Monday, December 3, 2007

Georgette Heyer

My book club is reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey this month. I enjoyed it, and was able to appreciate it as a satire on gothic romances, largely because of having read so many of Georgette Heyer's books set in almost the same period.

Georgette Heyer wrote from the 1920s until her death in the 1970s (see the Wikipedia article on her at She invented the Regency Romance genre, and was its greatest author (which is a rather uninformed opinion - I've only read a couple of other authors in the genre and couldn't stand them). The Wikipedia article mentions that Heyer took inspiration from Jane Austen, so it is no wonder that one reminds me of the other, and no wonder that Heyer mentions some of the same Gothic novels that Austen does. So in sense I was reading backwards, and because Heyer is more modern and accessible to me, helped me understand the Austen better. The particular Austen novel that most concerned Gothic novels is Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle in which a young woman writes a novel based on people she met in her London season and chaos ensues.

Heyer collected works on the Regency period (which only covered 1810-1820, but Heyer's romances covered a period from the mid-1700s to the Battle of Waterloo). She knew the period so well that her books create the world of the English upper class in that time period, with details of dress, food, travel, apparel, and slang that immerse the reader in the period. I think of her plots as similar, but then when thinking of specific favorite books they vary widely. She often depicts the person who doesn't fit well into that society, but they rarely rebel. Some go their own way, and, as these are romances after all, they find solace in love with a compatible soul. My favorite Heyer is Venetia, in which a gently bred woman finds love with a rake, who is too honorable to pursue the relationship. My descriptions don't convey the richness of the world she creates and the immense likability of the characters.

The Masqueraders is another favorite, set earlier than most of her books. It set in the mid-18th century, after Bonnie Prince Charlie and his followers have been defeated. A bother and sister pair swap genders to protect the brother who fought for the Stuart prince. Then there are the related books, Black Moth, These Old Shades, and Devil's Cub, which all involve the fascinating character the Duke of Avon. Devil's Cub was the first Heyer I read and there was no looking back... I devoured every one I could get hold of after that. I've read them all many times, though not so much recently. Yet when I really want a comfort read, I still pull out the Georgette Heyers. This despite the fact that I rarely ever read other romances. I have read Heyer's mysteries, but was not as in love with them. I may give them another try.

Still looking for more favorites to read? Try The Unknown Ajax, The Grand Sophy, or A Civil Contract (one of the most unusual love stories ever).

I've been reading a lot of "important" books lately, about current affairs and all their conflict. So sometimes a good comfort read is a necessary correction!

No comments: