Georgette Heyer: The Queen of Historical Romance
I have always adored Georgette Heyer. She is the undisputed queen (and inventor) of the genre of Regency romance. Heyer loved Jane Austen and much that she wrote, and the ironic tone that she wrote it in, was as a direct result of that admiration. But Heyer wrote in the 1920s, until the 1970s and what she wrote was given the title ‘historical fiction’ and was not taken seriously. The tone could be found in writers contemporaneous to Heyer, or just before. Saki, the great humorous short story writer, playwright Oscar Wilde, as well as the more obviously silly PG Wodehouse, would certainly have been able to appreciate what she did. But Heyer wrote romance, read predominately by women, and was subsequently not considered as a literary entity at all.
Nowadays, her talent is appreciated by many. The genius and wit Stephen Fry unveiled the blue plaque that now graces her house. Many more ‘literary’ writers have admitted their devotion. There is a slight problem. Heyer wrote to keep her large extended family, who became the genteel poor when her father died. And sometimes, therefore, she retold a story, or put some retread on a favourite character and gave them a new name. Such were the necessities of her life.
It is apparent to me that those of us who visit charity/thrift shops will never find a lone GH book. There will be a set of them, from the home of someone who treasured then, but is now gone. We hold on to books that make us laugh, and though she herself did not take this talent seriously, GH definitely makes us laugh. Even if we know the story, we will revisit a book for its ability to make us laugh. Hence the sets of treasured and dog-eared books that will appear in thrift shops.
Everyone in my genre owes a debt to GH, it would not exist without her. I try to eradicate the Heyer-ness from my books (Heyer-speak, I mean) but I never succeed. As a writer more akin to Heyer or Austen than the erotic writers of Regency, I will write again of my useless attempts not to be a pastiche of the Grande Dame of Regency romance. It is quite useless to try. For as well as the wit, Heyer understood what real relationships were about. Not just attraction, beauty, wealth and status (though all these things are of such importance at that time, and are now – Melanie Trump comes to mind), but that indefinable spark that can allow us to share ourselves. Finding faults in the other that make us laugh instead of being angry. Letting the other discover, in your opinion of them, some aspects of themselves that are good, or that need a change of heart. In Heyer books, and probably in her life, this is done by humour.
‘My good opinion, once lost…’ says Mr Darcy in P&P, and Elizabeth makes a mocking response that shocks him, but makes him self-reflective. In the same way, Sophy (of The Grand Sophy) laughs away her cousin Charles’ angry order: ‘In the future, Sophy, you will please me by…’ he tells her masking his anger in cold politeness. I’m paraphrasing Sophy’s wonderful response: ‘Thank you. I don’t suppose I ever will wish to please you in the future Charles, but it is good to know what will, just in case.’
But though famous for her wit, she understands real, true romance, of a kind that lasts a lifetime.
If you have not yet read this fountain of wit and romance, I envy you. You have all the favourites from the tips, and many others to discover. Enjoy…. I was so happy when my book ended up in a Georgette Heyer sandwich on the Amazon bestseller Lists. It went much higher, but this was the biggest thrill!
Georgette Heyer’s 20 tips for attracting a Georgian or Regency Gentleman
Are you a Heyer fan? Can you spot the Books /heroines?