Guest post by JASNA-Vermont member Lynne H.
Our JASNA Vermont reading group recently discussed Georgette Heyer’s Frederica. A skeptical member asked the question: why should we read Heyer? Georgette Heyer is a prolific 20th century novelist known for writing Historical Fiction, Regency Romances, and Mysteries. Frederica is one of the Regency Romances. (Think Harlequin not Hawthorne….) So, why should a thoughtful group of Austen devotees choose a Heyer Romance? Below are some of the answers from our group’s discussion.
Reason # 7: It’s summer. Let’s face it, we don’t have to read Tolstoy, Dickens, or even Austen all year. Go to the beach and relax!
Reason #6: Heyer, as mentioned above, is prolific. If you like one of her Regency Romances, you have 33 more to choose from.
Reason #5: Heyer researched and included wonderful Regency detail. She described the carriages, dress, and food, for example, in specific detail. You can read about phaetons and curricles, neck-cloths and laces, and jellies and sauces. If you have any interest in the Regency period, it is both fun and informative to have such specifics included in the novels.
Reason #4: Ditto for Regency language, cant, lingo, etc. Heyer used Regency cant in all of her Romances. What does it mean if someone is a “nodcock” or a “ninnyhammer”? What about if someone is trying to “gammon” another person? Usually the meanings of the expressions are clear from the context; however, members of our group also mentioned further Regency reading to fill in more information about the period. Two of the books were Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, and Carolly Erickson’s Our Tempestuous Day.
Reason #3: Heyer’s dialogue. She used dialogue extensively. Her dialogue is witty, but it is also artfully constructed to expose and develop character.
Reason #2: Heyer’s characterization. While her main characters are usually from the aristocracy (these are Romances after all!), they are not two dimensional ladies and gentlemen. Within the structure of the Romance, Heyer adeptly fills in the motivations, foibles, and flaws, of her main characters. Her writing usually depends on the characters to move the books forward. In the following excerpt, you can see both the characterization and dialogue at work. This is from an early episode of Frederica in which Frederica and Lord Alverstoke have their first meeting. Frederica begins by responding to him:
“I see. You don’t wish to recognize us, do you? Then there isn’t the least occasion for me to explain our situation to you. I beg your pardon for having put you to the trouble of visiting me.”
At these words, the Marquis, who had every intention of bringing the interview to a summary end, irrationally chose to prolong it. Whether he relented because Miss Merriville amused him, or because the novelty of having one of his rebuffs accepted without demur intrigued him remained undecided, even in his own mind. But however it may have been he laughed suddenly, and said, quizzing her: “Oh, so high! No, no, don’t hold up your nose at me: it don’t become you!”
Reason #1: Her books provide both escape and solace. One of our members mentioned that she read Heyer while she was undergoing chemotherapy. She said that during this difficult time in her life, Heyer made her laugh and gave her a place to retreat to for comfort and solace. For Janeites this is very familiar ground!
So…if your interest has been piqued by our reasons to read Heyer, we’d suggest that you start with Frederica. Just about all of our group members enjoyed it. And remember, unlike Austen, there are many, many more novels to choose from for those lazy summer days or for times when you just need to escape. Don’t be a ninnyhammer, try one.
Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2008
[originally published 1965]
- Georgette Heyer website
- Lynne H’s post on about Heyer’s heroines
- A post at JAIV on Frederica, with a list of the various cant terms Heyer uses in this novel
- Frederica review at Jane Austen’s World blog
- Links to all the Jane Austen’s World blog posts on Georgette Heyer
- Frederica review at Austenprose
- Austenprose did a month-long series of book reviews on Heyer a few years ago – links to all the reviews
- Gallery of Heyer images at Colby.edu [includes many of the covers]
[Image: 1st edition cover, Bodley Head, 1965 – Wikipedia] – I love this cover!
What is your favorite Georgette Heyer? – i.e, after starting with Frederica, which Heyer would you recommend to our book group to read next?