A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer (2011)Guest review by Laura A. Wallace

A Civil Contract is an atypical Georgette Heyer novel.  While the setting is firmly Regency, beginning at the time of the Battle of Orthez (February 1814) and ending with that of Waterloo (June 1815), it is neither lively nor witty.  It is a quiet book, with a love story that grows gradually, without any sparkle or adventure.  The eponymous contract is a marriage contract between an impoverished, newly-acceded peer and a wealthy “Cit” (Citizen of the City of London)’s daughter.  It is an inauspicious beginning:  the aristocrat is in love with someone else, the bride is homely, and the Cit is vulgar.

However, what follows is a sensitive, nuanced exploration of human relationships that from today’s perspective may seem almost quaint:  commitment, respect, duty, honor, fidelity, civility, resentment, and generosity.  I say “quaint” because the most cursory glance at current divorce and familial statistics show an absence of almost all of these qualities (saving resentment) to such an extent that a marriage and family where they prevail seems almost naïve, or even alien.  Imagine a marriage where commitment, civility, and respect are more important than passion and romance, even at its inception, yet fidelity and appreciation are also central.  This isn’t a “romance” novel:  it’s an “intimacy” novel, in a non-sexual way.  (The couple does have sex, though the only way you know this for certain is that they have a baby:  Heyer almost never writes about sex directly.)

Money plays a big role in the novel, and a feminist reading would no doubt analyze the connection between money and sex.  But I think that to reduce it to money and sex would fail to do it justice in almost every respect.  Yes, of course, the contract is an exchange of money for a social position that is literally consummated on the body of the woman, but that is the least important aspect of the situation.  The real story is how they grow together and create something new:  a lifetime together based not on physical urges but in common goals and a determination to make it work and find contentment.  When money comes to the fore, it is more usually (though certainly not always) a point of contention between the hero and his father-in-law rather than his wife:  it highlights the differences of class and the meaning of nobility (which, in Heyer’s world, is not always exclusively associated with a character’s station at birth).   With more time and space, I could take it a step further, and analyze the tension between money and power being played out over the pregnancy.

Despite the serious overtones, the novel does not lack for the comic relief or the masterfully-drawn secondary characters at which Heyer excels.  The most notable is the Cit (the father-in-law), who is hopelessly vulgar, but also shrewd, generous, and kind.  (In her new biography of Heyer, Jennifer Kloester describes him as “one of [Heyer]’s comic triumphs” and quotes her as saying that he continually “tried to steal the whole book, & had to be firmly pushed off the stage.”)  The recently-widowed dowager peeress, on the other hand, is languishing but selfishly manipulative, and when these two strong-willed persons encounter one another, she is completely nonplussed, while her elder daughter cannot help but “regard him with much the same nervous surprise as she would have felt at being addressed by an aboriginal.”  Even more entertaining is the clash of titans between the Cit and the hero’s aunt, who presents the bride at court.  She routs him completely, leaving him in the unfamiliar circumstance of having nothing to say.   Further amusement comes from the hero’s second sister, an irrepressible damsel not yet out who initially conceives the idea of saving the family fortunes by becoming a famous comedic actress, an ambition that survives (even after her brother’s marriage) until she encounters Kean’s performance in Hamlet, when she decides that she must become a tragic actress instead, in order to play opposite him.

Many Heyer fans name A Civil Contract as their favorite Heyer novel.  I personally have found that my appreciation of it has grown over the years, and I did not always like it so well as I do now.  I once thought it was a sad book, but I no longer think so:  it is a hopeful book, and ultimately a very positive one.

The Sourcebooks edition is typical:  a lovely (though Victorian) cover, good paper, and an easy-to-read typeface, with only a few “scannos,” one of which is “Playoff” for General Platoff.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2011)
Trade paperback (432) pages
ISBN: 978-1402238772

Laura A. Wallace a musician, attorney, and writer living in Southeast Texas.  She is a devotee of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is the author of British Titles of Nobility:  An Introduction and Primer to the Peerage (1998).

© 2007 – 2011 Laura A. Wallace, Austenprose

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, by Jennifer Kloester – A Review

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, by Jennifer Koelster (2011)Guest review by Laura A. Wallace

I must acknowledge that it is well-nigh impossible for me to be objective when it comes to reviewing Jennifer Kloester’s new biography of Georgette Heyer which was released this month in the UK.  Rarely have I looked forward so much to reading a biography.  But be assured, gentle reader, that had I found it sub-standard, I would tell you so.  Instead, I am delighted to report that it met or exceeded almost all of my expectations.

This is a more traditional biography than Hodge’s, which discusses each work Heyer wrote in some detail, creating a dual focus on the events of Heyer’s life and her works, occasionally feeling as though the biographical material is merely a bridge until the next novel.  Kloester’s treatment of Heyer’s workplaces them firmly in the context of the events of her life, with emphasis most definitely on her life.

Kloester had access to more of Heyer’s letters than Hodge (and Hodge generously gave Kloester all of her Heyer research notes).  The bibliography is divided into two:  published sources and archival sources, and the latter is extensive, with letter collections located all over the English-speaking world.  (Oklahoma?  New Zealand?  Who knew?)  Heyer didn’t keep her own manuscripts, and very few letters, but private archives such as the Frere families provided Kloester with dozens of frequent, chatty letters over several decades that reveal Heyer’s personality clearly, as well as some of the more mundane details of her life.

Kloester reveals more details about the incidents of plagiarism that Hodge mentioned.  The first copier was indeed, as Heyer fans have long agreed amongst themselves, Barbara Cartland.  The second, some years later, was Kathleen Lindsay.

One point I found particularly interesting is Kloester’s treatment of Penhallow.  Hodge reported that this was intended as a contract-breaking book.  Kloester’s research revealed that this notion was, in fact, a family legend built up after the fact.  At the time, Heyer had the highest expectations of the novel and hoped it would be well-received in the literary world— and in fact, it was, garnering several positive reviews, but never high enough to satisfy her.  She always yearned for more serious literary recognition, and never felt that she received it.

This biography is interesting (to me, at least) on so many levels, especially placing Heyer’s life in a chronological context.  The Regency setting of her later novels was less than a century before her own birth in 1902.  She personally experienced the transition of the world from Edwardian times— when carriages and servants and indeed much of social and even some technological norms of the Regency were still an ordinary part of life for the upper-middle class of which she was a part— to the new world “after the war” (i.e., World War I) of the twentieth century.  Numerous small details of Heyer’s early life, and even of her antecedents, inform incidents in her novels.  For example, Felix’s obsession with steam engines and his trip up and down the Thames in a steam-boat (Frederica) comes directly from Heyer’s grandfather’s successful tugboat fleet.

Like other biographies of authors, including Hodge’s, this work provides insights into the author’s creative process that other writers will find interesting and informative.

The only minor criticism I have is that some of Kloester’s examples and quotations are the same as Hodge’s.  This is completely understandable as they are perfect choices to illustrate certain points, but I found myself slightly (and unfairly) resenting any duplicate quotations, as I wanted more and new quotations!  (Perhaps Kloester will publish an edition of Heyer’s letters!)

The book itself is produced beautifully.  The pages are stitched, the paper is substantial, and the photographic plates are well-chosen and well-described.  The cover is stunning:  I literally gasped when I opened it, not having seen it online first.  This is a fine book that is aesthetically an admirable complement to the most fastidious collector of Heyer’s first editions or uniform editions.   And substantively it is just as pleasing.  Congratulations, Ms. Kloester, on a job exceptionally well done and worthy of its subject.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, by Jennifer Kloester
William Heinemann (2011)
Hardcover (464) pages
ISBN: 978-0434020713

Laura A. Wallace a musician, attorney, and writer living in Southeast Texas.  She is a devotee of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is the author of British Titles of Nobility:  An Introduction and Primer to the Peerage (1998).

© 2007 – 2011 Laura A. Wallace, Austenprose

Announcing the Celebrating Georgette Heyer Giveaway Winners!


 

Without further ado – here are all of the giveaway winners in the Celebrating Georgette Heyer event in August, 2010

Day 01   Aug 01 – Review: Georgette Heyer’s Regency World

Melly S., librarypat, Alexa Adams, Elizabeth, and RegencyRomantic

Day 02   Aug 02 – Review: The Black Moth

Lorrie

Day 02   Aug 02 – Review: Powder and Patch

Katherine

Day 03   Aug 04 – Review: These Old Shades

Sandra J.

Day 03   Aug 04 – Review: The Masqueraders

Nancy

Day 04   Aug 06 – Review: Devil’s Cub

Lady T.

Day 04   Aug 06 – Review: The Convenient Marriage (Naxos AudioBooks)

Jennrenee, Meredith, and Felicia J.

Day 05   Aug 08 – Review: Regency Buck

JaneGS

Day 05   Aug 08 – Review: The Talisman Ring

Julee Johnson

 

Day 06    Aug 09 – Review: An Infamous Army

Karen

Day 06   Aug 09 – Review: The Spanish Bride

Audra

Day 07    Aug 11 – Review: The Corinthian

Dawn

Day 07   Aug 11 – Review: Faro’s Daughter

Cathy Allen

Day 08    Aug 13 – Review: The Reluctant Widow

Becky

Day 08   Aug 13 – Review: The Foundling

Ruth

Day 09    Aug 15 – Review: Arabella

ncgraham

 

Day 09   Aug 15 – Review: The Grand Sophy

Laura’s Reviews

Day 10   Aug 16 – Review: Friday’s Child

Bloggin BB

Day 11    Aug 18 – Review: The Quiet Gentleman

LizM

Day 11   Aug 18 – Review: Cotillion

Meredith Austenesque Reviews

Day 12   Aug 20 – Review: The Toll-Gate

Trish B.

Day 12   Aug 20 – Review: Bath Tangle

Chelsea B.

Day 13   Aug 22 – Review: Sprig Muslin

Vidya

Day 13   Aug 22 – Review: April Lady

Theresa N.

Day 14   Aug 23 – Review: Sylvester

motheretc

Day 14   Aug 23 – Review: Venetia

Tina

Day 15    Aug 25 – Review: The Unknown Ajax

Jayne

Day 15   Aug 25 – Review: A Civil Contract

Kristen Skold

Day 16    Aug 27 – Review: The Nonesuch

Melanie

Day 16   Aug 27 – Review: False Colours

Regency Romantic

Day 17    Aug 29 – Review: Frederica

QN PoohBear

Day 17   Aug 29 – Review: Black Sheep

AprilFool

Day 18    Aug 30 – Review: Cousin Kate

Rhonda

Day 18   Aug 30 – Review: Charity Girl

wisewoman

Day 19   Aug 31 – Review: Lady of Quality

Fatima

Grand Prize winner of 34 Heyer novels is Linda B.

Congratulations to all the winners. If you could kindly contact me with your full name, address, and which book you won by midnight Pacific time, September 14, 2010, I would be most grateful. Please leave a comment acknowledging your win. Because of the number of prizes I will not be able to chase down the winners, so if you do not respond by the deadline, I will draw additional names again on September 15, 2010. Shipment of books to the continental US and Canada only. Digital download on The Convenient Marriage internationally.

Many thanks to all of the bloggers who contributed reviews, and for everyone who participated. It was great fun. Enjoy the books!

‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’ event wrap-up and poll

This marks the final post of the ‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer‘ event here at Austenprose. It has been a wonderful month of 34 book reviews of her romance novels, guest blogs, interviews and all out Heyer madness. I hope it chased away that fit of the blue-devils.

A big thank you to each of the guest reviewers. Well done. I have learned so much and enjoyed your insights. A big round of applause for Vic of Jane Austen’s World for her wonderful interview, author Helen Simonson for sharing her life-passion for Heyer, the ladies at Teach Me Tonight for their blog on Heyer Heroes and an extra shout out to Deb Werksman of Sourcebooks for her wonderful interview and their donation of the majority of the novels in the giveaways.

Remember, you have until September 6th, 2010 to get your last comments in to qualify for the giveaways and then the winners will be announced on Tuesday September 7th, 2010. Good luck to all. Whoever wins the grand prize of 34 novels is one lucky sod.

Now, one last challenge. Please vote for your top ten favorite Heyer romance novels. I know it’s a tough job to narrow it down, but it is a great way to see who is a diamond of the first water.

It’s been such fun gang. You all were a wonderful partyers and I hope you will come back and search through the reviews before you choose your next Heyer to read.

‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’ Event Grand Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of all 34 Georgette Heyer Regency romance novels being reviewed here during the event  (YES! THAT’S RIGHT! 34 NOVELS) by leaving a comment during the event in any post during the month of August stating what intrigues you about reading a Heyer novel or who your favorite hero or heroine is by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. The grand prize winner will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Cheers, Laurel Ann

Finis

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

Heyer’s Heroes: Immutable Romance Archetypes

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.

Footnotes:

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.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 19 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win the grand prize of all thirty-four copies (yes, 34) of the Georgette Heyer novels being reviewed this month during the ‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’ event by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about Georgette Heyer or who your favorite hero and why by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winner will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 19   Aug 31 – Event wrap-up

Day 20   Sept 07 – Giveaway winners announced

.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

Scouting for Georgette Heyer along Hadrian’s Wall with author Helen Simonson

Guest blog with author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, 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.

 

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

Why we love to read & re-read Georgette Heyer: A birthday tribute

Today is Georgette Heyer’s birthday. I can think of no better way to celebrate the occasion than with a fellow Heyerite and Regency-era authority, Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World. Vic has graciously agreed to be quizzed on her passion and knowledge of the Queen of Regency Romance, so please welcome her and feel free to ask your own questions as well.

Thank you for inviting me, Laurel Ann. Happy Birthday, Georgette! I can’t think of a better way to spend her special day either.

Some critics write Georgette Heyer off as merely a romance novelist. Others praise her for her historical accuracy, witty dialogue and engaging plots. Looking back on her fifty plus novels, why do you think she is still so popular years after her first publication?

When she was a current bestselling author, Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances stood out from the pack. Her humorous but well-researched writing rose above a sea of earnestly written historical romances. In those days, Daphne du Maurier, Jean Plaidy (Victoria Holt), Mary Stewart, and Mills and Boon (Harlequin) authors reigned supreme. While these best-selling authors were popular, none came close to combining humor, history, and romance in Georgette’s inimitable way. Today, GH’s breezy style doesn’t stand out quite as vividly, because there are many other romance writers (Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Susan Andersen, Sandra Hill, Jane Ann Krentz) who publish funny and sassy romances, but back in the dark ages when I went to college, Georgette had the humorous romance field to herself.

One reason that Georgette’s books have survived so well is that the worlds she created for her characters seem authentic. A reader can be confident that her research was accurate and meticulous. She visited museums and the British Library, and filled notebook after notebook with her observations and drawings. In addition, she and her husband lived in Mayfair. In her daily life, Georgette walked in the same streets as her heroes and heroines. GH characters frequently spoke Regency cant, which made their language sound absolutely authentic. Who can forget the rich dialog from A Lady of Quality?:

“It wouldn’t do for you to call him Bangster, for that would be too impolite, but I see nothing amiss with you calling him Captain Hackum, which has the same meaning, but wrapped up in clean linen!”

 

Mr Carleton grinned, and kindly explained to his bewildered niece that these terms signified a bully. “They are cant terms,” he further explained, “and far too vulgar for you to use! Anyone hearing them on your lips would write you down as a brass-faced hussy, without conduct or delicacy.”

 

“Devil!” said Miss Wychwood, with feeling.

 

“Oh, you’re quizzing me!” Lucilla exclaimed, slightly offended. “Both of you! I wish you will not! I am not a brass-faced hussy, though I daresay people would think me one if I called you merely Oliver! I am sure it must be most improper!”

Good stories never die and Georgette Heyer at the very least was a masterful storyteller. As early as the age of seventeen, when she related The Black Moth to her sick hospitalized brother, GH could tell a rousing tale of romance that combined intrigue as well as history. Many of her books involved complicated stories, and she worked hard at weaving one or two main plots in with several subplots. In reading Georgette’s letters to her publisher, I realized that she took her work quite seriously and spent countless hours perfecting her plots. Readers might disagree with the particulars in her books, such as an annoying character or a hero who was not heroic enough, but she threw so many enjoyable elements into the mix that her fans easily forgave her an occasional misstep.

I think there might be one more reason why GH romances are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. When Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Wolf and the Dove burst upon the scene in the early 70s, she changed historical romance forever. Woodiwiss added steamy, sometimes sadistic sex scenes, to what was once a fairly tame genre. I believe that Georgette Heyer’s books have retained their popularity in part because her stories are “family friendly.” You can confidently suggest her books to your daughters, mothers, and friends without the danger of passing on “soft core porn.” Not that I don’t like a steamy novel or two, but I would not purchase them for my younger nieces.

Credited as the pioneer of historical romance, what qualities in Georgette Heyer’s writing do you appreciate? What do you think was her greatest weakness?

I love that Georgette made the Regency era come so colorfully alive! We will never precisely know the smells and sights and sounds of days of yore, but she made us believe that she had recreated that era to a tee.  Through her eyes we can see Mayfair, and London, and turnpike roads, and glittering ballrooms. We shop with her heroines on Bond Street, and meet the “coves “operating in the seamier parts of Cheapside. We join the parade of carriages on Rotten Row, eat ices and sweets at Gunter’s, watch balloons ascend in Hyde Park and cows being milked in Green Park, promenade up and down the Pump Room in Bath, talk to Lady Jersey at Almack’s Assembly Rooms, gamble with Beau Brummel, and join the Bow Street runners as they chase down highwaymen. We enter inns and taverns and grand country houses, and are privy to the way servants took care of their masters, and vice versa. Jane Austen seldom described her world in detail, but Georgette Heyer more than filled in those gaps.

GH imbued her novels with the vitality of that era, with wars and smugglers and highwaymen, and with the inventions of the Industrial Revolution, such as balloon ascensions, new gas lights in Pall Mall, and a raucous ride on the velocipede, the precursor to the bicycle. She capitalized on the improvements of Regency roads by having her characters travel all over Great Britain. The viewer could be assured that if her characters took a number of hours to reach Point B from Point A, then she had the distance correct. GH not only knew her muslins, but she could pinpoint which fashion trends were popular during a certain year. Readers lapped up those details. Since then many authors have imitated her style when writing their Regency romances, but Georgette was the first to do it and she remains the best.

In terms of character, most of Georgette’s heroes and heroines possessed an audacious quality that bordered on recklessness and outright rebellion. In These Old Shades, the dissipated Lord Avon (Justin) takes a virginal and trusting young girl – the natural daughter of his bitter enemy – as his ward. Friends and acquaintances are aghast, until they meet Léonie. In the following passage, you can read how deftly Georgette could sketch a scene and describe a character’s effect on those around her::

“Bit by bit the Court, so long bereft of a mistress, began to wear a more cheerful air. Léonie’s glad young spirit pervaded it; she flung back heavy curtains, and consigned ponderous screens to the lumber room. Windows were opened to let in the wintry sun, and bit by bit the oppressive solemnity of the place disappeared. Léonie would have none of the stern neatness that was wont to reign there. She tumbled prim cushions, pushed chairs out of place, and left books lying on odd tables, caring nothing for Madam Field’s shocked protests. Justin permitted her to do as she pleased; it amused him to watch her gyrations, and he liked to hear her give orders to his expressionless lackeys. Clearly she had the habit of command: unusual she might be, but never did she exhibit any lack of breeding.”

At a ball, in which Avon (Justin) described the guests to Léonie, you can read how effortlessly GH wove history in with fiction:

“There is March,” he said, “who will be Duke of Queensberry. You have heard me speak of him. There is Hamilton, who is famous for his wife. She was one of the Miss Gunnings—beauties, my dear, who set London by the ears not so many years ago. Maria Gunning married Coventry. If you want wit, there is Mr. Selwyn, who has quite an inimitable way with him. And we must not forget Horry Walpole: he would hate to be forgotten. He lives in Arlington Street, child, and wherever you go you may be sure of meeting him. In Bath I believe Nash still reigns. A parvenu, infant, but a man of some genius. Bath is his kingdom. One day I will take you there. Then we have the Cavendish—Devonshire, my dear; and the Seymours, and my Lord Chesterfield, whom you will know by his wit, and his dark eyebrows. Whom else? There is my Lord of Bath, and the Bentincks, and his Grace of Newcastle, of some fame. If you want the Arts you have the tedious Johnson: a large man, my dear, with a larger head. He is not worth your consideration. He lacks polish. There is Colley Cibber, one of our poets, Mr. Sheridan, who writes plays for us, and Mr. Garrick, who acts them; and a score of others, In painting we have Sir Joshua Reynolds, who shall paint you, perhaps, and a great many others whose names elude me.”

Heyer’s heroes have many outstanding qualities. They can act cruelly towards selfish mistresses and avaricious relatives and give no quarter to their enemies, but they are fiercely loyal to those they love. These alpha, or Mark I heroes, often out-dandy Beau Brummel himself. Some drive four-in-hand carriages better than professional Royal Mail coach drivers, and others are able to handle a sword adroitly and outmaneuver their enemies with the ease of a military man. Rough around the edges and a man’s man, Mark I heroes can also be tender and solicitous with dogs, children, and frail women. Georgette’s beta heroes, or Mark II heroes, are the modern equivalent of the capable metrosexual man – supportive and understanding of the female mind and her need for a new dress or bonnet, and warm and fuzzy and kind all over. I admit to preferring Mark I heroes.

Georgette Heyer’s greatest weaknesses, in my estimation, lie in her one-dimensional plots (complicated as they are with events and activities) and the predictability of her characters and endings. Certain character types appear repeatedly: the bored alpha hero whose predictable routine is enlivened by an audacious sprite; the beautiful, spoiled and wilful matron who dresses far too young for her age and has never matured; the jealous mistress who leads the young heroine astray, thereby delaying the inevitable union between hero and heroine; and the young silly dandy who, like Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel, hides his heroic tendencies behind a foppish facade. All her heroes eventually win the heroine’s heart, and one presumes that they live happily ever after. However, GH’s glittery, one-dimensional plots are so similar with their action-packed coincidences, that after some time passes I have difficulty distinguishing one book from another.

From a personal standpoint, I  tend not to like the novels in which Georgette paired a very young heroine with an older, mature hero, and she did this frequently. I know this age discrepancy was common at the time, but I have found that reading a romance about a 16- or 17-year-old and a man approaching his 40’s is not my cup of tea. For this reason, I like These Old Shades less than some of GH’s other novels, even though the book is splendidly written.

Because GH novels are so frothy, they are like rich meringues that produce an instant sugary high but contain very little sustenance. Jane Austen’s six books provide more intellectual heft than all of Georgette Heyer’s 50+ books combined. But I do not mean to quibble, for GH novels have provided me with many a pleasurable hour of reading. The world of literature is large enough to accommodate both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and I am happy for it.

Like Jane Austen, Heyer is known for keen sense of the charms and foibles of human nature. Her sparkling dialogues between her heroes and heroines are often eye popping and hilarious. Can you share a favorite passage?

There are so many. Each book is filled with priceless dialog. One of my favorite passages concerns the misunderstanding between Ned Carlyon and Elinor Rochdale in The Reluctant Widow, when he thinks he is hiring a bride for his dissolute and dying nephew, and she thinks she is applying for a post as governess to a small boy. Elinor tells Ned:

“I shall do my best, sir, to fill the position satisfactorily.” She detected irony in his steady gaze, and was disconcerted by it…”Perhaps it would be as well if I were to lose no time in making the acquaintance of my charge.”

 

His lips curled. “An apt term!” he remarked dryly. “By all means, but your charge is not at the moment on the premises. …If what you must already have observed has not daunted you, you encourage me to hope that your resolution will not fail you when you are brought face to face with him….”

 

“I was given to understand, I own, that I might find him a trifle — a trifle high spirited, perhaps.”

 

“You have either a genius for understatement, ma’am, or the truth was not told you, if that is what you understand.”

 

She laughed. “Well, you are very frank, sir! I should not expect to be told all the truth, but I might collect it, reading between the lines, I fancy.”

 

“You are a brave woman!” he said.

 

Her amusement grew….”I dare say he has been a little spoilt?”

Then there are the typical introductions of the hero, who usually makes a grand entrance of sorts, as Avon in These Old Shades (can you tell I am rereading this novel at present?):

“The great front-door stood open, and into the house stepped his Grace of Avon, elegant in a coat of fine purple velvet, laced with gold, a many-caped greatcoat, over all, worn carelessly open, and polished top-boots on his feet. He paused on the threshold and raised his eyeglass to survey the Merivales.”

Many of Heyer’s plots are filled with comedy high jinxes and uproarious plot twists. It is not uncommon to be supplied with no less than a duel, a sword fight, highway robbery, abduction, switched identities, carriage races and all-around scandalous behavior in one novel! How does Heyer do it? How does she take us on such an outrageously wild ride and make it all so believable?

Without a doubt, Georgette’s heroes and heroines all know the conventions of polite society and the rules of etiquette, but something in their characters allows them to abandon any sense of decorum or convention. A few of the young heroines regard themselves as “on the shelf,” and therefore feel free to carry on as if the rules for young virgins on the marriage mart don’t apply to them. This leads the GH heroine into all sorts of interesting scrapes. Others seek to escape untenable situations. Young Pen Creed cuts her hair short and climbs out of a second-story window in the dead of night. The Corinthian first mistakes her for a lad:

Sir Richard was not precisely sober, but although the brandy fumes had produced in his brain a not unpleasant sense of irresponsibility, they had by no means fuddled his intellect. Sir Richard, his chin tickled by curls, and his arms full of fugitive, made a surprising discovery. He set the fugitive down, saying in a matter-of-fact voice: “Yes, but I don’t think you are a youth, after all!”

 

“No, I’m a girl,” replied the fugitive, apparently undismayed by his discovery.

“But, please, will you come away before they wake up?”

Pen, an heiress, has decided to run away from the fish-faced fiancee she will be forced to marry if she remains in London, and is determined to find her childhood friend, who promised to marry her when they were only children. Not only do Pen’s actions seems reasonable to herself, but our drunk hero decides on the spot to join her and protect her from harm. With much stubbornness, bickering and misunderstanding, Pen and Sir Richard set out on their grand adventure, and another delicious GH novel has begun.

Sir Richard from The Corinthian has many similar qualities to other Heyer heroes. Rich, disillusioned and bored, he decides to break the rules of convention just to feel alive and useful. Many of us can associate with such an ennui, or relate to a desire to break free from the expectations of one’s family and friends. And then there are the cast of supporting players that inhabit Heyer’s fictional world. I love her teen-aged boys, whose enthusiasm for getting into scrapes seem so very life like . Her dogs, too, are spot on and their antics add a playful and believable element that brighten her plots.

I was a Georgette Heyer neophyte until two years ago when your review of Friday’s Child charmed me into taking the plunge. I have now read eight of her novels without regret. If you were to advise a new reader, which three novels would you recommend?

When I was younger I would have said Frederica, Venetia, and the Grand Sophy without hesitation, so I recommend those three for young neophytes. Now that I am a bit longer in the tooth, I favor The Reluctant Widow and Marriage of Convenience for their mature heroes and heroines, and would recommend them to more seasoned readers. I would then urge them to read my first three choices! Wait, I also love The Corinthian, Faro’s Daughter, Friday’s Child, and… (Uh, oh, did I just cheat?)

I must ask the perfunctory questions on every Heyer enthusiasts mind! Who are your favorite hero and heroine, and which is YOUR favorite novel, and why?

Oh, what a tricky question! That’s like asking a food addict to make one choice at a buffet. Impossible, but I’ll do my best. My hero must be a dark and brooding rescuer. Don’t ask me why. And my heroine must have a lively wit, and the intelligence to butt heads with her hero, even if she is dead wrong. She must also possess the elegance of a Mayfair fashionista and the daring do of an out and outer. So here goes – *deep gulp*

  • Favorite hero: Marquis of Alverstoke, Frederica
  • Favorite heroine: Sophia Stanton-Lacy, The Grand Sophy
  • Favorite novel: The Corinthian, no The Reluctant Widow, no Frederica! (Eenie, meenie, minie, moe!)

Happy Birthday, Georgette Heyer! And thank you for this wonderful interview, Laurel Ann!

Blogmistress of Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today, Vic Sanborn has loved reading Jane Austen novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice, since she was in High School. She discovered Georgette Heyer just after she graduated from college. Having run out of new Jane Austen novels to read, she began to search for other regency stories set in similar settings. One day at the library, she stumbled across Charity Girl and Arabella, and her love affair with all things Georgette began. You can also follow Vic on Twitter as janeaustenworld.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 10 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win the grand prize of all thirty-four copies (yes, 34) of the Georgette Heyer novels being reviewed this month during the ‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’ event by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about Georgette Heyer or who your favorite hero or heroine is by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winner will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 10   Aug 16 – Review: Friday’s Child
Day 11   Aug 18 – Review: The Quiet Gentleman
Day 11   Aug 18 – Review: Cotillion
Day 12   Aug 20 – Review: The Toll-Gate

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

An Infamous Army, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Elaine Simpson-Long of Random Jottings

An Infamous Army is a novel about the battle of Waterloo with a love story attached, not the other way round and the title refers to the Duke of Wellington’s unkind nickname for the motley collection of national armies under his command in 1815.

The story is set in Brussels where English society, the ‘ton’, had flocked for the season as it was the place to be and a hectic social whirl takes place in the months before Waterloo. Here we find Lord Worth and his now wife, Judith, whose romance we read about in Regency Buck.  Judith, who I freely admit is not one of my favourite Heyer heroines, is now a matron of some years with a child and rather conscious of her status and reputation so when the notorious Bab Childe hits town and Charles Audley, her delightful and charming brother in law falls madly in love with her, she is not best pleased, foreseeing disaster and scandal.

Bab Childe is a character who I really love, though on the surface she seems to have inherited all the wildest characteristics of her grandfather, Vidal (yes he of Devil’s Cub who makes a brief appearance), she is beautiful, brave and warm hearted and it is the involvement we, as readers, have with Charles and Barbara, their coming together, their parting and their final reconciliation which keeps us hooked.

Heyer is very clever here. Would you read some seventy pages given over to a description of the campaign at Waterloo if you were not personally involved? Probably not.  The first time I read this Heyer I was totally overwhelmed with admiration when reading this section – it doesn’t bore, it doesn’t drag, it is as history should be.  It seems that I am not alone in my admiration as this account of the Battle of Waterloo is so highly thought of that it has been used at Sandhurst Military Academy in their training programme ever since.

When reading a biography of Georgette Heyer I came across a rather lovely anecdote from her son who remembers being taken, as a child, to the United Services Institute, where they found a model of the Battle of Waterloo. His mother began to describe it to him, too absorbed to notice the arrival of a party of school children filing in behind her whose mistress told them to hush and listen as she recognized the speaker and knew she was in the presence of an authority.

When I go to my library, I find Heyer’s books filed in the romance section along with Mills & Boon, Harlequin et al. Please don’t think I am dissing such books, I am not.  I adore a good romance as much as the next person but I think Georgette Heyer is a writer who should not be classified in this genre. She deserves more recognition and appreciation. She never received it in her lifetime from the literati of the day and it was a source of some bitterness to her.  She certainly proves that she deserves it in this marvelous book.

An Infamous Army, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2007)
Trade paperback (492) pages
ISBN: 978-1402210075

Elaine Simpson-Long has been blogging at Random Jottings now for four years and is amazed and delighted by the response she receives from her many visitors.  Thinking that nobody would want to read her thoughts on books as well as opera and life in general, she finds blogging to be enormous fun and very satisfying. Now retired after years of commuting to the city, she enjoys looking after her granddaughter whenever possible, traveling, going to the theatre and opera and of course, reading, reading, reading. Follow Elaine on Twitter as Brooksideelaine.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 06 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of An Infamous Army, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2007) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about the plot or characters, or if you have read it, which is your favorite character or scene by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 06    Aug 09 – Review: The Spanish Bride
Day 07    Aug 11 – Review: The Corinthian
Day 07    Aug 11 – Review: Faro’s Daughter
Day 08    Aug 13 – Review: The Reluctant Widow

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

The Talisman Ring, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Ana of An Evening at Almack’s

I have been a long time fan of Georgette Heyer. I first read some of books while a teenager in translated versions and now, as an adult, I have been collecting them in the original English thanks to Arrow and Sourcebooks who made them readily available everywhere.

The Talisman Ring was one of the books that I read more recently. A mixed story, part romance / part mystery, it sees two couples searching around for a family jewel to exonerate one of the heroes from a murder charge. To make a long story short, Sir Tristam Shield and Eustacie de Vauban are ordered by their great granduncle and grandfather respectively to embark on a marriage of convenience to guarantee Eustacie’s wellbeing and status in life after the old man dies. But Eustacie is a lively and romantic girl who finds Sir Tristam a stuffy unromantic old man and decides to run away to become a governess. On the road she finds her cousin Ludovic, her grandfather’s heir who has been on the run for the past two years after having been suspected of murdering a man on the night his favourite jewel – the talisman ring – disappeared. Ludovic is now a free trader, which seems utterly adventurous and romantic to Eustacie, and after an encounter with the excise men he is hurt and they find shelter at a nearby inn. There they find Lady Sarah Thane, a young woman who travels with her brother and seems to have an original sense of humour, and that’s where Sir Tristam eventually finds them. With Eustacie and Ludovic on their way to falling in love the four set out to find the jewel and prove his innocence.

I must admit that this is not one of my favourite Heyers. I think the story, as a mystery, looses pace because of the romance and all those secondary characters – the free traders, the excise men, the Bow Street Runners – and as a romance looses interest because so much time is devoted to finding the jewel. I think I am more used to those Heyer romances where we find sparkling and witty dialogue between the main characters, where the funny coincidences make for laugh out loud moments and where we have closure in the end. Here, although there are some funny moments they are not so sparkling and witty, and while the story ends with one couple engaged, the other doesn’t get the same king of closure, although everything indicates that they will do so too.

I did like Lady Sarah Thane and Sir Tristam Shield very much. To the point where I would have loved to have the book devoted solely to them. In a way, because they are an older couple they reminded me of Abby and Miles from The Black Sheep which I greatly enjoyed. If only we had seen more of them I am sure that we had been gifted with some witty dialogues. Eustacie seemed a bit too young and, well, silly. I have been fond of other young heroines like Horry and Leonie and I have forgiven them their silly naiveté because of their wonderful heroes but here I must confess that Ludovic was not a favourite with me either. He seemed impulsive and extravagant but oh so perfect for Eustacie who only wanted a husband to ride “ventre a terre” to her death bed.

But don’t be discouraged by my review, lots of Heyer fans seem to love this story so my advice to you is try it and see. There are a lot of farcical moments and if nothing else it will definitely put you in a good mood.

The Talisman Ring, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2009)
Trade paperback (316) pages
ISBN: 978-1402217715

Ana has always been a reader. Her first love is historical fiction, be it romance, mystery or general fiction, if it’s historical she is happy! She also loves to discuss books with other readers and that’s why she started blogging. You can usually find her at one of the following blogs Aneca’s World, An Evening at Almacks , Historical Tapestry and Lights, Camera… History!. You can follow Ana on Twitter as Aneca.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 05 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of The Talisman Ring, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2009) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about the plot or characters, or if you have read it, which is your favorite character or scene by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 06    Aug 09 – Review: An Infamous Army
Day 06    Aug 09 – Review: The Spanish Bride
Day 07    Aug 11 – Review: The Corinthian
Day 07    Aug 11 – Review: Faro’s Daughter

 

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010