subgenre of books, for which I'm sure we are all grateful. I am particularly grateful for it, as I fell in love with her books from a young age. She is also is the reason I write what I write. She started writing from a very young age — her first book was begun to entertain her sick brother and was published in 1921 when she was nineteen.You can read more about her here.
We'll explore a few of her books in these occasional posts, but since Valentine's Day is coming up, I thought I'd choose to focus on one of her most romantic books — Venetia.
Heyer said this in a letter to her publisher friend AS Frere: "It may not be quite like Me, but I’m pretty sure the fans will like it." (7 March 1958)
And indeed they did.
From Jen Kloester's page: "Venetia would be Georgette Heyer’s 17th Regency novel and also one of her finest books. It is a remarkable reflection of her enduring talent that more than forty years after writing her first novel, her forty-sixth book should be so fresh and new.
Venetia is a sparkling tale of newfound love, idyllic romance, and friendship. It is also a novel about selfishness, a book about honesty and, as Anne Lancashire, explains in her excellent article, “Venetia: Georgette Heyer’s Pastoral Romance”, . . . Venetia belongs to the sub-genre of pastoral romance, with its beautiful heroine, whose life, lived for so long in her pleasant rural fastness, is interrupted by the arrival of the hero from the outside world.
Heyer’s hero is the much-beloved, Lord Damerel, a rake with a past who enters into the romantic rural idyll of Undershaw and wins Venetia’s love, only to retreat when he decides he cannot give her the life he believes she deserves.
One of the novel’s greatest attractions is Jasper, Lord Damerel. Described by Heyer as “dark, his countenance lean and rather swarthy, marked with lines of dissipation” he also carries himself with “a faint suggestion of swashbuckling arrogance”. Venetia has never yet met him but years earlier she has dubbed him “the Wicked Baron” due to his reputation for rakehell living."
Her initial meeting with Damerel takes place when Venetia is out picking blackberries and her neighbor (who she long ago dubbed "The Wicked Baron" —though she'd never met him ) kisses her. Then realizing she is not the village maiden he'd assumed, he introduces himself.
“Who are you? Or should I first present myself to you? I’m Damerel, you know.’
‘Yes, so I supposed, at the outset of our delightful acquaintance. Later, of course, I was sure of it.’
‘Oh, oh – ! My reputation, Iago, my reputation!’ he exclaimed, laughing again.”
From the very start the start Venetia is not at all flattered or flustered by his attentions. She tells him:
“How very odd, to be sure!’
She walked on, her brow a little furrowed. ‘Wishing to kiss someone you never saw before in your life. It seems quite mad-brained to me, besides showing a sad want of particularity.”
Once they'd established their identities and fenced (delightfully) with lines of poetry, Damerel says, “Fair Fatality, you are the most unusual female I have encountered in all my thirty-eight years!"
"You can't think how deeply flattered I am!" she assured him. "I daresay my head would be quite turned if I didn't suspect that amongst so many a dozen or so may have slipped from your memory.”
And at the close of their initial meeting she says, “Goodbye!"
"Oh, not goodbye!" he protested. "I mean to know you better, Miss Lanyon of Undershaw!"
"To be sure, it does seem a pity you should not, after such a promising start, but life, you know, is full of disappointments, and that, I must warn you, is likely to prove one of them.”
As a love story, it is peerless — we see and feel Venetia and Damerel falling in love on the page. One of the things that most stands out about Heyer's stories, is the humor, and often one important thing the hero and heroine have in common is a particular sense of humor. Venetia says to Damerel:
“Perhaps you have friends already who laugh when you do,’ she said diffidently. ‘I haven’t, and it’s important, I think – more important than sympathy in affliction, which you might easily find in someone you positively disliked.’
‘But to share a sense of the ridiculous prohibits dislike – yes, that’s true. And rare!”
Another source of the delight of this novel for me, are the vivid and various minor characters in the book, from Venetia's selfish, brilliant injured younger brother, to elderly Nurse, who fusses and comes out with some superbly biblical warnings and forebodings. Then there are Venetian's two other admirers, the young Oswald Denny who attempts to model himself on The Corsair and the dull, pompous Edward Yardley of whom Venetia can only describe him as "worthy". And then there's the truly wonderfully appalling Mrs Scorrier who arrives to upset everything. It's a book that never palls on me.
If you'd like to read Jen Kloester's more academic take on Venetia, with some fascinating background, it's here.
Have you read Venetia, or any other of Georgette Heyer's novels? There have been many different editions, and the ones I've shown here are just a few. Do you have any of these covers? Which one of the covers above do you prefer?