When interviewers used to ask who my inspirations for writing were, I’d say, “Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Parker.” I think that’s still pretty accurate. I loved the liquidity of their writing, the smooth flow of words that let the emotions flow through, the fun of the story over the depth of the meaning. And I loved their humor, not obvious slapstick jokey stuff but subtle plays of language and character, the way they both looked clear-eyed at the insanity of their societies. The difference between them? Parker was acidic, scathingly funny in her indictments but with a sharp edge. Heyer was softer, wrapping everything in the promise of a happy ending for her emotionally healthy characters. They both wrote at roughly the same time although Heyer set her romances in the past, but Parker sat back with her cutting edge while Heyer leaned in and laughed her way through bouncing love stories. I wondered at one time if that wasn’t because Parker was American and Heyer was British, but I’m sure it was also just part of their personalities. Somebody once described Parker as a cross between Little Nell and Lady Macbeth, while Heyer always seemed to me to be the embodiment of one of her book titles: a Lady of Quality. Of the two, which one do I reread? Heyer, of course. If I’m needing a reread, I want that happy ending.
Georgette Heyer wrote her first novel at nineteen and never looked back. At twenty-nine she decided that publicity was a waste and stopped giving interviews; my take on that is that by then everybody knew who she was since she was immensely popular. In 1932, she wrote her first mystery, Footsteps in the Dark, which she later asked her publisher to stop reprinting because she didn’t like it. (I would stop Sizzle from being reprinted if I could [I can’t] so I have big Heyer envy here.). Or as Heyer put it, “I do not claim it as a major work,” which is reassuring because it’s the one mystery of hers I don’t like. She also wrote a book she knew her publishers would dislike–Penhallow–because she wanted them to refuse it to get out of a contract (this is a bad idea). Aside from those two, Heyer is a reliably good writer, and an especially good reread.
My favorites have fluctuated over the years, but for right now, in no particular order . . .
The Grand Sophy will always be on my faves list, with its spectacular protagonist (I named the heroine of Welcome to Temptation after her) and nicely twisty romance plot. Mostly it’s great because Sophy is so active and Charles is so strong that their conflicts are always between two equals. Plus there’s the family of vivid personalities and that need to see things put right for them, which Sophy sails in and does with great flair. Big caveat: There’s a scene of rabid anti-Semitism when Sophy goes to see a money-lender to save Hubert; I skip that part. The rest of the book is pure gold, especially Sophy’s Rube-Goldberg plan to rearrange all the romantic entanglements at the end. It also has one of my favorite romance lines of all time, underscoring the unspoken romance between Sophy and Charles; when a friend of Sophy’s says, “. .. heaven preserve me from marriage with her,” another friend says, “If heaven did not, I fancy Rivenhall would.” It’s that kind of observation from outside that reinforces how strong the attraction is.
The Talisman Ring is a romance that puts the young, gorgeous, romantic couple in the subplot and focuses on the older man and woman who have lost their illusions (the woman cheerfully embracing her freedom) and then find their soulmates in each other. The story is full of adventure with Heyer’s usual great and varied characters including a great Bad Guy, but it’s the wit and intelligence of the romance between Sarah and Tristram that brings me back; his proposal at the end is one my favorites; her reply to that proposal is my absolute favorite.
Cotillion is fun to read unless you’re a romance writer; then it’s a revelation and a role model in how to arc a love story. Kitty is in love with her cousin Jack, but . . . you know what? If you haven’t read this yet, I’m not going to give anything away because the thing I remember most about the first time I read this is that I had the same emotional arc that Kitty did as she fell in love. And the book has another Heyer perfect ending.
False Colours is about twins (I know, I know), one of whom goes missing right before his engagement party, so his brother, identical in almost every way, steps in and meets his twin’s fiancee in the midst of her family, fast on his feet because he’s smart, careful, and a diplomat. Problem is, the fiancee is a darling and not at all sure she wants to marry the twin until she meets our hero . . . It’s one of those stories that could be a Big Misunderstanding and never is because Kit and Cressy are too smart for that and too good for each other. It’s another in the Heyer series of quiet lovers; while drama rages around them, they just look at each other with clear eyes and fall in love.
Fredrica has one of the best subtle romance arcs I’ve ever read. Our heroine is trying to get her extremely beautiful younger sister into a secure marriage, and calls on a distant relative (very distant) in hopes that his wife will introduce the sister to society. Unfortunately for her but fortunately for the plot, the distant relative–handsome, powerful, and rich as all hell–is not married, but fortunately his encroaching sisters have been pressuring him to give a ball for their daughters; one look at the lovely little sister and our hero agrees to help as payback to his sisters since the younger sister’s extraordinary beauty will dominate the ball. It’s a thin-end-of-the-wedge plot; once he says yes to the ball, he’s increasingly drawn into the family’s turmoil: the youngest son’s thirst for scientific knowledge and experience and catastrophe, the middle son’s passion for horses and over-conscientiousness, the family dog’s penchant for trouble, and the older sister’s . . . well, everything about the older sister. Like The Grand Sophy, this one is all about a big family that just needs a little help. Plus there’s that dog. Any book is better with a dog (see also Arabella).
Heyer wrote over fifty books, bless her, so this doesn’t even begin to showcase her talents. (See The Unknown Ajax, Black Sheep, Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle, Friday’s Child, Venetia . . . ). I highly recommend Georgette Heyer for comfort rereads in romance.
Note: The Book Club Review’s essay on Heyer asks a great question: If you were a Heyer heroine, which one would you be? (Me: The Grand Sophy, hands down.). (They also ask which hero you’d choose, but since Heyer is a master of the competence porn hero, it’s just too hard to choose.)
79 thoughts on “Argh Re-Reads: Georgette Heyer”
My first Heyer was The Talisman Ring, when I was twelve. Fan for life. Thanks for your thoughts, those are also my favorites most of the time. Dogs always improve a book.
It may have been my first one, too, at about the same age, although I don’t remember. It could just as easily have been The Reluctant Widow. My mother had read those over and over, so I knew they would be good reads
I need to give Heyer another try. I loved The Grand Sophie (minus the scene you mentioned) but whichever one I picked up next didn’t start as fast, and I don’t think I made it very far in. Heyer was one of my Grandma’s favorites.
Sophy doesn’t even arrive until Chapter Three. Heyer really does have slow starts. The Talisman Ring is another one. It takes FOREVER to get to Sarah’s entrance.
Yes, and I think Sarah is the heroine I would want to be. Or Venetia. Or Deborah in Faro’s Daughter.
I love Venetia and Deborah too! I love both of those books and can reread them over and over.
Footsteps in the Dark. After I read it the first time, every time I try to re-read it to see what’s wrong with it I give up because I’m too bored. Penhallow, however, makes me laugh out loud all the way through. She’s digging a very sharp satirical quill into the style of dark grim novel that was so popular between the wars. There are no likeable characters At All, and almost everyone has a motive for the murder. I can just hear her thinking “What can I do to make it worse?”
Frederica was the first one I read. In sixth grade. It’s almost my favorite, but I can’t choose a favorite. The Grand Sophy, The Nonesuch, Arabella, The Unknown Ajax, Venetia, False Colours, Sprig Muslin? Should I stop now?
A Civil Contract? Cotillion? No, I can’t stop.
You hit all of my faves, esp. Cotillion, The Unknown Ajax (Hugo is an amazing non-Hero hero), and Arabella.
Almost like an initiation into an intellectual women’s clique, a high school teacher gave me a bunch of titles of books which I was to find and read. (This was at boarding school; the teacher was only a couple of years older than I was.) The list included Heyer’s These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub, as well as Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel, Edith Hull’s The Sheik, and Yeatman and Sellar’s 1066 & All That. I loved the Heyers and collected as many as I could find. At the same time I was foolishly embarrassed to be reading such silly stuff.
After boarding school Heyer made her way around my college dorm. I was surprised to find that Arabella and Cotillion were friends’ favorites until I realized my friends were petite brunettes. I identified with the tall, forthright heroines like Deb Grantham and Sarah Thane. I was tall, too.
Times change and my favorites Heyers have varied over the years. Nowadays I’m most likely to reread The Reluctant Widow, The Quiet Gentleman. I admire the heroines who are good at what they do.
On another track, I like the fullblown wild characters: Lady Denville and Sir Bonamy Ripple in False Colours and Ermyntrude Carter and her daughter Vicky in No Wind of Blame.
If I wanted to, I could blast Heyer for the cruel inequities of the world her characters inhabit. Religious bigotry and racism are the norm, as is the assumption that some people are naturally of a higher standing than others: for example, Léonie’s fingers indicate that she is of aristocratic background.
I think those assumptions exist in Heyer’s work, as does the corollary that good people rise above the meanness of others and promote the general welfare: Arabella in her eponymous book (I’ve always wanted to use that term!) and Sir Waldo in The Nonesuch come to mind. Very white, Protestant ideals.
But I love Georgette Heyer’s books. She includes the detailed description that I adore (and which proves that she is writing fairy tales). Her characters are tons of fun and her plots are incredible. Just follow the man in the catskin waistcoat.
Eek, I didn’t mean that Heyer was showing ideals held by all “white Protestants.” I meant that there were accepted outlooks by white Protestants in the US and Britain in the same era as Dorothy Sayers, for example, that are no longer accepted.
My favorites have also changed over the years. I used to like the feisty heroines, but the last time I read Faro’s Daughter, I found myself in sympathy with the aunt instead. I still treasure the humor of this one, but I re-read A Civil Contract – which did nothing for me as a teen.
Which hero you would marry is an interesting question. Harder than I thought, but so far, I am going with Jack from the Tollgate.
I wouldn’t have thought of Jack at first, but you may be on to something. My favorite bits include: His defense of his bride to her grandfather who says “She’ll do as she’s bid!”, saying, “She will do as she wishes, now and always!” And also when “he had received his leveller at last.”
Oh, yeah. Jack is awesome.
Oh the pleasures I’ve had from Heyer over the years….starting in high school, reading every one I could get my hands on. Then over the years, through adulthood, rereading all the best ones. Some I’ve never picked up again, some I’ve memorised. Especially useful when a comfort read is required.
I’ve read very few in the last many years (the audiobook of The Grand Sophy, plus Envious Casca and Duplcate Death being the exceptions) but they are so fresh in my mind whenever they pop up on blogs and podcasts.
All those dog-eared Pan papberbacks on my shelves. Patiently ready for me.
Lucky you! The 2 Pan paperbacks I brought back from London are now shedding their pages.
Strange coincidence. I brought back two Pan Heyers from London in 1973. (Along with quite a few D.E. Stevensons.) They are not completely shedding, but they are frail.
Now I want to start a massive reread. I think the last time around, my favorite was so strongly Fredericka that I bought the book so that I could reread it whenever I wanted, instead of hoping for library luck.
I loke that: Library Luck.
One of my friends once very kindly said I reminded her of Venetia, but if I were to model myself on any Heyer heroine it would be Antonia in Death in the Stocks. Very much enjoyed your article 🙂
I love Heyer. I think I found her [and Wodehouse!] during my (nasty, brutish, short) years of teaching. I may love These Old Shades Devil’s Cub more than the rest, but it’s hard to say.
I’m with Sarah–time to start a massive reread. I’m currently trapped in Stephanie Plum land (it’s work, honest–how Evanovich manages certain series arc questions) but reading this made me remember how much I love Heyer. And Rosamund Pilcher. And I enjoyed the Bridgerton books and still have them. And…and…and.
When life feels crazy, I turn to Rosamund Pilcher’s Winter Solstice as my comfort read and to an abridged (ack!) Arabella narrated by Richard Armitage (what a voice!). Balm.
When life makes me mad, I turn to Agnes. Empowering.
I gave up on the Plum series at about 13-14 but goodness, you have to admire someone who can churn out moneymakers even if they don’t work for me.
Imagine you’re an aging male Science Fiction Geek. The kind who gets a cameo in Bimbos of the Death Sun. How then is one to come to appreciate Heyer?
In my case, it was a fanatical devotion to all things Lois McMaster Bujold. She dedicated A Civil Campaign to Heyer and talked about her inspiration in her conference on Baen’s Bar. So, my first Heyer was A Civil Contract, which I adored.
I no longer recall the exact sequence that led me to Jennifer Crusie, but Baen’s Bar was in there, and author/fan Virginia DeMarce, and Smart Bitches, and anyway, it’s another Fanatical Devotion. But one cannot be a Crusie fan without exposure to Heyer and Austen and others. I acquired Georgette Heyer’s Greatest Hits which included “The Grand Sophie”, “Arabella”, and “Fredericka”. I think I downloaded all my Austen from The Gutenberg Project, home of over 60K free ebooks.
So, yes, I’m a fan of romance and Heyer and Austen as well as Science Fiction and Fantasy and Mysteries and Westerns… my horizons have been forcibly broadened.
I got the ‘Greatest Hits’ download too. 🙂 Also the ‘Early Georgette’ which … will not be re-reading any of those. LOL
It’s interesting to think about the commonalities there. My first genre passion (in junior high and high school) was SF, mystery in undergrad, and then romance in grad school, so I’m a fan of all those, too. Probably too wide to make comparisons, better with authors. What do Sheckley and Pratchett and Heyer have in common? Miss Marple and Allingham and Heyer (much easier).
May I just ask: who are you in BIMBOS? Clearly I’ll have to reread it.
I’m not actually in Bimbos, though I have been Tuckerized* in several novels and short stories. It’s just that the SF fans in that work stand out from the Fantasy fans as geekier than thou.
* Tuckerization is the act of using a person’s name in an original story as an in-joke. The term is derived from Wilson Tucker, a pioneering American science fiction writer, fan and fanzine editor, who made a practice of using his friends’ names for minor characters in his stories.
I was thinking I’d have to re-read Bimbos. 😉 I may have to re-read it anyway.
Hmm. I *am* an aging male science fiction geek. And I also love almost everything Lois McMaster Bujold has ever written. But I didn’t discover Heyer until I discovered Argh.
I discovered Jenny (and thus Argh) via a used bookstore where I was looking for something for my mother-in-law and I discovered a copy of Fast Women. It looked like something she might like and bought it and then read a couple of chapters just to make sure. After falling out of my chair laughing several times I proceeded to track down all the Jenny Crusie books I could find. Charlie All Night and Manhunting were the first romances I ever read.
And once I found Argh I discovered that most people here have really good taste in books! Crusie, Bujold, Wodehouse, Pratchett, etc. And they all seemed to love Heyer too. So I downloaded a few from Project Gutenberg. Regency Buck was the first one. I wasn’t that impressed but I later discovered that most people agree it was possibly the least of Heyer’s work. So I tried Sprig Muslin, which was better. But it wasn’t until I got to Frederica and The Unknown Ajax that I started to see what people were talking about.
Well, I appear to be mis-remembering, because the only Heyer on Project Gutenberg (which has out of copyright works only) appears to be The Black Moth and The Transformation of Phillip Jettan.
I don’t re-read GH frequently and haven’t read all of them by any means. Clearest in mind as Books I Liked were ‘Frederica’ and ‘Cotillion.’
Almost hesitate to say so but I didn’t love ‘The Grand Sophy.’ Charles is an alpha-male to the Nth power (short-tempered, a poor communicator, a chauvinist), Sophy is … a bit of a bully? And the ending was so farcical. Plus that whole pawnbroker thing. The book was fun, but there were a few too many things that I cringed at.
From the ‘Early GH’ download there is a book that was not a classic but memorable: ‘The Black Moth.’ It’s a Georgian romance, not a Regency, and begins with a portrait of the title character. I think GH must have been trying to make him the protagonist but she just gave up on him, so he became the flat-out Villain. The book has a nice primary romance and a terrific married couple as supporting characters.
Looking it up (out of idle interest and a few minutes free of Day Job) I see that ‘These Old Shades’ appears to be a reboot of ‘The Black Moth,’ with ‘Devil’s Cub’ a sequel to ‘Shades.’ Now I need to read those too.
I’ve never read The Black Moth (her first book) but I think the hero of These Old Shades is supposed to be the villain from The Black Moth (could be wrong). I know the hero of Devil’s Cub is the son of the lovers in These Old Shades. And then later there’s a book where the lovers from Devil’s Cub turn up briefly as the still devoted to each other parents (grandparents?) of the lovers, but for life of me I can’t remember that title. I think the heroine’s name was Barbara?
The one with Barbara and the pair of These Old Shades is her Waterloo book, An Infamous Army.
I have a long list of Heyer favorites. But I will say that over time I’ve found the rake heroes have lost their appeal.
My preferred Heyer heroes are probably the ones in The Quiet Gentleman, or The Unknown Ajax, who have handled some adverse circumstances well. Even Charles in The Grand Sophie who is far from perfect but is generous and handles his difficult parents while respecting their dignity. I used to love These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub, and I still like Mary, but now I think Vidal is an overgrown frat boy who disrespects women. I probably knew that 30 years ago but it didn’t bother me as much (although I have never liked frat boys IRL).
I have a fondness for The Black Moth, in part because she was so young when she wrote it.
The Black Moth – is that the one where the villain kidnaps the heroine intending to rape her, but she escapes? And then the hero goes after the villain and they fight with swords, then end up having a drink and a laugh together because they’ve worked out their differences and they’re both aristocrats and let’s not have any nasty ructions?
I really hated that ending.
I don’t know, I’ve never read it. Sounds horrible.
That was the one inspired, I think, by Beau Geste, and the first one she wrote when she was only about 19 or so. It shows.
The Black Moth — SPOILER — ends with a forced, uncomfortable dinner at which the beaten Duke Tracy has to host everyone else. Tracy actually loved Diana, so his loss in both the fencing match and in love to Jack further embitters him. Jack and his brother (Richard?) have to tell the truth about who had cheated in a card game in the past which had caused Jack to lose his reputation. Diana makes it clear to everyone that she loves Jack and detests Tracy.
The ending that Lian is referring to occurs in more than one of Heyer’s comic short stories. I understand her confusion.
My memory of THESE OLD SHADES is that she was basically using the villain and other characters from THE BLACK MOTH but changed the names for some reason. I don’t think I ever found out why. THESE OLD SHADES and DEVIL’S CUB are a really good time. The duke’s brother and his preoccupation with transporting the port he has obtained at the end of DEVIL’S CUB always make me laugh. Really, every scene with the duke’s brother makes me laugh.
Yes, the duke of Avon in These Old Shades does seem to be a slightly improved version of the Duke of Andover in The Black Moth. Funnily enough there is a man called Avon floating about in The Black Moth, the kind of character that is mentioned as being present at parties.
I know this because I tried to re-read the book last week for the first time in decades. But I only managed to flick through it. It really hasn’t aged well. It’s rather in the Orczy style. Present me can’t get on with that anymore. But as a teenager I adored it, so maybe it’s more my age than the book’s age that’s the problem.
There’s another early Heyer book that never seems to have been reprinted. It’s called The Great Roxhythe. I found a first edition once in a secondhand bookshop. That was bad even on a first read, though I was well into my twenties then. Nothing seems to happen in it. Roxhythe is devoted to Charles II, and the point of view character is devoted to Roxhythe. It goes on and on for years and years, and it ends with a deathbed scene. Looking at this description, it almost looks like a M/M romance triangle, but I don’t think they published that kind of thing in 1923, and Charles II doesn’t seem the right pick for that.
I lost the library copy in the middle, so I never got to finish it. It was boring, and I don’t find 17C history boring. I did want to finish it to find out if they were in love or just really devoted friends.
Oh, Roxhythe was UGH. I thought when I read it ‘this *could* have been a fun M/M’ but it missed by a mile as a fun anything.
The Great Roxhythe caused me to look up the Queen Mary Stuart who was the wife of King William — and in William and Mary College in the US. Roxhythe’s affection for the young Mary Stuart was sweet. Mary really was an engaging young woman whose marriage to the Dutch William of Orange / King William III of England was difficult. She tried to be a stalwart partner in the King/Queen/marriage deal, but it took a lot to convince William of her honest intentions. An ectopic pregnancy made her unable to have children. She died fairly young. I think Heyer was trying to make Roxhythe the honorable servant without thinking things out further; I think there isn’t a character arc.
I don’t remember that. But it has been decades since I read the book. Mary Stuart and William III were cousins of course. His mother, another Mary Stuart, was the eldest daughter of Charles I.
According to some accounts William *was* a king who was interested in M/M romance.
The problem for me with Heyer’s more-historical-than-romance books — like The Conqueror, Simon the Coldheart, The Great Roxhythe — is that she takes them too seriously. Heyer valued working on My Lord John highly; she felt forced to write romances and mysteries. Yet her attitude makes those more-historical-than-not books heavy and kind of listless for me. Where’s the fun? The historical characters aren’t colorful like her created ones.
I do like Beauvallet which I think of as Sabatini done right.
IIRC, Mary II died of smallpox, poor girl.
My fave Georgette is A Civil Contract, but I’m about to reread The Grand Sophy.
I read A Civil Contract as a teenager and didn’t think much of it. I read it again as an adult and thought it was brilliant.
I’m not sure which Heyer’s romance is my favorite – many of them are. Not mysteries though. I think it is time for a major Heyer re-read for me. I should stop ordering books from my library and concentrate on Heyer’s romances, all of which reside on my bookshelf.
I can remember that my best friend and I walked downtown every single Saturday and walked up and down the Main Street (it didn’t take long) and, of course, dawdled in the bookstore. There was a spinny rack right by the front door and every so often a new Georgette Heyer would appear. Oh, the joy! I envy my younger self getting to read those romances for the first time.
So many favorites that I go back to again and again. And scenes to reread just for the fun of it. I love Freddy seeing the Elgin marbles. The proposal scene in False Colors with the hero’s mother and her long time beau brings me pure joy — as do all the scenes with the two of them that follow. I love The Unknown Ajax — less for the romance than the hero.
And the Talisman Ring is a favorite for the romance. Of all the heroines, she is perhaps the one I would most like to be. She has such fun. Her first encounter with the hero is fabulous.
Or Druscilla of The Quiet Gentleman. Another favorite read. The first scene that really develops between the two of them where she convinces him what he should do with the epergne so brilliantly shows why they are perfect for each other.
So so many of her books to love. Which I do. She is simply brilliant at writing characters who are absolutely perfect for each other.
Another favorite of mine that I haven’t yet seen mentioned (I skimmed, so forgive me if you’ve mentioned it) is Sylvester. I love his arrogance, Phoebe’s impetuousness, and the set-down that love gives him. I love the ending when he’s pouring his heart out (rather inelegantly) to Phoebe as they’re in the carriage and she tells him “no thank you.” I also love, though, that he admits to his mother that he’s desperately in love with Phoebe. While is ego is immense at the beginning of the book, he doesn’t let it get in the way of love.
Heyer has been a constant in my reading life since I was about 12. Frederica was my favourite then, but now… The Grand Sophy, Friday’s Child, Talisman Ring, Venetia are all up there too. Wonderful use of language, the only author I know who uses the word animadvert regularly. And my sister and I, rather than driving around the block when waiting for someone say we will ‘tool the curricle’.
Also there’s a Georgette Heyer read-along on twitter for those who tweet.
I read Arabella when I was 12 and had run out of books and looked at the only shelf of novels beside my mother’s research books, and she said, “Those are too old for you.” So of course I HAD to read one. I was pretty confused for the first 20 pages or so of references to the Season and the ton and the previous generation’s fashions, but I got swept up and carried along.
I can’t name a favorite among so many — maybe The Unknown Ajax, for the sheer gutsiness of that last long set-piece in which Hugo directs the whole cast, quite possibly my favorite scene of anything ever. My mother’s favorite was Sylvester.
I have recommended her work to friends who haven’t liked it, which is the sort of thing that makes one question one’s friendships.
That scene! The Unknown Ajax is one of my favorites, of the many, but That Scene is my most favorite scene of all. Possibly in all of literature.
Oh, I love her. My Georgette Heyer story is that I was in therapy and every time I left my therapists office I would go to a nearby bookstore exhausted – because good therapy is exhausting – and buy a Georgette Heyer book. The new editions with the beautiful covers had just come out in Australia at the time and there was something chocolate-box perfect about them that made it exactly what I needed at the time. I could go home, disappear inside a book for a while and regroup.
I love her frothy, delightful books like Cotillion. I love her headstrong, forces of nature heroines like Sophy and Frederika. I especially love her books that are real and grown-up about the nature of relationships and marriage but still romantic and moving, like A Civil Contract.
Having re-read Heyer recently myself, I found new appreciation of some of her works. In Cotillion, the maturation of Freddy is well done. The balance with Kitty’s growth as well. Venetia’s clear eyed understanding and caring have always hit me. The unknown Ajax and his self knowledge and understanding are well displayed. I could go on myself. Right now I am in the middle of a science-fiction series but I’ll go back to her again sometime.
I think my first Heyer was ‘The Corinthian’ when I was around 14 or 15. Since than I’ve read and reread her ever since (60+ years). Whenever I want a gothic, I go to ‘Cousin Kate’. And, of course, my favorites are all losted here.
I’m currently re-reading The Quiet Gentleman, which is one that didn’t grab me when I first read it, but it’s grown on me as a romance. I cringe a little at Marianne’s subplot, but I love the way that the central romance is built up. It’s one where you have to look closely to see how the characters go from complete disinterest, to every time Heyer writes one of them , the other is there – they were playing chess together, or in the middle of an interrupted conversation, and it’s never made into a big deal. There’s a quiet appreciation.
Read or listened to Sprig Muslin most recently, love how she flips the whole intrepid runaway girl story. So many good Georgette Heyers, may be time for a re-read. As heroes go I liked Gil in Friday’s Child, He wasn’t destined for a brilliant career as they say, but he was level headed and much more sensible then his friends. Of all the people Kitten met, he was the one who went out of his way to help her the most.
The sequel to Devil’s Cub is An Infamous Army which is about Waterloo. I adored These Old Shades and it was my favourite for a long time, and let me tell you when Mary shot Dominic in Devil’s Cub I cheered. My favourites include: The Reluctant Widow, The Unknown Ajax, Frederica, The Quiet Gentleman….and then there are the detective novels, Envious Casca, Why Shoot a Butler?, Death in the Stocks, Duplicate Death, Detection Unlimited, I could go on and on.
All of the above, except I was in my forties before I discovered her— maybe through Jenny? Re-reading Heyer and reading Martha Wells for the first time got me through lockdown last year. I re-read Talisman Ring, Black Sheep, and Reluctant Widow most recently and all three were better than I remembered them, and I already liked them lots. Now I am inspired to read a few more.
The first Heyer I ever read was The Nonesuch, which I found in my high school library a few years after it was first published. I didn’t fully understand the context or a lot of the terminology (the Ton, a barouche, talking flummery, etc.) but I loved the way she moved story along through a mixture of dialogue, and gossip, plus social gatherings and an ongoing set of the protagonists’ inner thoughts and reactions to the society around them.
The Barbosa cover of the hardback was beautiful, and didn’t betray the fact that the novel inside was a (heaven forbid!) gooey romance, and it hooked me before I realized that. But I began searching out others by the same author in the County libraries, and soon realized I would find an endless set of comforting substitutes for the books that Jane Austen never got around to writing.
I must have read all of them dozens of times each over the years. I own them all, some in paperback, some in hardback, and now all of them in the new trade paperback series. My favorites are probably Sylvester, Venetia, Frederica, and Arabella. If I were any of her heroines, I’d probably be Phoebe, due to the whole mother thing and her sensitivity to people’s foibles and characteristics. If I could connect with any of her heroes, I think I’d best like Sir Gareth Ludlow, from Sprig Muslin. I admire his ethics and his patience, and like the fact that he’s not always showing off his perfect horses, special sorts of snuff, or his cravats and trousers. For me, liking Georgette Heyer is a sure sign of someone I could enjoy having as a friend.
I started reading Heyer either late in high school or early in college, not quite sure which, and went on a streak, as I often do when I find an author. THE BLACK MOTH might actually have been the first one that I read because I found out it was her first. Either that or REGENCY BUCK, neither of which did much for me although I thought they were OK. Then I started picking up the ones that looked more appealing and really enjoyed myself.
THE TALISMAN RING remains one of my favorites, but I haven’t read it in years. FREDERICA was one of the first of her romances I really loved. NO WIND OF BLAME for the hilarious characters. I read that one for the first time while I had a cold, and it was incredibly comforting. The murder mystery solution is absurd, but I love the characters enough to get over that. I have a soft spot for THESE OLD SHADES and DEVIL’S CUB.
I have only read ARABELLA once, and it probably won’t ever be a favorite, but I still vividly remember laughing every time Beaumaris decided to monologue his thoughts to the dog Arabella made him adopt. If I remember right, there were times his staff tried not to laugh while they heard him doing it. His relationship with that dog is truly my favorite thing about that book.
I first found Heyer when a local university bookstore was able to import UK paperback editions, and my cousin and I bought them as they came along. The first one I recall was FARO’S DAUGHTER, and from then on we never missed one. I still buy Mary any Heyer biographies that come out, and any rediscovered and reprinted short stories.
Last night I was looking at the reprints of the original Zorro short stories — if my brother doesn’t currently own them, I think I’ve found his birthday gift — and those, along with SCARAMOUCHE, THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, TARZAN, CONAN THE CIMMERIAN, PRISONER OF ZENDA, and a host of similar works featuring very Dashing Heroes having Many Improbably Adventures, were the milieu for THE BLACK MOTH. Of course, it’s as dated as the others.
I’m currently rereading A CIVIL CONTRACT, which wasn’t romantic enough for me when I first picked it up at age twenty, but of course is a completely different reading experience now.
I’m currently reading False Colours, which I don’t think I’ve read before. Enjoying it hugely. My favourites are probably The Grand Sophy and Faro’s Daughter – the scenes where the heroine imprisons the hero in the cellars are some of my favourites.
I’m finding that I have no patience for the ones where the heroine is very young and twitty, and gets into all sorts of trouble, and the hero waits patiently and maturely for her to grow up a little. I’ve come across a couple of them lately and couldn’t be bothered with them. Can’t remember the titles.
I was in love love love with Julian St John Audley for years. (Regency Buck). He was powerfully sexual and a bit aggressive for a Heyer hero and I was smitten with him for years. I even wanted to name my son Julian St John. Le sigh. I also loved Nell from April Lady. I could so relate to all the pickles she got into trying to cover up a White lie. And I loved all the domino constumes that could fool your own spouse! The big book I found utterly fascinating was These Old Shades. First off, I never heard the term shades for ghosts so I really didn’t get the meaning. Also, the Duke of Avon was like 40 and Leonie was 18 or so. Scandalous! Huge age difference for little ol me. But I loved that Duke so he was my first older man. Choosing a fav Heyer is like saying I favor one child more than another. Probably my least favorite was the William the Conqueror one. But still good and I loved the history part of it.
The Quiet Gentleman was first published in an (to me at that time) expensive glossy monthly magazine, I can’t remember the name of it now, but I spent most of my pocket money every month, and wishing it would be published every week. Like everyone else I have my favourites AND I like all of the mysteries, I’m an all round fan.
I too love The Talisman Ring. The cover illustrated above is beautiful, and it’s also totally wrong. It shows a dress of the 1850’s, while The Talisman Ring is set in the 1790’s. I can think of no greater contrast in clothes.
Am I the only one that finds These Old Shades creepy? She goes from servant to daughter to wife. While also being a pawn for revenge.
The character I’d most wish to have his own book is Gideon, the Duke’s cousin in The Foundling. Followed by Gil from Friday’s Child.
Doesn’t Gil get his true love at the end of Friday’s Child?
No, that’s George Wrotham.
Huh. Must reread.
Gil is described as ‘not a ladies man’
I think the first Heyer I read was Devil’s Cub. It remains a favourite, not for Dominic (he’s a total arse) but for Mary. She’s quiet and sensible and straitlaced like I was at that age, and I found her incredibly relatable. She also took no bullshit.
These days if I had to choose a favourite it would be Frederika, although The Grand Sophy and Faro’s Child and The Unknown Ajax are all equally wonderful.
Dominic absolutely had it coming when she shot him. Still me favorite scene in that book. She’s great.
I recently reread all of GH’s regency romances. They are definitely my go to anti-stress reads. The last one I read was Sprig Muslin and it has remained in my thoughts for several weeks. It is one of her reads that, for me, has a very satisfying ending, and leaves me with a smile. Like Cotillion.
I love this post. As it happens I am reading these old shades at the moment. It’s one of my very favorite Heyers. Before starting Kates The Last Big Fake (which I loved) I had reread False Colours and another one. I always reread the grand Sophie once a year. I think I will re-read Fredrika next. I read the Black Moth once and didn’t like it a bit.
I managed a used bookstore after college, and someone brought in a box full of old, yellowing paperbacks. We couldn’t resell them (broken spines, etc.), and the customer didn’t want them back – so I took them home! I think the first one I read was The Corinithian, and I was hooked.
Most frequent re-reads now are Talisman Ring, Unknown Ajax, The Tollbooth, The Masqueraders and (I confess) Simon the Coldheart. I think I love it so much because it reminds me of several old Robin Hood books my grandparents had, which my brother and I reread every summer. Simon has a similar quality – almost a bardic, oral tradition feeling to the language.
When I first read her, I was probably a Pen. Now, either Sarah (I have a deep appreciation for absurdity), or Nell in Reluctant Widow (also a quirky sense of humor, no surprise.)
Definitely Hugo from Unknow Ajax or ‘The Mountain’ – Tony in The Masqueraders.
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