Our Romantic Heritage: Georgette Heyer
This month, it's all about the woman who blazed a trail for historical romance, as author Lara Temple discusses the style of Georgette Heyer.
A book changed my life.
I’m not exaggerating. When I was fourteen I came across a copy of Georgette Heyer’s Faro’s Daughter in a second-hand book store and my little universe expanded. I grew up on the Secret Five and Nancy Drew and Batman comics, but in that afternoon something new entered my life—history and romance and the joy of combining them. I have all of Heyer’s books and I often pick them up to read a favorite scene or two. It’s like sitting down with a good friend for a cup of tea—lovely, familiar, relaxing. ”
It might have happened with another author, but I’m glad it happened with Georgette Heyer because there is no question that she holds a special place in the historical romance genre. People who love Heyer—and there are droves, mobs, crowds, and multitudes of these—don’t need this explained. But when I try to explain to non-Heyerites I do run aground a little—all I can think of saying is—try her, you will see (rather like Dr. Seuss’s Sam in Green Eggs and Ham).
But if pressed, I say it’s her generosity to her characters, both heroes and heroines. With only rare bouts of introspection she presents us with full-blooded, complex, imperfect, funny, difficult, challenging, engaging men and women. Her heroes and heroines differ from book to book by an amazing degree—she rarely repeats a ‘type.’
There’s intelligent, sensitive, innocent and yet mature Venetia and her archetypical, and yet completely untypical, reformed rake Damerel. There’s the indomitable and inventive Sophy from the Grand Sophie—who takes her cousins by storm, untangling all their woes with the creativity and panache of a five star general. There’s plain and alternately shy and mischievous Pheobe who takes the arrogant but appealing Duke Sylvester down a peg. They might all appear like types and tropes—many of which originated with her—but her writing, dialogue, and characterization are so fresh and honest you believe they could be real people
It’s also the impeccable setting of scenes—the depiction of her historical settings are as rich as books that were written during that time period. My mental images of scenes in her books have become part of my imagined reality of historic England (and beyond)—ballrooms and drawing rooms, Bath and Brighton, country lanes and even battlefields.
It’s also her witty tongue-in-cheek social commentary—Heyer wasn’t politically a liberal or believer in women’s rights and she held the prejudices of her time period and social class, but somehow her female heroines often have more agency and spirit than those written by more liberal authors.
Though there was often tension and a great deal of conflict between hero and heroine (not always), I always hoped for slightly more heat—she usually only offers a kiss or two (at best and at the very end). Still, her relationships are always a fine twisting twirling waltz you want to dance to again and again.
So if, like me, you’re a fan of historical romance, and you’re interested in Heyer but have never read her, I can recommend joining us at the Unlaced Historical Romance Facebook Group for our summer Heyer reading club.
Are you a Georgette Heyer fan? Has she influenced your writing or love of historical romance? We'd love to hear from you here or on social media using #RomanceAncestry.