Whereas with these old Shades of mine, Their ways and dress delight me; And should I trip by word or line, They cannot well indict me.
— Austin Dobson, “Epilogue” to Eighteenth Century Vignettes, Second Series (yep, that’s where Heyer got the title)
“He has Titian hair,” said Justin blandly. “Titian hair has ever been one of–my–ruling–passions.”
Chapter I, His Grace of Avon Buys a Soul
I have received some complaints from my Gentle Readers about some of the earlier posts in this series: some dissatisfaction that I’m wasting time reading these stupid, boring books that the author herself didn’t even like very much instead of moving right to the Good Stuff.
Well, Gentle Readers, we’re at the Good Stuff now.
In fact, I would say that These Old Shades is probably the best-known of Georgette Heyer’s novels–her Pride and Prejudice, if you will, at least in terms of popularity. However, can one imagine Jane Austen, having lived another ten, twenty, thirty years, ever growing tired of praise of Elizabeth and Darcy, and weary of readers begging for more books like Pride and Prejudice? More, in those days before the JAFF genre existed, of the Darcys themselves? If her letters are to be believed, Georgette Heyer certainly grew weary of fans asking for more books like These Old Shades. Yet in this book she not only recycled characters from her first published work, The Black Moth, she went back to the adventures of the Alistairs two more times in Devil’s Cub and An Infamous Army. But I am getting ahead of myself.
“Almost from the first her novels stood apart from the usual offerings among historical fiction.” – Jennifer Kloester
I liked Simon the Coldheart well enough, but find myself with not much to say about it. Reading it between Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies* was, in retrospect, not the greatest idea. I was too eager to get back to Mantel to give Simon the attention he deserved; and he does deserve it. To be honest, I had a hard time putting it down for first half of the book. The second half didn’t exactly drag, but it lost a little momentum–and that was just when we were getting to the love story. Continue reading →
“Theme handled with restraint, but not needed in small libraries.” – from a review in the Wisconsin Library Bulletin, May 1924 (ouch!)
Instead of the Thorn was Georgette Heyer’s first novel with a contemporary setting. Of course, she wrote it in 1922 or so, so that makes it a period piece for our purposes. In fact, it’s a year or two before the current season of Downton Abbey is set, though the characters are middle-class and the plot is darker in some ways. Not in the occasionally silly dramatic-death soap opera way of DA; this feels like real life.
“She had expected to feel a heroine’s exultation when Stephen slipped the ring on to her finger, but the ring was too big, and she had wanted sapphires.”
Published in The Happy Magazine, September 4, 1922
Republished in Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective by Mary Fahnestock-Thomas
As promised…”and now for something completely different!”
In her biography of Georgette Heyer, Jennifer Kloester writes that Heyer was extremely productive in the early 1920s. Along with her books, she was publishing short stories in magazines. These markets were common in the UK at that time and paid well, and Heyer was helping to support her family, so the extra money was no doubt welcome. By combing through microfilm of hundreds of magazines, Kloester found evidence of dozens of these stories, and thinks there are many more that haven’t yet been discovered. Heyer’s first published short story was republished in in Mary Fahnestock-Thomas’ book, Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective, and I thought it would be fun to re-read it and write a blog post on it.
Published 1923 as The Transformation of Philip Jettan by Stella Martin Republished in 1930 as Powder and Patch without the original final chapter
“Short on plot, it is full of light-hearted comedy, and surprising people like it.” – Jane Aiken Hodge
Powder and Patch is not one of Heyer’s best-known or best-loved novels, though it’s very entertaining. It also had an interesting journey to publication–both times.
An early edition of the republished Powder and Patch
It is not known why Heyer published Jettan under a pseudonym. Jennifer Kloester offers several theories, all of them good, and among the usual reasons why authors have used pseudonyms even till the present day. Perhaps Heyer, having published one rather serious historical novel in Roxhythe, and working on a contemporary novel, Instead of the Thorn, which also addressed serious subjects, did not want the lighthearted Jettan to be unfavorably compared to these other works, or give readers the wrong idea about the kind of novels she wrote. All during her writing career, Heyer struggled with the fact that her books, however popular, were not taken seriously, and wanted to write serious historical novels. It’s very possible that at the beginning of her career, she was trying to establish herself as a serious author. Continue reading →
“It is probably the worst book Georgette Heyer ever wrote.” – Jane Aiken Hodge
Have you ever read a book and it was kind of awful, but you kept reading it because it had to get better? And then it never does?
Cover of the first edition
It pains me to say that about The Great Roxhythe. It pains me to say that about any of Georgette Heyer’s novels. She is a favorite, as the Marquis of Roxhythe himself was a favorite of Charles II, and one does not like to think ill of one’s favorite; but I suppose that every author–even a favorite–is entitled to a dud. And even while I didn’t care much for Roxhythe, it is not a dud, not completely. And even bad Heyer is better than a lot of other books.
“The Great Roxhythe, The Transformation of Philip Jettan (later retitled Powder and Patch) and Simon the Coldheart were all published by 1925. They are all interesting as early experiments in the historical mode, and it is also illuminating that she later suppressed The Great Roxhythe and Simon the Coldheart. They were experiments in a direction that was not to prove propitious for her.” – Jane Aiken Hodge
Greetings, Gentle Readers. A question about the copyright of Georgette Heyer’s books came up on Twitter, and I thought it worth dedicating a blog post to it. I hasten to add that I am not a lawyer, nor an expert on copyright. I am just putting together the information I know.
The Black Moth was published in 1921. My understanding of copyright is that any book published prior to 1923 is in the public domain. The text is available on Project Gutenberg, which lends credence to this idea. However, my paperback copy of The Black Moth, published by Harlequin in 2003, has a copyright statement of “Copyright 1929 by Georgette Heyer.” Was the copyright re-registered in 1929? Does the pre-1923 original publication trump that re-registration? Perhaps. Like I said, not an expert. Sourcebooks is keeping it in print, and no doubt pays royalties to the Heyer estate, if one is scrupulous about such things. Continue reading →
“The drawing room was tacitly regarded as our private domain and there we acted play after play…all dialogue completely impromptu, of course, but the plots always produced by Georgette…I can still recognize some of the plots in her books, particularly Beauvallet and The Masqueraders and The Black Moth!” – Jane Aiken Hodge, quoting a childhood friend of Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer published her first book, The Black Moth, when she was 19 years old, as she said, “First crack out of the bag.” It is a remarkable feat for any writer, all the more so because in Heyer’s case it was the fulfillment of an ambition to write, though in perhaps an unexpected way. She didn’t set out to write a novel when she came up with this tale, but she produced a cracking good read anyway. Continue reading →
“I have indulged myself, for the purposes of this book, in reading her entire output in chronological order, and it has proved a rewarding experience as well as a delightful one.” – Jane Aiken Hodge, The Private World of Georgette Heyer
I’m embarking on a reading (and writing) project that I’ve been thinking about for a while: reading all of Georgette Heyer’s novels in order of publication, including the “suppressed” novels and the mysteries and the historicals and the anthologies and, well, all of them! I’m also going to be blogging about the books as I go along, because why not?