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The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

The Unknown Ajax (1959)

by Georgette Heyer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (48)  German (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
Real Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A past dispute...
When the irascible Lord Darracott's eldest son dies unexpectedly, the noble family must accept their estranged Yorkshire cousin as heir apparent. They are convinced he will prove to be a sadly vulgar person, but nothing could have prepared the beleaguered family for the arrival of Major Hugo Darracott.

A present deception...
His clever and beautiful cousin Anthea is sure there's more to the gentle giant than Hugo's innocent blue eyes and broad Yorkshire brogue would lead one to believe. But even she doesn't guess what he's capable of, until a family crisis arises and only Hugo can preserve the family's honor, leading everybody on a merry chase in the process.

My Review: Here is a charming late (1959) work by Regency writer Miss Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), whom I shall not dismiss by calling her a "romance writer." There is very little of romance literature in this work; it is, rather, an historical novel with two characters whose marital future is in no real doubt from the get-go.

Spirited, determined Miss Anthea Darracott is to marry her newly introduced cousin Hugh Darracott, called Hugo. His, well, nigh-on-as-nasty-as-bastardy common birth to a Yorkshire mill lass appalls and disgusts their mutual grandfather. Sadly, Hugo's stint on the Peninsula in the Napoleonic Wars did not result in his convenient death. As he is alive and has sold out his commission, Lord Darracott must needs attend at last to the distasteful yet needful task of acknowledging the man as his heir. The law says Hugo's the heir by virtue of being born to a son, long dead, whose birth preceded the living son Matthew's birth. Not one soul among the Darracotts is happy about this, least of all Hugo.

Until he meets Anthea.

A spoiled Corinthian, a gaumless follower of the Beau, a stripling with dreams dashed and hopes thwarted; an Earl's daughter, a ninnyhammer, and a faded gentlewoman; a damned nasty old baron, a staff of hicks, and a starchy Calvinistic revenuer round out the dramatis personae. Miss Heyer's reliable clockwork plot moves the pieces into proper alignment for our surprisingly dark doings to eventuate as inevitably as sunrise and sunset, given the people she's placed in our path. In the end, all is sorted, and there is no one more pleased than a reader whose purpose in taking this trip was to restfully go down a well-loved and intimately known river of lovely words:

  1. thatchgallows

  2. sackless hodgobbin

  3. whopstraw

  4. knaggy

  5. stiff-rumped

A quick resort to From Old Books will acquaint you with these and many more delicious underknown and woefully unused English-language words. Except "sackless hodgobbin," which appears here for the only time I can find in the entire online world. An academic published a paper on Heyer's impeccable research in Schwa, a linguistics journal, beginning on page 57. She confesses herself overmatched by this beautifully obvious, dolefully obscure phrase. Now, you whopstraws, go forth and discover the original citation for it!

Heyer presents us with a few beautiful drawing-room farces among her scenes, but possibly the funniest moments (to my mind) were between Vincent the Corinthian and Claud the gaumless's respective valets. Crimpleshaw and Polyphant (respectively) are engaged in a vicious, take-no-prisoners battle for dominance in the servants' hall. Hugo's arrival, valetless, ignites a major set-to in their long-running war. Crimpleshaw wins the first skirmish by using his secret formula for blacking to give Hugo's (excellent quality) boots a whole new level of gloss. Polyphant's riposte, an attempt to provide perfect neck-cloth tying, is rebuffed by Hugo; then, horror of horrors, the first true test of the line, provision of a valet to Hugo, goes to Crimpleshaw by dint of having a nephew in need of a position!

Intolerable. The insult must be answered!

And so it goes, a side-show that was beautifully woven in to the main narrative of Lord Darracott's humbling at the hands of his maligned, unloved, and insulted grandson Hugo, yet in a way that provokes no smallest scintilla of opprobrium in the sensitive reader's breast. It is a come-uppance and a liberation; it is not, for all that, a set-down or slight. It is the ideal ending to the story Miss Heyer chose to adorn her plot with.

Make no mistake: It is the same plot. The dresses are different and the hero is called something new, but it's a Heyer Regency. Read it or don't; those of us susceptible to her gorgeously bedizened orreries aren't going to be affected. Read it, say I, for the simple and genuine pleasure of following a master craftsperson as she sets the pieces of her construction before you prior to throwing a cloth over them and voilà off with the cloth to reveal a perfect Georgian manor house.

Come in, you great whopstraws, the door's letting in the cold of reality! Stop awhile by the fire. It will warm you in places you'd forgot were cold. ( )
4 vote richardderus | Feb 16, 2019 |
Quite entertaining, but there were some parts that seemed a bit slow/drawn out to me. Also, the Yorkshire accent took some definite getting used to. Happen I just don't have a real ear (or would that be eye?) for accents, but it could also be how it was presented. By the end of the book I was becoming conversant, at least. ( )
  shadrachanki | Jun 8, 2018 |
I really liked Hugh as a character. He was so secure as a person that all the obnoxious stuff his grandfather did just slid off his back and didn't deter him from doing what was important. Who wouldn't fall in love with someone like that?? ( )
  tjsjohanna | May 16, 2018 |
I suspect that I've never read this book before, because it did not seem at all familiar. Then, again, it would have been over 50 years since I read it, so who knows for sure. I enjoyed meeting Hugo and the Darrascott family, but am glad I don't have Claud in my family because I wouldn't be able to keep my opinions on his clothing choices to myself. His outfit in Rye was a classic. An amusing read. ( )
  whymaggiemay | May 15, 2018 |
It's a shame that the younger readers, who were not alive to read a Georgette Heyer hot of the press after it had been serialised in the Ladies Home Journal and had to be specially ordered, have no idea that Ms Heyer created the genre. No one else had set popular fiction in the Regency period and her Regency novels burst on the scene as original, new and delightful.

Ms Heyer researched the period carefully, collected volumes of contemporary letters, diaries, journals and official documents to get the 'feel' of the language. She studied the etiquette and customs, visited many of the places popular during the Regency and studied the political and social history. She did not have the internet to go to for a quick fix - thank goodness!- and her novels were not silly, sexually titivating, frothy pap. Her Regency novels ranged from pure romance to mysteries and adventures and they also gave the reader 'real' 3D characters set in detailed, socially correct backgrounds and allowed the reader to gain an understanding of what life was like for a range of people. Her knowledge shines through so that she could write with authority and make a social commentary. ('Arabella' is a good example of this.)

'The Unknown Ajax' is a favourite of mine because the Ajax is such a delightful creation and he makes me laugh. This is one of the mystery romance plots, with smugglers thrown in to boot. We begin with the family, the Darracotts, waiting the arrival of the new heir. This man, Hugo Darracott, is a man spurned by his grandfather, the current head of the family, because his father married a Yorkshire 'weaver's brat'. Major Hugo arrives because he has been summoned to find the entire family expect him to eat peas off his knife and sleep on the floor. He cannot resist pulling their legs and begins to speak broad Yorkshire and lead them on. It's a great plot, well written and told and of course the Ajax comes off best.

If readers have only read the modern Regency novels they will find Ms Heyer's books a much more demanding and intelligent read. But if they love the historical period then they really should read the writer who began it all and who writes much more accurate, historical and socially correct novels. ( )
  p.d.r.lindsay | Mar 6, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Georgette Heyerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Daniel PhilpottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Silence had reigned over the dining-room since his lordship, midway through the first course, had harshly commanded his widowed daughter-in-law to spare him anymore Steward's room gossip.
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Book description
Miles from anywhere, Darracott Place is presided over by elderly Lord Darracott. Irascible Lord Darracott rules his barony with a firm hand. The tragic accident that kills his eldest son by drowning has done nothing to improve his temper. For now he must send for the next heir apparent--the unknown offspring of the uncle whom the family are never permitted to mention. He also summoneds his bickering descendants to the rundown family estate. Yet none of that beleaguered family are prepared for the arrival of the weaver's brat and heir apparent...

The new heir is Major Hugo Darracott, “that damned weaver's brat” from the Yorkshire wilderness. The family members are ordered to lick Hugo into shape for his new status. Hugo is actually very, very rich and was raised to be a credit to both sides of his family. But his sense of humor makes it impossible to resist playing the ill-bred yokel of the Darracotts' worst fears.

Making the best of a bad situation, Anthea Darracott was civil to her newly-met cousin Hugh--but barely. For Anthea, reduced to accepting the charity of Lord Darracott, had been ordered to marry Hugh, new heir to the Darracott fortune. Lord Darracott's plan seemed perfect--to him: Hugh, the offspring of his son and a common weaver's daughter, might bring an unsuitable wife into the family. To prevent this disaster, Hugh must marry the impoverished, 22-year-old spinster Anthea. Knowing this, the two young people detested one another on sight. The infant Cupid was shooting his arrows with an appalling lack of aim that season....
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099474360, Paperback)

The family of the irascible Lord Darracott are unprepared for the arrival of the weaver’s brat and heir apparent to Darracott Place.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:00 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Miles from anywhere, Darracott Place is presided over by irascible Lord Darracott. The recent drowning of his eldest son has done nothing to improve his temper. For now he must send for the unknown offspring of the uncle whom the family are never permitted to mention. Yet none of that beleaguered family are prepared for the arrival of the weaver's brat and heir apparent.… (more)

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