Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Georgette Heyer - My Top Reads

Years ago, when I was a teenager, I discovered the works of Jane Austen. They were right there, on my mum's bookshelf, it was raining, I had vaguely heard of them, and so I gave them a go. I read all six of the main novels in pretty quick succession but then there were no more. What could I read next? I expressed my dilemma to my mum, who suggested that I might like to try Georgette Heyer. Luckily, my mum is a bookworm too, and she had a lot of Heyer's books in the house, or I'd have had no hope of reading them at that point, there were only a few of her works in the library. I started with April Lady, because it was a slender volume, and went from there!

Picture of Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer was an English novellist who had a career spanning over 50 years. She wrote some detective stories and thrillers but what she is best known for are her Georgian and Regency romances. She wrote over 40 of them, and is regarded as the person who invented the historical romance, and specifically the Regency Romance genre. Unsurprisingly, for the time she was writing, Heyer's books are 'clean' romances and don't have any sex scenes.

One thing Heyer's work is notable for is the research. How many times have you read a historical romance only to be jarred out of your immersion in the world of the book by a word which is too modern, or social conventions being incorrect? I would be extremely surprised if this happened to you while you're reading Heyer. She was more careful than that. But not only was her work well-researched, it's also well-written, and extremely entertaining. Her characters are usually well-rounded, there is humour within the books and sparkling dialogue. Often you will see historical romances being marketed as being in Georgette Heyer's style, and so often when you read them you are sadly let down by the marketing hype.

Heyer started writing to entertain her brother as he convalesced from illness but as she became successful she had to write because she was the main breadwinner for her family. She started off with two younger orphaned brothers to support, and later a husband and a child of her own. This meant that she couldn't always write what she wanted, more factual history, but instead what would sell, historical romance. From what I've read about her, she didn't hold her own genre in high regard, though she felt her work was well-written within that genre. She boiled down her heroes to two types, Mark I - "the brusque, savage sort with a foul temper" and Mark II - "suave, well-dressed, rich and a famous whip". Though you can see examples of both of this type of hero in her work, she really wasn't doing herself justice to say that things were that simple!

I thought I'd draw up a top 10 of my favourite Heyer reads but I'm afraid I could only manage a top 8 - this is not because there are not 10 good reads, but because there are too many that I love, I really couldn't decide on the last two, as there are about another 8 or 10 favourites I've left off the list! I have chosen the cover photos from the Pan covers from the 70s - I know they are a little bit lurid, but I like them, because they were created by somebody who had at least read the book, and usually have an identifiable scene from the story, rather than a bit from an old painting which bears no resemblance to the physical description of the characters! The most recent covers don't do this, but the ones previous to that were really awful in this regard.

Collage of Book covers of Top 8 Favourite Georgette Heyer Books

Here is my list, in no particular order:

Arabella is a young lady who has a besetting fault - she is impetuous. She overhears Mr Beaumaris's unflattering opinion of her, and to put him in his place she tells a big lie. The lie doesn't go away, and in fact she becomes the toast of the season. Has this ruined Arabella's chances of making the most of her London season and finding love?

Frederica is a lady who is the eldest of an orphaned family - she has three younger brothers and a stunningly beautiful younger sister, Charis, who Frederica is determined will have a London season and the possibility of a brilliant match. Frederica throws herself on the mercy of a distant relative, the selfish Marquis of Alverstoke in a move that ends up turning his life upside down

The Grand Sophy sees the redoubtable Miss Sophia Stanton-Lacy go to stay with her aunt's family. She finds them under the rule of her overbearing cousin Charles Rivenhall, who is about to marry an extremely tiresome young lady who will make the family miserable, unless Sophy can bring her organisational talents into play.

In Friday's Child, the adorable Hero Wantage seeks to avoid marrying the curate and Viscount Sheringham believes he is brokenhearted, so he offers Hero a marriage of convenience. However, Sherry soon finds that he has underestimated how much work it is to protect a naive young lady navigate through the waters of the Ton.

Cotillion is fairly unusual in that it features an anti-hero. The Honourable Freddy Standen is coerced into helping his uncle's ward, Miss Kitty Charing, by agreeing to a fake betrothal - yes, that is right, my beloved fake fiancée trope! Freddy is pretty foppish, but his grasp on social niceties and kindness prove extremely useful for a young lady in her only London season as she inexpertly plans for her future and tries to help her loved ones.

The Reluctant Widow - from fake betrothals to fake weddings - Miss Elinor Rochdale is travelling to a new job as a governess when she makes the fateful move of getting into the wrong carriage. She is persuaded by Lord Carlyon to marry a dying man, Eustace Cheviot and by the morning she is widowed. Her husband's death was an accident, but strange things are afoot at Highnoons, and there is a mystery to solve.

The Unknown Ajax sees an unwanted heir arriving at the family home. Major Hugo Darracott was the only child of Lord Darracott's disowned second son, Hugh, who married against his father's wishes. Upon the accidental death of the uncle and cousin before Hugo in the succession, Lord Darracott sends for his despised heir. Hugo is proof that appearances can be deceptive, though, and he is just the man to rely on in a tight squeeze when adventure comes a bit too close to Darracott Place.

The Nonesuch is the nickname of Sir Waldo Hawkridge, who inherits a spare estate (how tiresome!). He travels to see the estate with his young cousin Julian, and they meet some local families. When Julian meets the beautiful Miss Tiffany Wield Sir Waldo senses the danger of an entanglement for his young relative and he works in cahoots with Tiffany's governess/companion, Miss Ancilla Trent to prevent anything regrettable happening.

Do you have a favourite Heyer book? Or are there any authors of historical romance that you feel can fill her shoes? I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on this.

17 comments:

  1. It is very hard to pick a top 10! I pretty much like all the romance ones. She was a genius. I have a few that I don't especially like and probably wouldn't read again (A Civil Contract, Cousin Kate) and I'm not so much a fan of the mysteries and more-historical-less-romantic ones.
    I picked up a novel called The Marriage Mart written by Patricia Burns years ago in a second hand store and I felt it was very Georgette Heyer. It's quite an obscure book though. I also found some of Sylvia Thorpe's to be like hers (not as good but getting there). The Silver Nightingale is my favourite of the ones I've read.

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  2. OK, so maybe I'll attempt to list my favourites...
    Friday's Child
    Frederica
    Arabella
    Devil's Cub
    Venetia
    Sylvester
    Regency Buck
    Cotillion
    The Nonesuch
    The Masqueraders
    Black Sheep

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  3. Thank you Brenda, I hadn't heard of either of those authors, good to have some recommendations! Of your list, Black Sheep and Venetia nearly made it onto my list, as did Cousin Kate, which you said you didn't like. I prefer The Talisman Ring to The Masqueraders, but I've read all these books more than once, they are all good ones!

    I agree with you in preferring the romances to the other genres of book she wrote. I don't mind the murder mysteries but there are other writers in that genre that I prefer, whereas my favourite historical romances are nearly all by Heyer! I think she wrote excellent ones :)

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  4. Your top 8 list comes very close to my top 9, except that Friday's Child (which is admittedly an unusually complex story for Heyer) and Reluctant Widow don't make my list. I would substitute instead A Quiet Gentleman (a subtle mystery) and The Toll-Gate, another romance-cum-mystery, that reminds me a bit of The Unknown Ajax, and add Venetia, a charming tale of an innocent falling for a rake.

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    1. Hi Doris, thanks for stopping by. I considered The Toll Gate, as I enjoy that one, it's heavier on the mystery than most. I can definitely see the similarities between this one and the Unknown Ajax, particularly the heroes. I've only read The Quiet Gentleman once, many years ago, when I didn't appreciate subtle as much as I do now! It's one I should reread.

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  5. Oh boy, another great author to read

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    1. Hi Barbara. If you like historical romance, Heyer is definitely worth a read, and there are so many of her books to choose from!

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  6. Thanks for the heads up Ceri, I bought Fredrica and These old shades but have yet to read them. Eventually I hope to read all of them :) My mum too is a bookaholic and many books I read as a youngster were sometimes way above my comprehension and certainly far from what my friends were reading!

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    1. I hope you enjoy them when you get to reading them Tamara! Frederica is my absolute favourite, joint with The Grand Sophy. These Old Shades was one of my contenders for my top 10, it has a red-haired heroine, which I always enjoy, she is a great character, and there is a reformed rake too!

      We are lucky to have bookworm mums Tamara, but since I'm mostly reading on a kindle these days I wonder whether my children will have the same access to books that I did. I know they can share my kindle library when they're older, but they won't be enticed to read them by seeing them as I was with my mum's Jane Austen books, for example. I need to win the lottery so I can buy a house with a library and get buying physical books!

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  7. Your list is almost perfect except for
    not including my very favorite Venetia!
    Adore Heyer and reread her almost as
    often as Jane Austen.

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    1. Venetia was a very strong contender for the list. My original list of 10 also included Venetia and The Talisman Ring, but then I was leaving out Black Sheep, and Cousin Kate, and These Old Shades, and Devil's Cub and Faro's Daughter, and Regency Buck etc etc! Too many excellent books to choose from!

      I completely agree with you that they are fantastic to reread, I can enjoy them just as much, if not more, than I did on the first read, and I can't say that about every book I read.

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  8. Your Heyer favorite list parallels my own fairly closely. For wild humor, Friday's child cannot be beat. In Friday's Child, following Sherrie's group of eccentric and bumbling buddies is hysterical!

    I think I've read 22 or 23 of Heyer's Regencies and one that is not on your favorite list is A Lady of Quality. Were there ever two people so unlike each other? I didn't see that one coming.

    I also put Venetia on my favorite list. I loved the brave heroine as she allowed herself to get close to the rogue nobleman living practically next door.

    I'm going to read ALL of them sooner or later.

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    1. Venetia was the strongest contender for inclusion on the list, but I just couldn't decide! I have read Lady of Quality, and though I like it, I didn't take to the hero so well. It reminded me a little of Black Sheep, but in that one I liked the hero a bit more.

      We are so lucky she wrote so many! I have a few left to read myself :)

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  9. Loved reading your talk on Georgette Heyer and then your list. Mine would share some of those, but I would insert a few others too.

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    1. I have a second top 8 list to share, just need to write it up :) So many of her books were of such great quality that there are plenty to choose your favourites from.

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  10. So many books to add! Thanks for making your list :) It gives those of us new to Heyer a good place to start!

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    1. You are so lucky to be new to Heyer, Shannon, so many books before you to discover! Her better books are excellent and her worse ones are still so much better than most of the historical stuff out there :)

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