Sunday, 16 October 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

8. Sophia Stanton-Lacy (The Grand Sophy)

As regular readers of these pieces know, my highest prority is to be scrupulously fair to my subjects (whether they deserve it or not), so it is only right that I should note that it was not Miss Stanton-Lacy's own decision to billet herself upon the Ombersleys. That was her father's doing, and had he known the consequences I am sure that he would have put pressing matters of State to one side and come back to sort things out as soon as he learnt of his daughter's flagrant abuse of all the rules of hospitality and good society.

It is true that Sophy had no choice in coming to Berkeley Square. Those of an unduly sentimental bent would no doubt argue that she could hardly be expected to leave her Italian greyhound behind when she came to London (the more sensible would say "look what happened with Luffra" and "kennels are hardly beyond Sir Horace's means" but let us not dwell on that). However there can be nobody reading this who believes that it could ever be appropriate, when one is already imposing upon one's relatives, to arrive with a monkey amongst one's possessions. That was a choice that Sophy made freely, and one that shows clear contempt for her hosts.

It was not Miss Stanton-Lacy's own decision to stay in London, and of course once in London it was more or less obligatory for her to take regular turns in the Park with her relatives. She was by no means obliged, however, to do so while mounted upon Salamanca. The definition of a Regency Gentleman was, of course, one who could play upon the bagpipes, but didn't. Similarly, the contemporary measure of a great rider was one who could control a great beast like Salamanca when the occasion called for it, but did not feel the need to show off this capacity at every opportunity. The fact that Sophy finds it necessary, whenever she clambers aboard her steed, to "indulge his playfulness for a few moments" suggests that she does not quite have the seat that she thinks she has. Couple this with her penchant for dressing up as a Hussar, and we are forced to wonder whether she is subconsciously compensating for something.

We cannot blame Sophy for the fact that the Ombersleys are a disfunctional family. We can, however, fault her somewhat for encouraging their various weaknesses and delusions. It is beyond doubt that Hubert is a wastrel who will end up in a debtors prison sooner or later. By indulging in theatrics that would hardly be credible in even the most overwroughte of Miss Eleanor Sleath's Gothic romances, Miss Stanton-Lacy is merely delaying the inevitable (and at the same time risking putting a bullet through a very servicable muff).

Miss Cecilia Rivenhall is, frankly, more than a few dips short of a chandelier, and should have been left to impecunious misery with the equally dim Augustus Fawnhope. Instead Sophy once again indulges in her Flora-Poste-with-a-reticule impression and lands her upon the entirely innocent Lord Charlbury, who until her arrival was well placed to escape the noose that Charles Rivenhall and his father had so carefully strung up for him.

Which brings us neatly on to Charles Rivenhall. A tedious, self-important bore, he was, until Miss Stanton-Lacy's arrival, on the point of marrying Miss Eugenia Wraxton, a woman whose moral rectitude and prudishness would, very effectively, have taken both of them completely out of the gene pool, for the immense benefit of future generations. However Sophy's arrival upset this excellent arrangement, despite Mr Rivenhall's heroic attempts to keep things on track. In the end, though, faced with the utter ruin of his family name, amidst a chaos of Marquesas, mustard-baths, duelling pistols and ducklings, Charles has his Sidney Carton moment, realising that the true horror would be future generations of Stanton-Lacys riding roughshod over the delicate conventions of the Regency World. In proposing marriage (which we can be assured would be without issue) to the Grand Sophy he does a far, far better thing than he has hithertofore appeared capable of.

I do, however, worry a bit about just what they then got up to in the stables.

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Nina said...

Marquesas and mustard baths ... those alliterations are a nice touch. Stephen, will you follow this series up with "Secondary characters deserving a hug", starting out with Julia Oversley, going on to Nell Cardross, Isabella Milborne, and Judith Taverner (in An Infamous Army, not Regency Buck)? I'd love to see your take on them.

Melinda said...

Sidney Carton moment? Do you mean he felt boxed in?????

Anonymous said...

I didn't know the OP, Miss Wraxton, knew how to use a computer. You are to be congratulated. I can well imagine how difficult the last 201 years have been for you, with that stick up your ass.