Venetia, by Georgette Heyer

>> Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Georgette Heyer's Venetia has been much talked about lately. Has it been reissued, by any chance? Anyway, there were very nice reviews at Jennie's and at AAR, and so I decided to give Heyer another try.

Her beauty rivaled only by her sensibility, Venetia Lanyon is nearly resigned to spinsterhood, thanks to the enormous amount of responsibility she inherited with a Yorkshire estate, an invalid brother and the lackluster efforts of two wearisomely persistent suitors. Then she meets her neighbor, the infamous Lord Damerel, a charming rake shunned by polite society--exactly the type of man that a woman of quality should stay away from.

Though his scandalous past and deepest secrets give Venetia every reason to mistrust him, a rogue always gets what he wants. Without warning, his demanding kiss threatens to become a bachelor's undoing…and a spinster's most passionate awakening.
I mentioned another try for Heyer, and that's because I'd given her a couple already, and they hadn't worked out. Cotillion was my first by her, some 10 or 15 years ago, and I hated it, possibly because I was expecting a romance just like all the other historical romances I was reading, and this was so different. Already under warning of what her books were like, I gave her another try. This time it was The Grand Sophy, and though I didn't *hate* it, I got bored 50 pages into it, never to pick it up again.

I fared better than that with Venetia. I did finish it, and did enjoy a lot of it, but I wasn't completly won over by two elements: the romance and in some cases, the language. A B-.

I'm really behind with my reviews, and for some reason, I can't seem to write a coherent summary of this book. So, since I really want to post this today, let me just direct you to one of the reviews I linked to above for plot summaries, and I'll proceed directly to what I liked and what I didn't.

In the love column, the first item would be the characters. Heyer really does bring them alive, and they're wonderful. Venetia is a delight. She might be inexperienced and virginal, but she still sees things clearly and she never comes across as naive, especially in her interactions with Demerel. In fact, she sees him much more clearly than anyone else, because she's looking beneath his façade, while all those others are just thinking "rake" and making assumptions. She's an intelligent woman, and she has a well-developed common sense and a sense of humour that allows her to see the absurdities of those slavish to propriety. Best of all, she doesn't hesitate to say what she thinks. Oh, she never goes beyond the pale, but she has no problem in saying things like that her father's treatment of her was such that she just couldn't love him, and thus, she doesn't mourn him. See what I mean? Venetia is a good, kind person, but she isn't a perfect, boring goody-goody.

Even the smallest secondary characters were brilliantly done as well, and completely three-dimensional. I especially loved her two wannabe suitors. The angsty teenager, Oswald Denny, was hilarious. His reactions and thoughts were so spot-on that they had me laughing. Such a perfect teenager! And the same for Edward Yardley, the pompous guy who wouldn't take no for an answer. I could swear I know this guy, just as I suspect I might have been a bit like Oswald way back when ;-)

The one exception here was Demerel. I never felt I knew him as well as I did, say, Oswald. We do get some scenes from his point of view, or course, but he remains a bit more enigmatic. I think the best picture of him that we get comes from Venetia's feelings and thoughts of him.

I actually liked the plot, even though the rake and the virgin pairing is not one of my favourites. What I liked was that Demerel is not not admired and adored by the whole ton for his past. Rather, he's considered to have a bad reputation, and everyone keeps warning Venetia away from him. There are consequences to his past excesses.

The language was very distinctive, and it was something I mostly liked. I enjoyed the witty dialogue and the neat turns of phrase, which helped make this book really funny. I even liked the denseness of the prose... the lack of simplisticness, I guess. Sometimes it reminded me of Austen, and that's a huge compliment from me. Still, sometimes I thought the slang got to be too much, and I started getting a somewhat "forced" feeling from the writing, as if Heyer were trying a teeny bit too hard.

On a sidenote, it was interesting reading Heyer's writing style and realizing that A-ha! So this is what all those Regency authors are trying to do and not succeeding! For Heyer it works because it's her voice, but all those others are just imitators, and it shows. No wonder the ones I like are those who simply use their own voices, like Balogh and Carla Kelly.

I mentioned that what I just didn't like was the romance, and there were two big reasons why I didn't. First of all, while I thought Demerel and Venetia were intellectually compatible, and it was nice to see a romance where it was so, I just didn't sense any physical chemistry there at all. I'm not talking about wanting torrid sex scenes, or anything like that, because that would have totally ruined this book. Since I just mentioned Austen, just look at Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Nothing obviously sexual going on there, but the air between them pretty much sizzled, and you could tell they found each other sexually attractive. With Demerel and Venetia, I just didn't see that chemistry or heat, not even at the beginning, when Demerel was acting all lusty.

Also, the second reason the romance didn't work for me was that I never completely bought Demerel's reformation. I'm not convinced that he'll be faithful to Venetia forever, something that seems to be confirmed by Venetia's answer when someone asks her if she thinks he would be. She says she doesn't know, but that she does know that he'd always love her. Venetia is supposed to be the one person who sees Demerel completely clearly, so I have no reason to think she's wrong about him in this. It might be rigid of me, or naive, but this whole faithfulness thing is basic for me to like a romance. I just don't find anything romantic in the idea of a husband who strays but always comes back to his wife because his affairs are only meaningless sex, and I'm afraid I ended up with the impression that there's a definite possibility that Demerel might be that guy in a few years, which left a bad taste in my mouth.

Even with this, I'm glad I read Venetia, and I think I'll probably read more Heyer books in the future. I just won't read it as romances, but as comedies of manners. If I had done so with this one, I'd probably have rated it better.


Bona Caballero 28 June 2014 at 09:59  

I think you are right, Heyer's books probably shouldn't be read as romances, but as comedies of manners. Her language and her writing style are wonderful. But I specially like when she uses that 'subtle English humour' that makes you realize that not even the characters take themselves very seriously.
"Venetia" is not one of my favourite Georgette Heyer's novels, but I enjoyed it anyway. I really liked "The Gran Sophy", for instance.

Rosario 30 June 2014 at 07:04  

I'm going to have to try her again, telling myself from the very beginning that this isn't romance. I promised one of my friends that I would try Sylvester.

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