Risky Read Along – Venetia Chapters 1-7

Woot!! The read along begins. I am SO looking forward to everyone’s thoughts and remarks.

I’ll jump right in with some of my initial thoughts, in no particular order, right after I confess that I finished the book a couple of days after I started it. At the moment, I am pretending I have read only to chapter 7.

Favorite lines

There were a lot that I loved, including the very first line:

“A fox got in amongst the hens last night, and ravished our best layer,” remarked Miss Lanyon.

This happened out here at Jewel central except the fox ate all most ALL our layers. And one of the roosters. Also, no Lord Damerel has shown up so far.

But really, the use of the word ravished absolutely floored me. What kind of proper young Miss says that? And then, what does that sly comment reveal about her? She used ravished when she could have said ate. The sentence is utterly sexualized, and not just because of the ravishing. The fox inserted itself amidst numerous hens and yet, despite this orgiastic behavior, it took only the best. What a sly fox!

Heyer chose her words carefully and this sentence proves it. It’s a lovely set up for the framework of the novel. Damerel = the fox. Venetia = the best layer.  [Do you agree? Disagree? Am I full of baloney on this one?]

From the first sentence we know the speaker is clever, amusing and perhaps bold. We can also guess that she is among friends. A young lady of the Regency clever enough to turn this phrase won’t utter it unless she knows it will be properly received.

So, I can firmly say that I fell in love with Venetia (the character) from the very first sentence.  I want to be Venetia when I grow up.

Oh, the build up to Damerel’s appearance! I was getting impatient for him to show up, and honestly, in my copy, he physically appears on page 30 which isn’t all that long to wait. I would have skipped pages to get there only I loved Venetia too much to do that.

And then he kisses her! What?! I was astonished. I didn’t expect that he’d act PRECISELY as he’d been described. He didn’t behave with a noble bone (ahem!) in his body. And Venetia, she handles him so beautifully — true to her spirit. Poor Damerel, a goner before page 36.

By the end of chapter 7, the henhouse has been moved to Priory. Oh, my!

A Few Quibbles and Questions

I found the language to be a bit dense at time and so full of slang that some phrases I only guessed at by context. Sometimes there were several in a row, all denoting pretty much the same idea so, (whispering) I felt perhaps Heyer might have been showing off her research.

Another issue that kept coming up for me was the name of Edward’s estate: Netherfold. Am I the only one with a dirty mind? Or who kept thinking of Netherfield in Pride & Predjudice? To my mind, the former name emasculates Edward while the latter name simply makes the P&P estate seem far away. Once again, I think Heyer (and Austen) chose carefully.

I think there were similarities to P&P. There aren’t many (in terms of plot) but for me, they were quite marked — the language for one. I felt I could be reading Austen, which is never a bad thing. One similarity I saw was the impact of an ineffectual father and then elder brother who lays the real responsibilities on the competent daughter/sibling and who may well end up paying a price for their inattention to her. Though at least she had money as Lizzy Bennett did not.

I think that’s more than enough to get us started. What did you think? Favorite lines? Agreement or disagreement with anything I’ve mentioned? Things that struck you as you read?


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Sharon Osenga
12 years ago

I sent these comments early last week so am resending to have them in the official discussion thread!

I am reading my old 1958 Ace copy which is very yellowed! I haven’t read this book in year and am savoring it. I love the denseness of the narrative as compared to books written today. Most romances today would be well advanced by the end of seven chapters but Venetia and Damerel are just beginning to know each other. I love the literary allusions. It brings back college English courses!

Characters: I think Edward is very much the man of his time. He doesn’t believe women should have opinions and wants only to take care of them. He doesn’t believe they can make it on their own. Damerel, of course, is very different. Because he cares nothing for the rules of society for himself, he also allows Venetia to be herself and not bound by societal conventions. For some reason, I have always liked Aubrey’s character. He is utterly self-absorped but is charming when he can be dragged away from his books. He and Venetia have a lovely relationship. Venetia is almost too perfect a character: lovely, well-read and with an independent lively spirit. However, she is not at all selfish and seems like she would be a fun person to know.

Can’t wait to read on!

Jane Austen
12 years ago

Perhaps I am alone, but I’m having quite a hard time getting into Venetia. I have the type of lifestyle where I can read a few pages then put it down and come back. It’s difficult with Heyer’s writing. I find it almost necessary to go to the end of the chapter and I can’t do that right now. I am not even up to the 7 chapter requirement. I might have to bow out of this as much as I’d hate to, but the novel just isn’t resonating with me.

Miranda Neville
12 years ago

Carolyn: Your interpretation of the opening is masterly, though I’m not convinced it was Heyer’s. i don’t believe that the old primary meaning of ravish was sexual so it’s likely that a proper young lady would use it meaning snatch or plunder.

That said, I agree that Venetia is more sexual than most of Heyer’s books. One can easily see Damerel undressed and sweaty, unlike some of her heroes whom I imagine being ironic in bed.

The lengthy passages of back story seem old fashioned now. The only reason I get impatient with them is that I’ve read the book before so it doesn’t all come as news. I find Edward as tiresome as Venetia does and if he appears much more I shall skip those bits. The interaction between D and V, and also Aubrey, is all delightful. I love it that Venetia calls D. on the assumption that it’s OK to go around kissing lower class girls.

Note the tolerance for marital infidelity re. the Dennys.

12 years ago

@jane_austen: Yes, I can see where small snatches of reading could be hard going. I think it takes some time to acclimate to the more complex and, to the modern ear, more flowery language. To have to reacclimate for every snatch of reading would be tough on the brain. I did the bulk of my reading at the gym or on the treadmill, which gave me 45-60 minutes of reading at a time.

I hope you’re able to continue. I think things pick up quite a bit after about Chapter 4 or so since by then Demerel and Venetia are thick on the pages.

Sharon O: I agree with your take on Edward. Yes, Venetia is a bit perfect, but I liked her anyway.

Miranda: Ah, you’re surely right about the multiple meanings of ravish. I feel a trip to Google Books coming on. However, by Heyer’s time, I think the sexual connotation was overt and that a writer as careful as she would be well aware of how “modern” readers would interpret her authorial choice, even as the word is uttered by a character who would not have been supplying that meaning in the world of the novel.

I think @JaneAusten’s point about the slow going is directly related to the long backstory drops. If you don’t have blocks of time to get through them, I would agree it’s frustrating to the modern reader.

There’s a reason backstory dumps are deprecated today. An omniscient narrator is practically obliged to do such dumps — it’s the nature of the convention.

I think a skillful author can avoid the info dumps. The use of a Point of View (POV) other than omniscient is a good choice for a writer looking to avoid that.

12 years ago

Google Books returned this result for Ravish:

The Royal Standard English Dictionary (1800)

Ravish: v. to violate chastity, to take by force; to transport with pleasure; to delight

Obviously only once source, which doesn’t speak to what Heyer thought Venetia meant. But I think the sexual connotation of the word was certainly present in the time period of the book.

Miranda Neville
12 years ago

You’ve convinced me, Carolyn!

Harriet Smart
12 years ago

I must have read this first years ago but bits kept coming back to me – especially the kissing for picking blackberries – the cute meet, as they say of rom-coms. Actually that scene forms the truly dreadful picture on the cover of my copy, as well, with Damerel looking utterly revolting. Does anyone else not like the name Damerel? It is faintly off putting to me, for some reason,too made up, but I believe Heyer was usually very careful to make her titles from real English place names. I’ve seen them on the map sometimes, but never Dameral. I am probably wrong about this!

I find revisting this book really odd. Heyer’s style seems to vacilate between the crisply Jane Austenesque and rather florid cheap writing. There are far too many smiles curling on lips for example, but then she redeems herself with some killer observation or some nifty historical detail.
I like the anti-sentimental, anti-romantic aspects, of what is ostensibly a romance. I am also interested by the fact that Venetia is unburdened by feminist notions. Much easier for a writer of the 1920’s to get the female mindset of 1817 than for us, I suppose, and she seems very much of her time, although shockingly free in her talk by the standards of the neighbourhood. She just seems a natural aristocrat, confident in her place in the world, and treats Dameral as an equal. They do get close very fast, but that makes it quite fun and you do start wondering where Heyer is going to go with this. What obstacle can possibly come between them when the hero and heroine have already fessed up so much about their pasts by chapter seven? What on earth is at stake? I can’t remember what happens, so am looking forward to that!

Reading it feels like tasting a strange fashionable liqueur or smelling a scent from the past – it is very different and a little strange at first. the construction and style of the thing are so different from modern popular fiction.

One other note, flicking to the back, I notice it got a glowing review in the Scotsman when it first came out. Can you imagine a Regency romance getting reviewed in the serious press today?

12 years ago

Harriet: Oh, I do agree with you!

Also, I think you must have the same cover I do, with the guy who looks like a cut and paste of a cherub gazing up at a woman. Barf. I just tell myself the cherub is Aubrey and that Damerel is waiting in the wings thinking about sweaty sex with Venetia. Do you also have the annoying font thing with the f and l having too much space: aff lict instead of afflict?

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Love the comments so far.
JaneAusten, I do agree that some of this is like slogging through, waiting to get to the story. It is one of the things that I noticed about Heyer-it takes time for the story to get going.

Language: I listened to Heyer (including Venetia) when I decided to write Regency. I wanted to become engrained in a “Regency voice” so listened to audiobooks of Heyer and Austen and the entire Sharpe series.

Heyer’s regency voice seems hers alone. The slang does get thick at times, but if you love it, you don’t mind.

I like that the prose rises a bit above my intellectual level! Makes my brain think.

The POV is so different than we are used to today. I think it is to Heyer’s credit that I didn’t get mixed up as to who the POV character was for any moment and that the changes were not at all jarring.

One thing I noticed… Like Austen, Heyer draws characters that are so vivid you think they might jump off the page (or in the case of Damerel, you might wish he WOULD jump off the page!). I mean, we KNOW these characters; we recognize their type instantly.

There was lots I forgot about the book so it is a bit like reading it for the first time.

Megan Frampton
12 years ago

I’ve read Venetia before, recently in fact, but have not started it yet for this readalong. I would be ashamed, but I am reading the conclusion to a trilogy that Carolyn recommended, and cannot put it down (Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy), so I don’t feel too bad.

That said, I loved Venetia. Some of Heyer’s writing seems too distant for me, but this one I feel gets the proper tone for the characters.

And Damerel is crazy hot.

Harriet Smart
12 years ago

Carolyn: No I think I have a different horrible cover – UK paperback edition from 1971. Damerel has a horrible long chin and shiny, wavy black hair and is wrestling with Venetia in order to attempt the kiss, while the dog goes for his hessian booted ankle (where else but Heyer do we get Hessian boots?)She is all ringlets and a poke bonnet and not at all how she ought to look.

I realise now why I don’t like the name Damerel – it sounds pharmaceutical.

Diane Gaston: Very interesting to hear about your technique of listening to audiobooks to get the voice of a period, rather than just reading. Such a good idea!

And agree Heyer’s regency slang is quite unique. I think I read somewhere that it is supposed to be more like flapper slang of the 1920’s but I think that takes away the originality of it. But hard not to imitate. I am sure I used some Heyerisms in my own Regency Romance. Will have to go and check.

One more off note I forgot to mention earlier – in the long first dinner alone together scene, Damerel surveys the table with his quizzing glass. I found that really reduced his general hotness for me.

And my, aren’t the paragraphs long!

12 years ago

I was reading Sense and Sensibility at the same time, so though I noticed similarities between Austen and Heyer, I also appreciated how much easier Heyer was to read. There weren’t as many unfamiliar words, and the syntax was far more familiar. I had trouble getting into it, but after about chapter four or five, I found myself captured. I also have to read it a chapter at a time because I need time to shift the way I think to follow the writing.

The story was much more interesting once Damerel was introduced. Like Diane, I found the characters easy to visualize.

I thought Heyer did a fairly good job of representing the attitudes of the time.

And I’m also not sure how much more I can take of Edward. I knew someone just like him, and it wasn’t easy remaining reasonable with him either.

12 years ago

I just managed to get a copy today so I’ve only read Chapter One, but I wanted to follow up. I loved that first line too, but I fell in love with Venetia in the second line when she alters her voice and answers herself because she knows her brother isn’t listening. I think may people would identify with her there so it is endearing.

Off to read more.

Amy Kathryn
Amy Kathryn
12 years ago

This is my very first Heyer and I am really enjoying it. I am not having problems with the pace. I agree that it does take some concentration because of the dense prose….especially since my library copy has really small type also!

I agree with Diane that I am enjoying the mental stretch…trying to recall my Latin and also following along with the quoted plays and poets.

I am afraid that I am going to have to finish this book in the next day or two instead of drawing it out ! This is definitely not my last and only book by Georgette.

Louisa Cornell
12 years ago

Late to the party. It really is so difficult being a woman in trade. (No, not THAT trade!)

It has been so long since I read Venetia, and I was only about 10 or so, that it is almost like rediscovering Heyer all over again.
And I am loving it.

I REALLY like Venetia. She is my kind of girl. Very little unsettles her and she is just so self-assured and delightful.

And Edward is just the most perfect BORE !! I think that is what I find MOST appealing. The characters are so well-drawn and so larger than life that I truly WANT to know what happens to them next.

And as to him regarding the table with his quizzing glass, one has to remember that that particular form of arrogant disenchantment was considered very HOT in this era !! LOL

The language is just so beautiful – elegant and musical.

Jane Holland
12 years ago

‘Aren’t the paragraphs long?’

Well, you could always try reading them in snatches.

They may be long, but they are brilliantly constructed, conveying information without being dull, by dint of Heyer’s effortless wit and powers of observation. In one of the early long paragraphs in chapter one, for instance, she paints a picure of Venetia’s childhood that leaves you in no doubt about the heroine’s mother, and could under no circumstances be considered part of an ‘info dump’:

‘She could remember being admitted to her mother’s scented bedchamber to see her dressed for a ball at Castle Howards; she could remember a beautiful discontented face; a welter of expensive dresses; a french maid; but not one recollection could she summon up of maternal concern or affection.’

The word ‘welter’ there, buried in the centre of her description, is the vital one. Which other Regency era writer today would think of choosing such a word to describe a heap of dresses, probably tumbled onto a bed as Venetia’s social butterfly of a mother makes her spoilt, restless selection? ‘Welter’ is a bold and unusual Anglo-Saxon word chosen with consummate skill by a writer who understands perfectly well what its effect will be on the reader.

Venetia is a marvellous novel. Overall, the writing style is quite right for popular women’s fiction of its day and, quite frankly, I’ve read plenty of genuinely ‘cheap, florid’ prose in recent historical romances based on her style from writers who can’t reach her heights of eloquence and shouldn’t be making the attempt. Her dialogue is famously witty, telling and intelligent, but I’m often just as absorbed by the high detailed style of her narration, which delivers some killing blows, particularly when examining the weaknesses and odd foibles of secondary characters.

And yes, words like ‘ravish’ are chosen deliberately. This is to be a story of a rather raffish seduction, and she is flagging that up in the first line. And I have no doubt that ‘layer’ there is also meant to be suggestive. It is common to assume that writers before ‘our age’ did not put any special emphasis on simple words with sexual connotations such as ‘lay’, but it is quite wrong of us to do so. You can find puns like that in Shakespeare and even Chaucer. This world was naughty long before we came along.

When I’m sad or troubled, I don’t turn to chocolate. I turn to a Heyer and cuddle up under the duvet with one of my favourites, and let her transport me back to the utterly fraudulent but beautiful and witty time bubble that is the Regency romance. Though I wouldn’t like everyone to love Heyer with the same passion and understanding. The fact that some people find her difficult will always be part of her appeal for me.

I think Damerel is a gorgeous name for a hero. England not being swamped with large pharmaceutical countries, it would never occur to me to connect it with a medical product, nor, I’m sure, would Heyer have done. It conjures up the very masculine expletive ‘Damn!’- then a shocking word to use in polite society – with a slightly exotic, Italianate twist at the end.

I have five copies of Venetia. It’s not quite Catcher in the Rye proportions, but I do have a propensity to buy Heyer in a compulsive fashion, especially when on holiday and away from my own bookshelves, or if I see a nice-looking edition.

Jane Holland
12 years ago

Sorry, that should have been ‘pharmaceutical companies’. Late night speed typing. 1.40am here. Ought to be asleep, by rights. 😉

12 years ago

Oh rats! My internet connection ate my comment.

I confess that I am afraid I’m going to spell Damerel “Demerol” which is the pharmaceutical link mentioned. I don’t think Demerol was around in Heyer’s day, but I’m too lazy to check.

That said, I think the name is kind of cool but I’m jaded by the sheer number of historicals where the peer’s name ends in ton, ford ham etc so I tend to be glad to see names that go against that superficial Englishness.

Great comments, It’s so cool to get everyone’s take on this!

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

I’m catching up….
About covers. Here’s a url to the original Barbosa cover, which I LOVE because it looks so much like a book released in 1958 should

Sharon, if that is the copy you have, it is probably worth something! Around $80 with a dust jacket.

Judy, It took me time to get captured in the story. Then, like Carolyn, I couldn’t put it down.
Edward is one of those characters who is just too real!

Jane Holland, what a wonderful fan you are!

Carolyn, now I’m worried that I may have used ton to end all my hero names!

12 years ago

I like Damerel’s name. It’s unusual, and it sounds a little bit bad-boy, because of the “dam.” Edward reminds me of quite a few Austen characters, the “suitable” man who the heroine knows is wrong for her.

One of my favorite things about Venetia is her pragmatism about people; she sees certain character traits that she knows won’t change, and she just deals with them. It is absolutely true to life for dealing with family — they are who they are, and you pretty much have to accept that. Venetia extends it to her dealings with others, too, and it is a very refreshing outlook on life.

Harriet Smart
12 years ago

Oh dear, I feel terrible having alluded to drug companies now. If only we knew what his Christian name was. And I stand corrected on quizzing glasses.

I like the long paragraphs by the way!

Thanks for the book cover archive. The original hardbacks in the UK were very stylish. You can imagine reading one of those (wearing a hat) while waiting to meet your friend for tea in London somewhere. (You’ve just bought it at Hatchards of course, and can’t wait to start it, and she is always late…)

That passage about the mother dressed for the ball at Castle Howard jumped out at me too. Saying so much in such a tiny vignette.

Thank you all for these wonderful comments. Can we do “Sylvester” next?

Amanda McCabe
12 years ago

I haven’t been able to re-read “Venetia” yet, eeek! Turns out it’s not one of the Heyers I own and I had to put in a request for the ONE copy the library has. But next week I am jumping in!

Louisa Cornell
12 years ago

Harriet, his Christian name is Jasper. Great name for a rake!

Cara King
12 years ago

I’m late to the party, as I wanted to finish the seven chapters before commenting!

I’ve read Venetia several times before, and have read almost every novel Heyer wrote (I believe I’ve missed three), so I’ll say at the outset that I’m a huge fan.

And I’m enjoying this immensely. I don’t wish it to move faster at all — I’m savoring the writing, luxuriating in it.

Every now and then I’m overcome with the frustration that one is no longer “allowed” to do so many of the things Heyer did here (write with a distant POV, take a long time setting up the story, assume that the reader will read every word), but I shove my personal demons down and get back to the story.

Oh, and as to my last point — the reader reading every word, instead of skimming or reading quickly for story and perhaps missing bits of the end of sentences or paragraphs or the middle bits of long paragraphs — here’s an example from chapter 2. This sentence is in the middle of a long paragraph. “Beyond the stream lay the Priory itself, a rambling house built in Tudor times upon the foundations of the original structure, subsequently enlarged, and said to be replete with a wealth of panelling, and a great many inconveniences.”

Here we have a longish sentence which, for the most part, gives us the history of the house and (by implication) the family fortunes. Now, the joke at the end seems unremarkable when I type it out there — good, that is, but unremarkable — because it comes at the end, where one rather expects a punchline, especially in a sentence which a blog commenter went to all the trouble of typing out.

However, coming upon it in the middle of a long paragraph, it’s really extremely subtle, and I think a lot of modern readers would be slightly skimming at that point and would entirely miss it due to the way it’s just dropped in quietly, no smacking of it or pointing it out in any way… (And as someone who has written comic fiction and acted in comic plays, and also seen a great many more comic plays, I know that many modern audiences don’t notice a joke unless it has a big bang drawing attention to it…

Sorry my comment is so long, by the way! There was far more that I wanted to say, in terms of the Cinderella aspects here, the “Heyer following rather than subverting her formula, yet giving it depth” thing, and the amazing richness of her research… But I’ll hold that for another comment.

Cara (who clearly has a fondness for long paragraphs)

Janet W.
12 years ago

Someone said something about the “reality” of the acceptance that men would have “bits of muslin” on the side, before and after their marriages. That’s something as an adult reader/lover of Heyer, I so appreciate. She did not shy away from the reality of Regency marriages. Seriously, sad but true, which makes “true love” so much more rare and to be appreciated! Lady Denny was not trying to shock Venetia but to make her aware of what was the likely course of a marriage of the time.

12 years ago

you’re right about the lovely sentences scattered throughout, and the one you picked out is a great example.

In Venetia, the omniscient POV is really wonderfully done. As anxious as I was to get to Venetia and Damerel, I didn’t skip anything. There was too much great writing.

I think it’s a tricky POV to master because it invites backstory dumps or lectures (see some Dickens…) I don’t think Venetia falls into that at all. Heyer is just too good a writer.

Comments should be as long or a short as you like! I, for one, really appreciate both kinds.

Regarding long paragraphs. Writing is writing so you’d think it wouldn’t matter if a paragraph is long or short — if the information is the same, who cares? But . . .

There is a theory these days that readers are daunted by long chunks of text and, perhaps more to the point, editors see big long paragraphs and see that as an indicator that there is too much narrative and not enough action.

There was, once upon a time, a rule that you started a new paragraph only when the subject matter changed. (Or so I remember being taught) Hence, one might have quite a long paragraph.

Again, if the text is EXACTLY the same, does it make a difference?

Some would say, yes, it does.

The use of white space can be a subtle way for a writer to move a reader along the story. The page doesn’t look so intimidating when there is white space. Too much white space, however, and the story can look thin. (Whether is it or not is a different issue.)

My copy of Venetia is trade paperback size. Larger, *I think* than the original. Presumably the visual impact of long paragraphs is reduced in a book with bigger pages. I wonder what the original pages looked like. Did the long paragraphs go on for multiple pages?

I didn’t notice it until afterward. I was too drawn in by the story and the characters.

My Eclectic Reads
12 years ago

I know I’m rather late in commenting—this week has really gotten away from me. I have really been looking forward to this read along ever since it was announced.! What a clever group of commentators you all are! After reading these posts, I’m bowled over by several items that I hadn’t taken into consideration (ie. long paragraphs, the use of “welter” and “ravish”, etc.). I know that I am already planning a re-read after the read along is concluded. I can only imagine what else I’m going to learn.

As far as my reading goes: does anyone else have a sympathetic fondness for Denny? I can’t help but laugh at how hard Denny strives to present himself as the romantic hero. Such an eager young man who has so much to learn. Is this immaturity or denseness? Or a combination of both?

12 years ago

Electric: Glad you joined in!

And yes, I DO have a fondness for Mr. Denny. I remark on that in my comments on Chapters 8-14.

Denny plays quite an important role and though he is sometimes acting quite badly, Heyer doesn’t skewer him the same way she does, day, Yardley. Oswald, she hints, might grow up to be something, and will only later understand he’s been a douche.

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