The Unknown Ajax
This article reads more like a story than an encyclopedia entry.(December 2007)
|Cover artist||Arthur Barbosa|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Hugo Darracott, an enormous figure of a young man, arrives at Darracott Place in Sussex to find his family waiting: his grandfather, Lord Darracott; his uncle, Matthew, a politician, his wife, Lady Aurelia and their sons Vincent and Claud; and his uncle Rupert's widow Elvira and her children Anthea and Richmond. They are, it is immediately apparent, expecting "a fellow who eats off his knife": that is, a working- or at best lower middle-class man. Hugo obligingly applies a Yorkshire accent and looks gormless.
Lord Darracott puts pressure on his older grandchildren, Vincent, Anthea and Claud, to educate Hugo. He discourages Hugo from much contact at all with Richmond, who is young and army-mad - Richmond is Lord Darracott's favourite, and his grandfather has no desire to see him leave Darracott Place. All three of the older grandchildren oblige: Vincent because his grandfather bribes him financially, Claud because he is a dandy and wishes to be influential, and Anthea to ease her grandfather's bullying of her mother.
It rapidly becomes apparent to Hugo that things are not all quite straightforward at Darracott Place; among other things he is disconcerted by the positive attitude towards smuggling that his family display. He is also unimpressed by the financial status of the family: while the lands are clearly rich, the tenants' farms are ill-maintained and so indeed are the family buildings (both Darracott Place itself and the Dower house which is reputed to be haunted and is maintained by a single servant). It emerges that Richmond, bored with being kept at home with nothing to do, has joined in the smuggling . This ultimately results in a farcical scene when the family have to keep this discovery from the customs officers, choreographed by Hugo, with Claud and Richmond pretending to be drunk and playing cards in order to deceive the main customs officer into not realising that Richmond, not Claud, is actually suffering from blood-loss.
Anthea, who is already half-falling for Hugo, is impressed by his inventiveness and strength - and is later appalled when Vincent reveals that, far from being the impoverished man they had assumed him to be, as the son of a weaver's daughter and having earned his Commission rather than bought it, Hugo is in fact a Harrow-educated grandson and heir to a wealthy mill-owner, since she fears being considered a gold-digger.
Hugo feels this suggestion is ridiculous, and begs her to marry him to protect him from matchmaking mamas - an offer which Anthea ultimately accepts.
Literary significance & criticism
Sheri Cobb South wrote of The Unknown Ajax,
- I think Georgette Heyer is probably the greatest single influence on my writing. I collect her books (including the hard-to-find contemporary novels she wrote in the 1920s), but if my house caught on fire and I only had time to save one, I'd grab The Unknown Ajax on my way out. The humor is unsurpassed, and Hugo Darracott is such a wonderful hero!
- Dixon, Jay (2002). "An Appreciation of Georgette Heyer". Historical Novel Society. Retrieved 2017-05-07.