Saturday, June 20, 2009

Love Jane Austen? Meet Georgette Heyer!

"A writer of great wit and style...I've read her books to ragged shreds."
Kate Fenton, Daily Telegraph

For those of you who don't know her yet, kindly step into my bloggy parlor and meet one of my very best friends, Georgette Heyer. For those of you who do know her, step right in anyway and meet someone who is at least as besotted with her as you are! (Yep, that'd be me.) I may be her biggest fan, with the possible exception of a woman who calls herself "Dr. Sally" and runs a pretty terrific web site dedicated to the delightful writer herself.

It would not be a great exaggeration to say that Ms. Heyer is my favorite author. At the very least, she ranks among my top five. In fact, I would defy anyone who enjoys Jane Austen not to be enchanted with these utterly charming, refreshingly witty, and thoroughly well-researched novels. Set in 18th Century England and laced with history and hilarity, these still relevant period pieces pay equal attention to historical detail and good, old-fashioned fun. I would venture to say that anyone opening any one of her books (especially in the throes of a gloomy mood) will exit in a far sunnier frame of mind. Her light, airy touch is simply irresistible, which explains why I currently have 15 of her books on my lovely little kindle, with more on the way as funds and my husband's good nature permit.

Even better, her supply of books is relatively inexhaustible. Ms. Heyer, whose real name was Mrs. Ronald Rougier (she was a best seller all of her life but never made appearances or gave interviews), was born in 1902 and died in 1974. At the time of her death, she had 51 titles in print. Today she has even more, and reading this sample of her writing may help you understand the reason why...though taken out of context as it is, the passage doesn't begin to do her justice. (It does do her justice to know that a woman held in a Romanian political prison for over 12 years insists she kept herself and her cell-mates sane by relating Ms. Heyer's story, Friday's Child, over and over again.) I find this easy to believe in light of the fact that my brother; a literary snob of the highest order who would rather read Camus, Sartre and Nietzsche than Clancy, Grisham or even Conroy; is now a dedicated devourer of any Georgette Heyer novel he can get his hands on.

Immensely popular as she was, the undiluted respect in which the literary world holds Heyer today (for sheer technical skill and unerring attention to historical detail), was not extended during her peak writing years. Even Heyer tended to be self-deprecating about her work, especially in her heyday. The following excerpt, taken from a letter she wrote to her publisher, speaks volumes: "Spread the glad tidings that [the new book] will not disappoint Miss Heyer's many admirers. Judging from the letters I've received from obviously feeble-minded persons who do so wish I would write another These Old Shades, it ought to sell like hot cakes. I think myself I ought to be shot for writing such nonsense, but it's questionably good escapist literature and I think I should rather like it if I were sitting in an air-raid shelter, or recovering from flu. Its period detail is good; my husband says it's witty---and without going to these lengths, I will say that it is very good fun."

Very good fun indeed. And that's a promise.



Ryan said...

It would take me twelve years to read twelve books. That being said, I might be able to commit one year to this author after I read my Jeff Shaara book which will take a year from last month.

Lisa Loo said...

How wonderful!! I am always looking for a new read--especially of the Jane Austen variety--thank you for sharing! Sorry I haven't been around for awhile. I just know that I am going to want to settle in and read for awhile when I come here and I never seem to find that kind of time. I WILL make it tho--love your blogginess!!

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more, and am tweeting The Grand Sophy at present.


Natalie said...

Hooray! I am looking for good fun in book form to relieve the gloomy brought on by moving and politics! :)
So, thank you Sue!!!!

Laura said...

I have always loved her! I knew you were smart too!

KC Mom said...

I'm so glad you posted this! I've been looking for a new author and I LOVE Jane Austen! Off to check her out...

Fiauna said...

Love Jane Austen. Can't wait to check out this new (new to me, anyway) author!

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