Well. How’s everyone doing? I still want to be Venetia when I grow up.
Venetia and Damerel have met and he is, of course, doomed. My goodness, but those two are really suited to each other. Sigh.
Chapter 8 pits Damerel and another of Venetia’s admirers, young Mr. Denny. The VERY young Mr. Oswald Denny. I couldn’t help admiring Oswald’s passion even while I was laughing at his complete mistake of everything with respect to Venetia’s feelings for him. Such a teenage boy. Venetia, I do think, could have handled Oswald better. In this, I think, she was quite naive (see question posed at the end).
How much of himself does Damerel see in Oswald? Do you think the comparison is apt? And yet, as Heyer notes, Oswald sees more clearly than Edward Yardley. Is Heyer saying something about youth or making a sideways stab at Yardley being more or less a pompous @ss. After all, if Oswald can see that Venetia and Damerel are head over heels, why doesn’t Edward Yardley? (Because he is P.A., that’s why.)
In this week’s chapters, Damerel and Venetia seem pretty solidly in love, though they don’t quite fess up to each other or themselves, and there’s way too much of the book left for them to just go on like this. I thought the brother would show up, but in these chapters, that doesn’t happen.
Instead, disaster strikes in the form of the unexpected arrival of the absent brother’s wife (!!) and her horrible mother. There is no better foil for Venetia’s goodness and nobility than this awful woman.
And what is the result of placing Venetia in the clutches of this woman? Well, it becomes absolutely positively plain that Venetia must do something. Anything would be better than staying. Heck, marrying Edward Yardley would be better than staying at Undershaw.
One of the results is some of my favorite bits of this book. Damerel, in the grip of very strong emotion;
You remained, and always will, a beautiful, desirable creature. Only my intentions were changed. I resolved to do you no hurt, but leave you I could not!
And then just a little later:
When you smile at me like this, it’s all holiday with me! O God, I love you to the edge of madness, Venetia, but I’m not mad yet– not so mad that I don’t know how disastrous it might be to you– to us both! You don’t realize what an advantage I should be taking of your innocence.
Holy Mackerel!! Or, as I like to say, ::swoon::
At the conclusion of Chapter 8, Venetia is about to do the unthinkable: go to Damerel’s house alone. She is aware of the impropriety, but she trusts him and needs his advice. And you, know, there really isn’t anyone else for her to turn to. No one in her circle of acquaintances is suitable to hear her tell the truth about her situation and the choices she sees open to her. Only Damerel will do. And she’s right.
What did you-all think? Favorite scenes? Observations? Spill.
On Twitter, some of us were debating whether Venetia is naive. I would agree that naive is perhaps not quite the right word. So what is?
Opine in the comments.
I love this book more every time I read it and you have picked out some of my favorite lines. Damerel is just too swoon-worthy for words.
I don’t think Venetia is so much naive as she simply sees the world completely differently from the way society expects her to. She knows what is expected and chooses to ignore it because she doesn’t want to live her life that way. She definitely marches to a different drummer, to a music all her own. I think that is why I like her so much!
Gotta love us some Damerel!
Maybe the word for Venetia is Venetia-esque
Reading from the perspective of a writer, I loved the setup of this book. The ordinary world is disrupted by the introduction of Damerel, but then things just get perfect, and more perfect, and more perfect. There are several hints of possible shoes that could be dropped, but instead —KAPOW!— it’s the sister-in-law and her mother, in a mess that’s completely in keeping with the older brother’s behavior so far.
I’m also on the couldn’t-stop-reading team, so I hesitate to enter the naivité discussion for fear of spoilers. I think she is naive at least in being able to assign what she feels as romantic or sexual attraction.
Thanks to Carolyn and the Riskies, I’ve re-read VENETIA for the nth time and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I have to admit though, Damarel is not a swoon-worthy hero for me. He’s just right for Venetia as Venetia is for him, but I did not indentify with any of the characters personally, and yet, have enjoyed the book very much with every reading.
I feel that Venetia handles Oswald correctly: certainly not encouraging him but neither shoving him off, because either case would only exacerbate his youthful angst. She was hoping that if she humored him and was gentle with him, his infatuation would fade away eventually through lack of emotion on her part. Unfortunately, the appearance of Damarel acted as a spur and provided the emotional spark to do precisely what Venetia had hoped to avoid.
My contention with this book is Venetia’s handling of Yardley the Prissy Priggy Pig. Why doesn’t she brush him off, strongly and volubly discourage him, and eventually ask him to leave or she’ll have him thrown off? She knows how he feels, he’s old enough, her gentle methods are not working, she’s not stupid/green/innocent/etc. And if she’s capable of dealing with every other sticky situation to do with household, estate, and earldom, why can she not handle this one man? Why suffer through his superciliousness?
My thoughts on this are: Heyer was too enamored of Yardley as a contrast to Damarel to hone in why Venetia should be with the latter and not the former. But she did it too brown where every scene with Yardley was a yawner. Yardley as the villain of the story was essential to her plot. But this was a rather one-stringed-violin kind of boring villain.
Keira, you raise great points for debate!
Carolyn, I think Venetia is blessed with a very high score on social intelligence. She sees people very clearly and understands them very well. She possesses the ability to interact with very different personality types effectively. Sexually she is inexperienced, but she knows she has found a kindred spirit in Damerel almost instantly. It is nice that their attraction is intellectual as well as sexual. They are equally matched.
Keira, I think Venetia is too kind to send Yardley packing–or perhaps too well-mannered. I think she has repeatedly made it clear to him that she does not accept him as a suitor, but he doesn’t listen. I don’t see him as the villain. If anyone is the villain it is the evil mother-in-law. It is she who makes it impossible for Venetia to stay.
Yardley was an extreme character – all of the secondary characters were vividly exaggerated a bit. Yardley, though, was your ideal Regency husband for a woman of Venetia’s social status.
Ann Marie, I noticed the plot structure, too! Not while reading, though. I was too absorbed.
As to Keira’s Yardley question, I thought Venetia in the beginning of the book was clearly entertaining the possibility that one day she would marry Yardley. She knew once Conway married, it would be very uncomfortable for her to either act as mistress in his household over his wife, or to stop being mistress there and just be a dependent, after so many years of running the place. And she’s not sure that Aubrey will need her forever. And she could have kids…
I couldn’t stop reading this book — I love it too much! — so I finished it last week. But after chapter 14, I wrote down my thoughts…and here they are:
Such a great novel. So much fun, so much texture and color, so much great character work here.
I don’t know how many other Lois McMaster Bujold fans we have here (beyond Diane, of course!), but in case there are a couple, I just wanted to say that it occurred to me Aral Vorkosigan’s character and backstory may have been influenced quite a bit by Damerel’s. 🙂
It’s interesting that though this is one of Heyer’s later romances, and so the characters take precedence over the plot, the plot itself is mostly not a romance plot as we would see it today! Venetia and Damerel both pretty much fall in love immediately, and both recognize the fact. It’s largely outside forces that provide the problems here, though of course there’s also a certain amount of interior stuff that these seven chapters hint at (e.g. will Venetia ever realize she doesn’t owe selfish Aubrey her entire life, and will Damerel be willing to sacrifice himself for anyone?)
And a lot of the essential problems and conflicts are very real to modern life — relatives or friends who think they can push you around, or who undervalue you, or who take advantage of you (I want to take Conway and stick him on an anthill — he’s like a vampire in how willing he is to suck out Venetia’s youth without another thought.)
Hmmm… interesting discussion. Hate to tell you, but I knew a Yardley type, and it doesn’t matter what you say or do; they go their own way, right over the top of you. You see, there is that desire within ones self to be able to face that person, someday, when they are married to someone else and not feel embarrassed by your own behavior, ie, you don’t want to find yourself dropping into gutter tactics.
The mother-in-law is a social-climbing leech. I can barely stand to stay on the same page with her.
As for Venetia’s brother, he’s selfish and not actually trying to suck the life out of her sister because he doesn’t think about her feelings at all. He’s too busy with his own life to worry about his sister or anyone else. A lot of people are that selfish. They usually need a wake up call, involving something happening to them when they find themselves at the mercy of the kindness of others, to realize that the world does not revolve around them. Sometimes, simply growing older will do that.
As to whether or not Venetia is naive (marked by unaffected simplicity): It isn’t the impression I have of her. I’d say Polly Anna, but not really. She is concerned about keeping everyone happy, to an extent to sacrificing her own happiness but not entirely. She does have her line in the sand.
Personally, my favorite characters are Damerel and Aubrey.
I’m another one who just couldn’t stop and finished the book…and went out and bought a few more! I can’t believe I was not aware of Ms. Heyer before a few months ago and that it took this readalong for me to read her. Thanks so much for that!
I didn’t feel that Venetia was naive. It might sound odd but I would describe her as a realist. She was very aware of her family and her friends characters and that she could not change or control them. She could only control how she acted and responded. For example, she knew she did not really want to marry Yardley, but he was her last resort plan.
As Venetia says to Aubrey:” …but they all seem to think that because I’ve lived my whole life in this one place I must be a silly innocent with much more hair than wit.”
Edward (who makes my teeth ache) and Mrs. Scorrier are both characters akin to Austen’s Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Elton. In a small country neighborhood with a limited circle of the right social class, people had to get along, or at least tolerate each other. Much as we long for Venetia to give them what they deserve, she can’t do it. She’s stuck with them in a way that’s hard for us to comprehend. (And look what happens to Emma when she actually strikes out at one of the bores. Of course she chose the wrong one. If she’d given Mrs. Elton what-for instead of Miss Bates, Mr. Knightley might have been less hard on her).
Young Denny is actually quite sweet. Carolyn makes a good point about him being more perceptive than Edward (tho he could hardly be less so). Heyer clearly had a great fondness for adolescent boys – they are among her most taking characters.
Carolyn, you do a wonderful job of describing and analyzing each section. It’s a lot easier to make ones own comments after you have led the way.
Oh, Cara, you might be right about Damerel and Aral Vorkosigan!! (I don’t usually read science fiction or fantasy, but Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series is wonderful, as Cara well knows. Bujold’s A Civil Campaign owes a lot to Heyer. In fact she dedicates A Civil Campaign to “Jane, Charlotte, Georgette, and Dorothy.”)
Judy, I had the same sense of recognizing Heyer’s characters as real people. She certainly had that talent in common with Jane Austen.
Amy, I was late discovering Heyer, too. You have a lot of enjoyment ahead of you!
Miranda, I certainly recognized Mr. Collins in Edward, but I didn’t think of Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Elton as Mrs. Scorrier. Makes sense!
And I agree that Heyer certainly understood adolescent boys and had a great fondness towards them. I suppose growing up with brothers and raising a son helped!
Oh, lordy, I love this book! Thank you so much for giving me the excuse to read it for the umpteenth time!
Yes yes yes on Oswald. Such a puppy, but his adolescent passion is so sympathetic in its ridiculous patheticness. (I realize patheticness is not a word. There, now I’ve used it twice. Patheticness. This is how Shakespeare added 1700 words to the English language. Repetition. And, er, of course, he was really famous.)
But I digress.
Edward does not see Venetia and Damerel’s attachment because he is that special species of man who doesn’t see anything but himself. Some might call this narcissism. Keira, Yardley has always bothered me to to point where I’ve often thought he’s the weak link in Heyer’s storytelling with this book. Venetia seems far too forthright to suffer him as she does.
On the other hand, Damerel… Swoon, indeed. A hero who falls hard for the heroine yet resists acting upon his love for the greater good, for HER good, is nothing short of- of- (no word suffices, perhaps I will invent another) delectaperflicious. In any case, Damerel is ideal for Venetia because they understand one another through a natural affinity of character. Heyer is a genius in allowing him to express his feelings so passionately and yet in also maintaining the romantic tension until the end. And I think this may be because she is in fact innocent, as he believes, and yet…
I don’t know if Venetia is naive. Sometimes I’ve thought yes, other times no. Louisa, I think you have a good point about Venetia’s attitude toward life. Given that, it’s true, her lack of experience of the world (the innocence Damerel recognizes) does not necessarily translate as naivite.
🙂 Fun discussion!
Yay, Amy Kathryn, for discovering Heyer!
Miranda, I like your point about Venetia’s limited social circle. She hasn’t a choice but to suffer Yardley. Given her character, she does so too graciously. She does learn… But I mustn’t skip ahead!
Coming in late: I’ve been enjoying the book but I really hate the way Heyer writes about servants. She’s so patronizing and precious about them.
But Heyer’s descriptions of rooms and landscapes are fabulous as others have pointed out. I’ve fallen behind–I think–actually haven’t read for about a week and I’m not sure where I am.
Oh, such wonderful comments!
Cara, I haven’t read Bujold, but I have her in my TBR and I intend to get to her soon. Sooner, now.
Modern historical romances, in my opinion, have stopped using external problems that must be overcome in favor of focusing on inter-couple conflicts. I would really like to see some HR that returns to external issues as a primary obstacle. Done well, it can be really heartbreaking. It puts people in conflict with their internal beliefs, and that’s always interesting.
This is precisely what happens with Venetia and Damerel. External factors put them into conflict with what they want and what they believe they can have.
I think it fell out of favor because too many stories invented silly external conflicts and relied on weak internal beliefs and the baby got thrown out with the bathwater, as it were.
As to Venetia and naivte. I think I have to concede that she is not naive. As others have pointed out, she sees the world and herself too clearly to be seen as naive.
Janet: I agree with you about the servants. There is a definite sense that the serving class is inferior and happy to serve. There’s a toadyism that bothers me a bit. But read, for example, Dorothy Sayers — many of British writers of the 30s and 40s have this insidious class-ism. I’m thinking mostly of mystery writers – the period was a heydey for the genre and I’ve read fair amount. American writers were throwing blood and guts around, their protagonists tended to be loners. I’m thinking of Chandler and Hammett, of course.
Carolyn, My The Mysterious Miss M was almost entirely external conflict. In order to support the woman he loves and the child he may have fathered, Devlin Steel must court and marry a society miss
So it can be done, even if it is done rarely.
I don’t think she’s patronizing about the servants … or should I say that I’ve read everything she’s ever written and her servants and their relationships with their masters and mistresses run the gamut. Sherry (Friday’s Child) had a couple who spent way over the top amounts on wine and victuals: Hero ended up firing them.
In my own life I’ve known housekeepers to stay with families for decades. And isn’t the tension between family retainers (be they housekeeper, nurse or butler) pretty much a staple of historicals? I did re-read to the end — is it Imber? He knows Damarel about as well as anyone.
Mrs. Scorrier is one of Heyer’s best villains, in my opinion. You totally don’t see her coming — sure, you might expect Conway to come home, or something call Damerel away to London, but never would you expect Mrs. Scorrier. But there she is, advancing on Venetia like a frigate with the nine-guns blazing. It’s awesome!
The best thing about her is that you probably know someone just like her yourself — someone who “just happens” to be around when all the arguments start, who is at odds with all her relatives, and who is as innocent as the day is long! She is just perfect, and I love reading her every poison-dripping word.
Janet W: The way I read Janet M’s comment about servants was that she meant Heyer’s treatment as opposed to Venetia’s treatment. I agree with you, Venetia treats the servants very well indeed.
But Heyer creates a world in which the servants are happy to serve the good master/mistress– as if born to it and in their rightful place. This is something you see in a lot of British Lit up through at least the 1940’s.
If you’re hired as a servant and are treated well and there’s really no hope of upward social mobility (you’ll never be the boss’s peer) then it makes sense that you’d be loyal and, actually, happy in your position. And why not? I see nothing wrong with that, whether there’s upward social mobility or not.
It’s the latter part — the implication that servants are in their rightful God-given place that is objectionable — to the extent that it’s present in Venetia.
I think it was an unvoiced assumption of the world of the book Venetia.
In reality, no individual has a rightful place. No one is inherently (by which I mean akin to genetically) a servant anymore than someone is inherently a nobleman. And this means there were servants who were smarter, better and more capable than the people whom they served yet were held back by virtue of their social class. Therefore, there had to be situations in which there was a tension between the served and the server.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that in Heyer’s portrayal of servants, I do find a dash of the assumption that the servants were in their rightful place and that Damerel and Venetia were their moral superiors by nature. (see, for example, the way Venetia handles the Nurse) If Heyer had been writing without that implicit assumption her portrayal of the servants might have been less doormatty.
Venetia, however, isn’t a book about class relations and potential revolutionaries. So I don’t really hold it against her.
There are a lot of half-baked ideas in there, so anyone who wants to discuss or disagree or tell me I’m crack, go for it!
zh: Oh, yes! That woman’s appearance completely surprised me and she’s suc a worthy villainess.
I loved the smackdown.
I have to defer to Janet’s view of the servants. Having grown up in the UK, I am sure she sees these issues much more clearly than I can.
That said, Heyer’s servants didn’t bother me. They were, at least, not totally stereotypical. They all came off as “real” people to me.
I would expect some servants during that time period would have been proud of their jobs and some would have hated them. Some may have accepted the notion that they were serving their “betters” and some probably didn’t.
I once watched a TV show about a school that trains butlers. The students in the (American) school were highly educated and some came from business backgrounds, but they wanted to “serve.” So, I guess, serving other people can be a choice, too. The difference is, I suppose, that these modern day servants have choices.
Jo Beverley grew up in England. Beth, the heroine of her “An Unwilling Bride”, about to be married to a duke’s heir, really had problems with the servants. It was interesting to see how her opinions evolved.
I am guessing that Heyer grew up with servants, certainly not uncommon for her time and class. As I said in my earlier comment, when she wrote about them, they came across to me as distinct individuals, some good at it, some bad. But now I’m sure to notice more — was it Gaston who perceived that Mary Challoner, even more Dominic, was “class”. Ah, the servants always know first LoL
I have to disagree about the servants in Heyer; I don’t think it was ‘class-ism’ as much as using them in much the same way as the Greeks used ‘the clever slave’, i.e. not as stereotypes but archetypes. Her books are not about the servants, they’re not that kind of book. Her characters may be realists – as Venetia is, keeping the dull but dependable Yardley around as a back door in case she can’t face spinsterhood when the chips are down – but the novels themselves are not realistic. They are essentially romances, which means we have to accept certain narrative shortcuts in order to concentrate on the main relationship.
One of those shortcuts is the way Heyer depicts servants – wily, stupid, eccentric, conventional, dishonest, or loyal to the backbone – according to the role she needs them to play in each novel, appearing variously as comic foils (the dour Moggart in Powder and Patch), mentor figures (Henry, the young but worldly Tiger in Regency Buck) protectors (like John in The Masqueraders, or Silas Wantage in Faro’s Daughter) and old retainers who effortlessly provide a sense of ‘backstory’ from the opening pages (the loyal but ‘grim’ Miss Battery in Sylvester, and here in Venetia, Marston, Imber and Venetia’s Nurse).
Hard for us to understand, perhaps, in an age where equality of rights for all has become such a fundamental keystone in our society, but it’s meant to be understood implicitly that a powerful class divide exists for these characters, and is pretty much rigid. Since Heyer’s novels are set at a time before social mobility became a genuine possibility without outright and bloody revolution – as had happened on the continent just before the Regency period, making everyone far more sensitive to their ‘station’ in life – there is little or no buried resentment at the antics of the Quality in these stories, though there may be minor grumbling or amazement expressed behind the scenes. (An entertaining and highly telling moment in These Old Shades is when Leonie, who has of course served in Avon’s household, is astonished to discover that ‘Monseigneur’ does not know the names of his many stable workers or understairs servants.)
Set romances like these are really no place for the politicising of servant-master relationships, even though it can happen in contemporary historical romances – often quite anachronistically. People tended to be born into service, just as some were born into rural labouring and others into the aristocracy. They were only just beginning to question such ‘rules’ in the Regency in England, and while some Heyer novels – The Toll-Gate for instance, or even A Civil Contract to some extent – look at darker forces at work within the class system, neither of those books have romance as their sustaining focus. One is more of a murder mystery, the other social commentary.
Since Heyer’s novels are set at a time before social mobility became a genuine possibility without outright and bloody revolution – as had happened on the continent just before the Regency period, making everyone far more sensitive to their ‘station’ in life – there is little or no buried resentment at the antics of the Quality in these stories, though there may be minor grumbling or amazement expressed behind the scenes.
I disagree. This was a time of great social mobility, and becoming a servant in the Regency was one way in which people of low birth could jump up the class ladder. Most people were in service on average for about five years; with some luck and smarts they could leave service and achieve middle class status and have servants of their own.
I suspect that Heyer’s portrayal of servants is based on her own experiences and background–in other words, she’s putting Edwardian and Victorian caricatures of servants into her Regencies. As Jane points out, she uses them for choreography–so does Austen in Mansfield Park.
But there are some dead giveaways: for instance “John Coachman” (it isn’t John, it’s another name, sorry!) is entirely Victorian.
Of course there were people who stayed in service for years or decades and developed a close relationship with their employers. But that’s all you see in Venetia.
Also the book was published in 1958 when it was becoming very clear to upper class English that their way of life was for the most part extinct and the great estates were proving economically unmanageable. So the comic servants are part of the nostalgia that permeates this book, for an England long gone.
The operative words there are ‘with luck and some smarts’, Janet. I agree that sideways and minor upwards shifts – i.e. into trade or other, more lucrative roles within the service industry – were not untypical of the era, but it seems extremely unlikely that ‘most’ servants left service that quickly and moved straight into the middle classes. But I’d be interested in hearing some statistics on that, and how they were reached.
I agree, of course, that Heyer was writing at a time of great nostalgia. Agatha Christie’s career was contemporaneous with Heyer’s, and you can see the same very English nostalgia at work in her novels too, perhaps most notably in the Miss Marple mysteries. The Second World War had destroyed the last remnants of the class system – as was; parts of it remain today, of course, though in a much altered and diluted form – and many older people were still adjusting to that reality.
No doubt Heyer’s returning popularity today is also due to nostalgia, with modern women regretting the loss of these often delicate and witty courtship dances between the sexes, and their comedy of manners, in favour of a more assertive in-your-face sexuality and joint financial and other responsibilities. Lovely though it is to be regarded as an equal to men, I suspect there’s a secret nostalgia among Heyer readers for the days when men opened doors for us – without being paid to do so! 😉