“A fox got in among the hens last night, and ravished our best layer,” remarked Miss Lanyon. “A great-grandmother, too! You’d think he would be ashamed!”
Venetia Lanyon lives with her younger brother Aubrey, managing the estate for her elder brother who is away with the army. Or abandoning his family duties, whichever option you prefer. As an unmarried woman of 25 years of age she appears to be on the verge of a life of spinsterhood, however, she does have two options in the locality. Oswald Denny is too young for her, but that doesn’t stop him pursuing her. While Edward Yardly is far too “worthy” to really attract her attention. But she has little option. For once her elder brother marries she will have to find somewhere to live, her vague plans for setting up home with the scholarly Audrey are quite eccentric, marriage would be far more prudent.
“Men, my love, are different from us,” she had said once, “even the best of them! I tell you this because I hold it to be very wrong to rear girls in the belief that the face men show to the females they respect is their only one. I daresay, if we were to see them watching some horrid, vulgar prize-fight, or in company with women of a certain class, we shouldn’t recognise out own husbands and brothers. I am very sure we would find them disgusting! Which, in some ways, they are, only it would be unjust to blame them for what they can’t help. One ought rather to be thankful that any affairs they may have amongst what they call the muslin company don’t change their true affection in the least. So odd!”
I really enjoy Heyer’s works. Even the worst of them have something worth reading them for; whether that is the characters she creates, the humour she uses, or the way she uses language. In this case it is a combination of the humour and the characters. Venetia clearly knows her own mind. She isn’t about to let anyone force her into doing anything she objects to. While at the same time is aware that other people’s opinions are important as she cannot live totally isolated from all society.
What is really interesting about this book is that it really does show how life for women was limited by convention and “manners”. How Venetia is hamstrung by society’s expectations. It makes for an interesting companion book to The Courtesan’s Revenge. Two contrasting views of a similar society. Harriette Wilson, the courtesan was outside polite society. Yes, she may have mixed with the men of the aristocracy, but she never would have been accepted into “proper society”. Venetia, similarly, is outside most of society simply because she is content to stay in Yorkshire, managing the estate.
Of course this is a romance, so Venetia will not be *condemned* to a life alone. From the 2nd chapter the reader is pretty much aware of who she will end up with, but that isn’t really important. As always it is the description of how they get together that is important. And in this case it is through a growing friendship, which makes a nice change from people being swept off their feet.