Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

From Sourcebooks:

Sylvester, Duke of Salford, has exacting requirements for a bride. Then he meets Phoebe Marlow, a young lady with literary aspirations, and suddenly life becomes very complicated. She meets none of his criteria, and even worse, she has written a novel that is sweeping through the ton and causing all kinds of gossip… and he’s the main character!

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Originally penned in 1957, Sylvester is my second foray into the works of Georgette Heyer.  As with many of her other titles, this romantic novel is set in Regency England and mimics the feel of a Jane Austen novel without abiding in her literary world. 

The Wicked Uncle
(its alternate title) does have echoes of Pride and Prejudice, so fans of this type of plot structure should enjoy this romantic tale. Like in P&P, we have two characters of different social standing that meet and make less than a good impression on each other at the outset.  There are meddling relatives and the ever-present eyes of the ton to consider as the bachelor Sylvester ponders candidates for his future wife.  He’s taken by surprise when he meets Phoebe, a smart, newly published author who has no interest in a betrothal with him.  Unlike other women, she cares nothing for his vast fortune and balks at marriages of convenience.

Compared to the other Heyer novel I’ve read, Venetia, I would say that Sylvester is good, but I enjoyed the former title more.  The writing is still top-notch, and I again found myself acquiring new vocabulary words and accessing my dictionary for clarification on more than one occasion.  Sylvester said something to one character late in the book that literally had me hooting out loud in delighted disbelief.  As a mother of two wiley boys ages 11 and 6, I loved the character of Sylvester’s young nephew and ward, Edmund.  He was very much the glue that frequently held together the main characters.

While I liked the characters of The Wicked Uncle, I didn’t come to care for them as much as I did in Venetia. The story ended just as I expected it to, and I’m glad that it concluded in the way that it did, but I was less wrapped up in the process this time around.  Having said that, though, I did root for the characters and enjoyed their journeys overall.

Phoebe is not the typical romance novel character.  She is not overly beautiful and does not always fit into Duke Sylvester’s paradigm of what a potential wife should be.  Unlike most women, she is not initially charmed by him.  In fact, she makes a caricature of him to be a villain in a newly published novel, which sets the tongues of the ton wagging.  She does come to regret this literary choice, but in general she stands up to Sylvester and is determined to live her own life.  This hasn’t always been the case with her, so we see her grow as a woman, striking out on her own if necessary to retain her freedom, to pursue her dreams, or to right wrongs done to others. Phoebe isn’t a perfect heroine and is occasionally insecure, but ultimately those around her come to understand her choices and she thrives.

Sylvester is somewhat of a typical rich bachelor, flirting with many and having the pick of any eligible ladies within the ton.  He isn’t initially drawn to Phoebe, but then becomes intrigued by her rejection of him as a potential suitor.  As a Duke he never hears the word “no”, so to receive any contrariness from the likes of Phoebe comes as quite a shock.  She isn’t merely uninterested in being courted by him, but she flees the area to escape the possibility!  This casting-off actually draws him in, causing him to help her in moments of need and also helps him to see how self-centered he could be. 

He isn’t always selfish, however.  Sylvester’s brother had died years before, and he was left to take care of his young nephew Edmund.  This plucky child could be quite a handful, and Sylvester frequently had to battle with his incompetent (and even more selfish) sister-in-law for the care of Edmund.  Between Edmund’s energy and his mother’s selfish ways, the Duke frequently showed his capacity to make good choices and to do the right thing in the face of difficulty.  This redeems his character somewhat, both to the reader and to the character Phoebe.

Sylvester, Phoebe, Edmund and others go through quite a few experiences and adventures within the pages of Georgette Heyer’s novel.  I agree with Library Journal in saying that it is “frothy, readable and full of delightful Regency dialogue.”  Heyer remains the next best thing to reading Jane Austen, and she largely does not disappoint.  While Sylvester isn’t the perfect literary work, I do give it my hearty recommendation.  Janeites, fans of Regency literature and quality writing in general will enjoy this tale of unexpected courtship.

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 Calico Casting Call – My Casting for the Movie
(At the appropriate ages for their characters)

Sylvester, Duke of Salford – Zachary Quinto
Phoebe Marlow – Eden Sher
Thomas – Owen Wilson
Edmund – Jonathan Lipnicki
Dowager Lady Ingham – Maggie Smith
Duchess of Salford – Judi Dench


  1. I enjoyed Sylvester v much ESP as read by Richard Armitage! I agree w your assessment of Edmund--good insight. I actually really thought the plight of Phoebe, that of having written a successful novel w a character sketch too closely drawn, to be funny and fresh.

  2. I agree that I like the characters of Venetia better. Sylvester doesn't really make the extra step needed to overcome his pride and reserve and he and Phoebe just don't seem like a good match to me. I like the book better as an audiobook because then I can at least listen to Richard Armitage (of course I can listen to him read Venetia, too!). Venetia just has a more engaging heroine and hero than Sylvester.

  3. Agreed! And Richard Armitage on audiobook sounds like a yummy idea. When alone in the car I've been listening to nothing but audiobooks lately, but so far no Heyer. Gotta give it a try. Thanks for your comments, ladies!

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  5. Hi Laura (and Jane and Carey) I am late to this discussion, but film and Georgette Heyer are two of my fave topics. And I agree that no one else reads Heyer as well as Richard Armitage!
    I have started an online petition to try to bring Georgette Heyer's novels to film. They are crying out for adaptation and I think there is a huge audience. Would you help by signing? Jane already has!!!

    1. Jenny:

      I would love to see Georgette Heyer's books put to film! I signed the petition. Thanks for your comment!



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