June 2015 marked the unveiling of an English Heritage blue plaque to Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) on her birthplace in Wimbledon, London. Attended by members of her family, her most recent biographer, and loyal readers, the occasion has been blogged about by Jenny Haddon andElizabeth Hawksley.
Georgette Heyer was best known for her historical novels, including Regency romances.
She was an intensely private person, who shunned publicity – ‘I’m sick to death of chatty bits about authors & LOATHE this form of advertisement.’ (1)When pressed she would insist that ‘I am to be found in my work.’ (2)
After Georgette’s death her husband, Roger Rougier approached A.S. Byatt to write the first biographical portrait of his wife – which was to be published in the Saturday Times Magazine, along with photos from the family albums, in 1975.
This piece provides a fascinating insight into Heyer’s writing life.
She wrote at a Norwegian oak desk which rather looks like a drinks cabinet, and opens to display two wings of bookshelves, between which she sat, with dictionaries and reference books to hand.(3)
Her vast reference library, naturally included standard works as well as a variety of specific subject books.
The OED, the DNB, Lemprière, dictionaries of slang, dialect, Anglo-Saxon, Fowler, Roget, Debrett, Burke, an 1808 dictionary to the House of Lords, proverbs, place names, foreign phrases. She had standard historical works in the mediaeval and 18th-century periods, as well as more recondite histories of snuff boxes, of sign posts, and coaching. There are several shelves on costume from Planche’s two-volume Cyclopedia of Costume (1876) to Alison Adingham on Shops and Shopping, from Grand-Cartaret, Les Elegances de la Toilette to The History of Underclothes.(4)
Her notebooks are particularly interesting, hand written and illustrated, indexed and cross referenced, they cover a myriad of everyday subjects such as Dress, Hats, Household, Prices, Shops. (5) There is a wonderful reproduction of pages from one of the Regency notebooks on pp.44-45 ofThe Private World of Georgette Heyer, which includes a full page of hand drawn and coloured bonnets.
Her notebooks are the work, not of a professional scholar, although they are precise, orderly and passionate about accuracy, but of someone interested in two main things – the bringing to life of the matter-of-fact which is the stuff of fiction, and vivid language. (6)
It is this ‘bringing to life’ at which Heyer excelled in her historical novels, and for which she is best remembered, and continues to be read around the world.
Rosemary Sutcliff remarked that ‘For me, the Regency novels of Miss Georgette Heyer have always been perfect reading.’ (7)
Heyer’s masterful drawing of her characters, and storytelling endure. With a Georgette Heyer historical novel an entertaining read is usually assured.
(1) Georgette Heyer: biography of a bestseller / Jennifer Kloester (London: Heinemann, 2011) p.148-9
(2) Ibid. p.3
(3) A.S. Byatt “The Ferocious Reticence of Georgette Heyer” (Saturday Times Magazine [London], 5 October 1975, pp.28-38. Reproduced in ‘Georgette Heyer: a critical retrospective’ / Mary Fahnestock-Thomas (Saraland Alabama: Prinny World Press, 2001) p.300
(4-6) Ibid. loc. cit.
(7) Kloester, op. cit. p.354 footnote
The Private World of Georgette Heyer / Jane Aiken Hodge (London: Bodley Head, 1984)
Do you have a favourite Georgette Heyer novel?