Twenty-odd years ago, I would likely have rated this novel higher than I do now. I actually only picked it up because I was recently told that it’s considered a classic of the romance genre. I’ve read my fair share of Barbara Cartland and old school Mills & Boon, and was delighted in college to discover Julie Garwood and Jude Devereaux, but somehow never read any Georgette Heyer despite the many assurances I’ve heard that she is, to a certain extent, Jane Austen’s writerly heir.
And I can see where people might think that, in this Regency comedy of manners especially. Frederica has strong shades of Ms Austen’s Emma, with a young woman concerned more with the love lives of others than with her own, who finds herself falling in love nonetheless with an older man, distantly related. Unfortunately, Ms Heyer’s novel has less of the wry self-awareness that made Ms Austen’s work so compellingly readable. Emma was a busybody know-it-all who was still likeable in spite of her overbearing nature, but Frederica is an over-involved big sister (to Charis, at least, if not to her brothers) who martyrs herself whilst not actually giving a damn about what Charis wants. It wouldn’t be so bad if she weren’t also so hopelessly condescending to Charis. We get it, Charis has more beauty than wit, but it’s gross for Frederica to basically stage mom her entree to fashionable London society.
I also found the hero of the piece, Lord Alverstoke, to be a tremendous bore. His main flaw, according to the book, is that he’s easily bored, which only makes me think him an overgrown child. He falls in love with Frederica because she has a lively wit, and while I’m ordinarily down for the whole intellects-attracting thing, I found it pretty hard to care about them because of the prevailing tone of snobbery throughout. Literally everyone who isn’t as conversationally vivacious as these two (and her younger brothers) is considered somehow deficient, whether morally or intellectually or in understanding. It’s super gross. As a younger miss, impatient with others not being as smart as I am, I might have found this entertaining, but long years in the trenches of having to deal with others kindly makes this sort of thing repugnant to me. Those who identify with such superiority aren’t as smart as they think they are, and are 100% more tiresome than they believe.
Otherwise, it was well-written and certainly engrossing, even if I got tired of Felix even more quickly than I did his sister. An alright read, but I’d rather revisit the Austen oeuvre with my time.