Venetia--Georgette Heyer


I took my time reading Venetia largely as a consequence of two things--the long disruptive trip that fell during the time of reading, and Honoré's book In Praise of Slowness. I suddenly became aware that I was not in any particular hurry and my enjoyment of a very pleasant read was by far more important that finishing this to move on to the next.

Venetia was an excellent book to read next to The Portrait of a Lady and even The Ambassadors (which I have returned to now).Venetia herself is a strong-willed, bright, and iconoclastic country girl whose notions of independence are a good deal healthier than those of Isabel Archer. Venetia grounds her independence in a carefully cultivated world view which is internally consistent and allows her to make a choice for happiness that conventionality would deplore. Ms. Archer, on the other hand, is independent enough to make the choice, but not independent enough to make it work--she is too bound by how other people see her. Venetia has a healthy contempt for the often incorrect way in which people try to manipulate others through convention.

Not that Venetia completely denies all convention, rather she carefully chooses amongst the conventions of her time, sorting out those that conform to reason from those that are mere prejudice--the sign of a keen intellect. And that is what Venetia demonstrates from almost the very moment we encounter her.

The story centers around Venetia, a rather sequestered country girl, who meets and eventually comes to love Lord Damarel, a notorious rake and man-about-town. Venetia has her own deep dark secret that becomes her key to making the match she knows in her heart to be the right one.

The book brims with a knowing sexuality, but not eroticism, a hard look at how men and women really behave. Venetia is not a prude, nor is she under any illusions about how the world works and what a rake is. But going back to our comparison of Venetia and Isabel Archer, Venetia's passion is rooted in a true and deep affection that grows slowly over the span of her brother's stay with Lord Damarel. Isabel Archer's passion isn't rooted in anything other than her own notions of independence. When she encounters her fatal love, it isn't a flare of affection, mutual care and concern, but a burst of passion that is rootless.

What the romance genre does at its best is what woman-kind at her best does for humanity--it roots the primal and animalistic passions (particularly of the human male) in the enduring bonds of affection and caritas. It raises human love from the continuation of the human species to a true relationship that reflects, at its best, the Father's deep and abiding love for each of us. Romance, in the literary sense is about quest, transformation. We came to call modern romances such because they were about love and stemmed from the "romantic" tales of Arthur and his Knights--but some of those elements tend to be lost from modern romance. Not so with Ms Heyer. She gives to us true romance in which the characters of her novel undergo real and realistic transformations because of the bonds of mutual affection. Within the sanctity of the marital union one natural expression of these bonds is passion. But if passion is the first and only bond, it will dissipate and cause dissipation.

Venetia holds to the high standards of Shelley's, Keats's, and Byron's romanticism, in which the quest transforms the knight errant. The quest itself is often transformed--from Holy Grail to Fisher King. So it is in Venetia as Damarel gradually ceases the attempt to seduce and finds himself tangled up in true affection, true concern--so much so that he cannot even propose to the one whom he originally planned to ruin.

A fun, light-heared, but ultimately serious historical romance worthy of the attention of readers of both history and romantic novels. This is what a romance can be at its very best, and we would be better off if there were more writers who would practice this highest form of the art.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 7, 2008 7:50 AM.

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