The Grand Sophy is one of Georgette Heyer’s best-loved Regency novels. Today, romance author, April Kihlstrom, explains that even though this novel is set in the English Regency, it was also a product of the time in which it was written and had a powerful impact on its readers. Those of you who read this novel within the first decade of its publication in the last century will almost certainly identify with why April so enjoyed this novel as a young woman. And those of you who did not live through those times and have only read it recently will get a dual history lesson, and, perhaps a greater appreciation of the power of Heyer’s fiction.
As always, everyone is invited to share their views and opinions about this novel in comments to this article.
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Every book is a part of the time in which it is written. It both influences and is influenced by the circumstances in which the author lives. At the same time, the best books transcend time to speak to readers decades and even centuries later.
As a girl growing up in the 50s and 60s, I heard way too much about what girls and women could not do. We had to wear hats and gloves to church and were told not to let boys realize how smart we were. There were television shows where women chose not to use their talents because the men in their lives didn’t want them to and I’d seen it happen in my own family. I was not happy about any of this.
And then I found Georgette Heyer’s books. Here were heroines who lived in a time of even more restrictions than my own. Women who were also told their only purpose in life was to be wives and mothers. And yet . . . and yet, Georgette Heyer’s heroines always managed to be true to themselves. They didn’t behave as puppets of the men in their lives. They managed to be who they wanted to be.
I especially identified with Sophy, of The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. Here was a heroine who was elegant and capable. She didn’t hide her intelligence or try to be less than who she was. This was my kind of heroine! She and Charles Rivenhall were perfectly matched in intelligence, character and strength of will. You just knew life would never be dull for them and at the same time Georgette Heyer wove such a beautiful story you also believed they could and would be happy together.
In a nutshell, Sophy comes to live with her aunt and family when her father, Sir Horace, a diplomat, is sent to Brazil. The household is dominated by the son, Charles Rivenhall, who holds the purse strings and uses that power to keep everyone, including his gambling father, in check. Accustomed to managing her father’s household since she was seventeen, and having endured the rigors of following her father all over Europe (even spending time in the Peninsula during the war there), it is not to be imagined that Sophy will allow anyone to dictate to her. As usual, she decides to take the happiness of those around her in hand and cooks up schemes to ensure it. The Rivenhalls will never be the same!
The Grand Sophy, first published in 1950, was a counterbalance to what girls were being taught at the time about what it meant to be female, but its appeal isn’t limited to that era. Even now, the story is appealing because it offers the reader a hero and heroine who are so wonderfully well matched and who the reader comes to adore. There is laughter and drama as well as the hoped for happily ever after ending.
It’s no wonder Georgette Heyer’s books, like The Grand Sophy, inspired so many of us who write traditional Regencies. She showed us how to combine captivating characters with history in such a way that history was integral to the story. She also showed us how to create wonderful characters who come alive and who readers will want to see end up together.
April Kihlstrom is the author of close to 30 traditional Regency Romances. She adores The Grand Sophy so much she named her dog after Sophy. Her Sophy has now become the star of several books April has created for children, dog lovers and especially those with disabilities such as Down Syndrome and autism.