Lady of Quality, Georgette Heyer
The Georgette Heyer listserv I belong to is coming to the end of a multi-year chronological read-through of her published works, and for September we're reading Lady of Quality, the last novel that she published (next month's My Lord John was published after her death). This year I also read A Civil Contract and False Colours with the list. As I mentioned before, it has been an enlightening project, to read the books in order of publication, and to see each book in its context.
I haven't read each month's book with the list (and I won't be reading My Lord John). While Lady of Quality is one of my favorite Heyers, it has been several years since I last re-read it, and it seems right to read the last Regency novel with the list. I also got a nudge to re-read it from something Audrey posted about it over on books as food.
Lady of Quality is often compared to Black Sheep. Both are set in Bath, with heroines who have set up their own households, though neither is completely independent. In Black Sheep, Abby Wendover lives with her sister Selina, and in Lady of Quality Annis Wynchwood is saddled with Heyer's most infuriating character, her distant cousin and companion Maria Farlow. Both heroines' lives are complicated first by a girl for whom they are responsible, and then by a black sheep gentleman who upsets both their families and their well-ordered lives.
Despite the similarities, these are not carbon copies. One of Heyer's gifts as a writer was to use similar settings and characters to create very different stories, as with The Foundling, Sprig Muslin, and Charity Girl. Lady of Quality has a slower pace than Black Sheep, with less focus on the escapades of Annis's young protegée Lucilla Carelton. The worst than happens to her is a walk, properly chaperoned, with a notorious fortune-hunter. Though Lucilla comes to no harm, her uncle and guardian Oliver Carleton picks a quarrel with Annis over it, one of the many scenes between the two. Like Faro's Daughter and Bath Tangle, this is a book full of arguments. Generally I don't enjoy what I call the "angry" books, but here both are quick to apologize, and the attraction between them shines through their quarrels. It is also full of scenes, generally involving Maria Farlow, who in the end may have to give up her comfortable life in Bath, but who wins the completely undeserved reward of her own sitting room at Twynham Park instead.
If this is one of Heyer's less action-driven books, it is more romantic, with its focus mainly on their courtship. Though Heyer's books are often marketed as romances, some readers complain that there isn't all that much romance in them. In many cases, the hero's declaration comes only in the last pages, to relieve the heroine's (and the reader's) suspense, as with my own favorite Heyer novel, The Quiet Gentleman. But in the meantime, there is wit and character and plot and setting, all of which keep us reading these wonderful books.