Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

A new addiction

on April 10, 2012

It has to be said that I’ve become a bit of an addict, over the past few weeks, to the fascinating and expertly written novels of Georgette Heyer.  I first heard of her as a teenager, when a schoolfriend told me how delighted she was that her mother had decided she was now old enough to be allowed access to the collection of Heyer novels in their home.  These, I believe, had been passed down from my friend’s grandmother and were fairly well-worn, which meant that a certain level of maturity had to be reached in terms of handling the books in addition to being of an age to understand the themes and plots.

At the time, the name didn’t mean much to me as there were no such books in my house.  My mum mainly enjoyed crime novels and my dad, whilst being the genetic source of my voracious and catholic reading appetite, hadn’t extended his tastes as far as Regency romances (and still hasn’t, as far as I’m aware!).  However, as time went by, I realised that our family was fairly unusual in this respect, and that most people I knew had at least one shelf full of ageing Heyer novels somewhere in their parental home.  In addition, I began to discover that they were a favourite of some authors I enjoy (and in some cases of the characters in their own books too!) and that many of them felt that reading her books inspired them to write their own, which was when I decided to start reading them myself.

Last year I bought an old copy of Regency Buck from Amazon Marketplace (they have to be old, you see – I intend to create my own copy of the shelves I have seen in so many other homes, so brand new editions just won’t do!).  I’m not sure why I chose this one to begin with but it was one I had heard of when I came across it browsing (at the time I thought that it was the favourite title of Laura, the heroine of Harriet Evans’ A Hopeless Romantic, but I have since re-read that and can’t find any reference to it.  I’d heard of it somewhere, anyway).  It took a little bit of getting into, as the scene was being set, but once I grew accustomed to the writing and the setting I thoroughly enjoyed it.  When I finished it, however, I didn’t know where to go next – there are so many titles and I wasn’t sure how I’d know which ones I’d like best.  Also I had other demands on my time with book group, etc, so I didn’t get around to pursuing the interest.

Then, just before Christmas, I finally found and bought the small antique bookcase I’ve been searching for to sit on the bend in our stairs.  This reminded me of those others that I’d seen and of my plan to replicate the Heyer collections, so I googled “Georgette Heyer reading list” in the hope of finding some helpful recommendations.  Several useful pages cropped up, including a forum on Mollands, a site for Jane Austen fans, discussing the fact that many Austen lovers also enjoy Georgette Heyer and with the original poster seeking recommendations of titles for starting out.  As a Janeite myself I thought this would be a good place to begin and started to compile a list of ideas from the suggestions given (including from a member called Mags, who, I suspect, might possibly be the author of The League of Austen’s Extraordinary Gentlemen and the fantastic Very Secret Diary of Henry Tilney on Austenblog).  As luck would have it, Regency Buck belongs to a “family” of novels which also includes Heyer’s first ever novel, The Black Moth, so I decided to chase up and read the rest of that group.

I devoured The Black Moth in a couple of days and loved it.  It contains all sorts of traditional ideas – a misunderstanding, a disgraced nobleman banished overseas, a spoilt lady, highwaymen, a beautiful heroine, and an extremely rakish villain (who is actually known in society as “Devil”!) – and the plot is woven together with plenty of twists and turns to create enough suspense, even though you can be fairly sure how things will turn out in the end.  I then went onto These Old Shades, so called because many of the characters are known to the reader from The Black Moth (although, confusingly, they all have different names, and the villain from the last one is the hero of this!), which if anything I enjoyed more because there is more subterfuge, concealed identity and a lot of chasing about between England and France.  The sequel to These Old Shades is Devil’s Cub (this time the names stay the same, thankfully) and concerns the next generation of the Alastair family, including a son who is as bad, if not worse, as the central character of the previous book, until he meets his match in a young woman.  All the books follow this theme in one way or another, so you have to be prepared for that, but the plots are clever enough for the tales never to become predictable.  All these three, by the way, are set before the Regency period – although being best known for focusing on that particular era, Heyer’s novels extend beyond it on both sides.

The final book in this little series about the Alastair family is An Infamous Army, and it’s this which I’m currently reading.  This also features most of the characters from Regency Buck (I bet you were wondering where that would finally fit in!) as everyone gathers for the Battle of Waterloo.  I have to admit that I’m struggling with this somewhat.  It’s a much longer book, and the reason for this is that it’s like a regular Georgette Heyer novel interspersed every few pages with a detailed account of the military history leading up to Waterloo.  There are pages of information on what the Duke of Wellington was doing, how the king of France had removed his whole court to Ghent, etc, and I gather that I’m approaching an extremely long account of exactly how the battle unfolds.  I’m not that interested in the military history side myself (Vanity Fair was a good enough account of Waterloo for me) but I suppose that’s the price you pay for enjoying Heyer’s unstinting historical research – she was extremely interested in it and wanted to share the information with her readers.  I’m plodding through it but at a slower pace than the others!

The next Heyer novel I have in mind (and on my shelf) is Arabella, and I have a few more recommendations on my list, but I’m definitely looking for more ideas and I’d love to hear from anyone who has a suggestion!


One response to “A new addiction

  1. fionamerrick says:

    Ooh exciting! I was gifted a trilogy of Georgette Heyers years ago by a schoolfriend, and I haven’t opened it for ages and ages. I will do now, on your recommendation, and then we can have a good old discussion! xxx

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