Monday, August 29, 2011

The Grand Sophy, part 2 (or maybe 3?)

This is written in response to a thread of comments on another blog, not to anything anyone said here.  I end up on a soapbox, so skip it if you're not in the mood.

I flipped back through the Grand Sophy before I left for the weekend (see previous post).  Just like the first time through, I found the heroine (Sophy) to be really, really irritating-- manipulative and high-handed and immature-- so I didn't re-read the whole thing.  This is not even in the top ten of my favorites of Heyer's books.  But I have to confirm that the anti-semitism is occasionally but definitely there.  I guess it just depends on the reader how much you are able to let it go as an unfortunate example of cultural blindness. 

I'd like to make clear--after reading some additional comments on other blogs-- that I'm not *excusing* Heyer's depiction of Jews.  Anti-semitism is inexcusable.  I'm just saying that in the context of the book, it bothered me, but not enough to make me quit reading Heyer.  Anti-semitism isn't the only reason to be offended by Heyer.  The stereotypes of Jews only appear in a couple of her books, but she is a classist snob in every single one.  Her depiction of a character with mental challenges in Cotillion vaguely offended me.  Her denouements are often so quick as to be disappointing.  She occasionally resorts to deus ex machina to resolve a relationship. But I still enjoy her books for the strong characters and witty dialogue.

Which maybe just says I'm an insensitive slob.  Or maybe that I find it difficult to condemn someone for attitudes they probably were unaware are offensive.  I still read Shakespeare in spite of the The Merchant of Venice.  And Hemingway in spite of his misogyny and homophobia and and and.  Abraham Lincoln wanted to send the freed slaves back to Africa.  We are all products of our time.

I completely defend anyone's right to not read an author because of certain elements of their writing.  I quit reading a Bud Guthrie book this weekend (The Big Sky) because I was so offended by his glib description of prostitutes and the effects of sexually transmitted diseases.  But another reader would just shake their head over it and keep going-- or maybe not even notice.  I hope we can not only show a little tolerance toward people who live in other times, but to each other and our differing opinions about what we're willing to read and what we're not.


  1. Re the anti-semitism: I reacted like you. It's insane, but in context. Not only was it pubbed in 1950, but she was born in 1902. On top of which, as you say, she was classist like a mofo--her books are sooooo snobby. And you see it in her biography too. Her portrayal of many lower class characters are also offensive. And upper class English people were frikking racist and anti-Semitic for SURE. So, not only a reflection of her time, but also of her class. (Props go to Trollope's How We Live Now, where a Jewish character is presented as a suitor, and the girl is all "Ew!" but he's a total gentleman and just lovely.)

    Sophy's one of my fave heroine's, though. She is definitely manipulative! I learned many good techniques from Heyer.

    Like, if my sister-in-law gets a boyfriend that my husband and his other sister aren't crazy about, I'm always trying to tell them: "Don't go on and on about how she should break up with him, what are you crazy? What if one day she needs to confide in someone because he really is becoming a problem, you think she'll come to YOU? You guys have no strategy!"

    But hey, I'm all about cleaning people's lives up, and getting sh*t in order. Me and the heroine of Cold Comfort Farm. Well, we're not to everyone's taste, that's for sure. ;-)

  2. OK, well, I wasn't going to post anymore about TGS but now you've given me an opening so... :-)

    I think the thing that bugged me so much is not that Sophy stirred everything up-- that family was dying under their stuffiness, they needed to be stirred up-- it was that she didn't seem to me to be a stable enough character to become a long-term solution to their problems. As someone mentioned on Crusie's site, Sophy is a trickster, a character that turns everything topsy turvy because the status quo has become stifling. And she works perfectly as a trickster. But the classic trickster MOVES ON. A trickster is not about the happily ever after, but about setting things up for the happily ever after. If she was going to be the heroine, she needed to grow up a little, if you ask me.

    OK, now I really have gone on too long. And if you're all about cleaning people's lives up, I sure as hell wish you'd come visit me. :-) Loved the Star Wars post today, btw.

  3. I'm glad you "went on" cause that is SUCH an interesting point! It's almost like... if there was someone to leave the kids with, and the point was to take Charles and run off and have adventures with him at the end, then it would work better.

    OR if Charles had had some sort of effect on her. If after all the craziness of her life, she needed a bit of stability and family love in hers', and that's what Charles and his siblings provided, then we'd see that reflected a bit in her as well.

    I am forced to agree.

    Frederica is a more accomplished novel in that way. The insufferable Duke who's never had to show any care for anyone, ever, makes himself do unselfish things and be uncomfortable because he cares so much about Frederica and just wants, for once, to see someone take care of HER.

    So while he's interfering and setting everything to rights, it's very much against his basic nature to be doing so. And it's sweet to see Frederica struggling against how good it feels to share the burden of parenting with someone, cause she would never imagine, in a million years, that this is going to end in marriage. I think it's one of Heyer's best books.

    Now I have to go post SW part 2!

  4. Hi Barb! Great to read your blog. Thanks for giving me the link on Friday morning. So a question regarding this TGS communication... Wondering what you think about recommending G Heyer as our "Author to review" for my book club? We pick an author every year and everyone in the club has to read a different book for our meeting's discussion. We have not done anything in this genre in the past. What do you think? Good or should we stick with a more current author? Sue W.

  5. @London-- yes, good point about Frederica. I've already been on too long so haven't seen the next SW post yet, but I will.

    @Sue-- first of all, HI! and secondly, re: Heyer-- I think it depends on your group. Heyer has many great books to choose from, so from that perspective she'd be perfect. But there are some people who can't stomach a romance novel no matter what, so if you have a bunch of those, it might not work. But Heyer's are more in the vein of Jane Austen, I think, they certainly aren't "bodice rippers." Let me know what you decide, sounds like a great idea for a book club.