I recently found Georgette Heyer. Really it was the Huntington’s fault. I found a book about the “real” history of Regency England ala Georgette Heyer in their museum shop (also known for really good tea and fun, quirky prints). I loved it. And then I read a self-pub that I liked that claimed to be for fans of Georgette Heyer. So there you are. I tried her out. I’ve read five.
Kobo called me obsessed. They gave me a badge for it and everything. It’s official.
Here’s the thing, though. These novels are something I’m sure I shouldn’t like. We can chalk it up to the different time, and different mores (written in the ‘60s, about the early 1800s). We can chalk it up to whatever you’d like. But the reality is that the way women are treated in the books often makes me uncomfortable. I do not care how much a woman secretly likes it. If she says no, a good man should respect that. Protagonist men should not side with other men who molest girls (claiming they were flirty and deserved it), and work to save their livelihoods. This goes for all time periods. There is nothing to defend here. It’s not okay, especially from a female author.
But I do like the books, even though I shouldn’t. The characters are rich and the storylines interesting. There is the usual delight of tea, gloves, carriages, dresses, manor houses in the countryside, and balls (some of them masked). There is so much to love that it seems stupid to throw the whole thing out on the basis of a few uncomfortable moments. They’re hardly the crux of the novels. It was a different time, right? Before the Feminine Mystique in a time dominated by men?
So for now, I’m reading them. I’m letting myself be angry and recognize that the books are spreading the wrong message about love and relationships. I’m also letting myself enjoy the antics, the luxury, and the characters. It’s too bad there aren’t any easy answers here. I want to like Georgette Heyer’s books with all my heart. I’m just not sure that wanting to like them is actually liking. For now, it’s enough.
Okay, now for the actual reviews:
The Grand Sophy: This is the best book of GH’s that I’ve read so far. Sophy is delightful, uncouth, and smart – especially when fighting with her cousin Charles. The book also doesn’t have any of those moments that I felt apprehensive about. In fact, Sophy is so well able to take care of herself that it is fun to watch her scandalize the Ton while still maintaining the love of society in general. The way she overturns everything in her Aunt’s house for the better is amusing to watch, as well. In fact, I loved this book so much that I’ve been looking for the same thing in Heyer’s other novels and almost finding it (but not quite). I’m still hoping I’ll find it again, though. She’s got scores of others.
The Masqueraders: I felt like Prudence and Robin (who were masquerading) didn’t have that great a reason to do so. You know, besides the fact that their father told them to and they follow commands. It’s not even really explained in the end by their father, not to my satisfaction. But I really loved watching Prudence navigate the man’s world of Regency England, from getting into duels to visiting White’s club. Bonus points for masked ball, too. It’s a complicated story, well woven, and mostly a delight. If you don’t count Sir Anthony’s assertion that Prudence will marry him if he has to carry her off to make it happen.
A Convenient Marriage: Another refreshing heroine who is not a beauty and a little stupid, but still the toast of the town. Because Horry and Rule’s marriage is for convenience only, Heyer exploits their lack of trust in each other for a complicated plot that is well done. This one features a full-on abduction, though, and near rape. It’s bad. Also, the last chunk of the novel is full of the Main Character’s silly brothers who are silly. Droll and amusing has its limits. That being said, I enjoyed it enough to read two other Heyer novels. Her character are SO GOOD.
The Corinthian: The folks on Goodreads consider this her best book yet, but I can’t quite agree. The plot does evolve into this nice farce of silliness that I love a lot, and it was fun to see the “lower” echelons of Regency society, and how the main character dandy navigated them. I especially loved the funny and antagonistic relationship between Richard and Pen, Richard’s deep concern with cravats, and Pen’s obsession with apples. A gal after my own heart. Richard is a little rough with Pen at times, but over all this one is more comfortable than some of Heyer’s others.
The Quiet Gentleman: Unwanted advances are blamed on a flirtatious girl. I think someone even says “well, she should learn…” So, yeah. But I liked Frant and his motley collection of relatives, and I liked that it was sort of a mystery novel with shootings and secret passages. I loved Drusilla so much. She is smart, full of excellent advice, much sense, and saves the day more than once. For Drusilla and the mystery, this book is worth the read. Just overlook the fact that Martin’s story eventually makes him out to be a non-villain, okay?
The next books of Georgette Heyer’s you read should be These Old Shades, A Civil Contract, Venetia, Devil’s Cub, An Infamous Army, Regency Buck and Fredericka. These are the best of what she wrote, and on the same level as The Grand Sophy. The other books you’ve read so far, while very entertaining, are not her best work. The books I’ve mentioned are.
And please try to suspend modern sensibilities just a little when reading her books. They were set in a time (and even written in a time) when women were raised to behave a certain way and treated a certain way. It doesn’t matter how horrible we may think it from today’s point of view, that’s the way it was back then. I think that a regency gentleman or lady would be quite as horrified at how women behave and are treated today as we are of how they behaved and were treated in the 18th and 19th century. What Heyer writes is true to the character’s time and place in that society. If she had written anachronistically the books would be horrible and you would have thrown them across the room before finishing the first chapter.
Please forgive me if I sound like I’m scolding you – that is not my intention. I’m always thrilled to see someone discover Heyer for the first time and want to do everything I can to make the experience the best possible one. I envy you reading the books I’ve mentioned above for the first time. You are in for SUCH a treat!
Hi Julie, I didn’t mean to make it sound like I wasn’t enjoying the books or anything. I’m LOVING them, actually. I’m just having a hard time putting those modern sensibilities aside… I do think you’re totally right that Regency people would be appalled at us today. 🙂
I so, SO appreciate the book recommendations. I had a feeling I wasn’t getting the best, which was what kept me charging forward. And if those aren’t her best and they were that good, then I’m WAY looking forward to the books you recommended!! Thanks!
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