Having read, now, two of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances (the other being The Reluctant Widow), and having begun making plans to dole them out to myself when I am having difficult days, I have been trying to decide what I like about them, and to remember why I refused to read them for so long. The facts as I knew them were that a) my mum, who gave me half of my favorite books, liked her; and that b) Stephen Fry liked her; and that c) Sorcery and Cecelia, which I love, was essentially Georgette Heyer with magic. Why would I not read her? Was it just snobbery that prevented me from reading Heyer? I should really remember that being a snob only makes me miss out on awesome stuff.
This was very sobering and cast a grim light on my otherwise sterling character.
Here is why I do, after all, like Georgette Heyer: The characters may not be fully realized, but they’re fun. You want to spend time reading about them, with their dresses and propriety and Regency slang that sounds so right to me only because (I suspect) everyone else who has written a Regency-era book since Georgette Heyer has imitated her dialogue. The main thing, though, of the two books I have read, is that affairs progress tidily from an unsatisfactory state of disorder to a highly pleasing and well-regulated state of tidiness.
The Grand Sophy is about a girl called Sophy, who has been raised by a single father in various countries all over the world, and who comes to stay with her aunt’s family. Her unusual upbringing has instilled in her a strong mind and independence of spirit, and she immediately takes the whole family in hand, arranging (and disarranging) marriages, settling debts, and generally tidying everything up. She is Flora Post, deciding what is best for everyone and taking care that they get what she thinks they should want. It is high-handed, but that’s okay because she’s right.
The Cold Comfort Farm comparison is a good one, now that I am thinking about it. The Grand Sophy is Cold Comfort Farm, except instead of Stella Gibbons spoofing Thomas Hardy, it’s Georgette Heyer playing Jane Austen straight. Heyer is no Jane Austen, of course, but she uses many of the same plot elements: the setting, the need to get everyone married off, the phaetons and unexceptionable suitors and eccentric family members in manor houses. I find myself wanting to go to balls (because nothing’s more fun to a Meyers-Briggs introvert than a confining dress and hot rooms crammed full of people for hours and hours) and use the word “famous” for “good” and “infamous” for “bad”. Why did we stop using “famous” that way?
As improbable as the plot of this book is, it charmed me. Georgette Heyer writes unpleasant characters with such relish! Sophy’s cousin’s ever-so-correct affianced bride is so deliciously catty, and another cousin’s equally unsuitable suitor never seems to take a break from composing sonnets to Cecelia’s features. And Sophy herself was great. She loves horses! She doesn’t fear loan sharks! She tricks everybody into behaving as she wants them to do!
This post is brought to you by the Classics Circuit, which is such fun that I cannot believe it was ever not part of our lives. Many thanks to all its organizers. Without them, I might never have read Georgette Heyer.
Are there any books/authors/genres that you were initially embarrassed to read, only to find them delightful?