Heyer revisited

Well, I did it.

I reread Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer, my first Heyer and first Regency romance ever that I read when I was seventeen. And that was a long, long time ago. I was given a copy as a present by my two aunts who lived in Bath. They lived on Lansdowne Place West, just off Lansdowne Crescent, and probably a couple of houses beyond the left side of this old photo. The field in front of the Crescent is still used for grazing.

My aunts told me they considered it was her best and the only one of them they’d consider reading more than once. Little did they know that I would then devour Heyers to the detriment of my academic pursuits. And I didn’t know then that I’d reap the benefits many years later. But I was afraid to reread Heyer because I suspected I wouldn’t enjoy her so much now and I didn’t want to be disillusioned; or I’d wax sentimental over the passage of time etc. Happily I emerged fairly well entertained and in good (nonphilosophical) spirits.

Anyway, the book: rich heiress and dumb blonde brother (Judith and Perry Taverner) come to town and discover their guardian is a hottie (Lord Worth). Here’s the original 1935 cover (left) and here’s a more modern one that may seem familiar (scroll down). The one I’m reading is a Signet with a truly horrific cover featuring a fair-haired hero with lots of teeth that I haven’t been able to share with you, but I found a couple of others that are very pretty.

So, what did I think? It’s difficult to say. Sometimes it was quite eerie, reading again passages that I’d long forgotten about, rather like seeing a literary ghost. I recognized a scene that seemed to have, uh, influenced Dedication, where a fight is picked at a cockfight, resulting in a duel. I found it at times slow going and despite Heyer’s red herrings and attempts to make the plot a plot, it’s pretty obvious who is the hero and who the baddie (I remember figuring that out the first time I read it). The baddie attempts, in an incompetent sort of way, to kill her brother, intending to force Judith into marriage so he may enjoy her huge tracts o’ land. But never mind that plot business, as I always say.

What I loved were Heyer’s details–clothes, places, objects–they’re quite brilliant, particularly her descriptions of journeys. Here’s the heroine’s first view of London:

As the chaise topped the rise and began the descent upon the southern side, the view spread itself before Miss Taverner’s wondering eyes. There were the spires, the ribbon of the Thames, and the great huddle of buildings of which she had heard so much, lying below her in a haze of sunlight. She could not take her eyes from the sight, nor believe that she was really come at last to the city she had dreamed of for so long.

One thing that didn’t work for me–or worked in a different way–was the characters of hero/heroine. Lord Worth may have got my virginal knickers in a twist decades ago but now, did I find him forbidding, mysterious, demanding? No, I found myself thinking, oh what a sweetie this man is. Even when he’s threatening to do something dastardly like beat the heroine I found myself wanting to coo adoringly at him, poor baby, he’s so out of his depth here.

As for Judith, well.

At first glance one might her down a mere Dresden China miss, but a second glance would inevitably discover the intelligence in her eyes, and the decided air of resolution in the curve of her mouth.

Since she spends most of the book grabbing the wrong end of every stick I really wonder about the intelligence. Why do she and her brother come to London? It’s not stated explicitly–I think it’s a given in Heyer that everyone who is anyone has to be in London for reasons so obvious they don’t need to be stated. Once she’s there she sets herself up as an original, befriending Brummel, driving her own phaeton, and taking snuff. Heyer tells us this is daring etc., but ultimately it seems to send appropriate suitors scurrying for cover, or at least I assumed so since no serious candidates emerge to ask for her hand. Oh, did I tell you that Worth has a hobby? He makes snuff. Isn’t that adorable? Of course it may be the Regency equivalent of watching the History Channel in your underwear while spilling popcorn over the sofa, but it impressed me.

Tell me about books you loved that you’ve reread. How did you react? Were you disappointed? Which Heyer do you think I should try next?

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azteclady
13 years ago

I have read only a few Heyers, as an adult, and haven’t re-read any of them yet.

As for other books, I’ve re-read LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory so many times I think I could quote passages. Same with Maggie Osborne’s Silver Lining, Nora Roberts’ Born trilogy and many others. I have read most of Asimov’s robot stories (particularly the first three published Foundation novels) many, many times, and most of Jules Verne’s stories are frequent re-reads for me.

The books I keep reading again and again are those which both evoke a specific feeling in me, and in which I always discover something new–even in scenes I know by heart, if that makes any sense.

Diane Gaston
13 years ago

Gosh I’m lucky if I read a book once..

I’ve listened to more Heyer than I’ve read, thanks to a quite wonderful collection of Chivers audiotapes at my public library. I must admit that Regency Buck was not my favorite. And the one that really did not work for me was A Civil Contract. I also may be the only one in the world who did not fall in love with These Old Shades.

But the one I’d recommend for next is Venetia. That one’s my favorite.

Buy even the Heyers I did not care for I listened to more than once. Listening to those audiotapes, as well as Austen and any other period audiotapes they had (like the Sharpe series), helped me to develop my “Regency Voice.” Heyer’s language and dialogue is unsurpassed!!

Cara King
13 years ago

Actually, that green cover isn’t from the original edition, but from the Uniform Edition — the editions which were uniformly green and almost uniformly boring. (That one isn’t bad, though, barring the green…)

Regency Buck was never my favorite Heyer. In fact, it doesn’t even make top 20. I thought the hero was a jerk — grabbing the heroine about, kissing her, and when she got mad telling her how pretty she looked — grrr. And the implication that it wasn’t so bad because he took her for a middle-class girl… Not my sort of thing.

Anyway. Sorry. That book has always sort of irritated me, as you might guess. 🙂

I do reread a lot of Heyer, and the ones I reread stand up very well. Venetia, Black Sheep, Cotillion, Frederica, Friday’s Child — those, and some others, I can read over and over again.

And generally the parts that annoy me are the same parts that annoyed me the first time — like the helpless heroine in April Lady.

As to which Heyer you should try next — hmm. Todd and I just reread Sylvester, and that was quite nice. The Unknown Ajax, too, plus all those I listed above, I think all stand up very well…

Cara

Carol
13 years ago

I first read Heyer at 15 (the father of one of my classmates collected her and we devoured his entire set). I now own almost all of her titles, and I always enjoy re-reading Slyvester and The Tollboth.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

I haven’t re-read a Heyer in a long time, but I might have to if the holidays get too stressful! My fave was always “Frederica.” I love hearing which ones everyone else loved, so thanks for this post, Janet!

I recently had to move some books around, and found a Cartland I had loved when I was about 9 (I thought it was the height of romance back then!). I sat down to try and re-read it, but that was a mistake. I think my taste has changed a wee bit in the umpteen years since then!

Elena Greene
13 years ago

I used to love to reread but with a growing TBR list, I do it less often than I used to.

I find that although I enjoy a good plot, what I read for more is characterization. So knowing the plot doesn’t spoil anything.

Funny that your aunts picked Regency Buck as the favorite. I know some others who love it but I’m a bit like Cara. There are so many I like better!

My Heyer comfort re-reading list would include Frederica, Venetia, Sylvester, The Nonesuch and The Unknown Ajax.

Janet Mullany
13 years ago

Just come back from xmas shopping, aargh. I never realized I liked my family so much. After I’d read a few more Heyers I didn’t know why my aunts liked Regency Buck so much. But it was my first, so I re-broke my cherry with it this time!

Cara, I think Worth is meant to come over as aristocratic and autocratic, but I didn’t see him that way this time. First, he nicknames Judith “Clorinda,” during the initial sexual harassment scene. Other than seeming like the name of a cosmetic line, it’s a very romantic, nymphs and shepherds type name. I felt a lot of his high handedness was because he was clearly out of his depth. Here he was, happily hanging out with the boys, mixing snuff (aaaw!), and playing with his toys (horses and yachts) and apparently it never occurred to him to secure his own succession. And then he falls in love with a dumb blonde bimbo and honor prevents him from doing anything about it.

Eventually he has to settle for the sister of the object of his affections, and–oops. I don’t think that’s what Heyer meant but I found Perry more attractive than Judith–he was much more emotionally open, if frequently dumb. I found Judith a cold fish.

The books I keep reading again and again are those which both evoke a specific feeling in me, and in which I always discover something new–even in scenes I know by heart, if that makes any sense.

Absolutely, azteclady. I’m rereading Kate Ross.

Lois
13 years ago

Well, I’ve only read one Heyer, and the only reason why I haven’t read more is because a) never sure what to try next and b) it looks like most of them that are the new rereleases are trade paperbacks, and I always have to limit what I can buy so browsing hers go down the list.

But anyway, I definitely reread in general. I reread because I feel like revisiting something I loved, or sometimes if a few books in a row that just seemed blah to me or not all that spectacular, I reread an old favorite to just make sure it’s not just me and the wrong moods for those previous ones. When I first started reading romances a few years ago, I always avoided rereading because I just figured I have plenty of new ones to get to. After maybe two years of that, I said, ah, who cares, the new ones will be there just like the older ones, so what does it matter if I read or reread. And definitely have been rereading plenty more for the past couple of months since we definitely haven’t been able to get to the stores, poohy economy and all. Though because of that I probably should push myself to reading the books I haven’t yet. LOL

But seeing how I’m not really someone who gets rid of books (unless I truly disliked it) sure have plenty to reread, no question about that!! 🙂

Lois

Renee
13 years ago

I’ve never read Heyer. I was actually at the bookstore today and eyed them, wondering if I should take a chance.

I think I’m going to ask for one for Christmas.

Renee

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

Venetia is always a good choice. As is The Quiet Gentleman. The Grand Sophy isn’t bad either.

I have reread Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous again and again. As I have Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels and the Divine One’s The Mysterious Miss M. Reread The Rules of Gentility just because it was so much fun!

I read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sound and the Fury and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil once a year without fail.

Reread Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty recently and I still love it. Silly, I know, but there it is.

zara hemla
13 years ago

I love Heyer. I have read “Devil’s Cub” about a zillion times. Regency Buck is great fun, I think. My favorite part is where Judith decides she’s going to race Perry to (Bath?) in her own curricle and halfway there, Worth catches up with her. Hijinks!

My favorite Heyers are “Faro’s Daughter,” “The Grand Sophy,” “Sylvester,” and “The Masqueraders.” Among many others. They are all fantastic, honestly.

Cara King
13 years ago

I think I’m going to ask for one for Christmas.

Renee — make sure it’s a good one! 🙂

There are various lists around of people’s favorite Heyers… Looking at what’s in print right now, I’d recommend any of these:

BLACK SHEEP
FARO’S DAUGHTER
THESE OLD SHADES
COTILLION
FRIDAY’S CHILD

Also good are FALSE COLOURS and DEVIL’S CUB (though that is in some ways a sequel to THESE OLD SHADES).

I would NOT recommend THE BLACK MOTH or LADY OF QUALITY or CHARITY GIRL or SIMON THE COLDHEART or ROYAL ESCAPE, not to start with, anyway. (And even COTILLION is more fun after having read several other Heyers…)

Cara

azteclady
13 years ago

I’ve tried to read Devil’s Cub twice, and could never get into it… I wonder if I would be one of those people who don’t enjoy These Old Shades… (which I haven’t found anywhere)

Oh, and I really liked The Tollhouse

Megan Frampton
13 years ago

My faves are Faro’s Daughter and the Nonesuch, but when I was growing up (and rereading ALL THE TIME), I read Frederica and Friday’s Child a lot.

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
13 years ago

I’m with Diane in that I could disliked “A Civil Contract” (I found nothing romantic about it) and could never warm to “These Old Shades”. I loved “Black Sheep” and very much liked “Sylvester”. The former has one of the funniest meet cute scenes, and the evolution of the hero in the latter is quite poignant (compare the scenes with his mother at the beginning and end of the book).

There are a number of books I reread regularly, but lately I’ve tried to be good and reduce the enormous size of my TBR pile, only partially successfully. I did sneak in a reread of Mary Chase Comstock’s “Fortune’s Mistress”, an older trad Regency that I’d only read once before. I found I liked it better this time, which surprised me a bit. It’s a realistic portrait of the aftermath of a society miss’s seduction. She becomes a high class courtesan but leaves London when she finds herself with child. Since it is a romance, she finds love and a HEA in her little village hideaway. I thought it particularly touching to see her interactions with her sister and how she’s had to distance herself and meet in secret so that she doesn’t damage her sister’s reputation as well.

In a few weeks I’m off to Vietnam to visit one of my sons who is supposedly working there (although in reality he’s having a young-man-without-responsibilities type of adventure). I’m dreading the 24+ hour trip to get there and back, but it will give me the opportunity to read many, many books.

Todd
13 years ago

There are several Heyers that I’ve reread multiple times. In addition to some of the ones Cara mentioned, I particularly like The Grand Sophy, Faro’s Daughter, and The Unknown Ajax. There are a number of Heyers I haven’t read yet, but I still go back and reread my favorites from time to time.

I have frequently heard people complain of having reread a book that they loved when they were younger and being disappointed; but it hasn’t happened to me very often. Admittedly, I don’t have as much time to read as I once did, so I reread less often; and I probably instinctively avoid rereading books I think might not measure up. But the ones I most loved I usually still love upon rereading, and often discover new things to love about them.

For instance, the first time or two that I read The Lord of the Rings I raced through The Two Towers–it was a “middle book,” and I wanted to get to the exciting stuff at the end. But in a later rereading I realized how brilliant it was, and how much there was to savor.

Todd-who-needs-a-second-life-just-to-keep-up-with-his-reading