Aug 112015
 

Silhouettes of a man and woman in Regency dress against a background of the number 80

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.



*         *        *

A blond young woman, with her hair up, in a high-waisted gown, looking over her shoulder at us before she continues her walk in an English garden.

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
Facebok:   https://www.facebook.com/RegencyWriterLouisaCornell
Twitter:   @LouisaCornell

  18 Responses to “Regency Turns 80 — Venetia

  1. I love this book. I have them all but this is one of my favourites. Great excerpt and I also love her desire for rose leaves – how romantic. Venetia would have never survived if she had to accept her worthy suitor.

    • Oh I quite agree, Glynis! Had Venetia married her worthy suitor she would have wilted away to the sort of aimless woman who puts up with all manner of bad behavior from a man simply for the security of having one. That is a theme that can be as relevant today as it was when Heyer wrote Venetia or even when Venetia was set – the Regency.

  2. I’ve never read Venetia, but now I have to!

    • Just make sure you have a few tissues at hand, for both the touching and the very funny moments.

      I envy you, getting to read it for the first time!

      =^..^=

    • I envy you as well, Karin! While I always find something new every time I read it, that first time was a revelation to me and I enjoyed the funny and poignant parts so very much. Can’t wait to hear what you think!

  3. My favorite Heyer books are the ones with her intelligent, sensible heroines, and Venetia is one of the best. Not that Damarel is any slouch as a hero! I love his horror at the thought of being taken for a Byronic hero.

    • That is one of my favorite bits as well, Lillian ! He is so indignant and absolutely horror-stricken – as if that was the very worst thing she could say to him. Venetia’s sensibility, humor and her wonderful heart are so endearing.

  4. I reread this book a few months ago once more and have to say that over the 40 years that I have re-re-re-re-etc. read all of Heyer’s books, this is one in my least favorite category. Louisa’s review comments that Damerel made a mistake in his youth and was cut from society for that reason. A strong individual would not have cared for their scorn and not have gone on to confirm that they were correct in their scorn by his living a life of a rake to the Nth degree. Yes, a young man, and therefore not yet completely mature, might have done so, but I would think that by age 30 or so would have learned not to care for society’s views. Miles Caverleigh (Black Sheep ) made a better choice; he went to India, amassed a fortune, and returned home to make his own life. Yes, he states that he is selfish and does not think that “family” is all and will not let Abby sacrifice his life because she feels she must follow social proprieties, but he is so much more interesting that a man (Damerel) that can only think of orgies and showing society very publicly how much he despises them (which only indicates in my opinion that he does care very much for their opinion). I am also troubled by Damerel’s comment at the end that Venetia shall host her own orgy. The Dashwood Hellfire Club indulged in mock religious rituals, unrestrained sex (apparently only? with prostitutes—but even so how far into sadism did some of the members go?) and drunkenness. Does Damerel mean by an “orgy” just getting drunk to the point of passing out? No, not my kind of hero.

    • Judith, the wonderful thing about Heyer is the broad scope of her work. She writes heroes and heroines for everyone. Miles Caverleigh is another of my favorites, but for very different reasons. Just as Christian in The Quiet Gentleman is an appealing hero for reasons very different from those that make Damerel and Caverleigh heroes.

  5. I first read Venetia in high school, and since then, I have read at least a half dozen Regencies with the same essential plot. I initially assumed plagiarism, but after a time, I began to wonder if this happened because the story is so powerful and so very memorable that once you read it, you never really forget it. In particular, I have read at least three books with scenes very similar to that which Louisa has quoted here. I remember the first time I read one of them and I kept thinking, I know this scene, I must have read this before, but knew it was not possible because the book had just been released. Of course, none of those later versions held quite the wit and verve of Heyer’s original.

    The power of the story for me is the dual themes of true love and redemption. Redemption not just for Damerel, but, in a sense for Venetia and more so for her mother. I save this book to re-read in those times when I really need both a few laughs and some tears. It has it all.

    Regards,

    Kat

  6. Kat, Venetia ad Damerel’s story has been told and retold in the 57 years since it was first published. The trick for we authors is to try and tell it in such a way the reader simply has to know how it will turn out, or what new twist we will add.

    Like you, this is one of my comfort reads when I need a laugh or a cry or both. Love and redemption for both Venetia and Damerel – for me it doesn’t get any better than that!

  7. Louisa, I absolutely love this book and like you, when I first read it, I instantly fell in love–forever–with the character of Damerel. He is the very best of what could so easily have been the worst. That best is brought out only by the love he finds in the person of Venetia. They are so perfect for one another.

    For me, re-reading any Georgette Heyer novel is always a special treat, though this one is at the top of my favorites list and it’s time I re-read.

    Thank you for choosing to do the review.

    • Thank you, Elaine! It is always a pleasure to meet another Damerel fan! And yes, here is a man who could have very well turned out far worse. And he has no idea how good he can be until he meets Venetia. It was my pleasure to do this review as this book is a big part of the reason I choose to write Regency romance.

  8. Louisa, what a brilliant post!
    I loved the excerpt from Venetia. It is many, many years since I’ve read it but you’ve inspired me to read it again.
    When I was eleven years old, my mother brought home These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub from the library and said, “I think you will like these.”
    Did I! I read through all her books. Heyer got me hooked on romance–and I’m still hooked!
    It was lovely to briefly catch up with you at Nationals.

  9. Thank you, Kandy! It was wonderful to see you in New York, but we really must take more time to catch up next time!

    It would seem Georgette Heyer is responsible for leading many a young girl down the path to romance novel addiction. I definitely lay my obsession with Regency romance at her doorstep!

  10. Thanks, Louisa, for reminding me how much I love Venetia. I will definitely re-read very soon! Very nice review with insights into Venetia I didn’t remember. There is always so much in GH’s novels — almost like Jane Austen, they get better with every repeat!

  11. “Venetia” is definitely one of my favorites! I love the way it blends a confident, intelligent heroine, a rakish hero, and also a warm story of family, neighbors, servants, and the countryside. Any two of the three commonly go together, but I think it’s a real trick that Heyer made them all three work in a symphony.

    And our heroine! The novel is justly named for her.

    BTW, Louisa, I love how you came across Heyer and Venetia! That sounds like three years of paradise…

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