Georgette Heyer: Lady of Quality

At the advanced age of nine and twenty Miss Annis Wynchwood has decided to set up her own establishment in Bath.  Although a beauty, wealthy, and having suffered several great Seasons with a dozen handsome proposals, Annis’ main goal is to set up a house away from her brother and the constant bickering of siblings who share fondness and managing dispositions.

It is in her journey to Bath that the bored self-described spinster happens upon a strange party of two; an heiress who has fled and her would-be fiance who wants only to guard her from danger.

Thus the beginning of Annis’ madcap foray into the world of chaperonage.

With a chaperone of her own, a busybody chattering relative Maria, Annis thinks she can handle the young and spirited Lucilla Carelton.  But when faced with her guardian, the rudest man in England, Annis quickly learns that her career as a duenna may be more turmoil filled and shortlived than planned.

In true Heyer form, this fun and engaging book is all about witty conversation.  Her characters come alive from the pages, and although the action is limited it is positively riveting.  Heroine Annis is a typical 29 year old woman: she thinks she is more world-wise than she really is, but not quite comfortable yet with the idea of settling down (she has some funny and clever things to say about children, describing her lack of nurturing instinct which wouldn’t go amiss in the language of many modern 29 year old women.)  It is only through her tumble into devastating depths of love that she shows a real tenderness and vulnerability that makes her one of the most three dimensional hist-ro heroines I have ever known.

True to the Regency, Lady of Quality is all about Society and the tease and dance of propriety, etiquette and identity.  There are no ripping bodices and throbbing body parts, or wicked villains and evil secrets.  Its simply a journey of self-discovering.

And of course, the reforming of a rake.

With two such well drawn characters, its Heyer’s greatest love letter to Pride and Prejudice.  And one I will read again and again.

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