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Two Austen fans podcasting to tell the story of Georgette Heyer today

Heyer Today recording

By Sara-Mae Tuson

Exactly one year ago this week my friend Beth and I were having tea and cake in the Victoria and Albert Museum, when I asked her if she fancied joining me in setting up a boutique podcast company. So ‘Fable Gazers’ was born – a podcast company which aims to produce narrative podcasts with our own special twist.

With literary-themed podcasts in their infancy, there’s still room for new voices. Our ambitions are vast: we want to produce the next podcast obsession. With audio content (according to Oliver Deane, Director of Commercial Digital at DAX)  set to make up 30% of advertising revenue it looked like a promising proposition. But it wasn’t the prospect of making money that inspired us to create Fable Gazers. It was two passion projects, one started by a friend’s shocking revelation to me, and the other created because of a need to find a podcast about two of my favourite writers.

I thought it might be possible to keep creating beautiful audio stories, not as a one-off, but as a proper company. With books being a passion of mine, particularly those of a certain famous author who died far too young, after shaping my young mind with such classics as Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility and more, I wanted to do something that covered an area of Austen’s world which hasn’t been done to death – and it hit me, what about the intersection between her work and the Regency romance novels of Georgette Heyer?

So, I began work on Heyer Today. Like The West Wing Weekly, in which Hrishikesh Hirway and Josh Malina discuss every episode of The West Wing with celebrity guests, our second season, Heyer Today, will have us discussing fourteen of Georgette Heyer’s books with someone who has never read one, attempting to ‘convert’ them to her work, as well as comparing them to Austen’s six classic novels as we go along. For many of us who adore Jane Austen’s work, Heyer is the closest thing we can find to our favourite literary heroine.

There were several revelations for me in the course of researching Heyer Today, and I’ve come to admire her even more than I did before beginning the process. For instance, she wrote almost two books a year throughout her career, supported her family with her work, and has never been out of print!

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To Punish or Defend? The Regency Duel

A Regency Duel

Although one might need to read Georgette Heyer, rather than Jane Austen, to get a peek at a Regency duel, however, the activity is by no means ignored in Austen’s novels.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet voices her fears that her husband will fight Mr. Wickham, leaving her daughters to be turned out of their home by the Collins’. This may have been due to her over dramatic sense of self pity, but in fact, Sense and Sensibility’s Col Brandon and Mr. Willoughby do meet in an attempt to defend the (doubtable) honor of Eliza Williams.

“One meeting was unavoidable…I could meet [Willoughby] in no other way. Eliza had confessed to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover; and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad.”

Colonel Brandon and Willoughby fight a duel in a 2008 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.
Colonel Brandon and Willoughby fight a duel in a 2008 film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.

According to one definition, “A duel is an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules.”

During the 17th and 18th centuries (and earlier), duels were mostly fought with swords (the rapier, later the smallsword, and finally the French foil), but beginning in the late 18th century and during the 19th century, duels were more commonly fought using pistols. Special sets of duelling pistols were crafted for the wealthiest of noblemen for this purpose.

The duel was based on a code of honour. Duels were fought not so much to kill the opponent as to gain “satisfaction”, that is, to restore one’s honour by demonstrating a willingness to risk one’s life for it, and as such the tradition of duelling was originally reserved for the male members of nobility; however, in the modern era it extended to those of the upper classes generally. From the early 17th century duels became illegal in the countries where they were practised. Continue reading To Punish or Defend? The Regency Duel

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To Dress Broccoli

The soup, ladled from a large tureen, was nameless and savourless, but Miss Gateshead and Mr. Cranbrook, busily engaged in disclosing to one another their circumstances, family histories, tastes, dislikes, and aspirations, drank it without complaint…The mutton, which followed the soup was underdone and tough, and the side dish of Broccoli would have been improved by straining…
Night at the Inn, Pistols for Two (1960)
by Georgette Heyer

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Georgette Heyer is acknowledged as one of the most respected Regency historians in the world of fiction authors. Her novels are as full of Regency customs and cant as they are daring sword fights, flights to Gretna Green and comic turns of phrase. Her collection of short stories, Pistols for Two, is no exception.

Amused by the description of the poor inn fare served in Night at the Inn, I was curious enough to search for a period recipe. I finally found one in one of my favorite Regency Era cookbooks, A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Eliza Kettelby Rundell (1806).

Despite my children’s protestations that Broccoli is not a “real” food at all, rather a product of scientific gene mutation and not intended by God for the table, the truth is that it is an ancient vegetable, perfected (some may say) by the Romans and eventually introduced to England in the mid-18th century by Peter Scheemakers; which is why I decided to “dress Broccoli.”

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How I Fell in Love With Georgette Heyer

georgette heyerI stumbled upon Georgette Heyer during a golden time of my life after college graduation when I had three precious free months before I began school again. Bursting with youthful energy, I didn’t know what to do with my time. And so I hit the books, but this time for pleasure. In those days, I could gobble up a book a day if I was so inclined, and I sped through Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights. Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Rebecca. Father and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev, one of my favorite authors, and Pride and Prejudice (for the second time in my life). That last novel with its sparkling wit and clear view of village life seemed like a breath of fresh air after the heightened emotions of the Victorian authors.

To me, Mr. Bennet was the image of my father, whose wry statements always made me pause before I could figure out if he was making sport of me, himself, or some other unwitting target. Mrs. Bennet reminded me of my crazy Dutch grandmothers – both of whom were slightly hysterical and VERY demanding. I read Pride and Prejudice twice that summer (and began a tradition of reading it every summer for the next twenty years). Greedily I reached for more Jane Austen novels until there were none left. I railed against the illness that carried Jane off before she could produce enough novels to assuage my addiction. Where to turn?

The library, of course.

I looked up Regency novels and found … Clare Darcy. Ok, I thought. I’ll give her a try and picked up a copy of Victoire, a most logical choice given my given name, and read the book in one long sitting. How to state it nicely: Clare Darcy is to Jane Austen what a sputtering candle is to the sun at high noon.

My quest was not over.

My apartment roommie, also a Janeite, discovered the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser. She LOVED them. But budding little feminist me wanted books written by humorous females, not a man with no interest in the goings on of small town families and their courtship rituals, and silly clergy, and strong heroines who were able to learn a thing or two. And so I continued my search.

One day I found a Barbara Cartland novel. Hahahahahahahaha! Tossing aside her cheesy book about a 16-year-old-heroine with a heart-shaped face, I wondered if I could charge her for wasting my precious life.

I continued my search.

And there it was. On the bottom shelf at the library. Arabella. It was a pathetic excuse of a book – dog-eared, blemished, and torn partially in the spine. I read the front cover – Arabella by Georgette Heyer – then sat on the floor and began to read. Witty words leapt from the pages. I laughed with delight. Before long I checked out the book and proceeded to read it in one long sitting. My roommie, who had started her new job two weeks after college, came home from work to find me engrossed. “I found a new author,” I said, telling her she could read the book when I was done. I gave it to her that night.

We were both instantly hooked on Georgette Heyer.

I returned to the library and checked out all the Georgette Heyers I could find. My roommie and I fell in love with Arabella, but we became die-hard fans when we encountered Venetia, The Grand Sophie, Sylvester, and Frederica. By summer’s end we had read ALL the GHs we could lay our hands on, even the mysteries and histories. (Thankfully, Georgette was prolific.)

My roommie and I were two young and hopeless romantics. We loved the glittering, detailed descriptions of the characters, the clothes they wore from expensive shops, and the houses, towns, and cities they inhabited. We learned about Regency London and the manners and mores of the Ton. Georgette Heyer characters spoke in cant, and thus we affected British accents and used cant-speech at every opportunity. Our boyfriends, while a bit mystified, played along, even debating which weapon was more effective in a fight – the epee or the sword.

But then life intruded and my intense love affair with Georgette Heyer had to take a back seat. I returned to school and began to read academic books again. I left my obsession behind, except for my yearly date with Pride and Prejudice.

Flash forward a number of decades when Sourcebooks began to republish Georgette Heyer novels. Once more I began to read them regularly, only this time I reviewed them as well.  I discovered that my tastes had changed and that I was more attracted to other novels like The Reluctant Widow and The Convenient Marriage. I never reread Arabella, for I did not want to revisit my first love only to discover that she had flaws.

I savor my memory of first discovering Georgette Heyer and thank Sourcebooks for the opportunity to relive that Golden Summer. I keep about 10 GH books on my Nook and Kindle (yes, I have both) so I am not ever very far from one of my favorite authors. If you are intrigued, all of GH s novels are available at Sourcebook’s Discover a New Love Website at

georgette heyer

Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs. This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.

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‘In the Tradition of Jane Austen’: The Life of Georgette Heyer

georgette heyer

The Life of Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer (16 August 1902 – 4 July 1974) essentially established the historical romance genre and its subgenre Regency romance. Her Regencies were inspired by Jane Austen, but unlike Austen, who wrote about and for the times in which she lived, Heyer was forced to include copious information about the period so that her readers would understand the setting. To ensure accuracy, Heyer collected reference works and kept detailed notes on all aspects of Regency life. While some critics thought the novels were too detailed, others considered the level of detail to be Heyer’s greatest asset. Her meticulous nature was also evident in her historical novels; Heyer even recreated William the Conqueror’s crossing into England for her novel The Conqueror.

Heyer was the eldest of three children; her brothers George Boris (known as Boris) and Frank were four and nine years younger than she, respectively.  For part of her childhood, the family lived in Paris, France, but they returned to England shortly after World War I broke out in 1914. Although the family’s surname had been pronounced “higher”, the advent of war led her father to use the pronunciation “hair” so they would not be mistaken for Germans. During the war, her father served as a requisitions officer for the British Army in France. After the war ended he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). He left the army in 1920 with the rank of captain, taught at King’s College London and sometimes wrote for The Granta.

George Heyer strongly encouraged his children to read and never forbade any book. Georgette read widely and often met with her friends Joanna Cannan and Carola Oman to discuss books. Heyer and Oman later shared their works-in-progress with each other and offered criticism.

When she was 17, Heyer began a serial story to amuse her brother Boris, who suffered from a form of haemophilia and was often weak. Her father enjoyed listening to her story and asked her to prepare it for publication. His agent found a publisher for her book, and The Black Moth, about the adventures of a young man who took responsibility for his brother’s card-cheating, was released in 1921. According to her biographer Jane Aiken Hodge, the novel contained many of the elements that would become standard for Heyer’s novels, the “saturnine male lead, the marriage in danger, the extravagant wife, and the group of idle, entertaining young men”. The following year one of her contemporary short stories, “A Proposal to Cicely”, was published in Happy Magazine.

While holidaying with her family in December 1920, Heyer met George Ronald Rougier, who was two years her senior.The two became regular dance partners while Rougier studied at the Royal School of Mines to become a mining engineer. In the spring of 1925, shortly after the publication of her fifth novel, they became engaged. One month later, Heyer’s father died of a heart attack. He left no pension, and Heyer assumed financial responsibility for her brothers, aged 19 and 14. Two months after her father’s death, on 18 August, Heyer and Rougier married in a simple ceremony.

In October 1925 Rougier was sent to work in the Caucasus Mountains, partly because he had learned Russian as a child. Heyer remained at home and continued to write. In 1926, she released These Old Shades, in which the Duke of Avon courts his own ward. Unlike her first novel, These Old Shades focused more on personal relationships than on adventure. The book appeared in the midst of the UK General Strike of 1926; as a result, the novel received no newspaper coverage, reviews, or advertising. Nevertheless, the book sold 190,000 copies. Because the lack of publicity had not harmed the novel’s sales, Heyer refused for the rest of her life to promote her books, even though her publishers often asked her to give interviews.She once wrote to a friend that “as for being photographed At Work or In my Old World Garden, that is the type of publicity which I find nauseating and quite unnecessary. My private life concerns no one but myself and my family.”

Rougier returned home in the summer of 1926, but within months he was sent to the East African territory of Tanganyika. Heyer joined him there the following year. They lived in a hut made of elephant grass located in the bush; Heyer was the first white woman her servants had ever seen.While in Tanganyika, Heyer wrote The Masqueraders; set in 1745, the book follows the romantic adventures of siblings who pretend to be of the opposite sex in order to protect their family, all former Jacobites. Although Heyer did not have access to all of her reference material, the book contained only one anachronism: she placed the opening of White’s a year too early. She also wrote an account of her adventures, titled “The Horned Beast of Africa”, which was published in 1929 in the newspaper The Sphere.

In 1928, Heyer followed her husband to Macedonia, where she almost died after a dentist improperly administered an anaesthetic. She insisted they return to England before starting a family. The following year Rougier left his job, making Heyer the primary breadwinner. After a failed experiment running a gas, coke, and lighting company, Rougier purchased a sports shop in Horsham with money they borrowed from Heyer’s aunts. Heyer’s brother Boris lived above the shop and helped Rougier, while Heyer continued to provide the bulk of the family’s earnings with her writing.

Heyer’s earliest works were romance novels, most set before 1800.In 1935, she released Regency Buck, her first novel set in the Regency period. This bestselling novel essentially established the genre of Regency romance. Unlike other romance novels of the period, Heyer’s novels used the setting as a plot device. Many of her characters exhibited modern-day sensibilities; more conventional characters in the novels would point out the heroine’s eccentricities, such as wanting to marry for love. The books were set almost entirely in the world of the wealthy upper class and only occasionally mention poverty, religion, or politics.

Although the British Regency lasted only from 1811 to 1820, Heyer’s romances were set between 1752 and 1825. As noted by literary critic Kay Mussell, the books revolved around a “structured social ritual — the marriage market represented by the London season” where “all are in danger of ostracism for inappropriate behavior”. Her Regency romances were inspired by the writings of Jane Austen, whose novels were set in the same era. Austen’s works, however, were contemporary novels, describing the times in which she lived. According to Pamela Regis in her work A Natural History of the Romance Novel, because Heyer’s stories took place amidst events that had occurred over 100 years earlier, she had to include more detail on the period in order for her readers to understand it. While Austen could ignore the “minutiae of dress and decor”, Heyer included those details “to invest the novels … with ‘the tone of the time'”. Later reviewers, such as Lillian Robinson, criticized Heyer’s “passion for the specific fact without concern for its significance”, and Marghanita Laski pointed out that “these aspects on which Heyer is so dependent for her creation of atmosphere are just those which Jane Austen … referred to only when she wanted to show that a character was vulgar or ridiculous”. Others, including A. S. Byatt, believe that Heyer’s “awareness of this atmosphere — both of the minute details of the social pursuits of her leisured classes and of the emotional structure behind the fiction it produced — is her greatest asset”.

Determined to make her novels as accurate as possible, Heyer collected reference works and research materials to use while writing. At the time of her death she owned over 1,000 historical reference books, including Debrett’s and an 1808 dictionary of the House of Lords. In addition to the standard historical works about the medieval and eighteenth-century periods, her library included histories of snuff boxes, sign posts, and costumes. She often clipped illustrations from magazine articles and jotted down interesting vocabulary or facts onto note cards, but rarely recorded where she found the information. Her notes were sorted into categories, such as Beauty, Colours, Dress, Hats, Household, Prices, and Shops; and even included details such as the cost of candles in a particular year. Other notebooks contained lists of phrases, covering such topics as “Food and Crockery”, “Endearments”, and “Forms of Address.” One of her publishers, Max Reinhardt, once attempted to offer editorial suggestions about the language in one of her books but was promptly informed by a member of his staff that no one in England knew more about Regency language than Heyer.

Edmund Blair Leighton, “On the Threshold (of a proposal)”

In the interests of accuracy, Heyer once purchased a letter written by the Duke of Wellington so that she could precisely employ his style of writing. She claimed that every word attributed to Wellington in An Infamous Army was actually spoken or written by him in real life. Her knowledge of the period was so extensive that Heyer rarely mentioned dates explicitly in her books; instead, she situated the story by casually referring to major and minor events of the time.

In 1931, Heyer released The Conqueror, her first novel of historical fiction to give a fictionalized account of real historical events. She researched the life of William the Conqueror thoroughly, even travelling the route that William took when crossing into England. The following year, Heyer’s writing took an even more drastic departure from her early historical romances when she released her first thriller, Footsteps in the Dark. The novel’s publication coincided with the birth of her only child, Richard George Rougier, whom she called her “most notable (indeed peerless) work”. Later in her life, Heyer requested that her publishers refrain from reprinting Footsteps in the Dark, saying “This work, published simultaneously with my son … was the first of my thrillers and was perpetrated while I was, as any Regency character would have said, increasing. One husband and two ribald brothers all had fingers in it, and I do not claim it as a Major Work.”

For the next several years Heyer published one romance novel and one thriller each year. The romances were far more popular: they usually sold 115,000 copies, while her thrillers sold 16,000 copies.According to her son, Heyer “regarded the writing of mystery stories rather as we would regard tackling a crossword puzzle – an intellectual diversion before the harder tasks of life have to be faced”.Heyer’s husband was involved in much of her writing. He often read the proofs of her historical romances to catch any errors that she might have missed, and served as a collaborator for her thrillers. He provided the plots of the detective stories, describing the actions of characters “A” and “B”. Heyer would then create the characters and the relationships between them and bring the plot points to life. She found it difficult at times to rely on someone else’s plots; on at least one occasion, before writing the last chapter of a book, she asked Rougier to explain once again how the murder was really committed.

Her detective stories, which, according to critic Earl F. Bargainnier, “specialize[d] in upper-class family murders”, were known primarily for their comedy, melodrama, and romance. The comedy derived not from the action but from the personalities and dialogue of the characters. In most of these novels, all set in the time they were written, the focus relied primarily on the hero, with a lesser role for the heroine. Her early mystery novels often featured athletic heroes; once Heyer’s husband began pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming a barrister, the novels began to feature solicitors and barristers in lead roles.

In 1935, Heyer’s thrillers began following a pair of detectives named Superintendent Hannasyde and Sergeant (later Inspector) Hemingway. The two were never as popular as other contemporary fictional detectives such as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey. One of the books featuring Heyer’s characters, Death in the Stocks, was dramatized in New York City in 1937 as Merely Murder. The play focused on the comedy rather than the mystery,and it closed after three nights.

According to critic Nancy Wingate, Heyer’s detective novels, the last written in 1953, often featured unoriginal methods, motives, and characters, with seven of them using inheritance as the motive. The novels were always set in London, a small village, or at a houseparty. Critic Erik Routley labelled many of her characters clichés, including the uneducated policeman, an exotic Spanish dancer, and a country vicar with a neurotic wife. In one of her novels, the characters’ surnames were even in alphabetical order according to the order they were introduced.According to Wingate, Heyer’s detective stories, like many of the others of the time, exhibited a distinct snobbery towards foreigners and the lower classes. Her middle-class men were often crude and stupid, while the women were either incredibly practical or exhibited poor judgement, usually using poor grammar that could become vicious. Despite the stereotypes, however, Routley maintains that Heyer had “a quite remarkable gift for reproducing the brittle and ironic conversation of the upper middle class Englishwoman of that age (immediately before 1940)”.Wingate further mentions that Heyer’s thrillers were known “for their wit and comedy as well as for their well-woven plots”.

In 1939, Rougier was called to the Bar, and the family moved first to Brighton, then to Hove, so that Rougier could easily commute to London. The following year, they sent their son to a preparatory school, creating an additional expense for Heyer. During World War II, her brothers served in the armed forces, alleviating one of her monetary worries. Her husband, meanwhile, served in the Home Guard. As he was new to his career, Rougier did not earn much money, and paper rationing during the war caused lower sales of Heyer’s books. To meet their expenses Heyer sold the Commonwealth rights for These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and Regency Buck to her publisher, Heinemann, for £750. A contact at the publishing house, her close friend A.S. Frere, later offered to return the rights to her for the same amount of money she was paid. Heyer refused to accept the deal, explaining that she had given her word to transfer the rights.

After having lunch with a representative from Hodder & Stoughton, who published her detective stories, Heyer felt that her host had patronized her. The company had an option on her next book; to make them break her contract, she wrote Penhallow, which the 1944 Book Review Digest described as “a murder story but not a mystery story”. Hodder & Stoughton turned the book down, thus ending their association with Heyer, and Heinemann agreed to publish it instead. Her publisher in the United States, Doubleday, also disliked the book and ended their relationship with Heyer after its publication.

The Blitz bombing of 1940–41 disrupted train travel in Britain, prompting Heyer and her family to move to London in 1942 so that Rougier would be closer to his work. To earn more money, Heyer reviewed books for Heinemann, earning 2 guineas for each review. She also allowed her novels to be serialized in Women’s Journal prior to their publication as hardcover books. The appearance of a Heyer novel usually caused the magazine to sell out completely, but she complained that they “always like[d] my worst work”.

To minimize her tax liability, Heyer formed a limited liability company called Heron Enterprises around 1950. Royalties from new titles would be paid to the company, which would then furnish Heyer’s salary and pay directors’ fees to her family. She would continue to receive royalties from her previous titles, and foreign royalties – except for those from the United States – would go to her mother.Within several years, however, a tax inspector found that Heyer was withdrawing too much money from the company. The inspector considered the extra funds as undisclosed dividends, meaning that she owed an additional £3,000 in taxes. To pay the tax bill, Heyer wrote two articles, “Books about the Brontës” and “How to be a Literary Writer”, that were published in the magazine Punch. She once wrote to a friend, “I’m getting so tired of writing books for the benefit of the Treasury and I can’t tell you how utterly I resent the squandering of my money on such fatuous things as Education and Making Life Easy and Luxurious for So-Called Workers.”

In 1950, Heyer began working on what she called “the magnum opus of my latter years”, a medieval trilogy intended to cover the House of Lancaster between 1393 and 1435.She estimated that she would need five years to complete the works. Her impatient readers continually clamored for new books; to satisfy them and her tax liabilities, Heyer interrupted herself to write Regency romances. She only completed volume one of the series, My Lord John, which was published posthumously.

The limited liability company continued to vex Heyer, and in 1966, after tax inspectors found that she owed the company £20,000, she finally fired her accountants. She then asked that the rights to her newest book, Black Sheep, be issued to her personally. Unlike her other novels, Black Sheep did not focus on members of the aristocracy. Instead, it followed “the moneyed middle class”, with finance a dominant theme in the novel.

Heyer’s new accountants urged her to abandon Heron Enterprises; after two years, she finally agreed to sell the company to Booker-McConnell, which already owned the rights to the estates of novelists Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie. Booker-McConnell paid her approximately £85,000 for the rights to the 17 Heyer titles owned by the company. This amount was taxed at the lower capital transfer rate, rather than the higher income tax rate.

As Heyer aged she began to suffer more frequent health problems. In June 1964, she underwent surgery to remove a kidney stone. Although the doctors initially predicted a six-week recovery, after two months they predicted that it might be a year or longer before she felt completely well. The following year, she suffered a mosquito bite which turned septic, prompting the doctors to offer skin grafts. In July 1973 she suffered a slight stroke and spent three weeks in a nursing home. When her brother Boris died later that year, Heyer was too ill to travel to his funeral. She suffered another stroke in February 1974. Three months later, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which her biographer attributed to the 60–80 cork-tipped cigarettes that Heyer smoked each day (although she claimed not to inhale). On 4 July 1974, Heyer died. Her fans learned her married name for the first time from her obituaries.

Besides her success in the United Kingdom, Heyer’s novels were very popular in the United States and Germany and achieved respectable sales in Czechoslovakia.A first printing of one of her novels in the Commonwealth often consisted of 65,000–75,000 copies,and her novels collectively sold over 100,000 copies in hardback each year. Her paperbacks usually sold over 500,000 copies each. At the time of her death 48 of her books were still in print, including her first novel, The Black Moth.

Her books were very popular during the Great Depression and World War II. Her novels, which journalist Lesley McDowell described as containing “derring-do, dashing blades, and maids in peril”, allowed readers to escape from the mundane and difficult elements of their lives. In a letter describing her novel Friday’s Child, Heyer commented, “‘I think myself I ought to be shot for writing such nonsense. … But it’s unquestionably good escapist literature and I think I should rather like it if I were sitting in an air-raid shelter or recovering from flu.”

Heyer essentially invented the historical romancea nd created the subgenre of the Regency romance. When first released as mass market paperbacks in the United States in 1966, her novels were described as being “in the tradition of Jane Austen”.As other novelists began to imitate her style and continue to develop the Regency romance, their novels have been described as “following in the romantic tradition of Georgette Heyer”. According to Kay Mussell, “virtually every Regency writer covets [that] accolade”.


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Regency Mourning: An In-depth Look

Regency Mourning

A grand thought has struck me as to our gowns. This six weeks’ mourning makes so great a difference that I shall not go to Miss Hare till you can come and help choose yourself, unless you particularly wish the contrary. It may be hardly worth while perhaps to have the gowns so expensively made up. We may buy a cap or a veil instead; but we can talk more of this together…Now we are come from church, and all going to write. Almost everybody was in mourning last night, but my brown gown did very well… It makes one moralise upon the ups and downs of this life.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
March 5, 1814

Mourning Fashion:

mourning fashion
Belle Assemblee Morning Dress, 1818

Outward manifestations of grief have changed in mourning rituals over the centuries. These days when we think of 19th century mourning, we tend to confuse elaborate Victorian rules of the 1860′s with the less rigid mourning etiquette of the earlier 19th century. Mourning fashions during the Regency Period are fully described in Dressing for Mourning in the Regency on the Jane Austen Centre’s website. Only the wealthy could afford the specially made fashionable mourning outfits shown in the fashion plates featured in Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblee, but the rising popularity of fashion magazines meant that the details of dress quickly spread through the provinces. Most people remade mourning clothes from an existing wardrobe, adding new linings to cloaks and pelisses, covering existing bonnets with a new piece of crape, and dyeing old dresses. Jane Austen wrote about her mother in 1808: “My Mother is preparing mourning for Mrs E. K. – she has picked her old silk pelisse to peices, & means to have it dyed black for a gown – a very interesting scheme.

One can imagine how an illustration like the one on the right would inspire women to add mourning details to their wardrobes, but such an expensive outfit would still be beyond most women’s means. The middle class was rising in Continue reading Regency Mourning: An In-depth Look

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The Worlds of Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer's Regency World Review

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World
by Jennifer Kloester

As the patroness of two online discussion lists, Janeites, for Jane Austen Fans, and the Georgette Heyer discussion list, I am just the audience who Kloester’s is aiming at with this book, and I have to say she absolutely hit the mark! This is an extraodinary book and one which I will be happily recommending.

I get questions all the time from people who want to write Regency novels and are looking for a good overall book to guide them, and from others who want to know more about the Regency and Georgian world which Heyer inhabited for her unique Drawing Room romantic/comedies. Generally I give them an outline of a series of books which they could read which will give them some background, but there has never been a truly comprehensive book which is both academic, readable, spefcific to the period and general enough to cover everything but still give a confident grasp of detail. This book finally does that and well done to Kloester for acheiving that.

Her chapter summaries at the start give you a very good idea of the information covered so you are able to get to what you want immediately – chapters include Up and Down the social Ladder, Town and country, Man’s world, Gentle Sex, On the Town, Pleasure Haunts, Fashionable Resorts, Getting About, What to Wear, Shopping, Eat, Drink and be Merry, Sporting life, Business and The Military. Whos Who in the Regency includes extremely useful appendixes such as glossary of cant terms, newspapers and magazines, Heyer Books, a timeline, reading about the Regency, where to go next and so forth with some excellent references for easy access – I was also flattered to find my own website in the www addresses so thanks for that, too, Jennifer.

I was surprised to see a reviewer saying that there was no new information in this. I strongly contest this. Kloester has done more than simply rehash old information, she has provided some new insights for me (I never knew for instance that Rotten Row was originally Rue de Roi – or street of the King) but she has used her extensive knowledge of Heyer novels to reference items in the Regency.

This is not the sort of book where you can find analysis of Heyer’s novels one by one – Hodge’s excellent work, The Private World of Georgette Heyer which has just been reissued is definitely the book for that. However you can read about Regency life in here with reference to Heyer’s novels.

I would highly recommend this to all Regency fans, those who wish to write a novel, and those who simply wish to understand more in one handy reference book. This is an excellent jumping off point for further reading, but it is also an extremely good book for any fans of the Regency, knowledgeable or otherwise. I will definitely be reading anything else Kloester publishes!

Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: William Heinemann (6 Oct 2005)
ISBN-10: 0434013293
ISBN-13: 978-0434013296
Price: £17.99

The Private World of Georgette Heyer
by Jane Aiken Hodge

Jane Aiken Hodge wrote the first critical perspective of Heyer’s books, and it is one of the most useful books. Not only is it an insight into Georgette Heyer’s world, but also a glimpse into her own life. Hodge had access to her diary’s and notebooks, a privilege not extended to anyone else until Mary Fahnstock Thomas did her critical perspective. (Also very good)

The Private World of Georgette Heyer should be put into perspective. It shows the development of Heyer’s writing, from the first episodic book she wrote for her brother (Black Moth) and published at the age of 17, to her experiment with modern novels (All Suppressed) to her experiments with writing mysteries, historical novels, her movement into her most famous genre, Regency Romances, and finally to the works she considered her most eponymous – that is, Medieval fiction. Her last work was left unfinished, and was published as such. It is perhaps her most disliked by her modern readers.

Heyer is not necessarily recognised by the wider public as the woman who spawned the Regency Romance genre. She was badly copied by the likes of Barbara Cartland, but as Heyer’s fans know, Heyer did hours of painstaking research on her subjects. Hodge does an excellent job of showing this in this book. Some of the illustrations Heyer copied from books and magazines in the British Library are reproduced, but more usefully, Hodge goes through each book and allows a chapter for it and Heyer’s life at the time. Usually there is a struggle with the Inland Revenue involved as Heyer seemed to have to write to pay the tax bills more often than not.

There are occassional lapses where Hodge makes minor mistakes on books etc, these are pretty forgiveable in a book of this scope and they usually don’t affect the understanding of Heyer and her books too greatly.

For anyone wishing to understand Georgette Heyer, or get a greater understanding of the period in history she was writing about (or living in) this is an excellent work. If nothing else just flick through and look at the pictures. An extraodinary woman, and a very private life well illustrated.

Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (6 April 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0099493497
ISBN-13: 978-0099493495
Price: £8.99


Anne Woodley is an Amazon top 500 reviewer as well as the patroness of Janeites, the Internet discussion, as well as mistress of the Regency Ring. Her excellent page, The Regency Collection is a treasure trove of information.