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Archive for the ‘Georgette Heyer’ Category

August 16th marks Georgette Heyer’s birthday. In several comments on my book reviews some readers have made it a point to mention that Georgette is no Jane Austen and termed her novels mere romances. Ah, but they are so much more. I love her novels in part because they remind me vividly of the satirical prints that were so popular during Jane Austen’s day.  Observe the dandy at left in the print below, then read Georgette’s description of Sir Nugent!

Beside Sylvester’s quiet elegance and Major Newbury’s military cut she had been thinking that Sir Nugent presented all the appearance of a coxcomb. He was a tall man, rather willowy in build, by no means unhandsome, but so tightly laced-in at the waist, so exaggeratedly padded at the shoulders, that he looked a little ridiculous. From the striking hat set rakishly on his Corinthian crop (he had already divulged that it was the New Dash, and the latest hit of fashion) to his gleaming boots, everything he wore seemed to have been chosen for the purpose of making him conspicuous.  His extravagantly cut coat was embellished with very large and bright buttons; a glimpse of exotic colour hinted at a splended waistcoat beneath it; his breeches were of white corduroy; a diamond pin was stuck in the folds of his preposterous neckcloth; and he wore so many rings on his fingers, and so many fobs and seals dangling at his waist, that he might have been taken for a jeweller advertising his wares. – Georgette Heyer, Sylvester

Astley's Amphitheatre

Here is her passage about Astley’s Amphitheatre in Cotillion:

Though Meg might cry out against so unsophisticated an entertainment, Mr. Westruther knew Kitty well enough to be sure that she would revel in it. Had it been possible, he would unhesitatingly have taken her to Astley’s Amphitheartre, and would himself have derived a good deal of amusement, he thought, from watching her awe and delight at Grand Spectacles, and Equestrian Displays. But the Amphitheatre, like its rival, the Royal Circus, never opened until Easter Monday, by which time, Mr Westruther trusted, Kitty would have returned to Arnside.

Vauxhall Gardens, Samuel Wale, c. 1751

By way of whiling away the eveing Sherry escorted his bride to Vauxhall Gardens. Here they danced, supped in one of the booths on wafter-thin slices of ham, and rack-punch, and watched a display of fireworks. – Friday’s Child



He complied with this request, backing the phaeton into place on the right of the landaulet, so that although the high perch of the phaeton made it impossible for his sister to shake hands with Frederica she was able to exchange greetings with her, and might have maintained a conversation had she not decided that to be obliged to talk to anyone sitting so far above her would soon give Frederica a stiff neck. – Frederica

A Kiss in the Kitchen, Thomas Rowlandson

‘But if she knew that you do not mind George’s having kissed me -‘

‘But I do mind!’ said Sherry, incensed.

‘Do you, Sherry?’ she asked wistfully.

‘Well, of course I do! A pretty sort of a fellow I should be if I did not!’

‘I won’t do it again,’ she promised.

‘You had better not, by Jupiter!’ – Friday’s Child

Time and again the zany plots and witty conversations in Georgette’s novels echo the Regency prints that I love to study. Yes, she is no Jane Austen, but as an interpreter of the Regency era, she is priceless.

As a birthday gift, please click on this link to read her short story, A Proposal to Cecily.

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I have reviewed many Georgette Heyer novels for this blog. Here are some images of the author over the years. She had a strong handsome face. Not pretty, but full of character.

Georgette Heyer in 1923 at 21. She had already written her first book.

Looking rather modish

Wearing a rather severe look

The author at her son's wedding

Georgette in 1970, four years before her death

Read this review in the Guardian UK of her latest biography by Jennifer Kloester.
Also, Happy Birthday, Georgette Heyer!

Georgette Heyer

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Whenever a reader asks: Which of the Georgette Heyer books ranks among your favorites? Venetia invariably springs from my lips. Mind you, I had not read this book for decades, but I savored its memory. In recent years I began to question my younger self, for while I loved rereading The Grand Sophy last year, I didn’t find it quite as splendid as the 24-year-old Vic had. As I grew older, other GH books made their first appearance on my favorites list, such as The Quiet Gentleman and The Reluctant Widow.

When Sourcebooks sent me a review copy of Venetia I did not choose it for my first critique, for I did not want to spoil my youthful impression. Once I began reading the book, I discovered that the 25-year-old heroine of Undershaw in Yorkshire captivated me all over again.

Amongst the pick of the debutantes at Almack’s she must have attracted attention; in the more restricted society in which she dwelt she was a nonpareil. It was not only the size and brilliance of her eyes which excited admiration, or the glory of her shining guinea-gold hair, or even the enchanting arch of her pretty mouth: there was something very taking in her face which owed nothing to the excellence of her features: an expression of sweetness, a sparkle of irrepressible fun, an unusually open look, quite devoid of self-consciousness.”

Venetia Lanyon is no ordinary heroine. Like Jane Austen’s Emma, she has largely led a protected life, thanks to her reclusive father, and allowed to go only to the dance assemblies in York and as far as the seaside town of Scarborough. Although she might not have been given a Season in London, Venetia is smart, lively, and resourceful. After her father’s death and in her elder brother’s absence, she runs the estate and makes all the important decisions overseeing the house, servants, herself and her young brother, Aubrey.

Waiting for her brother Conway’s return (he is a soldier), Venetia fends off two local suitors, the priggish Edward Yardley, who is as dull as a post, and ardent Oswald Denny, who, too dazzled by Venetia’s unselfconscious beauty and overly influenced by Lord Byron’s romanticism, is unable to recognize that he is much too young for her. Venetia lives a sedate life in her back country neighborhood, whose denizens are all respectable and predictable, except for one – Lord Damerel, a rake and ne’er-do-well, and a blight upon Undershaw’s spotless reputation.

“His family was an old and a distinguished one, but the present holder of the title was considered by the respectable to be the neighborhood’s only blot. It was almost a social solecism to mention his name in polite company.”

Venetia’s uneventful life unexpectedly changes when she encounters Damerel as she picks blackberries on his lands while wearing an old and rumpled gown.

“He was a stranger, but his voice and his habit proclaimed his condition, and it did not take her more than a very few moments to guess that she must be confronting the Wicked Baron. She regarded him with candid interest, unconsciously affording him an excellent view of her enchanting countenance.”

Mistaking her for a trespassing servant maid, he kisses her. And so the fun begins, for we are still at the very start of the novel.

Which brings me to the hero. As a young woman, I preferred dark brooding heroes like Damerel – men whose vices, dissipations and disappointments turn them into cynics; men whose good qualities are awakened by spectacular women like Venetia, men who on the surface are all wrong for the heroine. And so in Damerel I found my perfect unforgettable hero. Now, in my more advanced age (ahem), I find that I am still enamored of him.

Several qualities make Venetia stand head and shoulders above most of GH’s other novels. The plot is intelligent and complex and gets better and better with each page, continually taking us in unexpected directions. In fact, there were three twists that threw me for a loop and that kept this love story fresh and alive until the last page.

Several minor characters stand out from the ordinary. I could read an entire book about Aubrey, Venetia’s physically disabled but fiercely independent and brilliant brother who likes books more than people. Then there’s Mrs. Scorrier, an unforgettable vulgar character in the mode of a Mrs. Elton. Presumptuous, overbearing, and encroaching, she promises to overset Venetia’s and Aubrey’s well ordered lives (and those of the servants). Then there’s the matter of a little mystery, for as the book progressed I kept asking myself, when will we meet Venetia’s brother Conway? So much of the plot revolves around his absence and his anticipated return, that I was keen to meet him.

I am one of the GH readers who luxuriates in her use of Regency cant, and Venetia offers this language in spades:

She made the shocking discovery that he was a member of the dandy-set – indeed the pinkest of Pinks, a swell of the first stare! Not having the least guess that the old lady holds every Bond Street beau in the utmost abhorrence, the silly pigeon rigged himself out as fine as fivepence, and trotted round to Grosvenor Square looking precise to a pin: Inexpressibles of the most delicate shade of primrose, coat by Stulz, Hessians by Hoby, hat – the Bang-up – by Baxter, neckcloth – the Oriental, which is remarkable for its height – by himself.”

There are readers, I found to my surprise, who are put off by Ms. Heyer’s cant (Ten reasons why I can’t read Georgette Heyer) and who could care less about her historical accuracy. This novel is not for them, for it is filled with colorful antiquated language and wonderful tidbits about the Regency era that I found fascinating but that will turn them away.

I rate Venetia five out of five teacups

Did I like Venetia? No, I loved it, and I hope you will too. I give it five out of five Regency tea cups.

Order the book here
ISBN: 9781402238840

Other Georgette Heyer Reviews on this blog:

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The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer starts out anything but quietly. Gervase Frant, 7th Earl of St. Erth, had the bad judgment to survive the Battle of Waterloo by escaping a violent death. His half-brother, Martin, and step mama had half counted/half hoped on his not attaining the Earldom, for St. Erth had served in many a battle. Much to their annoyance, he emerged from military service to claim an inheritance that his younger brother had started to assume would be his. And so the fun begins. The novel celebrates its 60th year and its release by Sourcebooks marks the novelists’ 109th birthday on August 16th.

In Gervase we have a blondly handsome dandy with a mild-mannered facade. His physical appearance hides the fact that he does what he pleases in a most sensible and determined way, unsurprising given his military background. When the family first meets him, Gervase stood revealed in “all the fashionable elegane of dove-coloured pantaloons, and a silver-buttoned coat of blue superfine.”

A quizzing-glass hung on a black riband round his neck, and he raised this to one eye, seeming to observe, for the first time, the knee-breeches worn by his brother and his cousin, and the glory of his stepmother’s low-cut gown of purple satin.”

This description served to tell the reader that Gervase was still wearing his traveling clothes and was in no way prepared to dine as the others were. His appearance also dupes his stepmama and half-brother into thinking he can be manipulated and bamboozled.

The heroine, Drusilla Morville, is not the obvious sort, for she is neither encroaching nor flashy. She’s more like an Elinor Dashwood than a Marianne, possessing an unassuming self-assurance and an adherence to tasteful, restrained fashion that would make Katherine, the new Duchess of Cambridge proud.

Heyer gives us what Austen does not – detail upon detail of fashion and interiors, well researched facts, I might add, for Heyer’s descriptions are accurate. Her long passage regarding the building of Stanyon Castle is important, for it lays the groundwork for the mystery that is to come. One can depend on every historical tidbit and social custom to be spot on, for Heyer is, if anything, meticulous. And while her still waters do not run as deep as Jane Austen’s, they run satisfyingly long and provide the reader with the feeling of having dipped into Regency England.

In this scene, young Martin approaches the love of his life, Miss Marianne Bolderwood, in one of the succession-houses, where she is pursuing her hobby of the moment, potting spring bulbs:

He heard the sound of he voice uplifted in a gay ballad. It came from the potting-shed, and he strode up to it, and looked in, to find that she was alone there, engaged in transferring several white hyacinghs from their separate earthenware pots to a large Worcestershire bowl. She made a charming picture, with her pale golden curls uncovered, and confined only by a blue riband, a shawl pinned round her shoulders, and a small trowel in one hand.”

Hyacinths were quite popular during the Georgian era, and while this detail is not at first strikingly obvious, Heyer knew enough to mention them (as did Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey). In fact, hyacinth vases were first used in the Georgian period to force the bulbs into early bloom.

Heyer’s dialogue is matchless, and, dare I say it, Austen’s equal in wit and pointed observation. Drusilla Morville’s parents are rebellious Bluebloods and eccentric to the nth degree, but when push comes to shove, liberal-minded Mama Morville, who is also an authoress, knows exactly what she wants for her daughter – a good marriage – and she does not hesitate in telling her husband off when he starts to protest at her attraction to St. Erth:

“If the Earl – I say, if! – were to offer for dear Drusilla, and you were to refuse your permission, I should be strongly inclinded to clap you into Bedlam! I marvel, my love, that a man of your intellect should so foolishy confuse theory with practice!”

And there you have it – the evidence of Heyer’s abilities to keep the reader on her toes and insert humor into almost every scene. Throughout the book we have been assured that neither of the Morvilles can be persuaded to deviate from their eccentric convictions, but when confronted with reality, heaven forbid that they should confuse their priorities!

We are also introduced to the protocol of dueling in the most convoluted and humorous way. Even as she makes fun of the convention, Heyer manages to teach the reader about its rules . This conversation is between Martin and Mr Barny Warboys, who is afterwards driven to search his father’s library for the Code of Honour . Martin is asking his good friend to second his opponent :

“Dash it, Martin, it ain’t the part of a friend of yours to second your opponent! Told you I’d act for you, didn’t I? Stupid thing to do, but not the man to go back on my word.”

“Barny, if he applies to you, will you act for him?”

Mr. Waryboys scratched his chin. “Might have to,” he conceded. “But if I act for him, who’s to act for you? Tell me that!”

“Good God, anyone! Rockcliffe — Alston!”

“Ay, that will be a capital go!” said Mr Warboys scathingly … “Lord, Martin, dashed if I don’t think you must be queer in your attic!”

Jane Austen’s novels are classics, which goes without saying, and Georgette Heyer’s are not, but they are nevertheless amusing and worth reading. Austen experimented with character and sub-layered her plots, whereas Heyer’s novels are (excuse me for saying this) formulaic. While Austen introduced outrageous and unforgettable secondary characters, Heyer stacked them up to the ceiling with demanding Mamas, dull-as-post bachelors, wide-eyed and breath-takingly beautiful lasses, loyal friends, strong-willed heroes, and sensible heroines. Even after having read all of her 50+ books at least twice, I have trouble recalling which of Heyer’s secondary characters belong in which book.

Heyer also tends to have her secondary characters take over much of the plot. In The Quiet Gentleman, I would have rather read more about Drusilla (who was barely there) than the beautiful but empty-headed Miss Bolderwood. St. Erth’s younger half-brother, Martin Frant, is too cardboard cut-out and immature for my liking, but his mama reminded me most forceably of Lady Catherine deBourgh, and that was fun.

In this plot romance also takes a back seat to mystery. Who wants to off the Earl and why?

Overall, I would say that The Quiet Gentleman is one of Heyer’s more mature novels. The hero and heroine are sensible, the plot is set in the country, where life plods along slowly and the characters attend only a few parties and balls, and the mystery unfolds at a rather leisurely pace.

Rating: Four out of Five Teacups

It has been at least twenty years since I last read The Quiet Gentleman. I am glad I had the opportunity to read it once again, and give this book four out of five Regency tea cups.

Georgette Heyer Reviews on this blog:

Here’s a bit of heresy for Georgette Heyer fans: Ten reasons why I can’t read Georgette Heyer

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Jane Austen’s novels did not ignore the rising middle class and successful merchants and tradesmen, the nouveau riche of her era. Mr. Bingley and his sisters were the fortunate offspring of a tradesman. Mrs. Bennet’s,  Mrs. Jennings’, and Mrs. Elton’s vulgarities cannot be denied and add spice to her tales.  A real life representative of the rich bourgeois class was Mrs. Smith, once married to a trader named Kinnear. I would imagine that if a stranger met her, there would be no mistake from her demeanor and accent where her origins lay. She dressed well, according to an eye witness, and managed to live out her years in comfort.

Mrs. Smith, 1795

MRS SMITH IN THE COSTUME OF 1795. That this Portraiture was sketched without a sitting may be conjectured from a memorandum by the artist, which states that when the lady heard of his intention to publish her likeness, she sent for him to come and get a proper look at her, but he did not choose to accept the invitation. Those who remember Mrs Smith will have little difficulty in recognising a strong likeness to her in the Etching. Mrs, or rather Luckie Smith, for so in her later years she was uniformly styled, is dressed in the somewhat ridiculous fashion prevailing towards the close of [the] last century. The Print bears the date 1795, and at that period she resided in South Bridge Street. Some years afterwards, she removed to a house purchased for her in Blackfriar’s Wynd. Mrs Smith was a native of Aberdeen, and had in early life been married to a trader of the name of Kinnear, by whom she had a son and two daughters. After the death of her husband, she resumed her maiden name of Smith. Her favourite walk was the Meadows. She was a stout, comely looking woman, and usually dressed well. She lived to old age in the enjoyment of two annuities, one of which she derived from a gentleman of fortune, the husband of one of her daughters. The other daughter was also well married, and we believe is now in America. Mrs Smith died in January, 1836. – A series of original portraits and caricature etchings, Volume 2, Part 2 (Google eBook), John Kay, 1838, p425.

The description might remind Georgette Heyer fans of Mrs. Floore from Bath Tangle. That “redoubtable old lady had inherited, besides two fortunes, considerable interest in her father’s soap factory, and her husband’s shipyard.” Hah!

Here is another telling description of Mrs. Floore, and how an aristocrat, comfortable in her own skin, would find such a creature fascinating:

Upon several occasions, both [Serena} and Fanny had been diverted by the startling appearance presented by an elderly female of little height but astonishing girth, who, while she adhered, perhaps wisely, to the fashions of her youth, was not wise enough to resist the lure of bright colours. She had a jolly, masterful countenance, with three chins beneath it, and a profusion of improbable black ringlets above it, imperfectly confined by caps of various designs, worn under hats of amazing opulence. Serena drew giggling protests from Fanny by asserting that she had counted five ostrich plumes, one bunch of grapes, two of cherries, three large roses, and two rosettes on one of these creations. An inquiry elicited from Mr King the information that the lady was the widow of a rich merchant of Bristol—or he might have been a shipowner: Mr King could not take it upon himself to say. No doubt a very good sort of a woman in her way, but (her la’ship would agree) sadly out of place in such a select place as Bath.” – Chapter 6

Can you imagine the Miss Bingleys hobnobbing with Mrs. Floore, or Sir Walter Elliot entertaining her in his house in Bath?

Can you imagine Sir Walter Elliot or Lady Dalrymple conversing with Mrs. Smith or Mrs. Poole? (Hugh Thompson, Persuasion)

In Bath Tangle, an adventurous Serena is quite taken by Mrs. Floore, whereas her timid stepmother, Fanny, is aghast:

‘Serena!’ breathed Fanny. ‘What an extraordinary creature!

‘Yes, but quite delightful, I promise you!’

‘But, Serena, she is dreadfully vulgar! You cannot really mean to visit her!’

Serena did visit Mrs. Floore, which few ladies of refinement would do, but she was secure in her position in Society and bored out of her gourd, and Mrs. Poole, besides being a nice and sensible person, provided her with entertainment. A reluctant Fanny accompanies her:

The call was paid, though without the suggested prelude; and the welcome accorded to the ladies was so good-natured and unaffected that Fanny was brought to acknowledge that however vulgar Mrs Floore might be she had a great deal of drollery, and was certainly no toad-eater. She declined a civil invitation to return the visit, saying, with paralysing candour, that it was one thing for their ladyships to visit in Beaufort Square whenever they felt so inclined, and quite another for them to be entertaining her in Laura Place, and very likely making all their acquaintance wonder what kind of company they had got into. – Chapter 7

Hugh Thompsons illustration of a vulgar, dashing widow. (Emma)

Times were a-changing. The rising middle classes were able and willing to lay out ready cash to move up in the world. What they lacked (aside from refinement) were land and a nice title. The aristocrats had these aplenty. Since many a landed family had squandered their fortunes, it was inevitable that the lines of distinction would begin to blur as the nouveau riche began to snap up estates in foreclosure or shove their very rich daughters in front of impoverished heirs.

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