As Regency romance author, Louisa Cornell, explains in today’s article, at its heart, Venetia, one of Georgette Heyer’s most beloved Regencies, is all about love. True love between two strong, honest people who understand and accept each other for who they are, faults and all. A bad boy hero who, for the first time in his life, will do anything for the woman he has come to love and a strong but caring woman who will not accept his sacrifice at the cost of their mutual happiness. Though it is set in the Regency and was published in 1958, Venetia has all the romance and humor to delight a twenty-first-century reader. And talking about bad boys, how do you think Jasper Damerel stacks up against some of the other heroes Louisa mentions?
All visitors are welcome to share their views on the Regency romance genre in general, or this novel in particular, in comments to this article.
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In the fall of 1968, in a little village in Suffolk, I began an affair with Regency bad boys that continues to this very day. After reading all of Jane Austen’s works and those of the Brontë sisters as well, the two retired librarians who first introduced me to Regency romance decided it was time to introduce me to the works of Georgette Heyer — starting with their favorite — Venetia. I fell head over heels in love with Jasper Damerel and he still holds a special place in my heart.
Of course, since then I have met dozens of rakes, rogues and scoundrels — all of those not so gentlemanly gentleman a good Regency mama warns her daughters to avoid at all costs. Thanks to dear Damerel, however, I simply cannot stay away.
From Cyprian Sloane in Diane Gaston’s A Reputable Rake to Ivan Thornton, Earl of Westcott in Rexanne Bechnel’s Dangerous to Love. From Christian, Duke of Jervaux in Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale to Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain in Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. And who can forget Lisa Kleypas’s Sebastian St. Vincent in Devil in Winter or Eloisa James’s Earl of Mayne in Pleasure for Pleasure? Nor is any woman, or her reputation, safe in the arms of the Duke of Kylemore in Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan or in the tempting embrace of Alastair Ransleigh in Julia Justiss’s The Rake to Rescue Her.
As you can see, I know my scoundrels! And how could I not with an introduction like this?
"But you’re enchanting!" he exclaimed.
She put out her hands quickly, to hold him off. "No!"
He caught her wrists, and swept them behind her, clipping them in the small of her back, and so holding her chest to chest. Her heart beat fast; she felt breathless, but not afraid.
"Yes!" he said, still mocking. "You should have run away, my golden girl, while you had the chance to do it!"
"I know I should, and I can’t think why I did not," she replied, incurably candid.
"I could hazard a guess."
She shook her head. "No. Not if you mean it was because I wanted you to kiss me again, for I don’t. I can’t prevent you, for my strength is so much less than yours. You needn’t even fear to be called to account for it. My brother is a schoolboy, and – very lame. Perhaps you already know that?"
"No, and I’m obliged to you for telling me! I need have no scruples, I see."
She looked up at him searchingly, trying to read his mind, for although he jeered she thought his voice had a bitter edge. Then as she stared into his eyes she saw them smiling yet fierce, and a line of Bryon’s flashed into her head: There was a laughing devil in his sneer. "Oh, do let me go!" she begged. "I’ve suddenly had the most diverting thought! Oh, dear! Poor Oswald!"
He was quite taken aback, as much by the genuine amusement in her face as by what she had said, and he let her go. "You’ve suddenly had the most diverting thought?" he repeated blankly.
"Thank you!" said Venetia, giving her crushed dress a little shake. "Yes, indeed I have, though I daresay you might not think it a very good joke, but that’s because you don’t know Oswald."
"Well, who the devil is he? Your brother?"
"Good God, no! He is Sir John Denny’s son, and the top of his desire is to be mistaken for the Corsair. He combs his hair into wild curls, knots silken handkerchiefs round his neck, and broods over the dark passions in his soul."
"Does he indeed? And what has this puppy to say to anything?"
She picked up her basket. "Only that if ever he meets you he will be quite green with jealousy, for you are precisely what he thinks he would like to be — even though you don’t study the picturesque in your attire."
He looked thunderstruck for a moment, and ejaculated: "A Byronic hero—–! Oh, my God! Why, you abominable —-" He broke off, as a cock pheasant exploded out of the wood, and said irritably: "Must that worthless dog of yours make my birds as wild as be-damned?"
"Yes, because my brother doesn’t like him to do so at Undershaw, which is why I brought him with me today. Putting up game is what he particularly enjoys doing, and as he’s quite useless as a gun-dog, poor fellow, he gets very few opportunities to do it. Do you object? I can’t see why you should, when you never come here to shoot!"
"I never have done so!" he retorted. "This year is quite another matter, however! I own I had not meant to stay in Yorkshire above a few days, but that was before I made your acquaintance. I am going to remain at the Priory for the present!"
"How splendid!" said Venetia affably. "In general it is a trifle dull here, but that will be quite at an end if you are to remain amongst us!" She caught sight of Flurry, called him to heel, and dropped a slight curtsy. "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."
He fell into step beside her, as she made her way towards the turnstile. "Afraid?" he asked provocatively.
"Well, what a stupid question!" she said. "I should have supposed you must have known yourself to be the ogre who would infallibly pounce on every naughty child in the district!"
"As bad as that?" he said, rather startled. "Had I better try to retrieve my shocking reputation, do you think?"
They had reached the turnstile, and she passed through it. "Oh no, we should have nothing to talk about any more!"
When I was younger, the lure of the dangerous man who might be completely irredeemable and the woman whose love might save him were the reasons I read the stories of rakes, rogues and scoundrels. I have reread Venetia at least once every year since I first read it and reading it on the plane to the RWA National Conference in New York this year I realized the message of Venetia is more to me now. Much more.
Like many of us, Damerel made a mistake in his youth. By the standards of Regency society it was an unforgivable one and his reputation was ruined. He chose to embrace that reputation and to live it to the hilt. If people saw him as a reprobate, he would show them exactly that. Until he met a young woman who saw him, really saw him for himself. Every sinner, even if only for a moment, longs for a glimpse of what might have been. No one wants to be known only for the worst thing they have ever done. What makes Damerel a real hero is his willingness to let that one chance for happiness go. The ability to put someone’s happiness ahead of your own is foolish if the other person is unworthy. If the person is worthy, however, it is an act of pure love. Not bad for a fallen angel determined to play devil to the hilt.
And it would be easy to see Venetia as an innocent, naive young woman if you haven’t had to fight for the right to be who you are. This fight is, in many ways, as true today as it was during the Regency. I find Venetia one of the most emotionally intelligent women in the entire romance genre. She knows who she is and no matter how strong the temptation to give in and be the lady society dictates, she resists. She is happy with who she is. Happy enough not to bend. This is what attracts Damerel to her. Here is a woman whose every word, deed, and touch is dictated not by the laws of society, but by the laws of her own heart. I find her brave, sensible in the very best definition of the word, and daring enough to choose the life with the fewest guarantees and the most chances at a love of equals — the kind where a man and a woman truly see each other, faults and all — the kind of love to last a lifetime. Venetia and Damerel can teach us all a great deal about living, about love, and about the enduring power of the Regency romance.
Louisa Cornell read her first historical romance novel, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, at the age of nine. This inspired her to spend the next three years of her young life writing the most horrible historical romance novel ever written. Fortunately it has yet to see the light of day. As Louisa spent those three years living in a little English village in Suffolk (Thanks to her father’s Air Force career.) it is no surprise she developed a lifelong love of all things British, especially British history and Regency-set romance novels. (And Earl Grey tea!)
A two time Golden Heart finalist, three time Daphne du Maurier winner, and three time Royal Ascot winner, Louisa lives in LA (Lower Alabama) with a Chihuahua so grouchy he has been banned from six veterinary clinics, several perfectly amiable small dogs, and a cat who terminates vermin with extreme prejudice.
Connect with Louisa online at:
Web site: www.louisacornell.com