Posts Tagged ‘Georgette Heyer Book Reviews’

Vic at 22 on a sailboat, reading a Georgette Heyer novel. Look at those chubby Dutch cheeks!

I stumbled upon Georgette Heyer during a golden time of my life after college graduation when I had three precious free months before I began school again. Bursting with youthful energy, I didn’t know what to do with my time. And so I hit the books, but this time for pleasure. In those days, I could gobble up a book a day if I was so inclined, and I sped through Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Rebecca. Father and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev, one of my favorite authors, and Pride and Prejudice (for the second time in my life). That last novel with its sparkling wit and clear view of village life seemed like a breath of fresh air after the heightened emotions of the Victorian authors.

To me, Mr. Bennet was the image of my father, whose wry statements always made me pause before I could figure out if he was making sport of me, himself, or some other unwitting target. Mrs. Bennet reminded me of my crazy Dutch grandmothers – both of whom were slightly hysterical and VERY demanding. I read Pride and Prejudice twice that summer (and began a tradition of reading it every summer for the next twenty years). Greedily I reached for more Jane Austen novels until there were none left. I railed against the illness that carried Jane off before she could produce enough novels to assuage my addiction. Where to turn?

The library, of course.

I looked up Regency novels and found … Clare Darcy. Ok, I thought. I’ll give her a try and picked up a copy of Victoire, a most logical choice given my given name, and read the book in one long sitting. How to state it nicely: Clare Darcy is to Jane Austen what a sputtering candle is to the sun at high noon.

My quest was not over.

My apartment roommie, also a Janeite, discovered the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser. She LOVED them. But budding little feminist me wanted books written by humorous females, not a man with no interest in the goings on of small town families and their courtship rituals, and silly clergy, and strong heroines who were able to learn a thing or two. And so I continued my search.

One day I found a Barbara Cartland novel. Hahahahahahahaha! Tossing aside her cheesy book about a 16-year-old-heroine with a heart-shaped face, I wondered if I could charge her for wasting my precious life.

I continued my search.

And there it was. On the bottom shelf at the library. Arabella. It was a pathetic excuse of a book – dog-eared, blemished, and torn partially in the spine. I read the front cover – Arabella by Georgette Heyer – then sat on the floor and began to read. Witty words leapt from the pages. I laughed with delight. Before long I checked out the book and proceeded to read it in one long sitting. My roommie, who had started her new job two weeks after college, came home from work to find me engrossed. “I found a new author,” I said, telling her she could read the book when I was done. I gave it to her that night.

We were both instantly hooked on Georgette Heyer.

I returned to the library and checked out all the Georgette Heyers I could find. My roommie and I fell in love with Arabella, but we became die-hard fans when we encountered Venetia, The Grand Sophie, Sylvester, and Frederica. By summer’s end we had read ALL the GHs we could lay our hands on, even the mysteries and histories. (Thankfully, Georgette was prolific.)

My roommie and I were two young and hopeless romantics. We loved the glittering, detailed descriptions of the characters, the clothes they wore from expensive shops, and the houses, towns, and cities they inhabited. We learned about Regency London and the manners and mores of the Ton. Georgette Heyer characters spoke in cant, and thus we affected British accents and used cant-speech at every opportunity. Our boyfriends, while a bit mystified, played along, even debating which weapon was more effective in a fight – the epee or the sword.

Vintage GHs

But then life intruded and my intense love affair with Georgette Heyer had to take a back seat. I returned to school and began to read academic books again. I left my obsession behind, except for my yearly date with Pride and Prejudice.

Flash forward a number of decades when Sourcebooks began to republish Georgette Heyer novels. Once more I began to read them regularly, only this time I reviewed them as well.  I discovered that my tastes had changed and that I was more attracted to other novels like The Reluctant Widow and The Convenient Marriage. I never reread Arabella, for I did not want to revisit my first love only to discover that she had flaws.

I savor my memory of first discovering Georgette Heyer and thank Sourcebooks for the opportunity to relive that Golden Summer. I keep about 10 GH books on my Nook and Kindle (yes, I have both) so I am not ever very far from one of my favorite authors. If you are intrigued, all of GH s novels are available at Sourcebook’s Discover a New Love Website at http://www.discoveranewlove.com.

WIN A FREE BOOK! Those who leave a comment, have an opportunity to win a Georgette Heyer novel! Just let me know why you love to read Regency romances and/or Jane Austen! Contest ends on August 16th, (Contest ended!)which is Georgette Heyer’s 110th Birthday! Happy Birthday, GH, and thanks for the memories. Congratulations winners, Jan and Ginger, chosen through Random Number Generator! Thank you all for making a comment!

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The Classics Circuit is taking a Georgette Heyer Tour this month. I thought I would piggyback in a circuitous way, and add my own reviews where they fit in. Such fun! For those who have not read Georgette’s sparkling novels, mostly set during the Regency era, you have missed a treat. Although Ms. Heyer’s writing lacks the depth of Jane Austen’s novels, they are historically accurate and largely FUN to read. Going backwards, here is a recap of the first four days of the tour (I am including only the novels set in the Regency era), with my own reviews thrown in:

March 4  Sparks’ Notes Review: Friday’s Child, My Review of Friday’s Child

March 3 Michelle’s Masterful Musings Review: Devil’s Cub

March 2 Enchanted by Josephine Review: Beauvallet

March 1 Austenprose Review: Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

March 1 One Librarian’s Book Reviews Review: Frederica; My review of Frederica

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Inquiring readers: I have no doubt you shall enjoy this post by my good friend, Lady Anne, an expert when it comes to the subject of Georgette Heyer. Lady Anne has read Georgette Heyer’s novels for most of her years upon this earth. Smart, sassy, fabulous, well tressed and well dressed, she has read every GH book backwards and forwards. There is not one tiny detail of Georgette’s novels that escapes Lady Anne’s attention or opinion. As to her review of  These Old Shades- please enjoy.

Set in the Georgian period, about 20 years before the Regency, These Old Shades is considered to be the book that launched Heyer’s career. It features two of Heyer’s most memorable characters: Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon, and Leonie, whom he rescues from a life of ignomy and comes to love and marry.

The title of the book, These Old Shades, is a subtle allusion to the fact that this book is a far superior reworking of Georgette Heyer’s first book, The Black Moth, a book she wrote for the amusement of her brother who was ill. The characters in The Black Moth are at best two dimensional, but like most of Heyer’s creations, have enough humor and idiosyncrasy to catch our interest. In her case, it was the character of the villain whom she wished to revisit, develop and deepen.

These Old Shades is the first of the Alistair trilogy – she really did like these characters – and is not Regency, nor does it take place primarily in England. Like many of her early books, it falls more accurately into the category of historical romance, and is cast in mid-18th century Paris, with a short idyll at the English county seat of our hero, Justin Alistair, the Duke of Avon. He is known by the soubriquet Satanas, for his cold exactitude and prescient understanding of what his opponent will do next, as well as a certain elasticity in his moral fiber. The Duke has restored his family’s fortune through gambling; he is, as one would expect of one of the first peers of the realm, an arrant snob, careful, although certainly flamboyant, in his dress, and punctilious in manner. The historical background is the court of Louis XV, complete with its intrigues and excesses. It is the perfect backdrop for this story, for which one must be willing to suspend disbelief for pages at a time. It is such fun, and so sparkling in its writing, that one is indeed willing.

We first meet the Duke, dissolute, languid, apparently unaware of his surroundings, when a gamin comes hurtling from a side street and provides Avon with the weapon he has been waiting for to bring about the destruction of the Comte de Saint-Vire, the man who famously insulted Avon beyond courtesy. Avon buys the youngster from his brother, and establishes him as a page dressed in sober black, who attends Avon at parties, assemblies, and the Court at Versailles. The youngster, called Leon, attracts considerable attention, not only for his utter adoration of his master, whom he calls Monseigneur, but also for his startling red hair and dark eyebrows. Such hair and eyebrow combination is evident in the Saint-Vire family. As le tout Paris buzzes, Avon begins laying his plans. Leon is revealed to readers as Leonie, and goes to England in the country to learn how to be a lady. The Duke adopts her and returns to Paris with his ward. His friend Hugh Davenant returns to Paris at the same time and Avon tells him, in a passage that makes clear both the character and performance of this Duke:

“I am becoming something of a patriarch, my dear.”
“Are you? Davenant said, and smiled to himself. “May I compliment
you on your ward?”
“Pray do! You find her to your taste?”
“Infinitely. Paris will be enchanted. She is an original.”
“Something of a rogue,” conceded his Grace.
“Justin, what does Saint-Vire to do with her?”
The thin brows rose.
“I seem to remember, my dear, that your curiosity was one of the
things I deplored in you.”
“I’ve not forgot the tale you told me – in this very room, Justin. Is
Leonie the tool with which you hope to crush Saint-Vire?”
His Grace yawned.
“You fatigue me, Hugh. Do you know, I have ever had a fancy to
play my game — alone.”
Davenant could make nothing of him and gave up the attempt.”

But it is not the plot that carries the reader along; it is the delightful characters. The Duke, the darkest of Heyer’s heroes, has real charm, albeit a little sinister. He is not one you would wish to cross, as we see. Leonie, the heroine, is an effervescent charmer with a ferocious temper and an inherent sense of her own worth that grows through the book. Her character is honest and instinctively noble. She also, like any adorable pet of a large circle, gets away with being outrageous – except when Monseigneur is displeased. The supporting characters have charm and individuality as well. It is no wonder that Heyer comes back to the family twice: once in The Devil’s Cub – to revisit the Duke and his family, with a focus on the Cub, definitely the son of both his parents, and then in what is generally considered her finest novel, in An Infamous Army, where the grandchildren of the second book’s couple play out their roles at Waterloo.

If the story that unfolds is outrageous and unbelievable, the characters develop beautifully, the dialog bubbles delightfully, and we love the rollicking ride.

These Old Shades/Black Moth comparison from Wikipedia

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Grand SophyThe Grand Sophy, the latest Georgette Heyer release by SourceBooks, is a page turner that will keep the reader guessing and wondering when and how the heroine will top her previous outrageous acts. Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy, a rich widower who has recently returned from the Continent, convinces his sister, Lady Ombersley, that his sweet, motherless daughter ought to stay with her while he returns abroad. Several weeks after their discussion, Miss Sophy Stanton-Lacy makes a grand entrance:

Lady Ombersley, meanwhile, standing as though rooted to her own doorstep, was realizing with strong indignation, that the light in which a gentleman of great height and large proportions regarded his daughter had been misleading. Sir Horace’s little Sophy stood five feet nine inches in her stockinged feet, and was built on generous lines, a long-legged, deep-bosomed creature, with a merry face, and a quantity of glossy brown ringlets under one of the most dashing hats her cousins had ever seen.

Sophy could not exactly be called a beauty, but no one who had met her could ever quite forget her. Not ten minutes after her dramatic arrival, Lady Ombersley wonders: “What kind of niece was this, who set up her stable, made her own arrangements, and called her father Sir Horace?” The entire family, nay all of London, would soon find out.

Georgette Heyer wrote about two types of heroines. The Mark II heroine, who was a biddable and quiet young girl, and the Mark I heroine whose independent habits and dominant character invariably clashed with the hero’s personality. Sophy is the quintessential Mark I Heyer heroine: a tall, bossy, outrageously rich and independent, problem-solving, smart and capable young lady who will let nothing, not even Mr. Charles Rivenhall’s censure and outrage stand in her way. Arriving at the Ombersley’s house wearing a sable stole and carrying a sable muff, she alights from a coach and four with an entourage that includes several liveried footmen, a doyenne, an Italian greyhound, a monkey named Jacko, and a parrot in a birdcage. Even as Lady Ombersley struggles to hide her dismay, Sophy’s cousins are delighted, except for Charles. Everything about Sophy sets him on edge, especially when she won’t give way to even his slightest wishes.

High Perch Phaeton

As heroes go, Charles is a bit of a prig. He cannot help himself, for his father, Lord Ombersley is an inveterate gambler. Charles unexpectedly came into an inheritance from a rich relative who had made his fortune in India and he uses his wealth to pay off his father’s debts. In doing so, Charles becomes the de facto head of the family. A sensible man, he proposes to a patronizing young lady of impeccable character, Miss Eugenia Wraxton, and leads a bland existence … until Sophy turns his well-ordered life upside down. The reader learns one thing about Charles that others don’t seem to appreciate – children, dogs, monkeys, and parrots turn instinctively to him, and although he might seem harsh on the surface, he has a soft heart and is an easy touch. However, his dictatorial ways intimidate two of his siblings, Cecilia and Hubert, to the point where Sophy feels she needs to help out. This causes Charles to gnash his teeth at her presumption. At the core of this book are the crackling scenes between Sophy and Charles, and thankfully they are numerous.

The Grand Sophy is one of Georgette Heyer’s “larger than life” books. Everything – from the characters to Sophy’s antics to the settings – is bigger and grander than in most of her other novels, and the side characters are unforgettable. Augustus Fawnhope is a beautiful but a gloriously silly poet whom Cecilia loves. Cecilia, Charles’s lovestruck sister, is a sweet Mark II heroine with backbone and pluck, who sees the error of her ways, but can do little to rectify the situation. Enter Sophy to the rescue. Sancia, Sir Horace’s Spanish fiancee, is singularly lazy and unforgettable in her ability to drop off to sleep in front of guests, but Sophy knows she can solicit her support whenever it is needed. Lord Bromford, a terminally boring hypochondriac and Mamma’s boy, woos Sophy with the tenacity of a bulldog, much to the glee of her younger cousins, who watch with awe as their older cousin deftly skirts his advances.

Charles’s fiancee, the horse-faced and prudish Eugenia Wraxton, is Sophy’s perfect foil. On the outside, Miss Wraxton is all that is proper, but on the inside she is small and mean of spirit. Sophy sees right through her and is determined to open Charles’s eyes before he is leg-shackled to her through marriage. Where Miss Wraxton merely pays lip service to being a lady, Sophy is warmhearted and generous to a fault. Her rarified social status allows her to behave outrageously with impunity, a fact that the jealous Miss Wraxton never quite realizes. Miss Wraxton constantly lectures Sophy or, worse, tattles on her, as the following scene between Sophy and Charles suggests. In it they are discussing her purchase of her high perch phaeton, to which Charles has strenuously objected:

“I have no control over your actions, cousin,” he said coldly. No doubt if it seems good to you to make a spectacle of yourself in the Park, you will do so. But you will not, if you please, take any of my sisters up beside you!”

“But it does please me,” she said. “I have already taken Cecilia for a turn round the Drive. You have very antiquated notions, have you not? I saw several excessively smart sporting carriages being driven by ladies of the highest ton!”

“I have no particular objection to a phaeton and pair,” he said, still more coldly, “though a perch model is quite unsuited to a lady. You will forgive me if I tell you that there is something more than a little fast in such a style of carriage.”

“Now, who in the world can have been spiteful enough to have put that idea into your head?” wondered Sophy.

He flushed, but did not answer.

Although this book provides us with a fun romp through Regency London, it does possess one flawed scene. The scene is pivotal and demonstrates Sophy’s fearlessness in helping Charles’s brother Hubert out of an impossible situation, but Georgette Heyer is a product of her snobbish upbringing and time. Her description of a stereotypical Jewish lender, the villainous Mr. Goldhanger, is old-fashioned and ruffles our modern sensibilities. For many readers, this scene is a deal-breaker (see comments in link). Some stop reading the book at this point, others feel that the book loses some of its lustre, and others like myself manage to move on, realizing that authors cannot help but be influenced by the age in which they live. A friend of mine observed that Huckleberry Finn is full of racial slurs, but these statements did not prevent it from becoming a classic. Having said that, Georgette’s description of the Jewish lender did give me pause, but after a few pages, I was once again absorbed by Sophy’s antics and rooting for the characters I had come to love. When I turned the last page, I could only wish them all the happiest of ever afters.

3 regency fansI give The Grand Sophy three out of three regency fans. Order the book at this link.

Read this blog’s other Georgette Heyer reviews here.

Gentle readers: The Grand Sophy will be released today. A reissue from SourceBooks, this 1950 novel was one of Georgette Heyer’s best. Look for a month-long kick off of this highly entertaining book on Jane Austen Today, Austenprose and this blog.


Regency Manners and The Grand Sophy

Read the review on Austenprose at this link.

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my lord john

Gentle Readers, My friend, Hillary Major, a fan of history and recent Georgette Heyer convert, graciously agreed to review Source Books’ latest release of My Lord John, which was published posthumously. You can purchase the book at this link.

Many Heyer readers may be surprised to learn that the Middle Ages, not the Regency era, was the historical period closest to Georgette’s heart. So asserts her husband, in his brief preface to My Lord John, Heyer’s last and unfinished work, which tackles the history of the royal House of Lancaster in the years leading up to the Wars of the Roses. Heyer first began the writing and researching of My Lord John in 1948, and when she died in 1974, she had completed less than half of her planned narrative. The copious research she left behind was proof of a passionate interest in the era; it included index cards noting the important events for every calendar day from 1393 to 1435.
In explaining why Georgette was never able to finish My Lord John (a title chosen after her death), Heyer’s husband G. R. Rougier writes, “The penal burden of British taxation, coupled with the with the clamour of her readers for a new book, made her break off to write another Regency story. … So a great historical novel was never finished.” Heyer fans will find it difficult to regret those “stories” to which Georgette turned her hand – novels ranging from Arabella and The Grand Sophy to Black Sheep.

My Lord John, however, shows a different and perhaps more complex side of Heyer. Romance is barely a flutter in the background of the dynastic tangle that faces readers at the novel’s opening: King Richard II’s reign is seeming more unstable by the day, and with no direct heirs, nearly every powerful noble family is jockeying to take over the throne. As events develop, family relationships will prove to be the driving force for Heyer’s protagonist; when ties of friendship and politics are tested, the family bond prevails. (In contrast, romance proper is banished to a minor subplot, and the parties in the unwise affair are granted no sympathy; Heyer’s 15th-century England has no patience with star-crossed lovers.)

The tale centers on four brothers: the future Henry V, his more dashing but less intelligent brother Thomas, the solid and reliable John, and Humphrey, the spoiled youngest. We first meet the future princes through the eyes (and gossip) of their nurses as they worry about lord Harry’s sickliness and retching and lord Humphrey’s unpredictable toddling. This is a technique Heyer uses again and again to bring the everyday details of medieval life to the fore: the reader is shown the perspective of minor characters, often servants, whose point-of-view broadens the medieval landscape while their observations help round out the characters of the main historical figures. We see Lord John, for example, through the eyes of a squire (who wonders why a nobleman would stop to patronize a street stall like a commoner) and the priest who follows in his retinue as Lord Confessor (who worries much more about the worldly concerns of lodging and meals than does his charge). Heyer takes every opportunity to revel in period dialogue (glossary provided) and even manages to write in cameo appearances by medieval celebrities such as Chaucer and Froissert.

As Heyer paints her portrait of Lord John, he emerges as an unusual hero: moderate, conscientious, loyal, but happy to fill a secondary role. While Heyer may relish the flash of Lord Harry (and the challenge of covering the events that inspired Shakespeare, who was rather less faithful to his sources), it is the slow-and-steady John whom she elevates to hero. My Lord John is in many ways a coming-of-age novel, and the story picks up pace about halfway through, when John travels to the Scottish Borderlands as Lord Warden, the representative of the throne in this rebellious and sometimes hostile region. As he meets with the nobles, clergy, and common folk, John consistently shows that is he more than he appears:

The Abbot himself received the Lord John … At first unhopeful of exchanging ideas with so young a princeling, he soon discovered that the King’s third son, besides having enjoyed the advantages of a careful education, had delved deeply into mundane matters. Sheep-farming was the chief worldly business of the Cistercians, and … [t]hey talked of ewe-flocks, of whethers and hoggets; of the perils of the lambing season; of fells; of the advantages and the disadvantages of a fixed Staple; of the guile of the Lombard merchants, and the wiles of the brokers; of the circumstances which had led great families to lease their farms to tenants; and – this was a homethrust delivered by the Lord John – of the sand-blind policy that induced sheep-farmers to sell their wool for many years ahead to crafty Flemish and Italian merchants.” (p. 210)

John shows himself similarly knowledgeable about falconry and coal-mining, among other pursuits. In passages like this, the reader sees in Lord John a love of the details and intricacies of daily life that is clearly shared by Heyer herself. While Harry has the fire and drives much of the action, it is John, the consummate planner and administrator, who earns the respect of author and readers. Can we see a parallel between the sparkling plots and vivid romances on which Heyer’s fame (and sales) relied and the meticulous research (on multiple historical periods) that she so valued and that infused her work?

It is impossible to know how Heyer would have completed her Lancastrian manuscript (or even how much of the present work would have survived her editing process), though further scenes of battle would have been inevitable and a passage toward the end of the book describing a heretic’s execution may be intended to foreshadow Lord John’s future encounters with Joan of Arc. As it is, the dedication to historical accuracy and the fact that Lord John is not personally involved in much of the action in the first half of the book, make My Lord John a slower and drier read than most Heyer novels. But the reader who takes a lesson from the unlikely hero, and relishes the richness and texture of Heyer’s medieval world, will find much to enjoy.

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