People have been telling me that I need to read Georgette Heyer’s books for a long time now. I just never really got around to it, I’d make a mental note and then just never pick up one of her books. So, knowing that I would need something for The White Whale slot, I finally picked up one of her books.
I have issues, a lot of issues. I don’t know if those issues are singular to The Grand Sophy, but I’m not really willing to read another one of her books to find out. To put it plainly, this book contains one of the most egregious scenes of antisemitism that I have ever come across in fiction. That one scene retroactively ruined what had been a fairly charming read up to that point.
The plot is pretty simple. Shortly after the Napoleonic wars Sophy goes to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousins while she sets about husband seeking and her father is off doing ambassadorial stuff in Brazil. Sophy finds the family in a bit of a mess. Her eldest cousin is engaged to a mean spirited woman that he doesn’t love. He is also the defacto head of family due to the father’s gambling debts and he’s become a bit of a tyrant. The cousin closest in age to Sophy is currently in love with a completely unsuitable match. Sophy gets to work setting these things aright with some vigor. For the first half of the novel I was completely enraptured. The book was witty and fun, and while it was pretty clear how it would all shake out, that doesn’t mean getting there was going to be a slog.
However at the halfway point Sophy has to rescue one of her cousins from his folly. He borrowed money from a moneylender and for reasonable reasons Sophy goes to pay that off. Now, when I tell you that this scene could have come straight out of the SS propaganda I don’t want you to think I’m exaggerating. It’s gross, it’s beyond gross. Sophy, who had previously been witty and independent came across cruel,rude, and a bit stuck-up. To be clear, the book did not want us to see the scene that way. We’re supposed to find Sophy brave and exceptional for facing down the evil, dirty, money grubbing Jew who held a wicked claim over her cousin. However, as a modern reader, I can’t read it any other way. I finished the book, but it had completely lost it’s charm with that one scene.
I’m giving the book one stars despite the fact that I think Heyer wrote wonderfully. Her characters are full of wit and charm. However, I’m a little angry that antisemitism is never mentioned when people bring up Heyer and her books. The only thing I’ve ever heard about her is that she’s wonderful, her romances are fantastic, and every lover of Jane Austen should read her. Well, this is me telling you, don’t read this book, it’s charm and wit are completely ruined by antisemitism. And I’m now worried that her other books are similarly affected by similar sentiments, so I’m not sure I’m going to give her another chance.