Regency Turns 80 — The Grand Sophy

Silhouettes of a man and woman in Regency dress against a background of the number 80

The Grand Sophy is one of Georgette Heyer’s best-loved Regency novels. Today, romance author, April Kihlstrom, explains that even though this novel is set in the English Regency, it was also a product of the time in which it was written and had a powerful impact on its readers. Those of you who read this novel within the first decade of its publication in the last century will almost certainly identify with why April so enjoyed this novel as a young woman. And those of you who did not live through those times and have only read it recently will get a dual history lesson, and, perhaps a greater appreciation of the power of Heyer’s fiction.

As always, everyone is invited to share their views and opinions about this novel in comments to this article.

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Young woman in a white gown and straw hat on the doorstep of a London town house.

Every book is a part of the time in which it is written. It both influences and is influenced by the circumstances in which the author lives. At the same time, the best books transcend time to speak to readers decades and even centuries later.

As a girl growing up in the 50s and 60s, I heard way too much about what girls and women could not do. We had to wear hats and gloves to church and were told not to let boys realize how smart we were. There were television shows where women chose not to use their talents because the men in their lives didn’t want them to and I’d seen it happen in my own family. I was not happy about any of this.

And then I found Georgette Heyer’s books. Here were heroines who lived in a time of even more restrictions than my own. Women who were also told their only purpose in life was to be wives and mothers. And yet . . . and yet, Georgette Heyer’s heroines always managed to be true to themselves. They didn’t behave as puppets of the men in their lives. They managed to be who they wanted to be.

I especially identified with Sophy, of The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. Here was a heroine who was elegant and capable. She didn’t hide her intelligence or try to be less than who she was. This was my kind of heroine! She and Charles Rivenhall were perfectly matched in intelligence, character and strength of will. You just knew life would never be dull for them and at the same time Georgette Heyer wove such a beautiful story you also believed they could and would be happy together.

In a nutshell, Sophy comes to live with her aunt and family when her father, Sir Horace, a diplomat, is sent to Brazil. The household is dominated by the son, Charles Rivenhall, who holds the purse strings and uses that power to keep everyone, including his gambling father, in check. Accustomed to managing her father’s household since she was seventeen, and having endured the rigors of following her father all over Europe (even spending time in the Peninsula during the war there), it is not to be imagined that Sophy will allow anyone to dictate to her. As usual, she decides to take the happiness of those around her in hand and cooks up schemes to ensure it. The Rivenhalls will never be the same!

The Grand Sophy, first published in 1950, was a counterbalance to what girls were being taught at the time about what it meant to be female, but its appeal isn’t limited to that era. Even now, the story is appealing because it offers the reader a hero and heroine who are so wonderfully well matched and who the reader comes to adore. There is laughter and drama as well as the hoped for happily ever after ending.

It’s no wonder Georgette Heyer’s books, like The Grand Sophy, inspired so many of us who write traditional Regencies. She showed us how to combine captivating characters with history in such a way that history was integral to the story. She also showed us how to create wonderful characters who come alive and who readers will want to see end up together.

April Kihlstrom is the author of close to 30 traditional Regency Romances. She adores The Grand Sophy so much she named her dog after Sophy. Her Sophy has now become the star of several books April has created for children, dog lovers and especially those with disabilities such as Down Syndrome and autism.

Find April at:


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  1. another wonderful book by GH. I started reading these in the 70s and now have copies of all her romances. I can’t count how many times I have read them all but each time is as enjoyable as the first – love them. thank you for reviewing this one – such wonderful characters as always!

  2. I almost love The Grand Sophy. Most of the book is a total delight. But there’s a But that spoils all my pleasure. It’s the really horrendous anti-Semitism of the scene with the moneylender. What is even more shocking to me is that this book came out in 1950, after World War II, after the Holocaust, after everyone had seen the pictures from the death camps.
    How I wish that scene were not in the book.

    1. Lilian,

      I, too, cringe when I reread that scene. The scene itself is important to the story–but the moneylender being Jewish is not and the scene would have worked just as well if he wasn’t. I have never understood this kind of prejudice, and as you say, coming right after the end of World War II, the anti-semitism is particularly appalling. THE GRAND SOPHY has a profoundly positive impact on me–I just wish she hadn’t chosen to make the moneylender Jewish.


  3. Love the review, April! The Grand Sophy is one of my favorites, too. She’s a spirited, capable heroine who knows her own mind and though she’s adventurous and takes risks, she never falls into the trap of being like those heroines who are “too stupid to live.” I wish I liked Charles as much, but to me, he has always come across as an arrogant, officious bully. But perhaps this is just the influence of Miss Wraxton and will wear off in time? I certainly hope so!

    1. Mimi,

      So glad you liked the review! Charles….hmmm…I see him as frightened by the realization his father brought the family to the brink of ruin and unless he holds very tight reins on everyone, it will all fall apart. And he doesn’t know any way to do it except to keep tight control on everyone and everything. I like to imagine Sophy will cure him of that fairly quickly. 😉


  4. I forgot to think about The Grand Sophy arriving in 1950 when women’s gender roles and stereotypes were so constraining! Thanks for reminding us how special Heyer’s heroines are — as fresh and lively to us in 2015 as I am sure they were in 1950!


  5. I love your take on the book, April! I’ve always loved Sophy: so often when a female in a book is convinced she’s always right, she needs to Get Her Comeuppance and become humbled. Not our Sophy! Because she always IS right. Or close to it, anyway…and she’s “man enough to admit when she’s wrong” (why can I not say that phrase without it being gendered? but you know what I mean.)

    And I love how she sees a problem, and never says “is it my problem?” She just fixes it.

    Some days I wish she’d find me and fix me all up right and tight. 😉

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