Venetia was my first Georgette Heyer novel which seems odd given my love of the genre and the author’s lauded status in it. I did try to read it once before, but didn’t get very far. This time, I kept going and was well rewarded for my determination. Venetia, as much as almost any romance I’ve read, is about the heroine’s effort and insistence on choosing her own life. Much of the tension in the novel comes from Venetia saying, “I want this,” repeatedly and dealing with virtually everyone else in her life, including the man she loves, trying to tell her no. She is determined to choose her own freedom.
“So far from being content, she had never imagined that this could be her ultimate destiny. She wanted to see what the rest of the world as like: marriage only interested her as the sole means of escape for a gently born maiden.”
Published in 1958, I wondered if Heyer was writing as much about the women of her own generation who had been given unprecedented independence and responsibility during World War II while the men in their lives were away and then compressed back into their old roles when peacetime returned, as she was about Venetia herself. With deceased parents, an absent and completely disinterested older brother off on The Continent, and a younger brother at home, Venetia has been running her family estate successfully for years. Beautiful, practical, and very bright, she meets the neighbouring estate’s own prodigal son when Lord Dameral returns after many years abroad. Significantly older than her and of leaden reputation, Venetia and her brother become fast friends with Dameral and he is soon a fixture on their lives.
A rake with profligate tendencies, Dameral enjoys his neighbours and is, of course, drawn to the wry and clever Venetia, but feels her social standing could not survive a deeper association. He’s not made of stone. He’s madly in love with her, but they remain friends and settle into that relationship; however, when her absentee brother sends home a shy wife and her harridan of a mother, Venetia’s life is turned upside-down and she is forced to find her own way. The book is largely her story, but Dameral appears regularly to be kindred and delightful. He’s a charming rogue, but a thoughtful and polite one. In him, Venetia sees a future she can embrace even as she knows there may be financial and social challenges. This is her life and her choice to make and she is the one who will make it, damn it!
“Well, my usurper is not very young, and not handsome, and certainly not virtuous: quite the reverse in fact. On the other hand, he is not a bore.”
Precisely and deftly written, just like Venetia herself, the novel felt as though I was reading something that was actually written in 1820 instead of set there. I have a degree in English literature and I mention that at this juncture because I was chagrined to discover that I found the prose style, so witty, so elegant, so historically appropriate, a bit formal and challenging when I started reading; for example, there was one short passage alone contained five new-to-me idioms for intoxication. Clearly, I was able to sort them out and, to my tremendous relief, fall into the flow of the prose, though never quite completely. Since this issue can only be helped by exposure and practice, please let me know which Georgette Heyer novel I should try next. As is often the case, I suspect I have tried a new author starting with her greatest work, but I am certainly willing to give her other books a try.
Venetia has been added to my list of classic romances on my shortened recommendations list. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.