Preview of Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen’s England, by Rory Muir

Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen's England by Rory Muir (2019)In Jane Austen’s novels, we discover the plight of younger sons who because of the English primogeniture laws, could not inherit their father’s estate and must find their own way in the world. Colonel Fitzwilliam in Pride and Prejudice and Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey come immediately to mind. This father to first son inheritance tradition is the axis of the social structure of British society and is tightly bound to its restrictions. Historian Rory Muir explores this dilemma and the courses available to younger sons in his new history book, Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen’s England. Using Austen’s characters, her own family, and historical figures as examples, we are taken on a journey through the era to discover what options were available to younger sons of “good families” to find an acceptable profession and earn an independent living.

DESCRIPTION:

A portrait of Jane Austen’s England told through the career paths of younger sons—men of good family but small fortune.

In Regency England, the eldest son usually inherited almost everything while his younger brothers, left with little inheritance, had to make a crucial decision: what should they do to make an independent living? Rory Muir weaves together the stories of many obscure and well-known young men, shedding light on an overlooked aspect of Regency society. This is the first scholarly yet accessible exploration of the lifestyle and prospects of these younger sons. Continue reading

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern, by Robert Morrison — A Review

The Regency Years, by Robert Morrison (2019)From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

The subtitle for Robert Morrison’s history of Regency Great Britain, “during which Jane Austen writes, Napoleon fights, Byron makes love, and Britain becomes modern,” hints at the variety and diversity within its pages. In contrast to Jane Austen’s tightly focused fiction, famously self-described as “three or four families in a country village,” Morrison widens his lens to present extensive information and detail about Regency life that illuminates not only Austen’s world but our current time.

Morrison begins with a brief sketch of George Augustus Frederick, eldest son of George III and Queen Charlotte, in the book’s prologue. “The deep contradictions in the Regent’s character both energized and undermined him and were evident from an early age.” (3) With a string of mistresses, a secret and unlawful marriage to a Roman Catholic widow, an officially sanctioned marriage that was an abysmal failure, and the financial means to indulge every whim and fleeting inclination, the Regent was a constant feature of gossip and scandal during his lifetime. In 1812 he assumed the full authority of the crown, making him “not only the most powerful man in Britain but also the man at the head of the wealthiest, strongest, most ambitious, vibrant and productive country in the world.” (6)

George Cruikshank Loyal address's & radical petetions, or the R-ts most gracious answer to both sides of the question at once (1819

This print by George Cruikshank, was published on December 4, 1819, and is entitled “Loyal Address’s & Radical Petetions, or the R____ts most gracious answer to both sides of the question at once.” (48)

Continue reading

A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England, by Sue Wilkes – A Review

A Visitors Guide to Jane Austen's England by Sue Wilkes 2014 From the desk of Katie Patchell 

How prevalent was the smuggling trade in England during the Regency? When exactly was the Season? What did men and women spend their day doing in the country and in Town? How did one go about posting a letter? Were spectacles a fashion statement or something to hide? What were bathrooms like in the Regency? And what exactly was the purpose of Colonel Brandon’s flannel under-waistcoat? These questions are asked and answered (alongside stories of daring escapades and humorous eccentricities) in Sue Wilkes’ latest Regency book, A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England.

Each of the seven chapters covers a different aspect of Regency life, and is filled with anecdotes and snippets from journals and travel guides of the period. This book includes the following topics:

Chapter Breakdown

  • Chapter 1—“Traveling”: hotels, inns, turnpikes, sea travel, private carriages, public coaches, and highwaymen
  • Chapter 2—“Gracious Living”: the Season, townhouses, bathrooms, indoor plumbing, candles, heating, beds, bedbugs, landscape, country homes, food, meal plans, a day in the life of a Regency woman, and the Prince Regent
  • Chapter 3—“The Latest Modes”: style changes of hair and dress (and the meanings behind them), dandies, wigs, underwear, gowns, breeches, hats, and boots
  • Chapter 4—“Money Matters”: entails, the expectations of daughters and eldest sons, the options for younger sons, the levels of schooling for young men and women, marriage laws, and servants
  • Chapter 5—“Shopping, ‘Lounging’, and Leisure”: shopping in London, buying dress material, a day in the life of a London lounger, pickpockets, books, clubs, gambling, Almack’s, music, culture, church services, menageries, duels, sports, and the mail service
  • Chapter 6—“The Perfect Partner”: the marriage market, dancing, flirting, the waltz, wedding preparations, and elopements
  • Chapter 7—“In Sickness and in Health”: cleanliness, dangerous cosmetics, teeth, physicians/operations (successful and unsuccessful), childbirth, mourning, Bath, sea-bathing, and Brighton

Continue reading

Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Lesley Adkins – A Review

Jane Austens England, by Lesley and Roy Adkins (2013)From the desk of Shelley DeWees:

“In her novels Jane Austen brilliantly portrayed the lives of the middle and upper classes, but barely mentioned the cast of characters who constituted the bulk of the population. It would be left to the genius of the next generation, Charles Dickens, to write novels about the poor, the workers and the lower middle classes. His novel A Tale of Two Cities starts with celebrated words: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’ This is a succinct summary of Jane Austen’s England, on which we are about to eavesdrop.” p. xxvi

You’ve been warned. Should you wish to maintain the sanctity of your internal imagery of Jane Austen, turn back now, before you step into the not-so-forgiving light of real history. Do thoughts of frocks and frolicking and tea cakes and rainbows seen through the thin gauze of parasols really blow your skirt up? Wishing you could be amongst the ladies and gents of an Austen ball? Hoping against hope that somehow, magically, you could be transported into Jane’s idyllic agrarian life? Jane Austen’s England, in all its cool clarity and detail, is probably not where you should look for inspiration, and may, in fact, leave you reeling; your perfect imaginary life forever ruined! The humanity of it! Continue reading

Jane Austen’s England Virtual Book Launch Party with Authors Lesley and Roy Adkins & Giveaway

Jane Austen's England, by Lesley and Roy Adkins (2013)Let’s face it. Life in a Jane Austen novel is a fantasy to us two-hundred years after they were originally set. Who wouldn’t want to wear a pretty silk frock, dance with Mr. Darcy at the Netherfield ball or ride in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s barouche? But life in Jane Austen’s England was not all elegant country houses and fine carriages. It took an army of servants and working class people to make life comfortable for the landed gentry and aristocrats.

Authors and historians Lesley and Roy Adkins have taken us behind the green baize curtain in their new book Jane Austen’s England. Here we discover what life was really like for a gentleman’s daughter like Elizabeth Bennet or the Bertram’s of Mansfield Park and all of their servants.

In celebration of the launch of Jane Austen’s England, Lesley and Roy Adkins are visiting us today to share their inspiration to write their new snapshot of the Georgian-era. Leave a comment to qualify for a chance to win one of three copies available of their intriguing new book. Contest details are listed at the end of this blog. Good luck to all.

Welcome Lesley and Roy:

Thank you, Laurel Ann, for inviting us to an online Austenprose launch party of Jane Austen’s England. We raise our glasses to you all (filled with smuggled wine and port, of course, because Jane Austen’s England is at war with the French and such liquor from Europe is hard to obtain). Continue reading

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen, by Joan Strasbaugh – A Review

The List Lovers Guide to Jane Austen by Joan Strasbaugh 2013Ever wonder what books Jane Austen read, who her relations were, where she lived and traveled, or what were her pet peeves? Well, what true Janeite doesn’t? Do you want to learn more about your favorite author than you ever expected to discover all packed up and neatly arranged in one tidy volume? Then read on…

The List Lover’s Guide to Jane Austen is a delightful little factbook on the famous author and her world that was a welcome diversion from the drama and angst of the current Austenesque fiction book that I am entrenched in. Packed full of information compiled in list format, even this die-hard Janeite learned more than a few new tidbits about Austen’s novels, characters, family, Regency culture and her life.

This beautifully designed reference book would be the perfect primer and or fact-checker for a Jane Austen quiz. Broken down into categories like:

  • Forward: (including ten reasons for reading this book!)
  • Her Life: (including what she looked like, books she read, who she met on her travels and much more)
  • Her Correspondence: (great selected quotes)
  • Timeline for Jane Austen: (featuring events from every year of her life)
  • Her Writing: (from her juvenilia to her novels to her last poem)
  • Bonus List: Jane’s Royal Ancestors: (who knew?)
  • Bibliography: (exclusive and the best)

Continue reading

Friday Follow: Hot off the Press! ~ Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine, No.64

Happy Friday everyone! Huzzah! A new issue of our favorite Jane Austen-inspired magazine Jane Austen’s World is now available.

Did you know that you can now read it digitally on your iPad, NOOK, Kindle or other tablet devices? This was the best news possible for me and I did the happy dance all day.

I am sharing with you Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont’s excellent announcement of the release of the new issue. Enjoy!

Cheers,

Laurel Ann

Jane Austen in Vermont

JARW64_Cover_small

The July/August 2013 (No 64) edition of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine is now out – watch out for it in your mailbox over the next few weeks. In the new issue you can read about:

  • Austenland: we speak to Jerusha Hess about her new film depicting one woman’s amazing hunt for her Mr Darcy
  • Read our exclusive preview of this year’s Jane Austen Festival in Bath
  • The Countess of Jersey, serial adulteress and debauchee is this issue’s Regency Rogue
  • Letters from Jane: a look at Austen’s correspondence
  • Plump cheeks and thick ankles: Jane Austen used appearance to size up her characters
  • A social reformer and a place called Harmony: the tale of Robert Owen

Subscribe today to Jane Austen’s Regency World, the full-colour, must-read, glossy magazine for fans of the world’s favourite author – delivered to your doorstep every two months direct from Bath, England. Plus reports from…

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4th Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters Due Out in November

Jane Austens Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th Edition (2011)Exciting news for Janeites! Deirdre Le Faye’s incredible scholarship on Jane Austen and her family continues in this new edition of Jane Austen’s Letters.

Many will be thrilled to learn that this 4th edition not only includes a new cover, but updates! Here is the description from Oxford University Press:

Jane Austen’s letters afford a unique insight into the daily life of the novelist: intimate and gossipy, observant and informative–they read much like the novels themselves. They bring alive her family and friends, her surroundings and contemporary events, all with a freshness unparalleled in modern biographies. Most important, we recognize the unmistakable voice of the author of such novels as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. We see the shift in her writing from witty and amusing descriptions of the social life of town and country, to a thoughtful and constructive tone while writing about the business of literary composition.

R.W. Chapman’s ground-breaking edition of the collected letters first appeared in 1932, and a second edition followed twenty years later. A third edition, edited Deirdre Le Faye in 1997 added new material, re-ordered the letters into their correct chronological sequence, and provided discreet and full annotation to each letter, including its provenance, and information on the watermarks, postmarks, and other physical details of the manuscripts. This new fourth edition incorporates the findings of recent scholarship to further enrich our understanding of Austen and give us the fullest and most revealing view yet of her life and family. In addition, Le Faye has written a new preface, has amended and updated the biographical and topographical indexes, has introduced a new subject index, and had added the contents of the notes to the general index.

Teachers, students, and fans of Jane Austen, at all levels, will find in these letters remarkable insight into one of the most popular novelists ever.

“These are the letters of our greatest novelist. They give glances and hints at her life from the age of 20 to her death at 41, the years in which she wrote her six imperishable books.”

–Claire Tomalin, Independent on Sunday

Features

  • An unparalleled and irresistible insight into the life of Jane Austen
  • A complete and accurate transcript of all Austen’s letters as known to date
  • Integrates the discoveries of recent Austen scholarship to reveal more about her life and family
  • 2011 marks the bicentenary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility, the first of Austen’s novels to appear in print

About the Author

Deirdre Le Faye , now retired, worked for many years in the Department of Medieval & Later Antiquities at the British Museum. She started researching the life and times of Jane Austen and her family in the 1970s, and since then has written several books about them, the latest being A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family 1600-2000 , as well as numerous articles in literary journals.

The bit that really got my attention was the incorporation of new scholarship and a new preface. Huzzah!

Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye
Oxford University Press (2011)
Hardcover (688) pages
ISBN: 9780199576074ISBN10

Due to be released on 1 November 2011

Follow Friday: The Regency Encyclopedia

The Regency Encyclopedia

Here’s a great Follow Firday recommendation for you. Regency history expert Sue Forgue writes to tell us of a wonderful announcement. Her website The Regency Encyclopedia is celebrating its 5th anniversary and has revealed several new enhancements to the Fashion Module. These include:

Fashion Glossary: This is the same database of definitions that powers the highlighted words in the fashion prints’ texts.  You can now search on these definitions without hunting through the fashion prints.

Research Fashion Palettes: Ever wonder what a color like morone looks like or what garments would be in that color? This database allows you to research the fashion palette colors by year (1800-1829) or by the color itself.  A couple of caveats to keep in mind: First, since the color swatches are html codes, your monitor will determine how they display, so at best, these can only be considered approximations. Second, each year’s fashion palette has been compiled from the original fashion print texts and other contemporary fashion articles. If a color shows up in one year and not another, it doesn’t mean the color wasn’t used, it only means that I don’t have any original source documentation for it.

Visit the Modiste Shop to Dress the Doll: Have some fun creating your own regency era outfit. This is the first of an eventual six dolls in the series. Pick the year and the applicable colors for each garment type will load. You can pick any combination of available colors and change them as much as you please before the doll is displayed. When you do, you’ll see the doll in a lovely setting with text incorporating your color choices written in the style of the fashion column in “La Belle Assemblée”.

In addition to these functions, the fashion prints database has been increased to almost 1,700 images thanks to the generous contributions of Vicky Hinshaw of Milwaukee and Jeanne Steen of Chicago.

Many thanks to Sue and her crew for the incredible information available to Austen fans and Regency history buffs. The site is password protected so please use this info for access. Enjoy!

User ID: JaneAusten
Password: brilliant1
(both are case sensitive)

© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Jane Austen and Children, by David Selwyn – A Review

Jane Austen and Children, by David Selwyn (2010)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Of the parents who survive [in Austen’s novels] only Catherine Morland’s and Charlotte Heywood’s are unexceptionable.  For the rest, Mrs. Dashwood is kind and loving but admits that she is imprudent.  Most of the others are foolish (Mrs. Bennet, Lady Middleton, Lady Bertram, Sir Walter Elliot), ill-judging (Mr. Bennet, Sir Thomas Bertram), weak (Mr. Woodhouse, Mary Musgrove), over-indulgent (Mrs. Thorpe), incapacitated by circumstances (The Prices, Mr. Watson), or downright poisonous (Mrs. Ferrars, Lady Susan).  They do not on the whole add up to an encouraging picture of parenthood, and in view of the fact that Jane Austen herself had exemplary parents, we can only assume that as an author she found that bad parents made for richer drama and better comedy than good ones.”

Those who are looking to take a gander at Jane Austen’s time with intense, academic vigor need look no further than Jane Austen and Children, the newest book by the great David Selwyn, a mammoth name in all things Jane Austen.  On top of acting as the Chairman of the Jane Austen Society, he’s contributed to the new Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen and also to the Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Long story short, this guy knows his stuff.

Jane Austen and Children is an expansive work, covering all aspects of the lives of children and their parents.  Selwyn opens with a description of pregnancy and birth practices in the 18th and 19th centuries, which every woman everywhere should be thankful she doesn’t have to endure, and continues with the portrayal of life as a new mother.  He then examines the world of the child as they grow…their clothes, toys, and games, as well as their probable sicknesses, punishments, and relationships with other children and their parents, all of which is seen through the eyes of Austen’s characters and Austen herself.  The book is extraordinarily well researched, and I found myself with my jaw on the table, staring at the dizzyingly long list of references Selwyn used, both published and unpublished.  Your head will positively swim when you see just how much work went into this book!  Quotes from letters, books, and papers grace nearly every page, sometimes to the point of oversaturation but mostly acting as an example of the standard Mr. Selwyn has employed, one that every researcher aspires to.  It’s truly remarkable!

The account of the relationships Jane Austen enjoyed with her nieces and nephews is particularly intriguing, and uses support from letters and notes penned by relatives I’d never ever heard of!  Another winning portion is an analysis of the bond between Fanny Price and her brother William, in contrast with that of Anne Elliot and her insipid sister, Elizabeth.  Selwyn also explores the cost of raising a child and their subsequent education, and enjoys a notable tangent into the life of a governess (with all its rather frightening variations).  The book is, as you would expect, a bit dry, but not so much that it’s unreadable, either as a cover-to-cover crash course or as a chapter-by-chapter reference guide.  The only noticeable flaw in Jane Austen and Children was the blatant absence of illustrations, the lack of which is only slightly alleviated by a laughable attempt on page 123.  The photos are poorly printed, predictable, and (dare I say) somewhat irrelevant to the topic at hand.  However, the book as a whole is an amazing piece of literature, phenomenally well-researched and more than enough to add another tick mark on David Selwyn’s list of amazing achievements.  It was a breath of fresh air in many senses and took me into an interesting state of mind…I’ll call it “geeking out.”  I wanted to think more, do more with Jane Austen’s characters.  I wanted to meet the people who were lucky enough to live around her, sitting on the floor as she reads the real Little Goody Two Shoes story.  I enjoyed this read immensely, and I think you will too!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen and Children, by David Selwyn
Continuum International (2010)
Hardcover (256) pages
ISBN: 978-1847250414

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

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

‘Pride and Prejudice without Zombies’: “Enamoured of the Picturesque at a Very Early Age”: William Gilpin and Jane Austen

Dovedale in the Peak district of Derbyshire from Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland etc, by William Gilpin (1786)

Gentle Readers: in celebration of the ‘Pride and Prejudice without Zombies’ event over the next month, I have asked several of my fellow Jane Austen bloggers to share their knowledge and interest in Austen’s most popular novel. Today, please welcome guest blogger Julie from Austenonly who shares with us her extensive knowledge of Regency culture and history in two posts during the event. Her second contribution is on travel writer William Gilpin whose influence upon Jane Austen is seen in Pride and Prejudice. Discover how she was able to describe the Derbyshire countryside even though she had never traveled there and why the use of the “picturesque” is a hidden joke in the plot.

Having read Henry Austen’s biographical notice of his sister, published in the posthumously printed first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, I knew from an early age, that Jane Austen was

enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque at a very early age…

and so when aged 15 I found a copy of his Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland in what was then one of my favourite haunts, a second-hand bookshop in Dr Johnson’s home city of Lichfield, I bought it  immediately…But now comes a confession…Prepare yourself for something very dreadful… I didn’t read it for another 20 years.

I thought it would be deadly boring.

How wrong I was.

I should have trusted Jane Austen’s taste and judgement, and realised exactly why she was enamoured of him…..but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before we explore his books and the reasons why I think she adored him, we ought properly to learn a little about William Gilpin’s life.

William Gilpin was born on 4 June 1724 near Carlisle, in Cumberland. He was the son of Captain John Bernard Gilpin and a Matilda Langstaffe . Captain Gilpin was considered to be one of the best amateur painters of the time, and this artistic talent seems to have passed through to the next generation, for William was obsessed with the correct way to view both pictures and landscape, and his younger brother, Sawrey Gilpin was to become a famous animal painter and indeed later contributed some illustrations to Williams books.

Continue reading on Austenonly

Further Reading

Upcoming event posts

Day 17  July 10     Group Read: Chapters 50 – 56
Day 18  July 11     Top Ten P&P editions in print
Day 19  July 12     Music at the Netherfield Ball