The Grand Sophy

Joanna Maitland writes a love letter…

latest cover for The Grand Sophy

latest cover for The Grand Sophy

Why do I love this book? Because it makes me laugh. And makes me marvel.

I didn’t discover Georgette Heyer in my teens, as many readers do. For me, it was much later and so, perhaps, an even greater joy. I was working in London and was soon trawling bookshops in my lunch hour, looking for more Heyers. Eventually, I had them all and they’re with me still, much read and rather battered.

The Grand Sophy centres around the Ombersley family, ruled by an autocratic eldest son, Charles, who is trying to exact much-needed economies from his gambler father and weak-willed mother. Lady Ombersley is persuaded to take in her motherless niece, Sophy, while her diplomat brother travels to Brazil. As a kindness, she agrees to try to find a husband for the poor little thing…

The little thing turns out to be a maypole who stands five feet nine inches in her stockinged feet and has accompanied her father all over Europe, during the Napoleonic Wars and after. She is friendly with everyone who matters and many who do not: from the Duke of Wellington and the Patronesses of Almacks to the rakes and rattles of the British army. She descends on the Ombersley household like a whirlwind, bringing a monkey in a scarlet coat, an unfortunate talking parrot, an Italian greyhound, a wardrobe of delectable and expensive Paris gowns, a magnificent Spanish-trained black horse called Salamanca, and an instant determination to do something about the sad tangle of a household she has joined. Sophy declares she would not permit her own father to become as dictatorial as Charles, though “it is a thing the best of men will do, if the females of their families are so foolish as to encourage them!”

She discovers there is much to do. And it is a large family. Cecilia, the second daughter, has declared she will marry a beautiful but penniless poet, after her first (conventional) suitor disgraced himself by coming down with mumps. Second son Hubert, home from university, has an undisclosed trouble nagging at him, though no one but Sophy seems to have noticed. Charles, the heir, is betrothed to Miss Wraxton, an elegant but humourless young woman whose baleful influence is upsetting the younger children and their governess, as well as Lady Ombersley herself.

Psychology wasn’t invented, but Sophie understands people and uses her insights to find the most unexpected solutions – “like Whinyates’s rockets: no one knows what you will do next”.

  • Steal a curricle? At the drop of a glove.
  • Turn a quiet party for 20 into a ball for 400? Of course. Simply despatch the invitations so that no one can recall them.
  • Buy and drive a dangerous high-perch phaeton? Easily done if perhaps a little fast. Then make matters worse by driving a mortified Miss Wraxton past the gentlemen’s clubs of St James’s where no lady of quality would ever be seen. When Charles upbraids Sophy for doing something so improper, she responds that she would “never have dared to do it without the protection of Miss Wraxton’s presence! … She assured me that even though I did something outrageous in her company, her credit was good enough to carry me off!” Miss Wraxton has certainly met her match.
  • Venture into the dangerous back streets of London to resolve Hubert’s pressing financial difficulty? Without hesitation. Sophy confesses that she hasn’t the least sensibility, though she admits it’s a trait which her father condemns as quite shocking and most unfeminine. But why would she be afraid, when she takes the precaution of carrying her loaded pistol?

The dénouement is a delight (almost equal to the climax of The Unknown Ajax for its number of twists and turns). Without giving too much away, I can say that it involves, in no particular order, an elopement, a brood of straying ducklings, a shooting, a mustard foot bath, a marquesa in a sacking apron, and a poet with a broken pencil.

Read The Grand Sophy and marvel at Heyer’s astonishing storytelling ability while you chuckle at her wit and the comic situations she conjures up. Read the ending out loud – it is pure theatre, to keep an audience spellbound.

A masterclass in plotting that makes the reader laugh. What more could any reader ask?


29 thoughts on “The Grand Sophy

    1. Joanna Post author

      Apologies, Louise. Just realised I didn’t reply to you here. I’m with you on Miss Wraxton. I could think of a few females of my acquaintance who might qualify…

  1. Lesley Cookman

    I re-read the whole cannon every couple of years, so obviously that time has just come round again. I’ve recently been re-reading childhood favourites, so I’ll write a love letter for you on one of them.

    1. Joanna C

      This was my first Georgette Heyer my mother gave me her copy to read when I was about 13, 40 years ago, l was immediately hooked. I still have the book.

      1. Joanna Post author

        Apologies, Joanna C, for the delay. The spam-catcher decided you were spam. Now rectified. Nice to see you here. Welcome, even if a bit late.

  2. Karlene Barger

    I’ve adored The Grand Sophy since my teenage years (a long time ago!) and reread it frequently, especially when I need to laugh out loud!!

  3. Joanna Post author

    Welcome everyone. I’m so glad my love letter to The Grand Sophy seems to have struck a chord, in spite of what Sophie said on the Word Wenches blog about Sophy being too bossy… She’s bossy with a purpose. And her intentions are of the very best.

    I hope you’ll all visit our website often. There will be more love letters, to different authors and different kinds of books. Maybe we’ll all find a new gem to read?

  4. helenajust

    This is one of my favourites, and constantly re-read. For anyone who hasn’t discovered audiobooks, may I recommend the one of The Grand Sophy in particular? It’s beautifully read, and listening to Sophy rout her various victims certainly livens up a traffic jam!

  5. Joanna Post author

    I haven’t heard the audiobook version but I imagine it could be splendid, for exactly the same reasons that The Grand Sophy would make a fantastic film.

    Thanks for commenting helenajust.. A Falco fan, I assume? I’m with you there, if you are. Lindsey Davis is one of my favourite authors and a terrific speaker, if you should ever get a chance to hear her in person.

    1. helenajust

      Yes! I love it when people get the reference, as I deliberately cut it short so as not to infringe too blatantly. In some places I’m just HJ.

      I’ve often thought that the final chapter would make a wonderful scene in a play, with characters coming on and off stage (especially Augustus Fawnhope).

  6. janeholland147

    Love love love The Grand Sophy. Probably my fav scene is where Charles tests her pistol indoors – which throws a little left, as I recall – and blows a hole in the wall. Such an enjoyable novel, only pipped at the post in my all-time fav GH novels by Venetia and Sylvester, 1 and 2 respectively. Personally, I blame its 3rd place finish on the name of the hero; Charles is not terribly inspiring as a hero’s name.

    These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub are probably placed 4 and 5, though frankly, this depends largely on mood. TOS was my first GH read, and as such, is possibly always number 1 in my heart of hearts. Dear wicked Avon …

  7. Joanna Post author

    That shooting scene still makes me laugh, Jane, no matter how often I read it. Like you, I love The Grand Sophy though I’m not sure it’s my absolute favourite. That tends to change, depending on how I feel. We’re clearly alike there. But all those you mention are up there among the ones I read and reread.

    Charles? We risk offending all the males called Charles here. I shall only say that I have not used the name Charles for a hero in any of my books. Not yet, at least.

  8. Susannah Fullerton, President of the Jane AustenSociety o Australia

    Hi Joanna,
    I am glad you share my love of GH’s novels. I m planning a GH conference next year in Sydney, Australia and am hoping you might be willing to write a short piece about your favourite GH novel for our conference booklet, or even attend the conference as a speaker? Would you please email me – I’d be most grateful. Looking forward to hearing from you, Susannah Fullerton

  9. Cheri

    Sorry, I simply can’t choose a favorite (although there is something about Prudence and Robin that sings to me)! Been reading Ms. Heyer since the early ’60s…loving them, and laughing late at night beneath the covers at her irrepressible wit til Mom came in to find out why, and remind me I had school the next day. My copies are so old and well loved they are in serious danger of falling apart.

    1. Joanna

      I remember the first time I read The Masqueraders, Cheri. I got to the end of chapter 2 and was totally confused. Had to start again. Ms Heyer had me totally fooled. It’s another one of her brilliant twist-and-turn plots and there’s something so attractive about The Mountain, Sir Anthony. Wonderful stuff

  10. Barbara

    I did discover this wonderful writer in my teens and spent a lot of time at the library because of her. The intricacies of the plots, the lightness of touch in the flow of words and the delightful characters fed my love for historical romance for many, many years and still does.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Welcome again, Barb. So glad you like our Love Letters (and sorry that this comment went in the spam box; can’t think why when your other comment went through fine).

      Your comment encapsulates exactly what I think of Heyer. She has brought so many readers to historical romance, I think, and writers, too. We have her in mind when we write but her genius cannot be matched. Brilliant and so rewarding to reread.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I think you’re right on both counts, Pam. Heyer was a product of her upbringing and her times, though. Sadly, antisemitism was prevalent then. I remember meeting it in older people of my acquaintance and they saw nothing wrong with it, even though younger (post-war) folk like me clearly did. I hope that no one would write caricatures like Goldhanger nowadays and no publisher would publish them.


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