Born from the necessity of diversifying my usual literary reviews I decided to pick up a copy of renowned author, Georgette Heyer’s Black Sheep. Heyer was an author dedicated to the writing of relationships in the regency period of Britain (early 1800s) and so kept to the appropriate form of courtship rules as dictated by society of the time. So, if you’re looking for the romance of today with the lady falling into ill repute due to being swept away by hormones (both hers and his) and the amazing seductive powers of our hero- you’ll be very disappointed. If, however, relationships appeal to you above all else Heyer is a must read.
Black Sheep is the second novel by Heyer I’ve read and she did not disappoint on any level. The flow of language is always artful and, one can presume, accurate to the time period with many mentions of London society. This novel seems to be pretty similar to Pride and Prejudice in that we have a young girl, about 17, named Fanny whom is being wooed by an older gentleman solely for the purpose of her fortune. This plot point is woven throughout the novel but is intentionally overshadowed by the rather accidental relationship which begins to bloom with Fanny’s twenty-eight year old aunt.
Abigail Wendover is a well respected single woman who resides in Bath (the town in which the story takes place) with her much older sister, Selina, and the niece whom they act as de facto guardians for. Just returning home from a visit with another relative, Abby learns of her niece’s involvement with a would-be fortune hunter and is left alone to try and keep her from running off and eloping with the man. Fanny, being rather strong willed, is not given to listening to other’s opinions- especially those which cast the love of her life in…shall we say, not so favorable a manner?
Luckily our heroine is really quite bright and understands to outright forbid her niece to see Mr. Stacy Caverleigh would only result in the brash actions she is trying to curtail and so does all she can to keep her lip buttoned on the subject matter (in Fanny’s presence). Upon one chance outing at the York Hotel, Miss Abigail Wendover hears the name ‘Mr. Caverleigh’ announced and, having never met Stacy before, takes herself off to make his acquaintance and order him off and away from her precious ward. It is after some rather entertaining banter Abby finds herself flabbergasted- for the whole conversation took place with the rogue uncle, Mr. Miles Caverleigh.
As Stacy presses Fanny more and more ardently about eloping, since she is under age and her family won’t give consent to be married, Abby and Miles develop a much deeper bond which surpasses all the typical fodder involved in such pairings. Miles, with a rather shady past for which he is unashamed of and also led to his exile in India, and Abby being a single woman at the age of “eight and twenty” go out *gasp* alone together. There is never much more between them than the exchange of smiles, good conversation and an ease which comes with ready acceptance and yet it is one of the most heartening relationships I’ve read in a goodly long time. Take this one passage which occurs on a lovely carriage ride Abby and Miles take:
She felt herself impelled to steal a look at him, which she instantly realized was a very imprudent thing to have done, because he was smiling at her, and in a way which made her heart beat still more violently.
If you’re looking for bodice ripping, having a passionate encounter on a table/countertop/bookshelf/washing machine/airplane- you won’t find it here. However, if you like the romance of old courtship, witty dialogue and whimsical stories this is a book you must check out. Heyer deals with romance in such a seamlessly beautiful fashion (and often laugh out loud hilarious in that BBC kind of way) you can’t help but become a little entranced by the notion of the London “ton” and wondering what that “Pump Room” looked like.