From the desk of Helen Simonson:
In July, my husband, one of our two teenage sons, and I, set out to walk across England. In seven days we walked eighty-four miles, coast to coast along the new National Hadrian’s Wall Path. Staying in bed and breakfasts at night, stopping in pubs and tea rooms along the way for meals, we walked grassy pastureland and high open crags, following the path and the wide stone foundations of the Roman wall that once marked the northern edge of the Roman Empire.
One day, we stopped in at a small village community center that offered bathrooms, refreshments and a ‘walkers welcome’ sign outside. When you are walking fifteen miles a day over farmland, it is advisable to stop in at every bathroom on offer! Inside, the community center also offered a used book stand, with paperbacks for 10p (about 20 cents). I had a good feeling as I scanned the rows and, sure enough, I quickly scored a copy of Georgette Heyer’s Charity Girl. My long-suffering husband rolled his eyes as I stuffed it in my backpack. It has become a joke in our family that I don’t consider a vacation complete if I can’t pick up an orphaned Georgette Heyer novel from hotel bookshelf, used bookstore or beach book swap.
I first discovered Heyer’s novels as a young teenage girl. While I reveled in the dashing heroes and heroines, the dampened muslin dresses, the importance of a perfectly matched pair of carriage horses, I also took note of the more important messages. Heyer’s heroines invariably turn out to be very strong young women, who do not suffer fools and are not seduced by the glamour, or the dashing rakes, around them. The heroes, while rich and fashionable, always prove to be very decent men – the kind who would never condescend to their inferiors or refuse to help a woman in distress. Meanwhile the Regency period is laid out for the reader through a wealth of small details that build a portrait of the social and economic history of the time. There is a deep sense of decency and civility in Heyer’s books that has stayed with me and probably influenced my own writing. My first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, may be completely contemporary, but my hero is a decent man who tries hard not to suffer fools and quickly gets roped in to helping those whom many others in his social milieu disdain.
Georgette Heyer continues to pop into my mind at the most unlikely moments. As we finished this last hiking expedition, hobbling up to the finish line in a small wooden gazebo in Bowness-on-Solway, she came to mind again. A quick look at the map confirmed that we were looking across the Solway Estuary to Scotland – and to Gretna Green. There was a little more eye-rolling from my husband and son as I explained to them the significance of Gretna Green as the nearest Scottish village for eloping couples in Regency England. I can’t recall any of Heyer’s heroines actually getting to Gretna Green, but it was often an option or a threat.
Hiking across England made me happy. With no responsibilities – just fifteen miles a day of sun and rain, endless views, Roman ruins, and the company of my wonderful husband and my son – I could enjoy the present day and forget all of life’s stresses. Reading a Georgette Heyer is not quite a whole vacation, but it allows me to continue to slip away for a while and, for a few hours, be simply happy. This is the legacy that keeps her novels passing through so many grateful hands, 10p at a time.
Born in England, Helen Simonson now lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and two sons. Her debut novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was released in March garnering glowing reviews and a groundswell of admiration from happy readers. Set in the small English village of Edgecombe St. Mary, retired Major Ernest Pettigrew and Mrs. Jasmina Ali are two widows who form an unlikely attachment, fueling gossip and challenging decorum. Filled with endearing characters and an uplifting story, Simonson’s charming novel was chosen by Barnes & Nobel for their Discover Great New Writers series. Helen freely admits that Georgette Heyer is a life-long guilty pleasure and her gateway drug to Jane Austen.
- Visit Helen Simonson’s website
- Listen to Gilded Romances of Dashing Dandies, Brooding Beaus by Helen Simonson on NPR
- Read our review of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
- Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel, by Helen Simonson
- Random House (March 2, 2010)
- Hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (384) pages
- ISBN: 978-1400068937
- Genre: Historical Fiction
ADDITIONAL INFO | ADD TO GOODREADS
Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Random House © 2010; text Helen Simonson © 2010, austenprose.com. Updated 19 March 2022.
How true that no vacation is complete without at least one Heyer novel! As much as I’m attracted to the humour in her books, it really is the ‘decency and civility’ that makes them so satisfying. She wrote characters you could respect as well as like; it’s very easy to see that legacy in the honourable Major Pettigrew!
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What a lovely little blog. I find it especially enjoyable because I picked up the audiobook of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand at the library and it’s next in line (as soon as I finish listening to Heyer’s Simon the Coldheart). Learning that Helen Simonson was influenced by Heyer makes me eager to try her book! Thanks for posting this.
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What a delightful post! I’d never try it myself, but I’m in awe and envious of your walk across England. And I was unaware of Major Pettigrew, but I’ve added your novel to the wish list.
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I’d love to do it! Probably better for me to go on a bike, but how awesome. Makes me want to read your book, too.
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A wonderful story from a wonderful writer! Major Pettigrew was one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’m reading GH for the first time in part because of Helen’s enthusiasm. Yes, I can see a little bit of GH in the Major.
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That’s a wonderful tradition… adopting an orphaned Heyer every vacation! =) I do envy you your ramble along Hadrian’s Wall. The vistas must be inspiring for an author…
I liked your pointing out Heyer’s ‘deep sense of decency and civility’. I will be sure to check out Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand in my next trip to the bookstore. =)
I love adopting GHs, as well. I can’t pass a book store without checking to see if they have her in stock. This week, a used-book store opened down the street from my office. I was dismayed to find they had no Heyer. I will have to remedy this with a donation in exchange for book credit.
I have heard great reviews of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I added it to my library holds list this morning. I look forward to reading it.
I enjoyed this interview so to speak so much. It was just amazing in so many ways. What a lovely vacation to have with your husband and son. The information about Georgette Heyer encouraging her writing and why is such a good definition of why most like Georgette Heyer….but that we can as individuals use this to be creative in a way ourselves doesn’t occur to most. Not only with being an author but probably with life as well. I will also have to add her book to my wishlist and tbr. Thanks so much!
One more reason for me to read Major Pettigrew! I was just in Scotland, well Alnwick and then the train to Edinburgh for the first time 2 weeks ago. Hadrian’s Wall was mentioned but somehow we didn’t get to it. It was lovely to read your blog.
You have just reminded me that I was planning to order Major Pettigrew from my bookstore. “Decency and civility” are among the qualities I admire most in GH. Perhaps that is why A Civil Contract is one of my very favourites. How old is your son, by the way? Can’t imagine getting any offspring under 25 to embark of a trip like that without major whining or other resistance!!
What a fun vacation idea! I also love how you pick up “orphan” Georgette Heyer novels while on vacation. I do the same thing with my favorite authors, although I have never sadly been able to find old used Heyer novels.
OOOH, I want to take that walk! I have been dreaming of an English vacation for years and that sounds like the perfect way to do it. Thanks so much for the great post!
What a fabulous holiday! I have a thing for Hadrian and Heyer, so your descriptions fills me with envy. Thank you so much for sharing this delightful account and your love for Heyer.
I can see my husband and son rolling their eyes too at the Gretna Green comment (I would have said the same thing). what a wonderful walk. I have printed your post about it to show to my husband. If we manage to get to England before we are too old and gimpy to do it, we would love this trip.
I have certain authors I pick up where ever we travel. I usually travel with a box of books, but should just leave them home since I buy so many on every trip. That won’t be the case if we are backpacking : )
In all honesty I had not heard of Georgette Heyer until last year. After finding out about her, I recommended her to many of our patrons at the library. Everyone who read her thoroughly enjoyed her books. From what I am seeing on these posts, I will have to start reading her soon.
Thank you so much for the information on the hike. By the way, my husband called from his car to tell me about MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND after hearing your interview on NPR. It is on both our To Read lists. I’ll have to find it on audio because he has so little time to read.
Lovely responses all. My younger son is 15 and yes, I am proud that he hiked with enthusiasm. Hiking and reading – what other pursuits does one need? Regards, Helen S.
Thanks for visiting Helen – and the great guest blog. It is always a pleasure to meet a fellow Heyer and Austen fan. Best of luck with your next book!
Cheers, Laurel Ann
I love my little Georgette Heyer vacations! A time to relax, meet fascinating characters and enjoy her delightful humor. Your walking vacation sounds like a dream to consider some day soon. Thank you for sharing!