epub Sylvester Or, the Wicked Uncle

Book description

This was the third novel of Georgette Heyer’s that I found, again under the guise of an audio-book narrated by Richard Armitage. I have extolled all of Richard Armitage’s many virtues as a narrator in previous reviews, and I shall continue to do so until someone gets sick of it and tells me to shut the hell up… and maybe not even then.As usual his reading was perfectly paced, pleasant to listen to, and his vocal range deeply impressive. What I particularly enjoyed in this one was the fact that some of his accents seemed slightly more… countrified, than in his other narrations. Those voices that he did “countrify” were appropriate, and conversely his depiction of Sylvester was perfectly aristocratic. I absolutely loved it.

Now then, I have seen Sylvester occasionally compared to Pride and Prejudice, which I think is frankly rather absurd. Aside from Phoebe’s original and incidentally mostly well-founded prejudice against the Duke of Salford, there is almost nothing in the plot to allow for an adequate comparison of the two. However, I do believe it to be perfectly reasonable to compare the character of Sylvester, Duke of Salford, to that of Mr Darcy. To that end, I’m going to try and keep going through the review what I’m going to call – very pretentiously, I might add, but I can’t help myself -“The Darcy Simile”.

The first few chapters of the novel I found to be very entertaining, and also very well placed. Without these chapters at the start which gave the reader an opportunity to get to know Sylvester, and some of the reasons behind his arrogance, I am sure I would have found him to be quite a stuck up, unsatisfactory hero until these things were explained. In terms of “The Darcy Simile”, the Duke of Salford does have more actual pride and arrogance than Mr Darcy, but while Darcy’s seeming coldness stemmed from shyness, Sylvester’s arrogance stemmed from his devastation over the death of his brother. Even after four years he still hasn’t entirely recovered, and as such has become a little uncaring, more from a habit of keeping people at an emotional arms-length than anything else. But Salford, like Darcy, is not arrogant in the usual sense of the word.

“Sylvester, who did not arrive at parties very late, take his bored leave within half an hour of his arrival, leave invitations unanswered, stare unrecognizingly at one of his tenants, or fail to exchange a few words with every one of his guests on public days at Chance, was not very likely to believe that a charge of arrogance levelled against him was anything but a calumny.”

Needless to say, Sylvester’s character is vastly intriguing – arrogant, yet not in the usual style, and unable to realize that arrogance goes a little deeper than the above description. Sylvester clearly needs to learn, as he does over the course of the novel, they nobility is more than skin-deep; it is more than simply acting in order to sustain the view that others have of your supposedly noble character. He was a little uncaring, but still able to joke and sometimes act kindly on an impulse. In other words, he was temperamental, a quality which I actually quite like. There were three other things that endeared him to me, in these first chapters. First was his easy, very loving relationship with his Mama, about whom I shall speak later. Secondly, I liked his clear intelligence, and his consequent ability to deliver very amusing, very witty retorts. And thirdly was his affection for his little nephew, Edmund, which becomes even more apparent later on in the story.

Here again I found a strong resemblance to Mr Darcy: even when Darcy still seemed a bit proud, I’m sure many readers – not just me – are very much touched by the way he loves and dotes upon his sister Georgiana. The same was true of Sylvester, and remembering his attitude towards his nephew was something I had to make myself remember, later in the novel, during times when it seemed that Sylvester did not have very many qualities about him that I could like.

Where the “Darcy Simile” falls down rather heavily is in the character of Sylvester’s mother, Elizabeth, the Duchess of Salford. The only character she could really be compared to in Pride and Prejudice is Lady Catherine, and while I despise Lady Catherine, I don’t think I’ve ever felt such affection for a character as I have for the Duchess of Salford. Oh, of course I have fallen in love with a great many heroes, and felt for many heroines as I would for a sister, but there have not, I believe, been any secondary characters which I hold in more affection and esteem that this lovely woman.

Sylvester’s Mama is kept in relative seclusion due to an arthritic complaint, and yet unlike so many other Regency ladies, she does not ask anyone to pity her, and actually contrives to exist in perfect happiness, with her relatives and her novels to occupy her. Aside from her admirable strength, her love for her son is so very clear, she is well-informed with a sharp intellect, and perhaps one of the kindest women I have ever read about. I felt sorry for her, being so disquieted by the suspicion that her son had become arrogant. And it brought tears to my eyes when at one point in the novel – I shan’t say when – she addresses young Phoebe Marlowe with such tender affection that Phoebe, never having encountered such affection before, falls to her knees next to Sylvester’s mama, and cries her poor little heart out.

In any case, after those first few chapters of the book involving Sylvester and his mother, the story moves to focus upon the heroine, Miss Phoebe Marlowe. There was a period of time upon first encountering the heroine that I found the novel to be almost dull. It was for, shall we say, a period of about twenty minutes to half an hour in audiobook terms, and not even Richard Armitage’s dulcet tones could keep me from becoming just the slightest bit bored. Though undoubtedly a lovely girl with a pleasant talent for writing and an unfortunate tendency to allow herself to be oppressed by her family, there was – at least to begin with - very little in Phoebe Marlowe’s character to recommend her to me. And upon the Duke of Salford arriving to visit her, and seeing his behaviour, I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that I did not – for the moment – very much like either of the main characters in the novel, though both had redeeming features which gave me some hope.

One character I did really like was Tom, Phoebe’s childhood friend. He was an honourable, blunt young man, with an incredibly loyal heart, and not afraid of plain speaking, even when it would get him into trouble. He made me laugh, especially when he told Phoebe that they must run away, as a Gretna Green marriage was the only thing that could save her, and then asked her what in the world she was laughing at. Of course, what Phoebe is trying to escape from is the threat of being married to the Duke of Salford, as her foolish father and overbearing stepmother have told her that this evidently insufferably proud man came to visit them in order to propose to her. But her plan is rather more sensible than Tom’s; she decides to go to her grandmother – also, incidentally, Sylvester’s godmother – in London. So off they go, and accidentally overturn Tom’s fathers’ curricle, breaking poor Tom’s leg in the process. And of course, who should find them trapped at a country inn? Yes, awkwardly enough, it is the Duke of Salford.

I shan’t give too much away about the plot from there, but suffice it to say that Phoebe and Tom come to know and like Sylvester, during the time they are trapped at the inn, due to the snow. Sylvester’s brand of arrogance becomes very clearly defined during his stay at the country inn, but so too does his wonderful sense of humour, his charm, and the kindness that he does indeed possess, brought out a little more than usual by Miss Phoebe Marlowe. I really came to like Sylvester – and Phoebe – in this part of the book. However, there was one particular part - after Tom tells Sylvester that Phoebe was running away from the actually non-existent threat of an offer from the Duke – where I truly wanted to slap Sylvester, I was so angry at his despicable, vengeful thought;

“He became possessed of a strong desire to teach Miss Marlowe a lesson. What was it Tom had said? Nothing would induce her to marry you? A little too cocksure, Miss Marlowe. The opportunity will not be granted you. But let us see if you can be made to feel sorry.”

Oh, how that made my blood boil. What a despicable, unworthy, cruel thought! But in all other respects Sylvester’s behaviour is perfectly amiable, teasing and amusing, so I was eventually able to forgive him his transgression in that area. One woman whose attitude I find very hard to forgive or even to tolerate, was the character of Lady Ianthe Rayne. Ianthe was the wife of Sylvester’s twin brother, who died right after his son Edmund was born. At first I was indignant about the idea that Sylvester should expect such a young lady never to go out into society or marry again.

I was even more indignant at the thought of her being separated from her young child; Sylvester being Edmund’s guardian and insisting he be raised at Chance, even if Ianthe should remarry and move away. However, upon learning who she wanted to marry, and learning of how little real, unselfish affection she had for her child, I found it very hard to retain any sympathy for her. In all fairness I must say there was very little harm in her, in that she doesn’t mean to hurt others, but she’s one of those typical, weak, silly Regency ladies I find it hard not to despise. Again though, in all fairness, there was no real malice in her, so I could like her… just a little.

Anyway, eventually Phoebe arrives in London, and out of the way of her despicable, cruel stepmother, Phoebe’s character really begins to flower. She is smart, precocious, unfailingly kind, and a very honourable little thing. I loved reading of her and of Sylvester in London, but unfortunately Phoebe manages to get herself into such a scrape that I was alternately holding my breath in anxiety for her, and trying not to cry for her pain. I will say – trying not to give anything away – that there is a time, in London, when Sylvester is unspeakably and deliberately cruel to poor Miss Marlowe. I felt very much for both of them, understanding his anger and her true regret and sorrow, but deliberate cruelty is one of the few things I find it very, very hard to forgive. What he says to her has me in tears every single time. The combination of Georgette’s flawless writing and the brilliant way in which Richard reads the scene is perfectly calculated to shatter my poor heart with sympathy and sorrow; mostly for Phoebe, but also for Sylvester.

Well now, that’s all I can really say without spoiling anything major, but I cannot resist talking about the final events of the novel, especially as they give me such a lovely opportunity to further my “Darcy Simile”. So, without further ado…

(view spoiler)
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Book info

Title
ISBN9781850896708
Author
PublisherIsis
GanreRomance
Release date 01.05.1994
File size2.7 Mb
eBook formatAudio Cassette, (torrent)En
Book rating4.07 (6742 votes)
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