I’d heard that Venetia (1958) by Georgette Heyer is a classic of the romance genre, as well as reminiscent of Jane Austen. I wasn’t sure it could live up to that kind of hype, but I was willing to give it a try. One thing that made me nervous about this novel is that it was written in the 1950’s–not exactly a banner decade for women. I was afraid the old-fashioned mindset would be reflected in the novel. Fortunately, for the most part, this was not true, and I really enjoyed this novel.
Venetia Lanyon is a 25-year-old woman, running her family’s estate, and taking care of her younger brother, after the death of her father. Her life has been very isolated and very independent. She is also beautiful, funny, intelligent, and genuine–in many ways she reminded me of a manic pixie dream girl. She has two stubborn suitors who are not very good at taking a hint or accepting a straightforward denial. One day, when she’s going on a walk on an absent neighboring landowner’s property, she unexpectedly runs into Lord Dameral. Dameral immediately kisses her and grabs at her in a way that was gross and offensive–I am also feeling even more sensitive about this kind of behavior after being inundated with sexual harassment and assault allegations in the news. In fact, it turned me off Dameral completely. In order for me to like him, I just have to pretend that scene didn’t happen.
Anyway, Dameral is a notorious rake who ran off with a married woman when he was a young man, never tying the knot. However, when Venetia’s younger brother, Aubrey, is thrown from his horse near Dameral’s estate and must recuperate there, Venetia and Dameral spend some quality time together. They are a good couple, and Dameral redeems himself somewhat by being supportive without being paternalistic and controlling.
I enjoyed this book probably more than I was expecting and read it very quickly. It didn’t quite rise up to the level of Austen, but I can see why it’s a classic. My only complaint is that I sometimes felt that Venetia was a little too perfect. She’s had a hard life, with parents that abandoned her and didn’t care for her, but it doesn’t seem to affect her at all. She never gets upset or has to emotionally deal with anything. Even at the end she doesn’t seem bothered by the idea that Dameral might cheat on her. She was a fun character but she didn’t feel real.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.