The Unknown Ajax, by Georgette Heyer

First published in 1959, Georgette Heyer's The Unknown Ajax is one of my all-time favorite books. It has a lot in common with The Grand Sophy—both are stories about a previously unknown relative showing up and taking charge of a troubled family—but The Unknown Ajax, happily, doesn't feature a scene with an offensive Jewish stereotype.

The Unknown Ajax is set in 1817, in a remote country estate in Sussex, where a motley assortment of relatives have been assembled to meet the new heir to the Darracott barony. Much to his disgust, old Lord Darracott has discovered that a total stranger will inherit his lands and title: his grandson Hugo, the only child of the son he disowned for marrying a peasant. The Darracotts are convinced that Hugo (due to his unfortunate mother's influence) must be a total yokel, and when the enormous, seemingly guileless young man finally arrives, he loses no time in living down to their expectations.

If you're new to Georgette Heyer, this isn't the book I would start with. First, The Unknown Ajax barely qualifies as a romance. There is zero romantic tension—it is almost immediately apparent to everyone that Hugo and his cousin Anthea are perfect for one another. Second, the story is jam-packed with historical and cultural references that have fallen out of common use. (Even the title is a reference to Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, which nobody reads for good reason.) But if you've already read a couple of Heyer's books (so you're familiar with her idiosyncratic take on Regency-era dialogue), you have a nodding understanding of 19th century British/French relations, and you're prepared to Google a bunch of random bits of poetry, The Unknown Ajax is a hilarious and unexpectedly sweet story about family, expectations, and resourcefulness.
Posted by: Julianka


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