Friday, August 19, 2011

The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge

An international bestselling phenomenon and queen of the Regency romance, Georgette Heyer is one of the most beloved historical novelists of our time. She wrote more than fifty novels, yet her private life was inaccessible to any but her nearest friends and relatives.

Lavishly illustrated and with access to private papers, correspondence and family archives, this classic biography opens a window into Georgette Heyer's world and that of her most memorable characters, revealing a formidable, energetic woman with an impeccable sense of style and, beyond everything, a love for all things Regency.

The name Georgette Heyer is synonymous with a whole genre - Regency romance - and she has had legions of fans, both when her first book was published and in the years following her last book being published.

In addition to the Regency romance that she helped to define through her works, so much so that there have been plenty of plagiarists over the years, Heyer also wrote straight historical fiction and mysteries. In fact, Heyer was somewhat dismissive of the books which made her such a successful author, and of many of the fans who faithfully waited for the release of each new book. The book of her heart was a straight historical novel set not in the Regency but in medieval times. The book remained unfinished when she died, although was subsequently published under the title Lord John.

What about Georgette Heyer the person? She was intensely private shunning all attempts by her publishers to publicise her own books. Even though Georgette Heyer was her real name, she used it like a pseudonym and was much happier in her role as Mrs Ronald Rougier - wife, mother, opinionated and pragmatic. In this account, we get to hear about the author as she was writing about her own books, about her many battles with her publishers, and most notably with the tax man. We get to see her own thoughts in her letters to friends and publishers, but even then the woman who emerges remains somewhat enigmatic.

We do get glimpses of her humour, usually self deprecating, but also are continually reminded of her insecurities and her attitude regarding her own work. For example, she talks in a letter about going to an informal lunch at Buckingham Palace. She deems Prince Philip as being "far more aware of his "charm" than I am", but in the same letter to her friend said "Neither Queen nor Duke made any mention of Georgette Heyer's books for which - since I hate talking about my books - I was thankful. But they certainly ought to have done so, don't you think?"

This book was published originally in 1984, which was 10 years after the death of Georgette Heyer from lung cancer, and therefore the author was able to talk to many of Georgette Heyer's contemporaries and to access the few letters which were available to the public record.

Whilst it was interesting, there were times as I read this that I got a bit distracted by the view out the window. What this book did do is make me want to read lots more Heyer, and I can see myself picking this book up again and again to read Heyer's thoughts on many of her own books.

My intentions are to read Sylvester which I started a few days ago, and then in the not too distant future to read Venetia (the first Heyer I ever bought but still haven't read), then A Civil Contract, Frederica and The Unknown Ajax, not necessarily in that order.

As far as I can tell, being inspired to read more Heyer can only be a good thing, right?

Rating 3.5/5

Thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy.


  1. One of these days I am going to read more Heyer... I have never really read anything by her.

  2. The only Heyer I have read has been one of her historical novels, but since you posted that special deal from Sourcebooks yesterday, I have significantly rounded out my collection! I think it's so oddly honorable that Heyer didn't go crazy with her self-publicity, but it's also sort of strange that she didn't want that recognition, you know? She sounds like she was a very formidable woman, and I am eager to read more of her work now!

  3. Ooh -- I'm going to have to look for this at my library -- Heyer's quite hot right now and I'd love to learn more about her!

  4. I enjoyed three Heyer novels this year -- two Regencies and a mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed them all. I agree with Audra -- I'm keen to know more about her, so I will look for this book!

  5. Kailana, I have quite a few of her books sitting here to get to eventually! Did you see that the ebooks are on special at the moment?

    Audra, Sourcebooks have done a fabulous job at bringing her books back, particularly in the US.

    Zibilee, formidable is a perfect word to use for the woman who was portrayed in this book. day!

  6. I really haven't read any of her work but maybe I would after reading this. I know she's very popular; I just haven't ever had time to really get there.

  7. Would love to get my hands on this one!

  8. Adore the Heyer novels, first recommended to me by a dear friend.

  9. I started reading her books when I was about 14 and have read and reread them several times.
    I remember when my father gave me a copy of Lord John.
    This sounds like an interesting book, I will check my library.



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