I am not quite sure what Georgette Heyer has done to bring down such sarcasm and dismissive reviews by the literati. She suffered from their disparaging remarks during her life and now that this new biography has been published, they are at it again. It makes me very cross indeed and those who have accused GH of being a snob and upper class are merely showing their own version of the same faults.
This new biography by Jennifer Kloesters is obviously going to be a must have for all fans of Heyer, but cannot imagine that anybody else will have it on their wish list and it is clear from some of the reviews that this book has been given to critics who have no interest in the subject matter and are happy to diss it.
Well, I am not about to because I simply adore GH and have done since I was 13 years old. I was confined at home with German Measles, feeling perfectly well but not allowed to go to school as I was highly infectious. My sister, a future librarian, was working in the local library and promised to nip home at lunch time with some reading matter. In the books she brought home was one title The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer. It was one of those hideous Pan editions of the sixties with the heroines in full make up and false eyelashes, but that didn't put me off and I sat down and read it and simply loved it. My sister was ordered to bring me home as many more Heyers as she could find and that was that. I was off and running. I recently re-read The Talisman Ring and loved it just as much as ever. A lovely feisty heroine, a dashing, wrongly accused hero turned smuggler, Ludovic - what's not to like? But Heyer is clever and balances out the obvious love story with that of an older couple, Sir Tristram and Sarah Thane who are far the more interesting, and funnier, of the two.
GH had a middle class upbringing typical of her time and yes, to modern eyes, she probably can appear snobbish and anti-Semitic, but we have to remember that these attitudes were widespread and she was not alone in her views. Dame Agatha Christie and D L Sayers were also guilty of derogatory remarks about Jews and, while agreeing that this is pretty reprehensible, when reading early works the reader has to remember when they were written and not be too censorious. You cannot edit in hindsight. So while I understand one critic's dislike of this, no point in bringing it up now.
Georgette's father died in his early fifties of a heart attack, no warning, no signs of ill health and, as they were very close and he actively encouraged her writing and supported her, this was a huge blow. It left her bereft and also, in the long run, the financial support of her family. GH was an Edwardian and was brought up in the usual ladylike way of waiting at home until she was married. She was not expected to have a career, but like earlier women novelists who worked themselves to nervous exhaustion and ill health (think Fanny Trollope, Mrs Oliphant, Frances Hodgson-Burnett, Edith Wharton) she was allowed to write until she, too, had a breakdown.
She signed over the Australian rights in her books to her mother (GH was very popular in the Antipodes) which allowed her to live a relatively comfortable life in the various residential hotels she chose to live in, looked after her two brothers and when her husband Ronald Rougier decided after failing at commercial ventures, that he really wanted to read law, she supported him through all his years of studying until his qualification. He became a most respected judge so obviously it was a calling that suited him, but it was Georgette's writing that made all this possible.
Alongside the Regency novels GH also write a series of detective stories and flirted with other genres in her early writing days until she finally settled into the period of history that was to become her own. Her research was formidable and her sense of fun and humour shines through so many of these wonderful stories. I am currently re-reading Friday's Child, one of her biggest successes on publication, and it still makes me laugh out loud:
"'What the devil is all this about a dashed Greek?' demanded Sherry. .......I'm not acquainted with any Greeks and what's more, I don't want to be!'
'It ain't a thing you're acquainted with dear boy.....comes up behind a fellow when he ain't expecting it'
'Yes but what is it?'
Mr Tarleton said with a quiver of amusement in his voice 'I fancy he means Nemesis'
'That's it' said Ferdy looking at him with respect.' Nemesis!' you know him too?"
It seems from some reviewers that Gerogette wrote her novels "with the help of gin, fags and Dexedrine. Under the influence of the latter, she could write for up to 24 hours at a time". Dreadful is it not? In our obsession about smoke free zones nowadays, please remember that at this time smoking was fashionable. GH liked a gin and tonic, but from the tone of this review you would think she was drowned in the stuff. She also did not understand what Dexedrine was and was given it by her doctor. She found if she took it late at night it helped her to stay awake and write at night for hours at a time. Pretty sure she had no idea that it was a highly addictive stimulant.
According to one review, this is a biography about a not very interesting woman. What we learn from Jennifer Kloesters book is that GH was an intensely, shy, private person. She did not give interviews, she hated having her photograph taken and was only comfortable within her own small circle of friends. She and her husband had a long and happy marriage though there is a suggestion her that it was more cerebral than physical. They were boon companions who enjoyed each other's company and, therefore, did not feel the need to shine in society and make a splash. They were happy with their lives and just got on with it. Obviously it would be better if they had raging rows, got drunk and abused each other, were unfaithful, got divorced etc etc as this would make much better biographical matter. They simply enjoyed being with each other. This is not going to make for a sparkling life from the biographers point of view, but those of us who love her merely have to re-read any of her books to find the true Georgette, her crime novels which she enjoyed plotting immensely (incidentally Ronald had great input in these discussing clues and situations with each other) and, of course, the sheer joi di vivre and delight of all those wonderful wonderful Regency novels, all of are still in print and there to divert and delight future generations.
Georgette Heyer was a brilliant writer and I am just sorry that she always been belittled by literary snobs and bunged into the Romance section of public libraries and treated in such a derogatory way.
"The nuptials of her youngest born had proved to be too much for Lady Winwood's delicate constitution....she withdrew with her two remaining daughters to the fastness of Winwood and there built up her shattered nervous system on a diet of eggs and cream and paregoric draughts, and the contemplation of the Marriage Settlement"
I included this quote in an earlier post on Georgette Heyer and said that the Divine Jane could not have done any better. I stand by that and to you snooty reviewers out there who are determined to put the knife in, go away, read one of her books and have a re-think.
I will accept your apologies in due course.
As well as this excellent biography, Jennifer Kloesters has also written Georgette Heyer's Regency World, a wonderful compendium of fashion, carriages, food, drink etc and a must have for all Heyer lovers.
I have written about the Divine Georgette many times on Random and here below are links to my posts. I would love for you to read them and let me have your opinion on this simply wonderful writer.