Monday, October 22, 2007

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, Georgette Heyer

Title: Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle
Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: 1957, Putnam
Category: Historical Romance
Rating: 7.5/10

I got this from the library, thinking it was a new-to-me Heyer. Turns out, I'd read it before. But no matter, it was good the second time too.

Miss Phoebe Marlow had one disastrous Season in London; a rather plain girl clad in unbecoming dresses, her intelligence and wit suppressed by insults given her by her overbearing stepmother, she failed to make any sort of impression on Society. Phoebe was happy enough to return home to the country and then got the unpleasant experience out of her system by writing a novel ridiculing certain members of the ton who were unkind to her. One of these characters was based Sylvester, Duke of Salford, who had given her the cut direct at Almacks. Meanwhile, Sylvester has decided it's time to secure a wife and has to come look Phoebe over as a prospective bride because their mothers were friends. Phoebe thinks (rightly) that this is a stupid way to pick a wife and dislikes Sylvester's hoity-toity attitude, so, fearful of being forced into an unwanted marriage, she runs away to London. She unfortunately has a mishap on the way, and Sylvester ends up saving the day. So he turns out to be not all bad, but Phoebe's novel is about to be published, and she knows that he'll be made insanely mad by it.

There's very much a Pride & Prejudice sort of theme here: Sylvester thinks that his manners are the model of perfection, but in fact he's so used to being the powerful and petted duke that he is horribly conceited. Phoebe, in her straightforward, blunt way, takes him down a peg or two, which is just what he needed. She, on the other hand, realizes that her first impression of him was not exactly wrong, but definitely not the whole picture.

This is an excellent example of Heyer's comedic plotlines. The characters are running all over, from Phoebe's country home to London to France and back again. Slightly ridiculous, but mostly just funny. The romance is a little less successful, IMO. Sylvester's interest in Phoebe seems to stem from her being the only one who has ever rejected him, and I was never quite convinced that he gained a genuine respect for her good qualities -- at least, not enough to want to marry her.

But it's definitely worth a read just to meet Sir Nugent Fotherby, one of Heyer's funniest, most over-the-top dandies ever. And to hear little Edmund scream for his Button (I can't explain this joke, you'll just have to read the book). :)

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