D. E. Stevenson's Katherine Wentworth


Georgette Heyer's The Unknown Ajax

or, How many Antheas can there be in mid-20th century popular fiction?

new editions

In 2002 I posted this note to both the D. E. Stevenson and Georgette Heyer groups on Yahoogroups.

Dear Dessies and Heyerophiles

This posting is for both groups, since it involves two books, Katherine Wentworth by D. E. Stevenson (1964) and The Unknown Ajax (1959) by Georgette Heyer.

I first read these two books back in my teen years and was struck at the time by a few similarities. However, there was no one to talk to about it then. Now there is. Just for fun, here's what I observed.

An autocratic old man, possessor of a title and an entailed estate, enjoys exerting control over his grown-up children and grandchildren. Years ago, however, his second son incurred his wrath by marrying a woman who was, in the father's opinion, beneath him. The son, cut off from his family, chose to go his own way and never returned. He made good, well beyond the control of the old man. Eventually both he and his wife died, leaving a son, who also wanted nothing to do with the family.

Now, however, the old man's oldest son--heir to the estate and the title--and the heir's own son have both died. The old man grudgingly summons the grandson--son of the long lost second son--to the family home to make him fit to be the heir and make sure he doesn't eat with his knife.

The new heir is happy in his own life and is not interested in the family that cast off his father, or in the estate. He does his duty, however, and shows up.

Living with the old man is his widowed daughter(-in-law) and her son and daughter (Anthea) all dependent on him. The old man has another son, who lives and works in London.

The other grandson, the one who has been brought up at his grandfather's house, is bored with his controlled life there, and eventually gets involved with a set of local lawbreakers, and just narrowly escapes being arrested for it.

A few other points: the mother of the two young people tends to do a lot of needlework. The idea is floated about that the new heir should marry his cousin Anthea.

Katherine Wentworth? Or The Unknown Ajax?

I wonder if GH and DES knew each other, and agreed to write the same story as a joke, just to see if anyone would notice. Of course, the plot of the unexpected heir is a very common one (see Little Lord Fauntleroy, for example) as is the cliché about eating with one's knife.

But--Anthea?? Hmmm....