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Lady of Quality    by Georgette Heyer order for
Lady of Quality
by Georgette Heyer
Order:  USA  Can
Sourcebooks, 2008 (1972)

* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Miss Annis Wychwood is a diamond of the first water (to borrow a phrase from the period). Beautiful, elegant, well-dowered, it is astonishing that she has reached the advanced age of twenty-nine without being married. Perhaps most astonishing of all, she has managed to secure an independent life for herself, free of the encumbrances of husband or family, in staid Bath, all this without making herself the centre of scandal.

Annis steers a careful course, for this is Regency England, after all; and she belongs to that high stratum of society where ladies live under draconian rules of conduct. Although financially independent, she is still beset by affectionately autocratic servants, clinging Maria Farlow, a relative who serves as chaperone, and a brother who tries repeatedly to bring her to her senses. Despite many offers, she has never met a man for whom she would trade her independent life-style.

Her comfortable (and sometimes dull) existence is enlivened when she meets young Lucilla Carleton, fleeing an arranged marriage. Since she is in the company of the proposed groom, Annis's interest is immediately engaged. She rescues them (they were involved in a carriage accident) and invites them to her home, ignoring the objections of her household, most notably Maria.

The two youngsters are very likeable. A friend since childhood, Ninian is appalled at Lucilla's decision to run away. Unable to dissuade her, he accompanies her, much to her exasperation. Lucilla is a wealthy heiress (hence his parents' interest in an arranged marriage), and her chaperone aunt sees marriage as an easy way to settle her charge. Ninian is torn between loyalty to his childhood friend and duty to his parents. Complicating the mix is Lucilla's ogre-like uncle and guardian, Mr. Oliver Carleton. Lucilla is certain that her aunt will have set him on her trail.

When he does appear, Mr. Carleton is quite as unpleasant as Lucilla has described, and lives up to his reputation as insufferably rude. Still, he is much courted as he is still single and wealthy. Annis finds him refreshing but certainly rude and alarms her well-wishers by her interest in him; in fact, she raises a firestorm of protest. For his part, Carleton is attracted to a respectable lady for the first time in his life. (He has plenty of unrespectable female company.)

Once again, Heyer entertains with a complicated tangle and beautifully developed personalities. Light-hearted and amusing, Lady of Quality still reminds us that choices were a rare luxury for women of the time. It also reminds us why Georgette Heyer is justly called The Queen of Regency Romance. Though this volume was written near the end of her career, the author's fine hand never falters.

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