Presenting Author - Georgette Heyer

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Alexandra Steele
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Presenting Author - Georgette Heyer

Postby Alexandra Steele » Sun Jun 03, 2018 7:48 pm

Name of the author: Georgette Heyer

Main genre: Regency romance (non-explicit), comedy of manners

Main audience: All ages, but clearly directed at a female readership

Main books: The Grand Sophy (1950), Frederica (1965), The Nonesuch (1962)

Short summary of the author: Georgette Heyer authored several dozen novels over her 50-year career, and she is credited with single-handedly establishing the genre of "regency romance" that was later absorbed and reshaped by the paperback romance industry. Her first book, The Black Moth, was originally written to entertain her sick brother, and it was later revised by Heyer and published in 1921 when she was only 19 years old. While Heyer primarily wrote light romantic novels reminiscent of Jane Austen, she also authored several mystery and gothic novels. Her final novel, My Lord John, was published in 1975, a year after her death in 1974 at the age of 71.

Good points:

- Self-aware heroines. While Heyer does not aspire to the type of broad social critique that has made Austen's works so enduring, her female protagonists offer a more modern take on women during the Regency era. Heyer's protagonists are older, usually between 25 and 30, and know themselves well enough to see both their own faults and others' clearly. They never lose their heads to a flirt, and can quickly take the measure of anyone they encounter. There are a lot of opportunities for humor that Heyer takes full advantage of, but her characters almost always remain sympathetic and likable.

- Extremely accessible historical fiction. Despite the extensive research which Heyer employed in writing her books to be somewhat accurate in their depiction of Regency England, she was highly aware that most readers were not familiar with the mannerisms and rules of etiquette which ruled people's lives in those days. Part of what keeps her books accessible for today's readers is that Heyer does an excellent job of gently educating the reader on these details without letting them detract from the actual story.

Bad points:

- Predictability. Heyer was an immensely successful author during her lifetime, and it is clear that she did not feel a need to tamper with a winning formula. As a result, it is difficult to binge-read her novels, since it becomes very easy for the reader to spot exactly who is supposed to end up with who, turning the experience into an exercise in patience while you wait for the characters to hurry up and figure out what you already know. The witty, reasonably attractive lady spars with a witty, extremely wealthy and sporty gentleman, they work together to rescue a youthful acquaintance from their own foolishness, and in the process realize that they have finally met their match. While I enjoy each book, I cannot deny that they various couples quickly begin to blend together.

- Mid-century sexism. While I do credit Heyer with depicting her female protagonists with complexity and realism, I would not call her a progressive author. Despite her heroines often refusing to marry for reasons other than love, marriage is still very clearly the pinnacle of a woman's happiness. A woman might be clever and resist acting "missish" but she is always respectable, whereas a man can get away with almost anything as long as he is wealthy, fashionable without being a dandy, and an athletic sportsman. In most cases, the sassy heroine is transformed into a demure and satisfied woman when she finally agrees to become the hero's wife.

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Re: Presenting Author - Georgette Heyer

Postby Alexandra Steele » Sun Jun 03, 2018 10:27 pm

Title of the book: Black Sheep (1966)

Author: Georgette Heyer

Series: No

Genres: Regency romance, comedy of manners, historical fiction

Short summary of the story: Having reached the age of 28 without finding a gentleman who could inspire anything beyond friendly cordiality, the wealthy and attractive Miss Abigail Wendover has resigned herself to remaining the unmarried guardian of her teenage niece Fanny. The tranquility of this arrangement is interrupted when Fanny falls violently in love with a charming fortune-hunter, and it is left to Abigail to find a way to drive the suitor away. She enlists the help of the man's uncle who has recently returned from a 20-year stint in India, Mr. Miles Caverleigh, but finds herself both frustrated and amused by his complete disregard for social etiquette. Still, he is Abigail's best ally for saving Fanny from her own melodramatic ideas of love.

Good points:

- Believable plotting. There is nothing more frustrating to me than when a book with characters you enjoy seeing interact is ruined because the author looks for any stupid reason to drive a rift between them. Fortunately, Heyer resists this potential pitfall, and Black Sheep does an excellent job of weaving plot threads together into a nexus where many characters have the opportunity to mingle and misunderstand one another. In the case of the main couple, the two first meet when Abby hears the name Mr. Caverleigh and mistakes Mr. Miles Caverleigh for his nephew Stacey Caverleigh and marches over to read him the riot act for his flirtatious ways. Such moments are entertaining and interesting, rather than annoying and overly-contrived.

- Balanced character development. Although the various dramas of the book are undoubtedly leading up to a climactic shift in the relationship between Abby and Miles, I felt the relationships grew very naturally, and that Heyer spread her attention across enough of the supporting characters that the dynamics of the pair's social circle never feels flat or lifeless. The so-called villain, Stacy Caverleigh, is given the opportunity to explain his motives to the reader, while we are simultaneously given more insight into Miles by seeing him from Stacy's perspective. Similarly, while Abby is the primary narrator of events, Heyer gives us input from other people about Abby's behavior that we can better understand how Miles affects her.

Bad points:

- Unapologetic trope characters. The plot of the book may be believable, but it is in no way original. A young girl falls in love with a selfish man, the adults must swoop in to save her because she is too lovesick to be sensible. Abby is clever but lonely. Her sister is well-intentioned but gullible, and her niece is lovable but stubborn. While Miles is an entertaining hero, he is not complex, nor does Abby have any more of a storied background than that she didn't like her restrictive father, so she is willing to be entertained when Miles throws off convention (although she still struggles with doing so herself). Everyone is very human, but Heyer does not burden readers with any of the lingering emotions which must weigh on the characters from earlier chapters in their lives. It is easy to enjoy reading Black Sheep, but not so easy to remember much about it when you've finished.

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Re: Presenting Author - Georgette Heyer

Postby Alexandra Steele » Wed Jun 13, 2018 8:51 pm

Title of the book: Frederica (1965)

Author: Georgette Heyer

Series: No

Genres: Regency romance, comedy of manners, historical fiction

Short summary of the story: Frederica is the eldest sister of a clutch of siblings, and with no parents to help her see them well-established, she decides to call on a distant relative for help - the Marquis, Vernon Alverstoke. Alverstoke agrees to help launch the family in London society in order to spite his greedy sisters, and to find some entertainment for himself, but he never intends to involve himself in the affairs of Frederica and her troublesome family. However, he finds himself growing increasingly fond of them all - Frederica in particular - and begins to reconsider whether its time to leave his indolent but dull bachelorhood behind.

Good points:

- Well-drawn character interactions. Heyer's novels often rely on a varied cast of side characters to differentiate her romance stories, and while they are usually entertaining, it is an unfortunate trend that they also tend to serve as filler to pad the main story and fill time before the protagonists can fall in love. However, in Frederica, I felt that characters such as her younger brothers, Jessamy and Felix, as well as others, were very well utilized to actually demonstrate character growth. Alverstoke's development is very clearly traced in how his view of Frederica's brothers is altered by the end of the novel, and in the meanwhile they add a sense of color and fun to the story that prevents the plot from languishing in drawing rooms and evening parties.

- Developed male protagonist. Because Heyer pretty clearly writes to target a female audience, she often favors a lot of in-depth description of the woman's side of a romance, with only occasional scenes to depict the current status of the male hero and whether he is in love yet. Alverstoke is a definite exception to this, and I think the novel balances the narrative between him and Frederica very well. Readers are given many opportunities to see events from different angles, and to better appreciate how the two function as a couple.

Bad points:

- Convenient character flaws. For the most part, Frederica is a very well balanced protagonist. She has flaws that occasionally get the better of her, but she is at least self-aware enough that she also attempts to check them. However, Heyer occasionally douses her with moments of naivety for that feel extremely out-of-character for an otherwise practical and good-humored person. This could perhaps be attributed to her age (she is only 24 and essentially trying to parent her other 4 siblings), but since it only seems to crop up later in the book when she is thinking about Alverstoke, it's frustrating that her version of lovestruck more often comes across as a little bit airheaded.


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