I’ve said it before – I am not an Austen sequel’s reader or a romance reader. I wrote about the Chicago AGM and my delight in the evening on Romance and have since been a regular reader of the “Teach me Tonight” blog. As soon as I returned from Chicago, a quick run to the local used bookstore that stocks romances sent me home with all of the novels of Eloisa James’s “Desperate Duchesses” series. The first was a quick and enjoyable read – the rest await my time!
So with this intro, it is easy to confess that Jane Austen lover that I am, as well as all things English and Regency, I have never read ANY Georgette Heyer (is this perhaps slightly worse than my previous admission that I am a NY Yankees fan?…) and not that I haven’t wanted to…. She has been on my to-be-read list for years, and among some great company, but I’ve never been sure where to start. So I was thrilled to receive a review copy of Faro’s Daughter, originally published in 1941 now reprinted by Sourcebooks, and have finally begun my Heyer journey, and what a delightful beginning!
Deborah Grantham (called Deb, so perhaps I am taken in immediately!), is an independent, feisty, level-headed, take-no-prisoners, absolutely beautiful heroine – living with her Aunt, Lady Bellingham, who runs a high-society London gaming establishment and is presently in serious financial straits. Here is Deb as we are first introduced:
...a tall young woman with chestnut hair, glowing in the candlelight, and a pair of laughing, dark eyes set under slim, arched brows. Her luxuriant hair was quite simply dressed, without powder, being piled up on top of her head, and allowed to fall back in thick, smooth curls. One of these had slipped forward, as she bent over the table, and lay against her white breast… the lady’s eyes were the most expressive and brilliant…. ever seen. Their effect upon an impressionable youth would…be most destructive.
Several suitors seek her favor, the young Lord Adrian Mablethorpe and the older, odious Mr. Ormskirks. The book begins with a Mr. Ravenscar visiting his Aunt, Lady Mablethorpe, Adrian’s mother, who is in a near apoplectic state over Adrian’s wishes to marry Deb; Lady M wishes her nephew to prevent this at all costs, and from here the plot is in motion and the fun begins – a fast-paced, highly amusing high-jinx comedy of manners – the insults and name-calling and behaviors suiting neither a Regency lady nor a proper gentleman run rampant – and I can tell no more, no spoilers here!
Similarities to Pride & Prejudice abound: Deb is not unlike Lizzie Bennet – she speaks her mind, she reacts strongly to insults to her character and social standing (though she goes to quite unlady-like lengths to exact her revenge!) and she is a caring niece, sister and employer…. and of course those “dark eyes” !…. ; there are moments of Mrs. Bennet in both Lady Bellingham and Lady Mablethorpe (Oh! my nerves!); Miss Ravenscar as an interesting mix of Georgiana Darcy and Lydia Bennet; young Adrian needing advice much like Mr. Bingley; and Ravenscar who makes his entrance on page one:
...very tall, with a good pair of legs, encased in buckskins and topboots, fine broad shoulders under a coat of superfine cloth, and a lean, harsh-featured countenance with an uncompromising mouth, and extremely hard grey eyes. His hair, which was black, and slightly curling, was cut into something perilously near a Bedford crop
... so is Max Ravenscar our Darcy, or a Willoughby ? or even a Wickham?
But there are also similarties to Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses (perhaps because it is still fresh in my mind, or likely because they all follow a basic formula) – in both books we see gaming strategies, the tensions, sexual and otherwise, the characters of Ravenscar and the Duke of Villiers both made of the same cloth. It is clear that you have been to this place before, but that’s fine ~ it’s a great place to visit!
Filled with Regency terminology and slang, card games and some well-described female and male fashions (and fashion faux-pas!) – have your Regency dictionary close at hand [see this online Regency Lexicon for starters.] Heyer weaves her knowledge of late 18th– early 19th century London: the streets and squares (St. James, Brunswick Square, Grosvenor, Brook St, Vauxhall Gardens), all manner of carriages; card games; horse-racing and betting; the male clubs Brookes’s and White’s; the world of the “good ton” and the not so good; the vulnerability of females – at the mercy of their parents maneuverings, their need to marry for financial security, the risk of social ostracism for not following the “rules.”
Heyer is brilliant at presenting these regency realities with a plot that though predictable, (you don’t need to be a romance reader to know where this is headed from page one!) is so entertaining and the heroine and her sidekicks so engaging, the plot so outrageous within the social confines of the time, that I am not sure when I last read a book I just had to finish RIGHT NOW. Just not sure what to pick up next! Are they all this much fun? … so I seek any suggestions and recommendations from the greater world out there of seasoned Georgette Heyer readers. Can I really have gone through my life thus far without having read a single one of her books? I am shamed!
Further reading: there is a wealth of information on Heyer, both in print and online… I append a few sources for your perusal ~ it is just a beginning…
Reference books (see the bibliography listed in online resources; I list here just a few must-haves)
- Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, by Jennifer Kloester [2005, already out-of-print; newly published by Arrow 2008 in pb]
- Georgette Heyer’s Regency England, by Teresa Chris [London, 1989] ~ impossible to find at an affordable price.
- The Regency Companion, by Sharon Laudermilk and Teresa L. Hamlin [Garland 1989] – ditto
- The Private World of Georgette Heyer, by Jane Aiken Hodge  ~ the biography, available from used bookshops.
- Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective, by Mary Fahnestock-Thomas [PrinnyWorld Press, 2001] ~ includes Heyer’s short published pieces, reviews of her books, obituaries and responses, and critical articles and books – an indispensible resource.
Further Reading: online
Blogs either reviewing or chatting about Heyer are too numerous to list… but here are a few: