Georgette Heyer may not have the most refined Regency prose (her sentimental language is rife with mannerisms quite out of place among the landed gentry, let alone the nobility), but dear Phoebe Marlow sparkles with such caustic wit and vivacity, that this historical romance (Heyer practically invented the historical romance) quite grew on me. I especially appreciated her defiant ambitions to be a spinster novelist – ‘unusual’ would have been a grave understatement for women more invested in their careers than their marital prospects, not that gentlewomen were expected to have careers at all! Even more laugh-out-loud hilarious than Austen’s most popular work, Sylvester is a delightful mélange of comedy, incredulity and biting banter, with an affably (if only because he was rather clueless, his poor grace) arrogant hero and unaffectedly charming heroine.
On Sylvester’s arrogance, it was a refreshingly nuanced strain – that is, he treated everyone with incredible civility, even the most unsympathetic and offensive characters. He was condescending (in the Regency sense of the word), generous and genuinely caring towards his servants and many of his inferiors. Instead, his pride manifested in his unconscious expectation to be obeyed without question, to take for granted that his personal comfort would be every present person’s utmost priority. So although I thoroughly enjoyed how Tom and Phoebe gave him much-needed ‘set-downs’, I could not fault him too harshly for his sometimes viciously severe ways.
Sylvester: ‘Don’t throw my rank in my face again! Good God, am I some money-grabbing Cit… decorated with a title for political ends, and crowing like a cock on its own dunghill?’
Tom: ‘Oh, don’t fall into a miff! I see precisely how it is! You are very like my father, [Sylvester]! It’s as natural for you to be a duke as it is for him to be the Squire, and the only time when either of you remembers what you are is when some impudent fellow don’t treat you with respect!
I will admit that towards the last quarter of the book, Ianthe’s wholly ridiculous plot developed at a slovenly pace, and I skimmed several chapters. But until that unfortunate speed bump, the characters’ steady stream of hysterical antics made an endearing, engrossing Regency read.
Side note: Before I started the book, I unfortunately glimpsed a review with a picture of Spock, and I never could get it out of my head whenever Sylvester’s ‘flying black brows’ were so distinctly described. Please, someone make an adaptation so I can safely imagine a less hysterical male lead!
Favourite quote: “The charm of your society, my Sparrow, lies in not knowing what you will say next – though one rapidly learns to expect the worst!”