Who was Georgette Heyer?

This week we start our discussion of Georgette Heyer’s Venetia, led by Carolyn. I’ve already read the first seven chapters and then some.

Georgette Heyer, 1902-1974, is credited with creating the Regency Romance, even now the most popular historical romance genre. Heyer’s first book came about when she was 19. She created The Black Moth, a Georgian story, as a way to entertain an ill brother. It was the start of a wonderful career of writing both Georgian/Regency novels and mysteries.

Heyer tended to depreciate the importance of her works. She wrote of one of her books to her editors:

“I think myself I ought to be shot for writing such nonsense, but it’s questionably good escapist literature and I think I should rather like it if I were sitting in an air-raid shelter, or recovering from flu. Its period detail is good; my husband says it’s witty—and without going to these lengths, I will say that it is very good fun.”

Reviewers also did not take her work seriously, dismissing her books as “froth.”

Still, Heyer was very serious about crafting her works. Her historical novels were based on impeccable research and her interpretation of the Regency world has formed the basis of the traditional regency genre (in my opinion), even though we now know Heyer did not always get it right and, to ferret out plagiarists, she is known to have inserted historical facts of her own creation.

Heyer was married to a mining engineer turned barrister. She had one son (who became a judge). She was an intensely private person. No book tours and publicity appearances for her.

The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge is a lovely biography of Heyer’s life. You can read her introduction here.

One of the vignettes Hodge writes of was how carefully Heyer researched the battle of Waterloo for An Infamous Army, claiming, for instance, that all of Wellington’s dialogue in the book was actually spoken or written by him. Around the time Heyer wrote An Infamous Army, she took her young son to the National Army Museum in Chelsea where Siborne diorama of the Waterloo battle is displayed. As she stood there explaining the battle to her son, a crowd gathered to listen, amazed that this mere woman spoke so knowledgeably. Little did they know they were in the presence of greatness!

In my 2005 trip to London we visited the National Army Museum. As I examined the diorama, I thought of Heyer explaining the battle to her son. The difference was, I knew I was standing where a great woman had stood.

I cannot wait to begin our discussion of Venetia!!! Be sure to join us for it!

What do you know of Georgette Heyer’s life? If you could, what would you like to ask her?

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12 years ago

What a wonderful post, Diana! I’m going to be tracking down that bio. I find myself fascinated by Heyer.

I wonder if Heyer really believed in her deprecation of herself. So many women in history wrote of themselves and their endeavors in just such a way so as to avoid being accused of trying to be like a man.

I’m looking forward to our Heyer discussion, too. Woot!!

12 years ago

All I’ve learned about Georgette Heyer I’ve learned here at Riskies. I’m well past my seven chapters for this week, and thoroughly enjoying it. I don’t know as there’s a particular question I’d like to ask as much as I’d like to sit with her for an hour or two or three and chat.

Miranda Neville
12 years ago

Great post Diana.
I’m sure Heyer was constantly being asked when she was going to write a “real book” and was doubtless defensive about it. I was reading her in England in the 60s and 70s and got a lot of grief from people for reading trash. Only recently has she achieved respectability, even being featured on BBC radio’s Book at Bedtime.

Much of Wellington’s Waterloo dialog was taken from the Creevey papers. I read An Infamous Army first and was entertained to recognize so much of it in Creevey.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Heyer did aspire to write a “real” book. She did meticulous research on John Plantagenet and aspired to write a fictionalized story of his life. She never completed it. My Lord John was published posthumously and would have been the first volume of the story.

Here’s more about that: http://britishfiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/georgette_heyers_my_lord_john

12 years ago

Great post, Diana. I can’t wait to read along with all of you. I just hope I can keep up.

I would love to ask her that if she were writing today, would she change her style or keep to Georgian and Regency or would she have ventured further within the romance genre as so many authors are doing today?

I understand that her writing and approach was, in a way, reflective of the times she lived in but still I can’t help but wonder – what if….

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

If Heyer were writing today, we might ask her if she would write a sexy Regency!

I’d probably ask her if I could borrow her research notebooks so I could Xerox them!

12 years ago

Oh, this looks like fun. I have this vague sense I already read it but it will be fun to read along. Unfortunately my local book store is out of stock so it will take me a few days to catch up.

Louisa Cornell
12 years ago

What a lovely post, O Divine One! I would love to have afternoon tea with Heyer and simply talk about the Regency era and what she believed the fundamental elements of her novels to be.

I love her romances, but her mysteries have always intrigued me, so tightly written and spun out.

Jane Holland
12 years ago

I’d ask why she never wrote a sequel to Venetia, telling us Aubrey’s story. I’m sure he must have fallen in love with some elusive bluestocking at some point, and ended up writing love poetry in Greek to her …

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Louisa, O Doggie One, may I join you and Georgette for tea?

And, Jane, what a great question to ask!

Oh, Mary C, I hope you can get a book soon. I’m sure you will have a hard time putting it down. You’ll catch up.

Jane Holland
12 years ago

Venetia is my favourite of her novels, though Sylvester and the Grand Sophy run very close to it. Then there’s the marvellous Faro’s Daughter – my mother used a similar idea in Love Is A Frenzy (1979) – Powder and Patch, The Masqueraders, The Corinthian and Regency Buck.

Such a talented writer, and so amazingly prolific. Required reading for anyone interested in romance!

Janet Mullany
12 years ago

I don’t know that I would have liked Heyer too much. I think we would both have been extremely conscious of our respective social class and the gap between us.

Santa, your question is really good!

12 years ago

I was never a big romance reader until just recently and may have heard of Georgette Heyer in passing. It was only this past summer that I discovered her. Recently, there has been much more about her on the blogs and in the general press. I’ve noticed her mystery novels, which were probably contemporary stories for her, are also being reissued. I need to read these and many more of her Regencies.

Cara King
12 years ago

Ooh, I love the Jane Aiken Hodge bio…great fun, as well as really illuminating.

If I could ask Heyer something, I’d ask her to play piquet with me! Then I’d see if she was weak in her discards, as her heroine is in Faro’s Daughter, or whether she was as good at cards as one of Heyer’s heroes. 🙂

Actually, that makes me think — long ago I came up with a Heyer theory which stated that she clearly felt her heroes had to be stronger than her heroines. I’d ask her if she did it because the audience demanded it, or because she just thought it was more romantic that way…


Jane Holland
12 years ago

Cara, I disagree with that theory! In most of her best books, the heroine is stronger than the hero, at least in terms of being the driver and the intelligence behind the romance. Courage, in particular, is a strength. Faro’s daughter, weak in her discards maybe, but she had the man tied up in her cellar, and she sent Ravenscar back the deeds to the house when she could have kept them. In The Masqueraders, the heroine is an adventurer dressed as a man for more than two thirds of the book. Venetia is the one who insists that the relationship continue, flying quite in the face of conventional thought and mores by visiting Damerel alone, clearly with the intention of staying the night!

Some less popular novels had more problematic heroines. The Toll-Gate, where she hardly figures. A Civil Contract, where the class difference between them is painful – though she’s still a very strong, if reserved character, and more than a match for the hero.

But I’d be interested in seeing that theory explained and expanded … 😉

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Oh I can see we are going to have good debates when we discuss Venetia! Jane Holland, I hope you are with us for that!

Cara, I would love to watch that game of piquet.(g)
And I would love to discuss Heyer’s books with her, like we writers do. I wonder what she would say about strength of her heroes.

librarypat, I’m glad I’m not the only one in the world who came to Heyer late. I would have loved her books when I was young, the same way I loved Victoria Holt, if only someone had told me about them. I started reading her about 10 years ago and have not read them all.

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Janet, the bio says that Heyer’s maternal grandparents owned tug boats on the Thames. That doesn’t sound too high to me.
But I guess we American born Americans cannot fully understand the class system in the UK.

I think you and Heyer would have difficulty because she would recognize in you a talent as considerable as her own!

Beth Elliott
12 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Cara King
12 years ago

Ooh, Jane, what a great debate topic!

I’m not great at detailed debates online, so I’ll just say that (a) you make interesting points, (b) it’s possible I mean something different by ‘stronger’ than you do (I think of it in this context at least somewhat as having a forceful personality, being right, being confident, etc)…

I think one thing that led me to my theory was some of her “outlier” books– especially Bath Tangle and The Foundling…. My theory being that the heroine in the former was so strong (forceful, confident, etc) that the hero had to be an absolute beast to be stronger than her….and the hero in the latter was so mild that the heroine had to be an absolute wimp in order to be milder than him…

(who is looking forward to tomorrow’s discussion!)

Elizabeth Hanbury
12 years ago

Hello all *waves*

I found Risky Regencies a while back via Nicola Cornick’s blog and I’m so glad I did – you guys do a fabulous job. I plan a quick visit here and half an hour later, I’m still reading lol!

I’m a long time Heyer fan and spotted this entry on Venetia, a favourite of mine among her novels and one we have discussed in the GH reading group I’m a member of.

You might like to know that Naxos audiobooks have just released Venetia, read by the delectable British actor Richard Armitage (of North and South fame). I can highly recommend it. It’s abridged, which is a pity, but Richard Armitage reading abridged GH is better than none at all! He’s already done Sylvester and The Convenient Marriage is due for release later in the year *happy sigh*
Hope you enjoy your group read and check out Mr. Armitage’s delicious Lord Damerel if you get the chance :0)

Diane Gaston
12 years ago

Elizabeth! Richard Armitage as Damerel? I’m sure Amanda will perish. Megan, too.

Let me know when Gerard Butler does a Heyer audio book!

I listened to most of the Heyer books that I’ve “read.” I listened to them on Chivers Audio books, which I heartily recommend as well. Not Richard Armitage, maybe, but very well done.

(thank you for your kind words about Riskies, too)

Elizabeth Hanbury
12 years ago

You’re very welcome, Diane – RR is a great blog :0)

LOL not aware of GB voicing Heyer yet! I’ve heard the Chivers audiobooks too and most are very good. Don’t get me started on how Vidal sounds in Devil’s Cub though … ;0)

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