Lady of Quality (by Georgette Heyer)

I first discovered Georgette Heyer's writing in my teens, after being given several of her historical novels by a relative who worked in a bookshop. Over the years, I have appreciated them more and more, and have collected, mostly from second-hand shops, almost everything she wrote.

Her books are some of the most re-readable I have; when I sit down with a Heyer novel I know I'm going to enjoy it, and probably will find it hard to put down, no matter how many times I have previously read it. Her main genre is historical fiction, yet she wrote with such confidence and after such amazing research that the books feel almost as if they were written as contemporary fiction in the early 19th century.

The last time I read 'Lady of Quality' was back in 2005. I remembered it as one of my favourites, and thus well overdue for reading again. I finished it in about 24 hours, picking it up whenever I had a free moment. My memory had not failed me: I thoroughly enjoyed it, all over again.

Annis Wychwood is the heroine. She's a typical Heyer girl - confident, outspoken, with an ironic sense of humour, and very beautiful. She's older than most of them, though - at 29, in Regency times, she is considered 'on the shelf', having never been married. She has a rather pompous brother who has married a sweet but fluffy girl, and is determined to make a home for herself. She agrees to have a companion - an indigent relative, Maria, who provides some of the humour in the book by talking continually.

Annis is on her way home after staying with her brother when she comes across a broken-down carriage containing two young people. Lucilla, who is only 17, is running away from her aunt's home to escape marriage to her childhood friend Ninian. And Ninian is helping her to do so.

Annis offers temporary refuge to Lucilla, which is accepted gratefully. But she lives in dread of her rude and arrogant uncle, Oliver Carleton, forcing her into a marriage she does not wish to make. Inevitably Annis is approached by Oliver, and sparks begin to fly...

This is wonderful stuff, classic Heyer. It's one of her later books, first published in 1972 when she was seventy, and shows, in my view, even better characterisation than some of the earlier novels. I found myself chuckling aloud two or three times, as well as inwardly in several places.

My only slight regret is that the ending is a bit too sudden - we know what's going to happen, of course, but I would still have liked at least a page or two more.

Nonetheless, this still ranks as an excellent read, one which I look forward to again, already, in another few years. It's still in print in paperback on both sides of the Atlantic, and also now available on Kindle. It can usually be found fairly readily second-hand too, at least in the UK.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 29th May 2012

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