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Archive for the ‘Georgette Heyer’ Category

Inquiring Readers, I discovered that Susanna Fullerton, President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and Austen author, is as much of a fan of Georgette Heyer as I am, perhaps more. This delightful article compares and contrasts the writings of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Susannah also offers a giveaway at the end of her article. Enjoy!

In Georgette Heyer’s novel Regency Buck there’s a delightful scene that takes place in Hookham’s Library in London’s Bond Street. The heroine, Judith Taverner, picks up a novel called Sense and Sensibility, one of the “new publications on offer” and written “By a Lady”. She proceeds to read aloud to her cousin Bernard from the scene when mercenary John Dashwood congratulates his sister Elinor on capturing the romantic interest of Colonel Brandon. John Dashwood is of course mistaken – it is Marianne that interests the Colonel – and it’s a lovely comic moment of misunderstanding. Judith closes the book and says to her cousin, “Surely the writer of that must possess a most lively mind?” This is one of the tributes that Heyer pays to Jane Austen, in her fiction. She knew only too well how very lively was the mind of her favourite novelist.

She’d have loved to have learned more about Jane Austen, but Heyer did not have the wealth of material available to today’s reader. James Edward Austen-Leigh’sMemoir had been published, and she could also turn to Constance Hill’s Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, but otherwise she had to pretty much rely on the novels to gain details she could use in her own fiction. There was no superbly researched edition of the letters by Deirdre le Faye, no Tomalin biography, no John Mullan analysis, for Heyer to turn to. But she made the most of what she had and reread the novels frequently. One reviewer of Friday’s Child picked up on this, noting with approval, “The author has read Jane Austen to advantage”.

I think Heyer must have felt, even with the limited biographical material available to her, that she had much in common with Jane Austen. Both women lost adored fathers and had rather troubled relationships with their mothers, both cherished their privacy, both were meticulous when it came to accuracy, and neither suffered fools easily. Both novelists “dearly loved to laugh” and their humour shines through in their fiction.

Sense and Sensibility is a novel about sisters and one can see the influence of this in Heyer’s oeuvre. Frederica is the sensible sister in the novel of that name, while Charis is the emotional and romantic equivalent of Marianne Dashwood. Mary and Sophia Challoner of Devil’s Cub, Horatia and Elizabeth Winwood of The Convenient Marriage are more examples of Austen-influenced sister-pairings, and Heyer shows, just as Austen did in Sense and Sensibility, that second attachments can succeed and that sometimes handsome young men turn out to be rotters.

Heyer learned from Northanger Abbey too, playing with Gothic conventions such as abductions, strange and overbearing ‘villains’, dark and stormy nights, and people being locked in cellars – but, like Austen, she mines Gothic tropes for humour, not for scariness. We find Gothic devices being mocked in The Reluctant Widow, Devil’s Cub, Friday’s Child, Cousin Kate and Faro’s Daughter.

Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablancain 2008
Image of the cover of 24 novels of Georgette Heyer published by Sourcebooks Cassablanca in 2008

Novelist PD James once described Pride and Prejudice as “Mills & Boon, written by a genius”. Certainly, Austen’s novels give us the standard romance plot of ‘boy meets girl – consequent misunderstanding – romantic happiness’. Of course, Austen adds to this standard plot her own unique depth, psychological acuteness, and complexity of character which lifts her books into the realm of genius. Heyer uses this standard plot too – just as Elizabeth Bennet has to listen to Darcy’s “not handsome enough to tempt me”, so does Arabella have to listen to slighting comments from Mr Beaumaris. Like Austen, Heyer shows her couples learning about themselves and their world, often through making mistakes or initial prejudice. Sylvester, like Darcy, will learn to be “properly humbled” by the woman he comes to love, Sherry has to learn from Hero to think of others and not just himself, Freddy Standen in Cotillion must discover that love comes into one’s life in unexpected ways. Heyer shows couples sparring with each other in seeming dislike, just as Elizabeth and Darcy bandy words in the ball room. In Bath Tangle, Lady of Quality, Black Sheep and The Grand Sophy we see young men and women falling in love as they argue, and so often their language has echoes of the language used by Austen’s characters.

Eyes are said to be the windows of the soul, and eyes that speak to each other are important in Jane Austen’s books. Darcy finds himself admiring Elizabeth’s very fine eyes and when Emma’s eyes “invited him irresistibly to come to her”, Mr Knightley doesn’t even try to resist. The eyes of Heyer’s heroines (usually cool grey ones) are often mentioned and are a great part of their attraction to their lovers. Eyes in her novels also sparkle with laughter, for Heyer’s heroines all love to laugh, as do Austen’s (even Fanny Price laughs – once!). Gurgles of laughter, lips twitching in smiles, and sudden bursts of laughter, all remind one of Elizabeth Bennet’s laughter, or of Emma’s smiles.

Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen's six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.
Stack of the annotated editions of Jane Austen’s six novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.

“There are just so many similarities in language, character and plot, as one sees again and again how Heyer pays tribute to Jane Austen. To many modern readers, the idea of cousins marrying each other is not appealing (we know of the possible genetic consequences for their children), but we find cousin marriages, which must have been common in the Regency, happening in Mansfield Park and in The Grand Sophy. That Heyer novel has a rather sleepy Spanish woman, a Marquesa, who is surely a Lady Bertram copy-cat, Dr Grant’s obsession with food and wine is mirrored in the wonderfully named Sir Bonamy Ripple of False Colours, and sudden illness, elopements to Scotland, and marital unhappiness (all to be found in Mansfield Park) are found frequently in Heyer. Sir Thomas Bertram and Miles Calverleigh have money from Indian plantations, Tom Bertram and Horatia Winwood are addicted to gaming, Fanny Price and Kitty Charing are taken in by relatives when young, and even Lady Bertram’s lazy pug is comically reincarnated in Friday’s Child. Emma is a rather managing young lady – so is Sophy Stanton-Lacy of The Grand Sophy though Emma has more to learn than Sophy; Miss Bates rarely stops talking long enough to draw breath and we gain such a vivid sense of how exhausting it must be for poor Jane Fairfax to live with her – Maria Farlow in Lady of Quality also has an inexhaustible flow of “nothing-sayings” which exhausts Annis; and Mr Woodhouse’s hypochondria has influenced the vapourish and imagined illness of many Heyer characters. Mrs Elton’s social climbing teaches Mrs Challoner a thing or two, dim-witted Harriet Smith and Belinda of The Foundling have much in common, while Bath Tangle concerns itself with lost love and second chances, just as does Persuasion.

Both Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer wrote about young women who enter the marriage market, and their novels are centred on romantic relationships. However, both novelists then proceed to de-centre this romance by using comedy, irony and by showing us the realities of marriage. Sometimes love or lust are just not enough, as is obvious from the Bennet marriage. Both writers investigate what W.H. Auden called “the amorous effects of brass” and show how money influences and distorts. And both show us the instability and social concerns of the Regency era (urban poverty, enclosure of land, women lacking dowries, a growing middle class, and soldiers with not enough to do). They give us heroines who must learn to cope on their own while losing homes, income, family and love, both show an unerring sense of place, and they give us so much to laugh over.

I love both of these authors, sometimes for the same reasons and sometimes for very different reasons. Jane Austen was writing contemporary novels, Heyer historical ones, so she spends more time explaining social detail than does Austen. I love Heyer’s sense of fun and relax into her fiction without feeling challenged or disturbed (which in these Covid times is exactly what I need). But Heyer never provides the acute psychological brilliance that we find in Austen, or the sheer innovation, or the depth of characterisation, or the knowledge that every single time we go back to her books we will learn something new about ourselves or other people. Austen challenges our intellects and makes us think; Heyer soothes and restores. Georgette Heyer would have been the first to admit that her own talents were far inferior to those of her literary mentor – she knew her novels were not in the same class. And yet her novels have huge charm and I am happy to keep going back to them, always with delight. I think that as readers we can rejoice in the differences and enjoy both writers in different ways, and have the fun of finding the echoes of Austen in the pages of Heyer.

Jennie Chawleigh of A Civil Contract reads Mansfield Park after her marriage to Adam. She is consoled by reading in its pages that a man can form a deep and lasting second attachment, and seeing Edmund Bertram begin to forget Mary and think about Fanny brings her comfort. I love such references made by one of my favourite novelists to the writer whose books I adore more than any other. In my view, one can find that both writers are, in the words of Heyer, “complete to a shade”, each in their own inimitable way.

About Susannah Fullerton:

Susannah Fullerton, OAM, FRSN, has been President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia for the past 25 years. She is the author of several books about Jane Austen – Jane Austen and Crime, A Dance with Jane Austen, Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Jane & I: A Tale of Austen Addiction. She has also organised 3 Georgette Heyer conferences in Sydney and edited Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade. Please visit her website at https://susannahfullerton.com.au/ She is a ‘Lady Patroness’ of the newly formed International Heyer Society, which publishes a newsletter ‘Nonpareil’ and sends out fascinating posts about all things Heyer. For further information, see https://heyersociety.com/

Bibliography:

A fuller version of this article can be found in Heyer Society: Essays on the Literary Genius of Georgette Heyer, Edited by Rachel Hyland, Overlord Publishing, 2018

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, Jennifer Kloester, ,Penguin, 2011

SPECIAL OFFER!:

Susannah writes a very popular blog, ‘Notes from a Book Addict’, which comes out for free on the first day of each month. This blog provides reading recommendations, keeps you up-to-date concerning film versions of classic novels, discusses a fabulous poem each month, and much more.

If you subscribe to this blog before 31 September, your name will be entered into a draw to win one of these prizes:

  • A signed copy of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade 
Image of the cover of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade
Cover of Georgette Heyer: Complete to a Shade
  • A signed copy of Jane Austen and Crime

  • A 25-page Reader’s Guide to Jane Austen’s Emma

  • Complimentary membership for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020 of the International Heyer Society

  • Two of Susannah’s fabulously illustrated video talks: ‘Jane Austen: Her Life and Works’ and ‘The Inimitable Georgette Heyer’ (each talk is about 60 mins)

To enter the draw, simply email Susannah on susannah@susannahfullerton.com.au, reference HEYER, and she will subscribe you to the blog and enter your name in the draw. Winners will be announced at the end of September.

Georgette Heyer links on this blog:

How I Fell In Love With Georgette Heyer, Vic Sanborn, August 7, 2012

Georgette Heyer Posts on Jane Austen’s World

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Inquiring readers,

We have reached episode four of Andrew Davies’ eight-episode mini-series on PBS Masterpiece.  Mr. Davies is a master cinematic storyteller.  Austen told her stories through words, while Davies takes advantage of showing dress, customs, manners, and settings visually.

The challenge in adapting the novel for a film is how to stay true to the source as you proceed to bend it into the medium of film. The first thing to consider is adapting prose to dramatic writing and the limitations of the screenplay format.” – Adaptation: From Novel to Film, by Judy Sandra, 27 November, 2017. Downloaded 1-25-20 @ https://www.raindance.org/adaptation-novel-film/

By episode four, Davies’ cinematic adaptation of Sanditon has strayed from Austen land and into Georgette Heyer territory. Not that this is a bad thing and it explains why so many Austen fans love his interpretation of Jane’s incomplete novel.

Image of Some of Vic's Georgette Heyer books in her collection.

Some of Vic’s Georgette Heyer books in her collection.

At 19 years of age, after reading Austen’s six novels, I wanted to read more Regency romance between heroes and heroines sparring verbally with wit and daring. I quenched my thirst by devouring all of Georgette Heyer’s delightful novels, even her mysteries.  Heyer knew the Regency and Georgian eras intimately. She and her husband lived in Mayfair, the London setting of so many of her books. Her details were historically accurate, and, best of all, she was a prolific writer. Heyer’s novels, set mostly in the highest circles of society, were as exciting as they were delightful. They were funny and romantic and brought the Regency era alive through her detailed descriptions and historical content.

Heyer’s best novelsThe Grand Sophy, Frederica, Venetia, Sylvester, Arabella (my first introduction to her work), The Corinthian, The Reluctant Widow described in great detail Regency customs, male and female fashions, social interactions (such as the use of calling cards), descriptions of White’s Club or Almack’s, Bow Street Runners, 19th century inventions, and all the minutia that Austen rarely bothered to mention. Through her sparkling stories, Heyer appeased my youthful cravings to inform me about Jane Austen’s regency world. Her often crazy plots offered pure escapism.

In a review of Heyer’s biography by Jennifer Kloester (which I also own), Rachel Cooke writes:

If you want fun – if you want elopements and quadrilles, velvet britches and sprig muslin gowns – you will have to go back to the novels, still in print, and still the greatest and most surprising of pleasures.

After viewing four episodes of Andrew Davies’ adaptation of Sanditon, I am reminded more of a Georgette Heyer plot (with added sex) than Austen’s unfinished manuscript. Which is OK. The melodrama makes for great television.

It just isn’t Austen.

Do you agree? Or not? Both opinions are welcome on this blog. Please feel free to leave your comments or take the poll:

Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, Linnet Moss, May 2017. Downloaded: January 25, 2020:
Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen

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High Perch Phaeton

Gentle readers, Patty of Brandy Parfums is an avid fan of history, horses, Jane Austen, and Georgette Heyer. She is also a devoted reader of this blog.  Just recently she wrote ‘Georgette Heyer for Horse Lovers’ for the October issue of Horse Directory Magazine. Patty has graciously allowed me to reproduce her article for Jane Austen’s World.

Walnut Hill Driving Competition, the largest driving competition in North America held each August in Pittsford NY, has no speed classes for high-perch phaetons. They tip over too easily to be safe. Yet in the colorful, elegant world of English author Georgette Heyer’s romance novels, many with references to horses, intrepid heros and heroines drive these carriages around corners at high speeds without tipping over.

Georgette Heyer published her first novel in 1921, when she was nineteen, and went on to write over fifty novels. She was especially known for her witty Regency romance novels, and was widely copied and imitated. If you have never heard of her, it is because after a badly made movie based on one of her novels, The Reluctant Widow, came out in 1951, Heyer put in her will that she did not want any other of her books turned into movies.

In Heyer’s Bath Tangle, Major Hector Kirkby questions Lady Serena Carlow about her choice of a high-perch phaeton with its “bottom five feet from the ground” and pair of horses. Major Kirkby says –

‘Serena,-my dearest! I beg you won’t! I know you are an excellent whip, but could you not have a more dangerous carriage!’

‘No! If I were not an excellent whip!…….The difficulty of driving them is what lends a spice!’

Cover of Bath Tangle by Heyer's favorite cover artist, Arthur Barbosa

The Heyer heros and heroines, who are skilled equestrians known as bruising riders, ride horses they treasure, like Maid Marion that Lady Serena rides in Bath Tangle.

By Jove, Lady Serena, you’re a devil to go!’ Mr. Goring exclaimed, in involuntary admiration. She laughed, leaning forward to pat the mare’s steaming neck. ‘I like a slapping pace, don’t you?’

‘I should have called it a splitting pace!’ he retorted…..’My heart was in my mouth when you rode straight for that drop fence!’

The more stable crane necked phaeton with smaller wheels

Because Heyer’s novels take place when horses were used for transportation, carriages and coaches breakdown in many of her books. In The Corinthian, there is little horse activity in the beginning except a coach breaking down, but the hero, Sir Richard Wyndham, a bored bachelor and renowned whip, is sure to get into action at some point in the story. Sir Richard (Ricky) asks his friend, the Honourable Cedric (Ceddie).

Ceddie, were you driving your own horses yesterday?’

‘Dear old boy, of course I was, but what has that to say to anything?’

‘I want ’em,’ said Sir Richard………I must have a fast pair immediately.’

My favorite Heyer novel so far for horseyness is The Quiet Gentleman, a Regency romance and mystery of sorts, with Gervase Frant, the Earl of St Erth, a subdued dandy returning home from military duties at Waterloo. Mr. Warboys says –

‘……..that’s a devilish good-looking hunter you have there, St Erth! Great rump and hocks! Splendid shoulders! Not an inch above fifteen-three, I’ll swear! The very thing for this country!’

‘Oh, he is the loveliest creature!’ Marianne said, patting Cloud’s neck. He makes no objection to carrying me in this absurd fashion: I am sure he must be the best-mannered horse in the world!’

Cover of Infamous Army with horse. Image@Sourcebooks

Georgette Heyer wrote her romance novels over a period of many years and they were always best sellers even during WWII in England, when their lively, entertaining content helped people forget their misery. Heyer also wrote mysteries, and more serious historical fiction like the superb An Infamous Army, which takes place in Brussels in 1815 during the time of Waterloo. Infantry and calvary movements are so accurately described that this book is required reading at Sandhurst.

Other horsey and just plain amusing novels recommended include The Masqueraders, False Colors, Arabella, Sylvester or the Wicked Uncle and The Grand Sophy, a work unfortunately marred by the appearance of a cliché moneylender.  Sourcebooks has reissued many of Heyer’s fifty novels and they are proving quite popular – a wonderful diversion for our uncertain times.

More on the topic:

This is the first video of the film, The Reluctant Widow. Only 9 of the 10 videos are featured. Have no fear, this 1951 film is so badly made that you will probably not make it that far. Click on this link to access it.

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Gentle readers: Please leave a comment if you wish your name to be be eligible for a drawing of Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, a wonderful Regency romp by Georgette Heyer. The drawing will be held the moment electricity is restored in my house. My best estimate is that this will take another week. Only U.S. and Canadian residents are eligible. (So sorry, but the book is being sent by the publisher, who has requested this geographic restriction.) Update: Contest closed. Congratulations Rebeka! You have won a copy of Sylvester.

Sylvester, Duke of Salford thinks quite highly of himself and is pleased by his impeccable manners and easy smile, which easily influences servants to do his bidding. But Phoebe Marlow, whose mousy manner hides her bright mind and talents as an equestrienne and a writer, was not so impressed when she first met him during her coming out season. She is even less enthralled with the Duke when he arrives for a visit at her father’s estate to look her over as a possible bride.

Sylvester’s fond Mama also harbors concerns for her son, especially when Sylvester announces his intentions to marry and begins to discuss his preference for a bride with her:

‘But I’m inclined to think now that is is more important that she should be intelligent. I don’t think I could tolerate a hen-witted wife. ‘Besides I don’t mean to foist another fool on to you.’

‘I am very much obliged to you!’ she said, a good deal entertained. ‘Clever, but not beautiful: very well! Continue!’

‘No, somedegree of beauty I do demand. She must have countenance, at least, and the sort of elegance which you have, Mama.’

‘Don’t try to turn my head, you flatterer! Have you discovered among the debutantes one who is endowed with all these qualities?’

‘At first glance, I suppose a dozen, but in the end only five.’

‘Five!’

At this point Sylvester’s mama becomes concerned, for she realizes that he is choosing his life’s mate with his head, not his heart. The woman who immediately springs to her mind for her son is Phoebe Marlow, and so our cluelessly haughty (yet kind) Duke collides with the novel’s heroine, who is not in the least willing to spend any time with him, at least not until circumstances throw them together and she gets to know him better.

The plot revolves around Phoebe’s big SECRET: she has authored a book in which Sylvester, with his saturnine brows, is featured prominently as the villain. The more Phoebe gets to know Sylvester, the more she realizes how wrong she was about him and the more she worries about the book’s effect on their budding friendship (for Phoebe was uncannily accurate in her representation about certain aspects of Sylvester’s life).

Georgette Heyer takes us from the cozy settings of country mansions, to London in High Season, to Dover and over to France. A colorful array of her usual characters add liveliness to a somewhat improbable plot, including Phoebe’s good friend Tom, Sylvester’s dodo bird of a sister-in-law, Ianthe, and a supremely idiotic and over-indulged fop named Sir Nugent.

In my opinion, if you are a Georgette Heyer fan and haven’t read this book yet, you will be well advised to do so now. I give it four out of five Regency tea cups!

For a chance to win this book, leave a comment about your favorite Georgette Heyer book! Contest closed. The winner is: Rebeka!

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I will be resurrecting old posts until electricity has been restored in my house. The power company promised that 95% of households will be online by Friday. In 2004, our tiny street did not receive full service until 13 days after the storm. Right now I am looking for a hot shower!!

I published this post about the Peerless Pool two years ago. Perhaps my new readers might be interested in learning a few facts about a public swimming pool in London over 200 years ago. Click here to read the post.

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August 16th marks Georgette Heyer’s birthday. In several comments on my book reviews some readers have made it a point to mention that Georgette is no Jane Austen and termed her novels mere romances. Ah, but they are so much more. I love her novels in part because they remind me vividly of the satirical prints that were so popular during Jane Austen’s day.  Observe the dandy at left in the print below, then read Georgette’s description of Sir Nugent!

Beside Sylvester’s quiet elegance and Major Newbury’s military cut she had been thinking that Sir Nugent presented all the appearance of a coxcomb. He was a tall man, rather willowy in build, by no means unhandsome, but so tightly laced-in at the waist, so exaggeratedly padded at the shoulders, that he looked a little ridiculous. From the striking hat set rakishly on his Corinthian crop (he had already divulged that it was the New Dash, and the latest hit of fashion) to his gleaming boots, everything he wore seemed to have been chosen for the purpose of making him conspicuous.  His extravagantly cut coat was embellished with very large and bright buttons; a glimpse of exotic colour hinted at a splended waistcoat beneath it; his breeches were of white corduroy; a diamond pin was stuck in the folds of his preposterous neckcloth; and he wore so many rings on his fingers, and so many fobs and seals dangling at his waist, that he might have been taken for a jeweller advertising his wares. – Georgette Heyer, Sylvester

Astley's Amphitheatre

Here is her passage about Astley’s Amphitheatre in Cotillion:

Though Meg might cry out against so unsophisticated an entertainment, Mr. Westruther knew Kitty well enough to be sure that she would revel in it. Had it been possible, he would unhesitatingly have taken her to Astley’s Amphitheartre, and would himself have derived a good deal of amusement, he thought, from watching her awe and delight at Grand Spectacles, and Equestrian Displays. But the Amphitheatre, like its rival, the Royal Circus, never opened until Easter Monday, by which time, Mr Westruther trusted, Kitty would have returned to Arnside.

Vauxhall Gardens, Samuel Wale, c. 1751

By way of whiling away the eveing Sherry escorted his bride to Vauxhall Gardens. Here they danced, supped in one of the booths on wafter-thin slices of ham, and rack-punch, and watched a display of fireworks. – Friday’s Child



He complied with this request, backing the phaeton into place on the right of the landaulet, so that although the high perch of the phaeton made it impossible for his sister to shake hands with Frederica she was able to exchange greetings with her, and might have maintained a conversation had she not decided that to be obliged to talk to anyone sitting so far above her would soon give Frederica a stiff neck. – Frederica

A Kiss in the Kitchen, Thomas Rowlandson

‘But if she knew that you do not mind George’s having kissed me -‘

‘But I do mind!’ said Sherry, incensed.

‘Do you, Sherry?’ she asked wistfully.

‘Well, of course I do! A pretty sort of a fellow I should be if I did not!’

‘I won’t do it again,’ she promised.

‘You had better not, by Jupiter!’ – Friday’s Child

Time and again the zany plots and witty conversations in Georgette’s novels echo the Regency prints that I love to study. Yes, she is no Jane Austen, but as an interpreter of the Regency era, she is priceless.

As a birthday gift, please click on this link to read her short story, A Proposal to Cecily.

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I have reviewed many Georgette Heyer novels for this blog. Here are some images of the author over the years. She had a strong handsome face. Not pretty, but full of character.

Georgette Heyer in 1923 at 21. She had already written her first book.

Looking rather modish

Wearing a rather severe look

The author at her son's wedding

Georgette in 1970, four years before her death

Read this review in the Guardian UK of her latest biography by Jennifer Kloester.
Also, Happy Birthday, Georgette Heyer!

Georgette Heyer

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Whenever a reader asks: Which of the Georgette Heyer books ranks among your favorites? Venetia invariably springs from my lips. Mind you, I had not read this book for decades, but I savored its memory. In recent years I began to question my younger self, for while I loved rereading The Grand Sophy last year, I didn’t find it quite as splendid as the 24-year-old Vic had. As I grew older, other GH books made their first appearance on my favorites list, such as The Quiet Gentleman and The Reluctant Widow.

When Sourcebooks sent me a review copy of Venetia I did not choose it for my first critique, for I did not want to spoil my youthful impression. Once I began reading the book, I discovered that the 25-year-old heroine of Undershaw in Yorkshire captivated me all over again.

Amongst the pick of the debutantes at Almack’s she must have attracted attention; in the more restricted society in which she dwelt she was a nonpareil. It was not only the size and brilliance of her eyes which excited admiration, or the glory of her shining guinea-gold hair, or even the enchanting arch of her pretty mouth: there was something very taking in her face which owed nothing to the excellence of her features: an expression of sweetness, a sparkle of irrepressible fun, an unusually open look, quite devoid of self-consciousness.”

Venetia Lanyon is no ordinary heroine. Like Jane Austen’s Emma, she has largely led a protected life, thanks to her reclusive father, and allowed to go only to the dance assemblies in York and as far as the seaside town of Scarborough. Although she might not have been given a Season in London, Venetia is smart, lively, and resourceful. After her father’s death and in her elder brother’s absence, she runs the estate and makes all the important decisions overseeing the house, servants, herself and her young brother, Aubrey.

Waiting for her brother Conway’s return (he is a soldier), Venetia fends off two local suitors, the priggish Edward Yardley, who is as dull as a post, and ardent Oswald Denny, who, too dazzled by Venetia’s unselfconscious beauty and overly influenced by Lord Byron’s romanticism, is unable to recognize that he is much too young for her. Venetia lives a sedate life in her back country neighborhood, whose denizens are all respectable and predictable, except for one – Lord Damerel, a rake and ne’er-do-well, and a blight upon Undershaw’s spotless reputation.

“His family was an old and a distinguished one, but the present holder of the title was considered by the respectable to be the neighborhood’s only blot. It was almost a social solecism to mention his name in polite company.”

Venetia’s uneventful life unexpectedly changes when she encounters Damerel as she picks blackberries on his lands while wearing an old and rumpled gown.

“He was a stranger, but his voice and his habit proclaimed his condition, and it did not take her more than a very few moments to guess that she must be confronting the Wicked Baron. She regarded him with candid interest, unconsciously affording him an excellent view of her enchanting countenance.”

Mistaking her for a trespassing servant maid, he kisses her. And so the fun begins, for we are still at the very start of the novel.

Which brings me to the hero. As a young woman, I preferred dark brooding heroes like Damerel – men whose vices, dissipations and disappointments turn them into cynics; men whose good qualities are awakened by spectacular women like Venetia, men who on the surface are all wrong for the heroine. And so in Damerel I found my perfect unforgettable hero. Now, in my more advanced age (ahem), I find that I am still enamored of him.

Several qualities make Venetia stand head and shoulders above most of GH’s other novels. The plot is intelligent and complex and gets better and better with each page, continually taking us in unexpected directions. In fact, there were three twists that threw me for a loop and that kept this love story fresh and alive until the last page.

Several minor characters stand out from the ordinary. I could read an entire book about Aubrey, Venetia’s physically disabled but fiercely independent and brilliant brother who likes books more than people. Then there’s Mrs. Scorrier, an unforgettable vulgar character in the mode of a Mrs. Elton. Presumptuous, overbearing, and encroaching, she promises to overset Venetia’s and Aubrey’s well ordered lives (and those of the servants). Then there’s the matter of a little mystery, for as the book progressed I kept asking myself, when will we meet Venetia’s brother Conway? So much of the plot revolves around his absence and his anticipated return, that I was keen to meet him.

I am one of the GH readers who luxuriates in her use of Regency cant, and Venetia offers this language in spades:

She made the shocking discovery that he was a member of the dandy-set – indeed the pinkest of Pinks, a swell of the first stare! Not having the least guess that the old lady holds every Bond Street beau in the utmost abhorrence, the silly pigeon rigged himself out as fine as fivepence, and trotted round to Grosvenor Square looking precise to a pin: Inexpressibles of the most delicate shade of primrose, coat by Stulz, Hessians by Hoby, hat – the Bang-up – by Baxter, neckcloth – the Oriental, which is remarkable for its height – by himself.”

There are readers, I found to my surprise, who are put off by Ms. Heyer’s cant (Ten reasons why I can’t read Georgette Heyer) and who could care less about her historical accuracy. This novel is not for them, for it is filled with colorful antiquated language and wonderful tidbits about the Regency era that I found fascinating but that will turn them away.

I rate Venetia five out of five teacups

Did I like Venetia? No, I loved it, and I hope you will too. I give it five out of five Regency tea cups.

Order the book here
ISBN: 9781402238840

Other Georgette Heyer Reviews on this blog:

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The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer starts out anything but quietly. Gervase Frant, 7th Earl of St. Erth, had the bad judgment to survive the Battle of Waterloo by escaping a violent death. His half-brother, Martin, and step mama had half counted/half hoped on his not attaining the Earldom, for St. Erth had served in many a battle. Much to their annoyance, he emerged from military service to claim an inheritance that his younger brother had started to assume would be his. And so the fun begins. The novel celebrates its 60th year and its release by Sourcebooks marks the novelists’ 109th birthday on August 16th.

In Gervase we have a blondly handsome dandy with a mild-mannered facade. His physical appearance hides the fact that he does what he pleases in a most sensible and determined way, unsurprising given his military background. When the family first meets him, Gervase stood revealed in “all the fashionable elegane of dove-coloured pantaloons, and a silver-buttoned coat of blue superfine.”

A quizzing-glass hung on a black riband round his neck, and he raised this to one eye, seeming to observe, for the first time, the knee-breeches worn by his brother and his cousin, and the glory of his stepmother’s low-cut gown of purple satin.”

This description served to tell the reader that Gervase was still wearing his traveling clothes and was in no way prepared to dine as the others were. His appearance also dupes his stepmama and half-brother into thinking he can be manipulated and bamboozled.

The heroine, Drusilla Morville, is not the obvious sort, for she is neither encroaching nor flashy. She’s more like an Elinor Dashwood than a Marianne, possessing an unassuming self-assurance and an adherence to tasteful, restrained fashion that would make Katherine, the new Duchess of Cambridge proud.

Heyer gives us what Austen does not – detail upon detail of fashion and interiors, well researched facts, I might add, for Heyer’s descriptions are accurate. Her long passage regarding the building of Stanyon Castle is important, for it lays the groundwork for the mystery that is to come. One can depend on every historical tidbit and social custom to be spot on, for Heyer is, if anything, meticulous. And while her still waters do not run as deep as Jane Austen’s, they run satisfyingly long and provide the reader with the feeling of having dipped into Regency England.

In this scene, young Martin approaches the love of his life, Miss Marianne Bolderwood, in one of the succession-houses, where she is pursuing her hobby of the moment, potting spring bulbs:

He heard the sound of he voice uplifted in a gay ballad. It came from the potting-shed, and he strode up to it, and looked in, to find that she was alone there, engaged in transferring several white hyacinghs from their separate earthenware pots to a large Worcestershire bowl. She made a charming picture, with her pale golden curls uncovered, and confined only by a blue riband, a shawl pinned round her shoulders, and a small trowel in one hand.”

Hyacinths were quite popular during the Georgian era, and while this detail is not at first strikingly obvious, Heyer knew enough to mention them (as did Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey). In fact, hyacinth vases were first used in the Georgian period to force the bulbs into early bloom.

Heyer’s dialogue is matchless, and, dare I say it, Austen’s equal in wit and pointed observation. Drusilla Morville’s parents are rebellious Bluebloods and eccentric to the nth degree, but when push comes to shove, liberal-minded Mama Morville, who is also an authoress, knows exactly what she wants for her daughter – a good marriage – and she does not hesitate in telling her husband off when he starts to protest at her attraction to St. Erth:

“If the Earl – I say, if! – were to offer for dear Drusilla, and you were to refuse your permission, I should be strongly inclinded to clap you into Bedlam! I marvel, my love, that a man of your intellect should so foolishy confuse theory with practice!”

And there you have it – the evidence of Heyer’s abilities to keep the reader on her toes and insert humor into almost every scene. Throughout the book we have been assured that neither of the Morvilles can be persuaded to deviate from their eccentric convictions, but when confronted with reality, heaven forbid that they should confuse their priorities!

We are also introduced to the protocol of dueling in the most convoluted and humorous way. Even as she makes fun of the convention, Heyer manages to teach the reader about its rules . This conversation is between Martin and Mr Barny Warboys, who is afterwards driven to search his father’s library for the Code of Honour . Martin is asking his good friend to second his opponent :

“Dash it, Martin, it ain’t the part of a friend of yours to second your opponent! Told you I’d act for you, didn’t I? Stupid thing to do, but not the man to go back on my word.”

“Barny, if he applies to you, will you act for him?”

Mr. Waryboys scratched his chin. “Might have to,” he conceded. “But if I act for him, who’s to act for you? Tell me that!”

“Good God, anyone! Rockcliffe — Alston!”

“Ay, that will be a capital go!” said Mr Warboys scathingly … “Lord, Martin, dashed if I don’t think you must be queer in your attic!”

Jane Austen’s novels are classics, which goes without saying, and Georgette Heyer’s are not, but they are nevertheless amusing and worth reading. Austen experimented with character and sub-layered her plots, whereas Heyer’s novels are (excuse me for saying this) formulaic. While Austen introduced outrageous and unforgettable secondary characters, Heyer stacked them up to the ceiling with demanding Mamas, dull-as-post bachelors, wide-eyed and breath-takingly beautiful lasses, loyal friends, strong-willed heroes, and sensible heroines. Even after having read all of her 50+ books at least twice, I have trouble recalling which of Heyer’s secondary characters belong in which book.

Heyer also tends to have her secondary characters take over much of the plot. In The Quiet Gentleman, I would have rather read more about Drusilla (who was barely there) than the beautiful but empty-headed Miss Bolderwood. St. Erth’s younger half-brother, Martin Frant, is too cardboard cut-out and immature for my liking, but his mama reminded me most forceably of Lady Catherine deBourgh, and that was fun.

In this plot romance also takes a back seat to mystery. Who wants to off the Earl and why?

Overall, I would say that The Quiet Gentleman is one of Heyer’s more mature novels. The hero and heroine are sensible, the plot is set in the country, where life plods along slowly and the characters attend only a few parties and balls, and the mystery unfolds at a rather leisurely pace.

Rating: Four out of Five Teacups

It has been at least twenty years since I last read The Quiet Gentleman. I am glad I had the opportunity to read it once again, and give this book four out of five Regency tea cups.

Georgette Heyer Reviews on this blog:

Here’s a bit of heresy for Georgette Heyer fans: Ten reasons why I can’t read Georgette Heyer

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Jane Austen’s novels did not ignore the rising middle class and successful merchants and tradesmen, the nouveau riche of her era. Mr. Bingley and his sisters were the fortunate offspring of a tradesman. Mrs. Bennet’s,  Mrs. Jennings’, and Mrs. Elton’s vulgarities cannot be denied and add spice to her tales.  A real life representative of the rich bourgeois class was Mrs. Smith, once married to a trader named Kinnear. I would imagine that if a stranger met her, there would be no mistake from her demeanor and accent where her origins lay. She dressed well, according to an eye witness, and managed to live out her years in comfort.

Mrs. Smith, 1795

MRS SMITH IN THE COSTUME OF 1795. That this Portraiture was sketched without a sitting may be conjectured from a memorandum by the artist, which states that when the lady heard of his intention to publish her likeness, she sent for him to come and get a proper look at her, but he did not choose to accept the invitation. Those who remember Mrs Smith will have little difficulty in recognising a strong likeness to her in the Etching. Mrs, or rather Luckie Smith, for so in her later years she was uniformly styled, is dressed in the somewhat ridiculous fashion prevailing towards the close of [the] last century. The Print bears the date 1795, and at that period she resided in South Bridge Street. Some years afterwards, she removed to a house purchased for her in Blackfriar’s Wynd. Mrs Smith was a native of Aberdeen, and had in early life been married to a trader of the name of Kinnear, by whom she had a son and two daughters. After the death of her husband, she resumed her maiden name of Smith. Her favourite walk was the Meadows. She was a stout, comely looking woman, and usually dressed well. She lived to old age in the enjoyment of two annuities, one of which she derived from a gentleman of fortune, the husband of one of her daughters. The other daughter was also well married, and we believe is now in America. Mrs Smith died in January, 1836. – A series of original portraits and caricature etchings, Volume 2, Part 2 (Google eBook), John Kay, 1838, p425.

The description might remind Georgette Heyer fans of Mrs. Floore from Bath Tangle. That “redoubtable old lady had inherited, besides two fortunes, considerable interest in her father’s soap factory, and her husband’s shipyard.” Hah!

Here is another telling description of Mrs. Floore, and how an aristocrat, comfortable in her own skin, would find such a creature fascinating:

Upon several occasions, both [Serena} and Fanny had been diverted by the startling appearance presented by an elderly female of little height but astonishing girth, who, while she adhered, perhaps wisely, to the fashions of her youth, was not wise enough to resist the lure of bright colours. She had a jolly, masterful countenance, with three chins beneath it, and a profusion of improbable black ringlets above it, imperfectly confined by caps of various designs, worn under hats of amazing opulence. Serena drew giggling protests from Fanny by asserting that she had counted five ostrich plumes, one bunch of grapes, two of cherries, three large roses, and two rosettes on one of these creations. An inquiry elicited from Mr King the information that the lady was the widow of a rich merchant of Bristol—or he might have been a shipowner: Mr King could not take it upon himself to say. No doubt a very good sort of a woman in her way, but (her la’ship would agree) sadly out of place in such a select place as Bath.” – Chapter 6

Can you imagine the Miss Bingleys hobnobbing with Mrs. Floore, or Sir Walter Elliot entertaining her in his house in Bath?

Can you imagine Sir Walter Elliot or Lady Dalrymple conversing with Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Poole? (Hugh Thompson, Persuasion)

In Bath Tangle, an adventurous Serena is quite taken by Mrs. Floore, whereas her timid stepmother, Fanny, is aghast:

‘Serena!’ breathed Fanny. ‘What an extraordinary creature!

‘Yes, but quite delightful, I promise you!’

‘But, Serena, she is dreadfully vulgar! You cannot really mean to visit her!’

Serena did visit Mrs. Floore, which few ladies of refinement would do, but she was secure in her position in Society and bored out of her gourd, and Mrs. Poole, besides being a nice and sensible person, provided her with entertainment. A reluctant Fanny accompanies her:

The call was paid, though without the suggested prelude; and the welcome accorded to the ladies was so good-natured and unaffected that Fanny was brought to acknowledge that however vulgar Mrs Floore might be she had a great deal of drollery, and was certainly no toad-eater. She declined a civil invitation to return the visit, saying, with paralysing candour, that it was one thing for their ladyships to visit in Beaufort Square whenever they felt so inclined, and quite another for them to be entertaining her in Laura Place, and very likely making all their acquaintance wonder what kind of company they had got into. – Chapter 7

Hugh Thompsons illustration of a vulgar, dashing widow. (Emma)

Times were a-changing. The rising middle classes were able and willing to lay out ready cash to move up in the world. What they lacked (aside from refinement) were land and a nice title. The aristocrats had these aplenty. Since many a landed family had squandered their fortunes, it was inevitable that the lines of distinction would begin to blur as the nouveau riche began to snap up estates in foreclosure or shove their very rich daughters in front of impoverished heirs.

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I spent a lazy Sunday catching up on the many posts I am unable to read during the week. Imagine my delight when I landed on Madame Guillotine’s blog and read her impressions about her visit to the Fashion Museum in Bath.  With increasing excitement, I viewed her close up images of several of the most beautiful 18th and early 19th century gowns imaginable. Melanie graciously allowed me to showcase her posts. (I concentrated on the early 19th century examples.) Do rush over and view all her photos. They are simply amazing.

I have just got home after an amazing couple of hours spent studying some of the eighteenth century dresses in the vast collections (I think they said they have 80,000 pieces in their archives) of the Fashion Museum in Bath.

English, silk, 1770-73.

It was amazing seeing the hook and eye arrangements that they used to do up the bodices, the neat seam work and even the staining beneath the armpits which serves as a reminder that these are the real deal and not just mere costumes!

French, sacque gown, 1760-63. Image @Madame Guillotine

They were really keen on combinations of pink and green during the eighteenth century – a colour combination that seems to have vanished from fashion, alas.

A floral printed muslin from 1793-97. Image @Madame Guillotine

[This dress] is really is lovely – very floaty and romantic with a pretty floral print. You can really imagine Marianne Dashwood in this one!

Muslin dress, 1813-20. Image @Madame Guillotine

This dress was so beautiful but really worryingly see through! You forget this about muslin when you see them in period dramas…

Patterned muslin dress, 1815-20. Image @Madame Guillotine

This is the sort of thing that a Heyer heroine would have worn.

These images are just a foretaste of the many photos that Melanie took at the Fashion Museum. To read both her posts, click on the two links below:

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Inquiring readers: Austenprose has been featuring Georgette Heyer all this month. Today is her 108th birthday! Laurel Ann has graciously interviewed me about one of my favorite authors. My interview on her blog begins with this question:

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.

Click here to read the rest of the interview on Austenprose.

In addition to the interview, I am featuring two of my reviews of GH novels:  Lady of Quality and Friday’s Child. As a special treat for Georgette’s birthday, I am also including a link to one of her short stories: A Proposal to Cecily

Lady of Quality:

Miss Annis Wychwood, at twenty-nine, has long been on the shelf, but this bothers her not at all. She is rich and still beautiful and she enjoys living independently in Bath, except for the tiresome female cousin, who her very proper brother insists must live with her.

When Annis offers sanctuary to the very young runaway heiress Miss Lucilla Carleton, no one at all thinks this is a good idea. With the exception of Miss Carleton’s overbearing guardian, Mr. Oliver Carleton, whose reputation as the rudest man in London precedes him. Outrageous as he is, the charming Annis ends up finding him absolutely irresistible. – Sourcebooks blurb

I discovered Georgette Heyer just after I graduated from college. Having run out of new Jane Austen novels to read, I began to search for other regency stories set in similar settings. One day at the library, I stumbled across Charity Girl and Arabella, and my love affair with all things Georgette began.

In those days I was barely older than the youngest of Heyer’s heroines, and could identify closely with The Grand Sophy. I reveled in Georgette’s world filled with bored aristocratic gentlemen who, usually as they traveled by coach or horse to a country inn or walked the streets in London in the middle of the night, stumbled across an innocent and disarming chit who needed rescuing. This plot device was a popular one with the author. Another one of Georgette’s plots was that of the “older” beautiful, rich, and independent spinster (almost on the shelf, but not quite) who is determined to live her life as she likes it and skirt convention when she can. Because she has independent means, she rules her roost and will brook no interference from any man. Invariably, these strong willed women meet their match in an even richer, stronger-willed man, usually a Duke or Earl, but not always as in a Lady of Quality.
Read the rest of the review at this link

Friday’s Child:

fridays-child-sourceHeadstrong, spoiled and impetuous, Lord Sheringham wants to be married. Not because he is in love, but because he wants control of his fortune, his father having left it so that he would be either 25 or married before he could rid himself of his trustees. He has some difficulties with debts, certainly, but the main reason he wishes to have that trust drawn up is that one of his trustees is plundering his estate.

The book opens with his proposal to the Incomparable, Isabella Milborne, a lifelong neighbor and friend. She refuses him because they don’t love each other, and he, furious at her level-headed thwarting of his plans, vows to marry the next lady he sees. This would be Hero Wantage, another lifelong neighborhood friend, just out of the schoolroom and unschooled in any of the ways of Society. Hero, who has adored her friend Sherry for years, is an orphan who has been under the care of her cousin, who never intended to provide a Season for her ward, but rather to prepare her for marriage to the local curate, or for life as a governess. At just seventeen and full of fun, Hero is not ready for either quelling prospect.

So the two decide that they will get married. Lord Sheringham’s cousins Gil and Ferdy and his friend George, Lord Wrotham, all of whom seem to travel in a pack, among them arrange for the marriage by special license. The young Lord and Lady Sheringham set up house, and Sherry and his friends seek to establish young Lady Sherry in London society, where they have been cutting a pretty wild and dashing swath. What follows is a madcap romp, as Hero falls in and out of scrapes as fast as she can. All through innocence, or from following her husband’s sayings. She is bright, educated, and has a mind of her own, and when she takes umbrage at her husband’s scolding her for something, she will say, “but you said…” To his credit, he hears his words and begins to reconsider his own way of life.

Read the rest of the review at this link

A Proposal to Cecily:

Flapper Louise_BrooksCicely hurled a cushion across the room. “Thats how I feel!” she said, & glared at her first cousin once removed, Richard Spalding.

“Good lord”, he remarked, with a proper amount of sympathy in his lazy voice.

“And you sit there – idling about in my room – laughing at me! I quite hate you, Richard!

“Oh, I say!” he expostulated, “I wasn’t laughing – honour bright!”

Cicely looked scornful. “I’m absolutely sick of it all. Dead sick of it.” Cecily nodded so vigorously that her brown, bobbed curls seemed to jump. “I never want to go to another dance as long as I live.”

“That’s bad,” said Spalding respectfully. “What’s brought on this sense of repletion?”

“Everything. I’ve been trotted round till I want to scream! I feel like doing something desperate!”

At that Spalding dragged himself upright and threw away his half-smoked cigarette.

“Oh, splendid, Cis! I hoped that if I waited long enough you’d melt. When shall it be? Be a sport, now, and -”

Cicely covered her ears with her hands.

“No, no, no! I don’t want to do anything as desperate as that!”

Richard sank back again.

“Thought it was too good to be true”. He pulled a leather diary from his waistcoat pocket and proceeded, gloomily, to make an entry.

“What’s that?” asked Cicely.

“Diary.”

“But what are you writing?”

“‘Friday. Proposed to Cicely. Refused.'”

In spite of herself Cicely giggled.

“Dicky, you are idiotic! When will you give it up?”

“When we’re married.”

“We’re not going to be!” Cicely’s chin went up defiantly.

Read the rest of the short story at this link


Reviews of Georgette Heyer’s novels on this site:

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