As the month-long Celebrating Georgette Heyer event draws to a close, we can look back through the thirty-four reviews of Heyer’s romance novels and see a common thread through each and every one. Her heroes are epitomes, nonpareils, and nonesuches. In the Regency romance genre, they are a delight to read and an archetype for a new generation of writers. Each is unique but vaguely similar. Why are they so intriguing? So compelling? So swoon-worthy?
Please welcome Heyer scholars Dr. Laura Vivanco and Sarah S. G. Frantz from the Teach Me Tonight blog as they touch upon Heyer’s genius in creating her heroes, paragons of romance perfection.
Georgette Heyer put her heroes into two basic categories: the Mark I hero, who is “The brusque, savage sort with a foul temper” and the Mark II hero, who is “Suave, well-dressed, rich, and a famous whip” (Aiken-Hodge 49).1 The main distinguishing feature is presumably their tempers, since the “brusque, savage sort with a foul temper” may also be “well-dressed, rich, and a famous whip.” Lord Worth, in Regency Buck, is a case in point:
He was the epitome of a man of fashion. His beaver hat was set over black locks carefully brushed into a semblance of disorder; his cravat of starched muslin supported his chin in a series of beautiful folds; his driving-coat of drab cloth bore no less than fifteen capes, and a double row of silver buttons. Miss Taverner had to own him a very handsome creature, but found no difficulty in detesting the whole cast of his countenance. He had a look of self-consequence; his eyes, ironically surveying her from under weary lids, were the hardest she had ever seen, and betrayed no emotion but boredom. His nose was too straight for her taste. His mouth was very well-formed, firm but thin-lipped. She thought it sneered. (15)2
Another criterion by which to classify Heyer’s heroes has been provided by Kerstin Frank: how “cold” or “hot” they are emotionally. For her part, Susanne Hagemann suggests that Heyer heroes vary depending on their place of residence: “A considerable number of Heyer’s works are based on an opposition between ‘London’ and ‘non-London.’ ‘London’ and masculinity are in many cases closely linked through the person of the hero, who tends to be a prominent member of high society” (482), whereas “The protagonist of […] The Foundling is described as slightly built, delicate, pale, quiet, and diffident” (481). He is “the Most Noble Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, Duke of Sale and Marquis of Ormesby; Earl of Sale; Baron Ware of Thame; Baron Ware of Stoven; and Baron Ware of Rufford” (Heyer, The Foundling 2) and he perhaps requires one to add at least one more category to Heyer’s own classification scheme, since he, like the heroes of Charity Girl, Cotillion, and Friday’s Child is neither “suave” nor “brusque.” In addition, one might have to create a small category for Heyer’s military heroes who are neither “suave” nor “brusque” but instead have a penchant for behaving in unexpectedly unconventional ways, and which would contain the heroes of Beauvallet, The Spanish Bride, The Toll Gate, and The Unknown Ajax.
Heyer’s novels and her heroes have been so influential in shaping the modern romance genre that the heroes created by modern romance authors either fit or struggle against the molds that Heyer perfected. So the supercilious man-about-town (Worth from Regency Buck), the wild child (Vidal from Devil’s Cub), the villainous hero (Avon from These Old Shades) may all seem like immutable romance archetypes today, but they are that way because Heyer established types that appealed to the romance-reading audience to such an extent that they have been copied and revised and expanded upon in Regency and historical romances for almost a century.
Many thanks to Dr. Vivanco and Ms. Frantz for enlightening us on what makes a Heyer hero, and why they are so compelling. We all have our favorites, *cough* Lord Jasper Damerel, and I challenge anyone to dethrone him. What is your favorite Heyer hero type, Mark I or Mark II? What do you like and dislike about each of the archetypes? Of the heroes that are flawed (in your eyes) how would you improve them? And, why or how does your favorite succeed?
Dr. Laura Vivanco can generally be found blogging about romance at Teach Me Tonight. Last year she presented a paper to the first academic conference on Heyer and her most recently published essay, co-written with Kyra Kramer, can be found online in the Journal of Popular Romance Studies. It explores the relationships between romance heroes and heroines and contains numerous quotations from a range of Heyer’s novels.
Sarah S. G. Frantz is the President of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance and a professor of literature at Fayetteville State University, NC. She is the co-editor of Women Writing Men: Female Novelists and Their Male Characters, 1750-2000 (Lexington, 2009) and the forthcoming New Approaches to Popular Romance Fiction. She blogs at Dear Author and at Teach Me Tonight. She is currently writing about her life-long obsession, Alpha Male: Power and Masculinity in American Popular Romance Fiction.
1. Germaine Greer describes Worth as “a fine example of a stereotype which most heroes of romantic fiction resemble more or less” (175).
2. Jane Aiken Hodge, in her 1984 biography of Heyer, adds that If Georgette Heyer had two kinds of heroes, Mark I and Mark II, this is equally true of her heroines. The Mark I heroine is a tall young woman with a great deal of character and somewhat mannish habits who tends to dominate the plots of the books she appears in; the Mark II one is a quiet girl, bullied by her family, partly because she cannot bear scenes. When a Mark I heroine meets a Mark I hero, as in Faro’s Daughter, there will be fireworks. But Charles, in The Grand Sophy, is a Mark 1 who thinks he is a Mark II. It takes Sophy’s outrageous behaviour to bring out the Mark I in him and achieve the happy ending. (79)
- Aiken Hodge, Jane. The Private World of Georgette Heyer. 1984. London: Arrow, 2006.
- Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch. 1970. London: Paladin, 1972.
- Hagemann, Susanne. “Gendering Places: Georgette Heyer’s Cultural Topography,” in Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective. Ed. Mary Fahnestock-Thomas. Saraland, AL: PrinnyWorld, 2001. 480-492.
- Heyer, Georgette. Regency Buck. 1958. London: Pan, 1968.
- Heyer, Georgette. The Foundling. 1948. London: The Book Club, 1949.
A new biography of Heyer, written by Jennifer Kloester, is due to be published by Random House UK in October 2011.