Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ajax as a social comedy

Starting at the beginning.... The Unknown Ajax starts like so many Heyer books, with a family or group talking about a disruption to their lives. Here the Darricott family is at supper, and the irascible Lord Darricott has imperiously announced that his heretofore unknown heir, the "weaver's daughter's son" will be arriving to see the estate he will eventually inherit.

Two thoughts-- 1) If you read Dorothy Dunnett, you'll recognize the "Lymond is coming" type of opening, where the suspense is created by the anticipation of a perhaps dangerous arrival. This seems like an older form of opening. Now we'd probably open with Hugo (the arriving heir) entering, and we'd be in his thoughts, participating in his worries about whether he'll be accepted or rejected. The contemporary focus on the individual point of view is strikingly in contrast to the mid-century omniscience of Heyer and Dunnett.

2) Why? Why the ominiscience, the opening on a family soon to be disrupted? I think this book (as with many of Heyer's) are social comedies as much as romances-- more, in fact. That is, the important praxis or progress is from disruption of the small society to restoration of order to the society in the end. That's a very Victorian-novel progress, and quite naturally then uses omniscient point of view, because the emphasis is on the whole little society, not any one member. Hugo is important not so much as a protagonist, but as the source of conflict that first disrupts, then changes/improves, and finally restores the little society of the book.

Heyer's books are not all social comedies. Venetia, for example, is a romance-- the story of a couple coming to love-- and a great one. So too These Old Shades and Devil's Cub. But there are plenty of social comedies in there. I'm going to start on The Nonesuch next, and that starts with that same "small society disruption" opening, though the surprise heir in that is already a part of the family.

What are some other Heyer social comedies? The Grand Sophy? What do you think?

Coming up posts on Vincent as representative of Heyer's brilliance with secondary characters, and also on the adorable War Between the Valets.


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