Enabled by a Georgette Heyer-loving friend who keeps recommending his favorites to me, my Heyer binge continues. This week I read Sprig Muslin, which turned out to be my favorite Heyer novel so far. It’s a perfect blend of romance, humor, and social comedy. Jane Austen fans, if you’ve been wondering whether to give Heyer a try, I suggest starting here!
Years before the opening of Sprig Muslin, Sir Gareth Ludlow was engaged to be married, but his beautiful and spirited fiancé Clarissa died before their wedding. Now in his mid-thirties, Gareth decides that it is time to find a wife. He decides to propose to his sensible friend Lady Hester Theale. Although they are not in love, Gareth assumes Hester will accept him because they get along well and because she is nearing thirty and is unlikely to have another offer of marriage.
But on his way to propose to Hester, Gareth meets a young lady who puts all of his plans into disarray: a beautiful sixteen-year-old who says that her name is Amanda Smith.
Amanda has run away from her grandfather because he will not let her marry her beloved Neil, a young officer in the British army. Gareth admires Amanda’s spirit but feels compelled to return Amanda to her grandfather — or, at least, to take her under his protection before the innocent teenager runs across someone less scrupulous. He tricks Amanda into accompanying him to Lady Hester’s house, where she can be properly chaperoned by Hester. He plans to return Amanda to her family as soon as he can discover who, exactly, her grandfather is.
Unfortunately for Gareth, Amanda is not quite so easily thwarted.
Sprig Muslin is a delightful read, largely because Heyer has created three incredibly likable characters in Gareth, Amanda, and Hester. Gareth is kind-hearted, charming, clever, and fast on his feet. However, he’s met his match in Amanda, who has a gift for coming up with stories that will persuade those around her to do exactly what she wants. Amanda is a rather spoiled teenager, so determined to force her grandfather to cave in to her wishes that she doesn’t always think through the consequences of her actions. In spite of that, she’s an incredibly lovable character. You can’t help but admire her audacity and her imagination, even as you shake your head at her immaturity. (Did I mention that she’s sixteen?) Lady Hester is a tricky character to pull off. For the first chapter or so I was worried that she was going to be another Jenny Chawleigh — relentlessly self-sacrificing and sort of dull. But Hester is compassionate, intelligent, and has a wry sense of humor. Her gently sarcastic asides to her horrible relatives — who are all too self-absorbed to realize she’s mocking them — made me laugh out loud.
This is the first Heyer I’m rating as a “Buy It.” The others have been fun but didn’t quite win my whole heart. This one did. The final scene is both laugh-out-loud funny and genuinely moving. This is how you do romantic comedy. Hollywood, take note!
Rating: Buy It