Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle is a Regency romance novel by Georgette Heyer. First published by Heinemann, London and Putnam, New York in 1957, it is the story of intelligent and desperate Phoebe who ends up marrying the man she has run away from home to avoid, and whom she has caricatured as the villain in her novel. The book features gentle mockery of the Gothic novel genre and also features Heyer's characteristic strong heroine, with a desire for independence (in Phoebe's case, as a writer), who marries on her own terms. The story is set in 1817-1818.[2]

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle
First edition
AuthorGeorgette Heyer
Cover artistArthur Barbosa[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreRegency, Romance
PublisherWilliam Heinemann
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages309 pp

Plot summaryEdit

Sylvester, the wealthy Duke of Salford, is considering marriage. After discussing his prospects with his beloved ailing mother, who thinks he is too arrogant towards women, he travels to London to discuss the matter with his godmother, Lady Ingham, who tells him of her granddaughter, Phoebe.

He departs for a hunt in the countryside and meets Phoebe's father. Impressed by the man's hunting, Sylvester consents to being his guest but, upon finding that he is the only guest, feels his hand is being forced. As the visit progresses he regrets his visit and considers Phoebe to be insipid and talentless. Phoebe's step-mother tactlessly tells Phoebe that Sylvester has come to make her an offer of marriage.

Terrified of being made to marry Sylvester and getting no sympathy from her father, Phoebe calls upon a childhood friend, Tom Orde, to help her run away to live with her grandmother, Lady Ingham, in London. Phoebe is unaware that Lady Ingham is the person who suggested Sylvester marry her.

Sylvester is happy to have an excuse to return to London and comes across their carriage which has had an accident. Sylvester decides to help them, and he realizes that Phoebe is extremely smart and capable, though very impertinent. He is very angry when he learns why Phoebe ran away but decides to take her to her grandmother to punish Lady Ingham (whom he presumes will not want Phoebe living with her) for having sent him to Phoebe's family in the first place. Sylvester later visits Phoebe in London with the intention of being charming to her to make her sorry for slighting him.

Phoebe meets Lady Ianthe, the silly widow of Sylvester's twin brother, who is convinced that Sylvester is evil because he is executing his brother's will exactly: her young son, Edmund, must live with Sylvester at the family home of Chance. Phoebe is struck by the parallels between the real Sylvester and the arrogant parody of him in a book which she has written and which is about to be published. She attempts to change her manuscript, but her publishers say that it is too late to do so.

When her novel The Lost Heir is published, it fascinates London because of the perfect satirization of the members of high society who try to find the identity of author. Lady Ianthe, Sylvester's sister-in-law, takes the fairy tale novel seriously. Phoebe, in protesting against this absurdity, accidentally lets slip that she is the author. Naturally, Lady Ianthe cannot keep her peace, and soon all London society is agog.

Sylvester, having decided to scotch the rumour, is so hurt by Phoebe's portrayal of him that he insults Phoebe in public, which causes a scandal and confirms Phoebe as the author. Lady Ingham decides to take Phoebe away to France with Tom Orde as their escort. Unfortunately, Lady Ianthe and her new husband, foppish Sir Nugent Fotherby, are going to France on their honeymoon with Edmund, her son, from the same port. Lady Ianthe has got the idea of taking Edmund away to France from a plot in Phoebe's novel.

Phoebe tries to intervene and boards the schooner with Tom where they are 'kidnapped' by Fotherby, who orders the skipper to set sail. Edmund is sea-sick and Lady Ianthe is ill so Phoebe and Tom take over the care of the small child. Phoebe writes to Lady Ingham and Sylvester from France, but Sylvester catches up with them before he receives the letter. At first he is overjoyed to see Phoebe but then blames her for helping Lady Ianthe to kidnap Edmund but Sylvester needs Phoebe to look after Edmund on the journey back to England.

Sylvester complains of all the scrapes which Phoebe has embroiled him in and, in turn, Phoebe accuses Sylvester of ruining her reputation. Sylvester, having realised that he loves Phoebe, clumsily proposes marriage but Phoebe is outraged by the perceived sarcasm. Sylvester runs to his mother for help. She arranges to meet Phoebe to explain that Sylvester's arrogance has arisen from the grief he suffered after the loss of his twin brother and how much he loves Phoebe. Sylvester is summoned and again declares himself upon which Phoebe is only too happy to accept his proposal.


Sylvester Rayne, the Duke of Salford - the hero

Phoebe Marlow - the heroine, a writer

Tom Orde - Phoebe's childhood friend and neighbour

Elizabeth Rayne, Duchess of Salford - Sylvester's mother, a poet

Lady Ingham - Sylvester's godmother and Phoebe's grandmother

Lady Ianthe Rayne - widow of Sylvester's younger twin brother

Edmund Rayne - Lady Ianthe's son and Sylvester's only nephew

Sir Nugent Fotherby - a dandy

Button - Edmund's nurse