This delightful romantic comedy set in Regency England has an unforgettable heroine in effervescent 20-year-old Sophy Stanton-Lacy, who comes to stay with her aunt, Lady Ombersley, while her father, Sir Horace, goes on a trip to South America. Sir Horace asks his sister not only to take in Sophy while he is gone, but to work on finding her a husband. Sir Horace would like to marry Sancia, the Marquesa de Villacanas, but Sancia has no desire to be a stepmother.
Sir Horace also contends that Sophy will make a good companion for his sister’s daughter, 19-year-old Cecelia. Cecelia is in want of guidance, Lady Ombersley allows, since Lord Charlbury has asked for Cecelia’s hand in what would be a respectable match, but she is in love with an unemployed airhead and would-be poet, Augustus Fawnhope.
Running the household is not the husband of Lady Ombersley but her oldest son Charles, 26, who is, at any rate, the oldest responsible male, and who inherited the fortune of his great uncle. Since the frivolous senior Ombersley managed to get their whole estate encumbered, it is Charles who now manages the estate, and “who calls the tune.”
Charles has the whole family on sort of a frivolity lockdown, in part because of his sobering assessment of their finances, and in part because of the influence of his fiancee, Eugenia Wraxton, a horrid person no one else but Charles likes very much.
After Sophy arrives, with her greyhound Tina; a parrot and monkey for the younger children; and her vicacity, enthusiasm, and refusal to act like a “proper” female, the house is in an uproar, but in a good way (except in the opinion of Eugenia). Further, Sophy observes to Cecilia: “Everything you have told me shows me that you are fallen, all of you, into a shocking state of melancholy!” And Sophy intends to do something about it.
She sets out to put everyone’s relationships to right in a very amusing series of escapades that show why so many acquaintances have dubbed her “The Grand Sophy.” For Eugenia, Sophy contrives a scheme that I can’t believe wasn’t part of the inspiration for “The Parent Trap.” And for the others, Sophy – with courage, compassion, and cleverness – devises resolutions that are quite in line with the comedic antics of Shakespeare.
In the end, all is well that ends well, and it ends very well indeed.
Evaluation: The skewered society airs and preoccupations of the wealthy are set in stark relief to Sophy’s irresistible exuberance, lack of pretention, and insistence that women can and should be able to do what they want. The dialogue is fast and witty, and although this is a romcom rather than a thriller, it’s hard to put down for wanting to know how these schemes of Sophy’s will turn out.
The only regrettable aspect of the book to me was a rather shocking lapse into vicious antisemitism by the author. Aside from that brief inclusion in the book, it will remind you of the madcap movies that paired Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, or Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.
The ending, while certainly chaste enough in the style of Regency romances, is not only hilarious, but veritably pulses with sexual tension and the promise of romantic passion.
Original publication in 1950; this edition published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc., 2009