A young lady of beauty and intelligence facing an unbearable choice…
Venetia Lanyon is one of Georgette Heyer’s most memorable heroines. Beautiful, capable, and independent minded, her life on the family’s estate in the countryside is somewhat circumscribed. Then a chance encounter with her rakish neighbor opens up a whole new world for Venetia. Lord Damerel has built his life on his dangerous reputation, and when he meets Venetia, he has nothing to offer and everything to regret. As Venetia’s well-meaning family steps in to protect her from potential ruin, Venetia must find the wherewithal to take charge of her own destiny, or lose her one chance at happiness…
That’s it. It’s official. I’m a Georgette Heyer fangirl.
Venetia may well be my favorite Georgette Heyer book yet. It’s sweet, funny, clever, light, and adorable — in short, fluff, but super enjoyable fluff that’s perfectly entertaining without being cloying.
Venetia herself is a marvelous main character. She’s a bit unusual for a Regency romance heroine. At age 25 and unmarried, she’s perilously close to being “on the shelf”, but doesn’t seem particularly bothered by this. Venetia has lived all her life on her father’s country estate, more or less isolated from anything approaching society. Her father was a recluse, and her mother died when she was young. Ever since her father’s death some years earlier, Venetia lives at Undershaw with her younger brother Aubrey, running the estate until her other brother Conway returns from his military service and takes up the reins as heir.
Venetia and Aubrey are comfortable and happy. Aubrey is a budding scholar with his nose constantly in a book or ten, and at age 17, is soon to be off to Cambridge. While Venetia has two devoted suitors, she’s not in love with either, and is perfectly content to think of a future in which she sets up a household for herself and Aubrey and keeps things running for him while he’s busy with his studies.
This all changes, however, when the absentee lord of the neighboring estate returns home. Lord Damerel has a horrible reputation as a rake who once seduced and ran off with a married woman — and even though this happened nearly 20 years ago, he’s still not considered fit for decent society. He seems to enjoy his bad-boy status and his wild social life, though, and doesn’t exhibit any indication of wishing to reform
But then he meets Venetia! After a brief and sexually charged chance meeting, Venetia can’t shake thoughts of the devilish man next door, but doesn’t expect to see him again, as he never spends much time at his estate. Fate (or something) intervenes — Aubrey, who has a weak leg from a congenital hip problem, is thrown from his horse and injured, and is brought to Damerel’s estate, the closest shelter, for treatment. It’s clear that Aubrey needs to remain still and undisturbed in order to recuperate, and Damerel is a surprisingly generous and gracious host, insisting on caring for Aubrey for as long as needed.
Despite the disapproval of Venetia’s friends and would-be beaux, she becomes a daily visitor to Damerel’s estate, keeping company with Aubrey — but also becoming fast friends with Damerel. The friendship is a surprise and a delight for both of them. They discover that they can talk honestly and openly with one another in a way that they can’t with anyone else. They sit and talk for hours, and find themselves kindred spirits.
The complication, once they start to realize that what they feel goes beyond friendship, is that Damerel’s past has left him with a truly scandalous reputation. Venetia, on the other hand, is a virtuous girl who’s never been anywhere or done anything. Her aunt and uncle hope to arrange a suitable match for her with a respectable gentleman, but Venetia has other plans. Unfortunately for her, Damerel is so in love with her that he doesn’t want to ruin her, and decides to give her up rather than tarnish her in the eyes of society.
Oh, what fun! This business about reputations and scandal and — good gracious — what will everyone think? is just all so quaint and charming. Making a good match is really all that matters for a girl at that time, but Venetia is just rebel enough to not particularly care. She has money from her father’s bequest, enough to live comfortably without needing a wealthy husband to provide for her. She’s learned about life from books and is confident about her own abilities. She’s a devoted sister and a protector for Aubrey, has a good head for business as demonstrated by her management of Undershaw for many years, and feels that she’d be much happier living as a spinster than being trapped in a marriage that bores her to tears.
It’s refreshing to see a Regency heroine who knows her own mind so clearly. Venetia is never rude, not even when provoked, but she’s also no doormat. She’s honest with herself, understands what she truly desires, and is quite capable of scheming to get things to go her way. I was incredibly amused by her solution to her problems with Damerel, and her charming approach to manipulating those around her so that her plan is sure to be successful is just brilliant.
Once again, I simply loved the audiobook version of a Georgette Heyer novel. Phyllida Nash is a wonderful narrator, perfectly capturing the different tones and voices of the various characters. Not every female audiobook narrator can pull off a man’s voice with conviction, but Phyllida Nash is terrific, making Damerel growly and insinuating and absolutely rakish, while Venetia comes across as both innocent and clever. Such fun!
I will say that the language in Georgette Heyer books can be a challenge at times, as she uses a lot of expressions and terms that are no longer used or not used in the same way, and it can be a bit of a puzzle trying to figure out the context. I do love how Venetia uses the term “idiotish” quite often (Damerel finds this amusing as well), and she and Aubry call each other “stoopid” with a certain degree of affection. I was thrown, though, early on in the book when Venetia is thinking about what she knows of Damerel’s reputation, and recalls how he was last in the country when he hosted an orgy at his estate a year or so prior to the current time in the book. An orgy??? I’m assuming the author is using the word in its older meaning, a drunken party with sexual excesses, rather than as what today’s pop culture would consider an orgy. Still, it’s rather startling toward the end of the book (spoiler ahead!) when Venetia tells Damerel that she doesn’t expect him to give up his orgies, and he asks her if she’d like to preside over them. Oh my.
I only “met” Georgette Heyer this year, but Venetia is now the 4th of her books that I’ve read, and it’s splendid. Like Arabella (review), Venetia would be a good starting point for anyone who hasn’t read Georgette Heyer before. It’s full of the style and wit and sheer silliness that makes her books so delightful.
Author: Georgette Heyer
Narrator: Phyllida Nash
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: Originally published 1949
Length (print): 375 pages
Length (audiobook): 12 hours, 36 minutes
Genre: Regency romance