The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for not wanting to interfere


Ailment: Interfere, not wanting to

Cure: The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

The tendency to refrain from interfering when your best friend, colleague or brother embarks on a seemingly foolish course of action is a peculiarly English trait. No one likes a busybody; but is leaving well alone really the kindest thing to do? After all, who else can we depend upon to save us from ourselves, if not those who know and love us best?

When Sophy Stanton-Lacy, the spirited heroine of this quintessential Georgette Heyer romance, is deposited with her aunt by her diplomat father, she finds them tied in all sorts of knots from which they show neither the aptitude nor desire to extricate themselves. The eldest son, Charles, is engaged to the overly correct Eugenia, a frightful bore who nobody else can stand. Lovely Cecilia is infatuated with the penniless poet Augustus Fawnhope, who only wants Cecilia for a muse. Young Herbert is up to his neck in debt. And Lady Ombersley has adopted the peculiar habit of sniffing the vinaigrette to keep herself from passing out.

Luckily for the hapless crew, Sophy – schooled in Vienna and Spain – not only has the ability to identify the problems and invent brilliant alternative plans, but the confidence, even at 20, to put those plans into action. She's also not afraid to be disliked. When the ineffectual Mr Wychbold stands by, muttering "Very bad business," and "Nothing to be done," Sophy retorts, "That is what people always say when they are too lazy, or too timorous, to make a push and be helpful!" By the end, she's found elegant solutions for everyone, including herself.

Next time a friend or relative seems intent on plunging headlong into disaster, take a cue from the irrepressible Sophy. Make their business your business, too.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);