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Archive for the ‘Georgette Heyer’ Category

the-talisman-ringWhy did it take me so long to read The Talisman Ring by Georgette HeyerHayley and Lisa had promised me I would love it and they were right.  I adored it.  It is one of the funniest books I have read in years and easily one of Heyer’s best novels.  I spent years shying away from it, discouraged by the promise of adventurous elements that had turned me off of some of Heyer’s other novels, but those were wasted years.  I shall just have to make up for them with frequent rereading in years to come.

Eustacie has no wish to marry her sober, practical cousin Sir Tristram Shield but, nevertheless, promises her dying grandfather that she will do so.  After his death and facing the threat of removal to Tristram’s mother’s home in Bath, Eustacie decides to run away…and runs straight into her fugitive cousin Ludovic, who fled to France when accused years before of murder and the theft of the titular talisman ring but who is now a free-trader.  It’s just the sort of glamourous crime to appeal to Eustacie.  The two adventurous young people strike it off immediately and while Eustacie is in raptures over her first real adventure, her more practical companions – Tristram and her new friend Miss Sarah Thane – help to keep Ludovic safe as they work to prove who really committed the crimes that Ludovic is accused of.

I can’t decide who I like best in this book.  Ludovic is charmingly young and energetic and the level-headed Tristram is my very favourite sort of Heyer hero (complete with an excellent sense of humour, which is just what you need when hanging around Ludovic and Eustacie) but it is the women who are really delightful.

The French-born Eustacie is miraculous.  Adorably hyperbolic and unfailingly romantic, she indulges in the most hair-raising fantasies and her sense of the dramatic is second to none.  Her conversations with Tristram and the indulgent Miss Thane are masterpieces.  Her dialogue with Tristram after they grudgingly find themselves engaged displays Heyer at the height of her powers:

‘Well, I suppose you will have to reconcile yourself to a period of quiet.’

‘Quiet?’ gasped Eustacie.  ‘More quiet?  No, and no, and no!’

He could not help laughing, but said: ‘Is it so terrible?’

‘Yes, it is!’ said Eustacie.  ‘First I have to live in Sussex, and now I am to go to Bath – to play backgammon!  And after that you will take me to Berkshire, where I expect I shall die.’

‘I hope not!’ said Shield.

‘Yes, but I think I shall,’ said Eustacie, propping her chin in her hands and gazing mournfully into the fire.  ‘After all, I have had a very unhappy life without any adventures, and it would not be wonderful if I went into a decline.  Only nothing that is interesting ever happens to me,’ she added bitterly, ‘so I dare say I shall just die in child-bed, which is a thing anyone can do.’

Sir Tristram flushed uncomfortably.  ‘Really, Eustacie!’ he protested.

Eustacie was too much absorbed in the contemplation of her dark destiny to pay any heed to him. ‘I shall present to you an heir,’ she said, ‘and then I shall die.’  The picture suddenly appealed to her; she continued in a more cheerful tone: ‘Everyone will say that I was very young to die, and they will fetch you from the gaming-hell where you –‘

‘Fetch me from where?’ interrupted Sir Tristram, momentarily led away by this flight of imagination.

‘From the gaming-hell,’ repeated Eustacie impatiently.  ‘Or perhaps the Cock-Pit.  It does not signify; it is quite unimportant.  But I think you will feel great remorse when it is told to you that I am dying, and you will spring up and fling yourself on your horse, and ride ventre à terre to come to my death-bed.  And then I shall forgive you, and –‘

‘What in heaven’s name are you talking about?’ demanded Sir Tristram.  ‘Why should you forgive me?  Why should – What is this nonsense?’

Eustacie, thus rudely awakened from her pleasant dream, sighed and abandoned it.  ‘It is just what I thought might happen,’ she explained.

Miss Sarah Thane, though older and significantly wiser than Eustacie, is equally game for adventure.  Travelling to London with her brother, she meets her new friends when an injured Ludovic takes shelter at the inn where the Thanes are staying and immediately decides to assist in any way she can.  The situation is a serious one but Sarah embraces what comedy comes her way.  The young lady has a decidedly satirical bent that only Tristram is intelligent enough to appreciate.  It is one of Heyer’s best matches.

I must also put in a word for Thane, Sarah’s elder brother, whose obtuse steadiness is just what the group needs.  As long as the cognac is safe in the inn’s cellar, he remains unruffled.

All ends well, of course.  The real murder is caught, two excellent couples are paired off, and one very happy reader is shown how wrong her preconceptions were.

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Sylvester Georgette HeyerRereading Sylvester by Georgette Heyer this week has made me so happy.  There are a number of reasons why I pick the books I do: to learn something, to be challenged, to be distracted, etc.  But reading Sylvester reminded me of my favourite reason of all: to feel a delicious sense of joy bubbling up inside me, from the very first page to the very last.

Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle (first published in 1957) is, I think, one of the best novels Heyer wrote.  I rank it only slightly behind A Civil Contract and The Grand Sophy in my affections and there is every possibility that it will surpass both of those in coming years as I seem to love it more each time I read it.  And I reread it as often as I can.

Sylvester, Duke of Salford, is an arrogant young man, very conscious of doing his duty but completely unconscious of how he speaks down to those who annoy him.  He can be charming in company and has excellent, extremely polite manners but there is no warmth in his dealings with anyone outside his family.  His invalid mother, seeing how emotionally inaccessible her eldest son has become since the death of his twin, is perturbed but hardly knows how to raise the topic with Sylvester.  Sylvester, for his part, refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem.  He knows his behaviour to be perfectly correct for a man of his station:

Sylvester, who did not arrive at parties very late, refuse to stand up for country-dances, take his bored leave within half an hour of his arrival, leave invitations unanswered, stare unrecognizingly at one of his tenants, or fail to exchange a few words with every one of his guests on Public Days at Chance, was not very likely to believe a charge of arrogance…

When Sylvester comes to his mother to tell her he is planning to marry, she is momentarily thrilled, thinking that he has finally fallen in love.  Alas! Sylvester has merely realised that it is his duty to marry and would like her opinion on which young lady of their acquaintance he should pick.  He is a man who, having never been in love, believes like Charlotte Lucas that “happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance” and it is far better to find someone suitable than loveable:

‘Seriously, Mama, although I have seen some love-matches that have prospered, I have seen a great many that most certainly have not!  Oh! no doubt some husbands and wives of my acquaintance would stare to hear me say I thought them anything but happy!  Perhaps they enjoy jealousies, tantrums, quarrels, and stupid misunderstandings: I should not!  The well-bred woman who marries me because she has a fancy to be a duchess will suit me very well, and will probably fill her position admirably.’

Refusing the shortlist he had prepared, the dowager duchess recalls that during his childhood she had hoped for a moment that he might marry the daughter of her dearest friend once they were both grown.  Amused by this, Sylvester determines to go and meet this Phoebe Marlow and discover if they will suit.

When Phoebe, who had met and promptly been forgotten by Sylvester during her season in London, hears that he is coming to visit with the intention of making her an offer (a scheme her thoughtless stepmother reveals to her), she is appalled.  Not only does she not credit the idea that he could want her for a wife – at nineteen, she is clever and excellent with horses but has no beauty or accomplishments – but she also knows that her opinion on the matter will be of no importance.  Easily intimidated by her stepmother, Phoebe knows that if Sylvester makes her an offer she will be forced to accept.  So, after his arrival, she does the only thing she can think of: with the help of her lifelong friend Tom Orde she runs away from home, heading to her grandmother in London.  Of course, all does not go to plan.

For starters, Sylvester had realised soon after arriving that the silent, sulking young woman would be no wife for him.  As soon as the family learns of Phoebe’s disappearance – believing at first that she and Tom have eloped – he makes his excuses and is thankful to get away.  But the weather is awful and he finds himself forced to stop at an inn, which already has two other occupants: Phoebe and Tom Orde, who were forced to stop after their vehicle upset, breaking Tom’s leg and, to Phoebe’s greater concern, injuring one of the horses.

Forced to get to know one another under these unconventional circumstances, Sylvester and Phoebe discover that though they might have no interest in marrying one another, friendship is a definite possibility.  Impatient with Sylvester’s imperious moods, both Phoebe and the delightful Tom give their highborn friend the set downs he so desperately needs whenever he attempts to look down his nose at anyone or acts without considering the impact his actions may have on others, disarming Sylvester who had, until then, thought he knew himself very well.  But he is not too proud to accept their criticism, though he cheerily returns the favour.  A firm and surprisingly intimate friendship develops between them all on this equal footing and when Phoebe at last departs after the roads are cleared, she is running away from her stepmother only and not Sylvester, whom she looks forward to seeing again in London.

In London, their friendship surprises Sylvester’s friends and family, who have never seen him take this level of interest in a young woman.  The two, though they dare not admit it, are falling in love and all seems to be going well until the secret Phoebe has been keeping from him is finally revealed: having passed an uneventful first season the year before, Phoebe made the most of the hours she spent observing the Ton and has since written a lurid gothic romance featuring thinly disguised society folk as characters.  And Sylvester, cast as the wicked Count Ugolino, is her villain.  The casting had more to do with the extravagant slant of his eyebrows than any character flaws but due to an unfortunate coincidence the key plot elements of The Lost Heir are mirrored in Sylvester’s role as guardian to his young nephew.  The book is immediately popular and it is not long before Sylvester’s sister-in-law, Lady Ianthe Rayne, is convinced that the book was written as a warning to her to remove her son from Sylvester’s reach.  In refuting this, Phoebe unwittingly reveals herself as the author and, of course, Sylvester finds out, putting an end to the progress of their relationship.

From there, the book becomes a delicious satire of the gothic novel, with Tom and Phoebe reluctantly dragged along – almost kidnapped, really – when Lady Ianthe attempts, with her very foolish new husband, to spirit her son away to France without Sylvester’s permission.  Horrified that her book could have inspired such madness, Phoebe finds herself taking care of Edward, Sylvester’s rambunctious six-year old nephew, since Lady Ianthe is first too ill to do so herself and then simply too ill-at-ease with her son, who had always been cared for by nurses.  Lady Ianthe and Sir Nugent are comic rather than heroic and when a livid Sylvester arrives on the scene he is greeted by anyone of sense as the saviour rather than the villain of the piece.   All are returned safely to England but it takes a while longer for Sylvester and Phoebe to reconcile, though when they do it is perfectly written.  This may not be my absolutely favourite Heyer (yet) but the final scene between Sylvester and Phoebe (aided by his mother) is my favourite romantic climax in any of her novels.  I feel so nervous every time I read it, even knowing what is about to happen.  That is how invested I am in their relationship, that is how well Heyer evokes the tension and anxiety both characters are feeling before their confrontation, knowing that they love one another but uncertain of how to move forward together.

There are so many things to love about this novel.  It is wonderfully plotted, moving along at the perfect speed with no odd diversions or unnecessary meanderings.  It makes excellent use of Heyer’s extensive knowledge of the Regency era and Regency slang without those historical details becoming cumbersome.  It has a wonderful relationship between the hero and heroine that allows both to grow over the course of the novel and to confront how little they know of themselves.  It is funny and smart and never, never dull.  But mostly, it has truly magnificent supporting characters: the silly, stylish and well-matched Lady Ianthe and Sir Nugent; Phoebe’s demanding grandmother (who is also Sylvester’s godmother); Sylvester’s suffering but stoic mother; Sylvester’s rebellious nephew; and, most of all, Tom Orde, Phoebe’s lifelong friend and surrogate brother, who is full of good sense and is frustrated to no end by the unnecessary agonies Phoebe and Sylvester put themselves through.  Tom is perfection.  He is far to solid himself to ever be the hero of a Heyer novel but he is a perfect sidekick and I like to imagine he got the perfect ending he deserved, with a dependable, good-natured wife to give him many dependable, good-natured children and to support him when he became squire after his father’s death (at, one hopes, an advanced age since Mr Orde was also an excellent man).  Since Phoebe and Sylvester’s happiness is assured, Tom is the only one left to worry about.

It is a wonderful novel and it was a very happy way to end A Century of Books.  Yes, this is book #100 and I am so pleased that I saved it for last.  It was a fantastic reading project and it deserved to end on a high note.  I’ll talk more about the project as a whole on the weekend but for now I am just going to savour the fact that I am done.

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It is Christmas Eve and, though no stocking are hung by the chimney with care, all the presents are waiting under the tree to be unwrapped tonight, the potato salad is ready for our traditional Czech Christmas dinner, and I will be spending this peaceful day with nothing to do but read Sylvester by Georgette Heyer, my last book for A Century of Books and one of my favourite novels.  But this is not the only Georgette Heyer I’ve read this year and it is high time I mentioned the few I’ve reread over the past couple of months.  I am loving reading Heyer now at Christmas but there is really no season she is not suited for.

FredericaAlmost ten years ago, when I first just discovering Heyer, Frederica (published in 1965) was probably the third or fourth of her books that I picked up.  I have never forgotten how much I loved it on that first reading.  I had enjoyed the first few books but they were nowhere near as energetic or amusing as this.

The premise of the story is quite the romance novel cliché: after the death of her parents, Frederica has been managing her siblings and doing an excellent job of it.  Determined to see her beautiful sister Charis make a dazzling match, she takes her to London to track down the Marquis of Alverstoke, a distant cousin, hoping that he and his wife will sponsor Charis for the season.  There is no wife but, impressed by Charis’ beauty and Frederica’s single-mindedness, Alverstoke arranges for both girls to be brought out alongside one of his nieces.  At twenty-four, Frederica believes herself well-past the marrying age but no one else seems to agree.  As he spends more and more time with Frederica and her inquisitive younger brothers, Alverstoke begins to lose the blasé attitude that had so irritated his elder sisters and is infected by the Merrivile’s energy and optimism.  He and Frederica form a wonderful friendship and it does not take long for that friendship to ripen into love.

The first time I read this, I fell in love Frederica and the rest of the Merriville family and could easily understand how Alverstoke, finding himself entangled with them, could feel both overwhelmed by and attracted to their energy and intelligence – especially Frederica’s.  I particularly love the family focus here: Alverstoke’s elder sisters and their families are a daily (though not always welcome) part of his life and the Merrivilles – primarily Frederica, her beautiful sister Charis, and their two youngest brothers, Jessamy and Felix – are almost never apart.  Far too often in romance novels (though rarely in Heyer’s), the hero and heroine’s families are absent or only there to hinder them.  Here, we see how both Frederica and Alverstoke interact with their families on a daily basis, both supporting and, at times, annoying them.  Alverstoke’s sisters despair of what they see as his selfish disinterest in his nieces and nephews and Frederica’s siblings can find their confident sister a bit overbearing at times.  Our hero and heroine are wonderful characters but not, we are reminded by their relatives, perfect.

My favourite Heyer books are ones like this, where the characters are firm friends before there is any talk of love.  You see how they joke together, how they handle difficult situations (here, a disastrous balloon ride that injures one of Frederica’s brothers), and how happy they are in one another’s company.  When characters like this end the book in one another’s arms, there is never any doubt that their marriage will be a happy one.

Charity girlCharity Girl (published in 1970), which I read almost immediately after Frederica, is nowhere near as good but, like all of Heyer’s romances, is still great fun.  It is another friends-to-lovers story but the friendship here is longstanding.  Viscount Desford and Henrietta Silverdale have been friends since childhood and now, both in their late twenties, have spent years resisting their parents’ urgings that they marry.  Both insist – far too loudly – that they are not in love.  Desford may take delight in maligning Hetta’s other suitors but obviously that is only because he is such a good friend.

When Desford meets Cherry Steane, a ‘charity girl’ living at the mercy her demanding aunt and unpleasant cousins, he is upset by her circumstances but essentially disinterested.  However, when he meets her on the road the next day, running away from her relatives, he helps her.  With a pretty young girl on his hands, Desford hardly knows what to do so while he attempts to track down Cherry’s miserly grandfather he leaves the girl with the always dependable Hetta.  Hetta, willing as always to come to Desford’s aid, doesn’t quite know what to make of the relationship between her oldest friend and her new guest.  Could he have finally fallen in love?

Charity Girl has a bit too much in common with Sprig Muslin, published fourteen years earlier, which also features a romantic pairing of two old friends  prompted along after the hero assumes responsibility for a young runaway.  Sprig Muslin is much the better book but Charity Girl is fun too; though the supporting cast isn’t as delightful as in Heyer’s best books, Desford and Hetta are both excellent.  The quality of Heyer’s books did lag towards the end but the essentials were still there.

Lady of QualitySpeaking of lagging quality, Lady of Quality was Heyer’s last book (published in 1972) and is alarmingly similar to Black Sheep, which was published only six years before.  The story of Annis Wychwood and her involvement with a runaway heiress and her gruff guardian, Lady of Quality takes place in Bath and, for me, that was the best thing about the book.  Heyer’s books are always wonderfully full of detail, doing full justice to her extensive research about the Regency era,  and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Annis’ and Lucilla’s excursions into society, knowing how accurately Heyer was describing the activities available to young women in Bath.  As for the characters themselves, they are fine but the plot is ridiculously weak.  The ending is very slow in coming, prolonged by a pointlessly detailed spread of ‘flu through all the members of Annis’ household.  Heyer included many sickbed scenes in her novels – including excellent, pivotal ones in The Grand Sophy and Frederica –  but this is far from her best.  Rather than feeling exciting and fresh, the entire book felt lazy.  It has its moments but, on the whole, Lady of Quality is easily forgotten; I like to reread it every now and then but certainly not with the same frequency as I reread my favourites.

Now, back to reading Sylvester!  As fun as Frederica is (and it is clearly my favourite of these three), it does not come close to matching the joyful hilarity of Sylvester.  I rank A Civil Contract and The Grand Sophy as my top two favourite Heyer novels but Sylvester comes a close third.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  May you find many books under the tree and, more importantly, may you enjoy the time spent over the next few days in the company of your loved ones.

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Were I to hold a competition to judge the most difficult book to review from my reading this year, the winner would be, without a doubt, Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester.  I read it in April.  I have read almost 150 books since then and this one – this dreaded review – has haunted me the entire time.

The problem is this: I love Georgette Heyer but do not love Jennifer Kloester.  Since biographies depend on both the subject and the author, this made for a troubling situation.

First, let us get the unpleasantness out of the way and as quickly as possible: Kloester is a clumsy writer and makes no attempt at the kind of analysis that good biographies require.  The effort it took to make it through the charmless and plodding first chapter (with its important insights into such details as the infant Georgette’s “good appetite”) was considerable.  Kloester is obviously a great Heyer fan and her fascination with her subject did endear her to me somewhat, but that is what has made this review so difficult to write.  I love that Kloester feels passionately enough about Heyer to have written this.  For years, we fans have had to make do with Joan Aiken Hodge’s The Private World of Georgette Heyer, which does a wonderful job of discussing the novels and detailing Heyer’s research techniques but which is also, like Kloester’s biography, limited by the very private nature of its subject.  But once you move beyond some bizarrely structured sentences, a needless amount of detail, a few questionable speculations and a generally awkward style of writing, Kloester does an excellent job of giving her readers what they want: more information about Heyer.  That is why I kept reading and that is what, in the end, made this such a fascinating and enjoyable book.

Phew.  It only took me seven months to figure out how to say all that.

Part of what appeals to me about Georgette Heyer – beyond my deep affection for her as the author of some of the most delightfully amusing books in my collection – is the very serious way she approached her work.  She was not ones of those authors who waxed poetic about their “art” or made any attempts to romanticize it.  She had a formula – a very successful one – and she used it to write bestsellers.  Give me a writer who writes to get paid, a creator of “good bad books”, and more often than not they will earn themselves a place on my favourites list.  Heyer was certainly one of these, alongside my adored Angela Thirkell and the incomparable Agatha Christie, who, it turns out, were among Heyer’s favourite authors as well:

Georgette could be a tough critic and had no time for what she considered verbiage.  Her preference was for those skilled in the craft of writing and her favourite authors were those whose mastery of language or distinct voice set their writing apart such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Noël Coward, Angela Thirkell, Stephen Leacock, Agatha Christie, Alistair MacLean and Raymond Chandler.

(Simon will be pleased to hear that this just makes me that much more eager to read Ivy Compton-Burnett.)

Though Kloester sadly does not go deeply into Heyer’s research and writing process (though, to the best of my memory, the Hodge biography does a very good job of this), what glimpses she does give us are fascinating:

…her characters were often the starting point for her novels.  She would first imagine an individual, then spend hours thinking about him or her while playing endless games of patience, fleshing the character out in her mind and devising a suitable name.  Once created, a character’s behaviour and dialogue follow naturally.  Georgette found it impossible to force one of her creations to behave in a manner contrary to their established personality.  When writing a book her dramatis personae lived for her to the extent that they frequently determined the course of the story.

One of the main problems with Heyer for many readers is that, simply put, she was not an easy person to like.  Despite the sparkling wit and charm of her novels, Heyer was not a warm woman, nor did she particularly care about making other people like her.  She could be snobbish and anti-Semitic, had little patience for her fans, was possessed of a “sharp, all too accurate, caustic tongue” and was shy and impatient when forced to socialise.  A social butterfly she was not:

Georgette never sought to be part of a large social group.  She was happiest in her own company, with Ronald, or with a small group of intimates (Richard described his mother as ‘very, very shy’ and ‘to hide this, she would talk nineteen to the dozen to strangers’).  Although she was interested in people it was more often as an observer of human nature than as someone who wished to befriend them.  Those, like Pat Wallace, who penetrated her outer reserve found her a kind, caring and generous friend, but to the rest of the world she could appear grand and formidable – someone who could hold people at a distance with a word or a look.

For her, it was more important to have a small group of intimate friends and, above all, a close relationship with her husband, Ronald.  One of the strengths of this biography is Kloester’s portrait of Heyer’s marriage to Ronald Rougier.  Part of what makes Heyer’s novels so appealing is the strong understanding and admiration her heroes and heroines feel for one another, the understanding that “a successful relationship takes time and that true love requires mutual understanding and empathy and not mere physical attraction.”  There is love and attraction, certainly, but she is very clear that that alone does not a marriage make.  Love-struck supporting characters are humoured but not encouraged; if a match is made among these underlings, their happiness is never quite as certain as that of the leading couple who we know will be friends as well as lovers.  Kloester takes great care (and it is greatly appreciated) to illustrate Georgette and Ronald’s compatibility and their contentment throughout their marriage.  For many years, Heyer was the main breadwinner and, far from resenting her, Ronald served as her greatest supporter, chief critic and main research assistant:

They were great friends.  Georgette and Ronald shared many common interests and she endured his irascibility and outbursts of temper while he coped with her forceful personality and determination to be right.  When they did fight it was usually over a point of history (one of their more serious arguments was over the Divine Right of Kings) or a word or phrase in one of her manuscripts, rather than over more mundane things like domestic problems or money.

What does irritate me about Kloester’s portrait of the Rougier’s marriage (Georgette was very happy to be Mrs Ronald Rougier in private life) is her speculation about their sex life:

Whether Georgette herself ever experienced an overwhelming urge for sex is impossible to know, although a close friend described her as ‘not terribly interested’ in sex.  She and Ronald only had one child and for much of their married life slept in separate beds, giving little or no impression that physical lovemaking was an intrinsic part of their life together.  Georgette had her passions but they were not physical.  Her marriage to Ronald was first and foremost a marriage of two minds.

That, as far as I can find, is it: on the basis of one remark from a friend and the existence of separate beds, it is decided that Heyer did not like sex.  I am not convinced by such limited evidence and I wish biographers (since Kloester is hardly the only one guilty of this) would refrain from such speculation when evidence is so limited.

But limited evidence is rather a theme with Heyer.  She was an extremely private person (again, this just makes me like her more) and there were no revealing diaries or indiscrete personal letters for the hopeful biographer to pounce on.  Kloester had access to private letters and documents (which had not been available when Hodge prepared her biography) and uses them extensively, though not judiciously, but they are mostly business correspondence.  As a biography of Georgette Heyer the businesswoman, this is ideal.  As the biography of Georgette Heyer the woman, less so.  Kloester does the best with what she has though, even if she is given to quoting incredibly dull and pointless correspondence at length.

This is not a perfect biography but I still adored it.  Yes, I have my issues with Kloester but, in the end, she brought me more information about Heyer and, after that difficult first chapter, I found myself too fascinated to care much about any technical or structural flaws in her writing.  Whether you like her or not, Heyer is fascinating.

Of course, reading this made me want to reread all of Heyer’s novels.  In the spring I was able to resist that urge but reviewing this has brought it back.  I can’t help but notice that of the 12 years I have left to complete for A Century of Books, five could be filled with novels by Heyer…

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In 1949, while labouring over The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer wrote the following note to her publisher.  Jennifer Kloester, in her biography of Heyer, described it as a “witty, self-mocking summation of her personal principles for successful novel-writing.”  It is a touch too long for me to be able to gracefully work it into my review of that biography but I enjoyed it so much that I thought it deserved its own post.  I had a few laughs over it and I hope you do too!

  1. Induce your publisher to hand over at once a sum of money grossly in excess of what the book is likely to be worth to him.  This gives one a certain amount of incentive to write the thing, and may be achieved by various methods, the most highly recommended being what may be termed as The Little Woman Act.
  2. Think out a snappy title.  This deceives the publisher into thinking (a) that he is getting the Book of the Year; and (b) that you have the whole plot already mapped out.  The only drawback lies in the fact that having announced a title you will be slightly handicapped when it comes to hanging some kind of story on to it.
  3. Brood for several weeks, achieving, if not a Plot, depression, despair, and hysteria in yourself, and a strong desire to leave home in your entourage.  This condition will induce you to believe yourself to be the victim of Artistic Temperament, and may even mislead you into thinking that you really are a Creative Artist.
  4. While under this delusion, jab a sheet of paper into your typewriter, and hurl on to it Chapter I.  This may give you an idea, not perhaps for the whole book, but for Chapter II.
  5. Introduce several characters who might conceivably be useful later on.  You never know: they may take matters into their own hands.
  6. Assuming that he has been properly trained, read over what you have done to your husband.  His extravagant enthusiasm may lead you to think you’ve perpetuated something good and this will inspire you to churn out a bit more.
  7. Think out a grand final scene, with the maximum number of incongruous characters massed together in some improbably place.  Allow your sense of farce full play.  This will, with any luck at all, make the reader forget what the rest of the book was like.
  8. Try and work out how and why these characters got together remembering that it is better to ‘gloss over,’ by technique (which if you haven’t learnt in thirty years you ought to have learnt), than to put your head in the gas oven.
  9. Book a room in a good Mental Home.

Finally, a few things to be avoided while engaged on this work:

  1. The thought that you are enduring this agony only to enrich the Inland Revenue.
  2. All thought of the book that has obsessed your mind and soul for the past six months.
  3. Any rational thought whatsoever.  To indulge in this can only mean that you will stop dead, realizing that you are writing unmitigated rubbish, and would have done better as a charwoman.

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Cross-posted at Austenprose as part of ‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’, an event running all through August.

Originally published in 1948, The Foundling by Georgette Heyer was one of the very few Heyer Regency novels I had not read.  As is always the case when you’re working against a deadline, I had some trouble tracking down a copy (even the library large print edition had multiple holds!) but I found one and settled down for what turned out to be a very energetic and amusing read.

At twenty-four, the Duke of Sale (Gilly) is still being cosseted by his extended family and staff who, having gotten into the habit of caring for the Duke in his invalid youth, have not yet realised that he’s grown into a capable, if frustrated, young man.  When Gilly’s young cousin becomes entangled with the beautiful foundling Belinda and her enterprising guardian, Gilly immediately spies a chance to rebel against his protectors and to test his competence.  Quickly, he becomes entangled in an exhilarating adventure, and, with two rather troublesome dependents in tow, finds that he needs all his wits about him to manage the extraordinary circumstances into which he’s been thrust.

What fun this was!  It is truly an old-style romance, by which I mean an adventure tale with sinister villains, daring kidnappings, a beautiful damsel, and the appropriate comic relief.  Except that Gilly, for all his titles, is hardly the dashing hero such circumstances usually require.  It’s lovely to see how he grows and manages to handle the extraordinary situations on his own, having been cared for by others his entire life, but it is just as nice to know that such success is unlikely to go to his head.  Gilly, the reader is assured, shall remain as kind and stable as ever, only more confident of his own abilities and far more independent.

If you’re familiar with Heyer’s style and, more importantly, her plots, there won’t be many surprises here but that doesn’t lessen the enjoyment.  Indeed, part of the fun with any Heyer novel is comparing it to those you have previously read, recognizing a certain plot twist from one, a secondary character with a doppelganger in another.  Most obviously, The Foundling is very similar in plot to its inferior successor Charity Girl (originally published in 1970).  Indeed, Harriet from The Foundling is almost identical to Henrietta in Charity Girl, in name, personality, and fate.  Gilly has less distinct relations among Heyer’s heroes, being of a more gentle and retiring nature than most.  In his evolution though and the reactions of those around him, I can’t help but draw comparisons with Cotillion’s Freddy.  The Foundling truly distinguishes itself with its villains.  So few Heyer novels have any true villains but here we have swindlers and kidnappers and a very young, very poor excuse for a highwayman (hardly qualifying as a villain, he is however the only one to successfully get arrested).  Indeed, the chief villain is the brilliantly named Mr Liversedge, a name that Dickens himself would applaud.  Of course, because it’s Heyer, even the villain is treated to a very neat and quite extraordinary fate.

Considering the relative simplicity of the plot, The Foundling is a surprisingly long novel.  This length gave Heyer ample opportunity to show off her impressive period knowledge.  Typical of her stories with young male protagonists, there is perhaps an over-zealous use of Regency slang.  I personally adore it, but I imagine it could be disorienting for those new to Heyer’s style.  I particularly loved getting such a detailed glimpse into the male domain, usually relegated to the periphery of Heyer’s stories.  We’re treated to far more information on male pastimes and clothing than in most (any?) of her other books.  For me, it’s this obsession with detail, with creating a vivid and accurate sense of time and place that first established Heyer as one of my favourite novelists and keeps me returning to her books.

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So many books read, so little of interest to report.  You have all been incredibly patient, even going so far as to humour me by commenting on what were clearly filler posts (the idea of going a day without posting fills me with dread – I am working on this).  Bless.  The truth is that after reading The Rehearsal, which blew me away, I had a lot of trouble settling on any one book and, when I did, nothing that I picked seemed particularly worthy of its own individual review.  So, I have decided just to bombard you with all of the books I read last week in one post.  Fair?

The highlight of the week, and this is sad, was Hungry by Crystal Renn (with Marjorie Ingall).  A barely literate memoir by someone born in 1986 (people my age should really not be allowed to write memoirs), Hungry begins with tales of Renn’s happy if unconventional childhood, leading up to the moment she was ‘discovered’ by a scout and told that if she could get her weight down to 110lbs (at 5’9), the modeling agency would be interested in her.  Renn did even more than was asked: she got her weight down below 100lbs through a combination of anorexia and compulsive exercising and, at fourteen, earned her ticket to New York.  There, she was miserable and unsuccessful (yes, it is a morality tale as well).  Eventually, she came to her senses, made her health a priority, and switched to plus-sized modeling, where she has been hugely successfully as a US size 12 (at approximately 165).  Renn is now one of the few modeling faces (and, it must be said, bodies) that are instantly recognizable even to people like me, who know nothing about the modeling world.  A very typical celebrity memoir, the book comes across as very frothy for the first half and preachy towards the end, when Renn advocates for the HAES (Healthy at Every Size) philosophy and devotes many pages to her arguments about acceptance and empowerment.  Far, far too many.  The message is good, but the reader is bombarded and then bored with it.  Still, it’s a fascinating story of a woman who has made a very real difference in a generally sizest industry, conquering the accepted wisdom that plus-size models only have limited appeal.  I may have been unfairly won over by the photos as well – I do love nice, glossy, colour photos. 

Renn's most famous work (for Breast Cancer Awareness)

I also read two (count ‘em, two!) graphic novels: Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle and Blankets by Craig Thompson.  I was incredibly unwhelmed by Blankets, which was disappointing after reading so many enthusiastic reviews.  The illustrations were fabulous but the story seemed rather dull and predictable to me.  There was no tension in it, nothing that made me care about the narrator or his life events.  Burma Chronicles, on the other hand, was just as delightful as Delisle’s Pyongyang.  There’s something terrifically charming about Delisle; both his illustrations and his sense of humour endear him to me.  Certainly, this is the best way to experience any military dictatorship. 

Moving on from Burma to India, I read The Immigrant by Manju Kapur.  The story of an arranged marriage and the ensuing culture-clash when the wife, Nina, comes to join her husband in Canada, this should have been right up my alley.  It was not.  The first section, handling the events leading up to the marriage, was fascinating but after that everything fell apart and focus shifted entirely to the sex life of the couple.  Sounds salacious but it was in fact terribly, terribly boring.  I persisted until the end, hoping it would improve.  It did not.  I enjoyed the author’s style of writing so will (after I recover from my disappointment) attempt to track down more of her work (Difficult Daughters seems to get high praise).

The weekend was then spent reading ridiculously fluffy Regency romance novels.  I knew, years ago, when I started reading Georgette Heyer that she was viewed as a gateway drug.  Lauren Willig’s novels signaled another slip (confirmed when I reread The Masque of the Black Tulip on Saturday).  Finally, my former manager (of all people) recommended that I try the newest book by Kate Moore (with the awful title To Tempt a Saint) and down I went.  It was quickly followed by the equally ridiculously-named (but far superior in style and substance) Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh.  I am a ridiculous snob and even as I enjoy these books I feel rather ashamed of even having ‘lowered’ myself to crack the covers (and rather afraid that I will be shunned by other bloggers).  But such books are fun, not even remotely as explicit as some of the other literature I read (see The Immigrant above) and, while I’d never spend money on them (thrift overlapping with snobbishness), my library seems to be stunningly well-stocked.  Not the sort of thing to read all the time but, as a diversion every once in a while, very pleasant.  The Balogh book was also surprising descriptive about garden layouts, which, combined with the recent improvement in the weather here, has reawakened my passion for landscape design, a passion I suppress all winter long and obsess over most summers.  The appropriate volumes have been ordered from the library and it won’t be long before I’m daydreaming about sunken gardens, blossoming orchards, and fragrant rows of roses.

Sunken Garden at Upton Grey

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