Georgette Heyer and her Readers

Fans of Georgette Heyer will feel a quiet sense of satisfaction at the news that English Heritage are to place one of their Blue Plaques on her first home in Wimbledon next month. It is another step towards the public acknowledgement of a truth which, if not yet held universally, has been acknowledged by countless people all round the world for a long, long time. She is a Treasure.

But, as is the case with so many Treasures, we can’t all agree why and, like every writer I know, she does have her detractors.  (Shakespeare? Couldn’t plot for toffee. When people praised WS’s manuscript for his ‘never blotting out line’, Jonson wittily replied, ‘Would he had blotted a thousand.’  Killer punch there, Ben.)

Carmen Callil, a woman of whose publishing achievements I am in awe, allegedly opined that Heyer took Jane Eyre and rejigged it 57 times. Not true – Heyer never really hit the Gothick note. And even her most enigmatic and brooding hero has a sense of the ridiculous, which neither Mr Rochester nor Jane quite manages. But I completely see why a lively feminist publisher would take agin books in which the highest good to which the heroine aspires is marriage to an eligible –i.e. always wealthy, often titled — man.

More seriously, an Editorial Director I much admire told me a few years ago that Heyer had badly needed editing. I don’t know how that would have played with the strong-minded Heyer. From her career-long vituperative joust with the respected editor of Woman’s Journal, Dorothy Sutherland (who tried) I suspect that Heyer wouldn’t have put up with it. And if a publisher insisted, it might have shut her up for good. The loss doesn’t bear thinking about.

Mind you, Sutherland’s preferred title for Regency Buck wasn’t great, even without the connotations that have accrued to it since 1935. And her strap line? Words fail me.

 –in the Dare-Devil Days when Men Were Men and Women Seductively Coy!

So what is the evidence that Georgette Heyer is a Treasure?  Well, many, many authors love her – and not just those writing in the Regency genre like New York Times Best Seller Jo Beverley but Booker Prize Winner A S Byatt*,  Kate FentonEmma Darwin . (Note the span of generations there.) And many more. I admit to being comforted when I found that Heyer, too, played patience while theoretically writing. If it was good enough for Her . . .

But I don’t mean to talk about my own opinions here. These are not my ideas, but those of her millions of readers. For since the Blue Plaque announcement, I have been trotting through the Forest of Internet in search of Heyer fans and found — well, overwhelmingly more than I expected. Of course there are the Heyer Appreciators, many of whom are to be found at Almacks.  And from Mumsnet through The Guardian to Jane Austen blogs and uncountable numbers of bloggers — some loving her for ever, some  just discovering her, some arguing furiously over where she did and didn’t do what they wanted (Smart Readers Trashy Books is really good at that) —  Heyer’s work is considered seriously by a very high class of reader indeed. They are thoughtful, principled and often terrifyingly well- informed. I take my hat off to them.

So Miss Heyer’s readers say:

  • she’s writes a cracking good story
  • she’s witty and so are her characters
  • in fact humour is the first reason many people read her
  • romantic situations are well drawn, romantic satisfaction variable – but since some readers adore a book that others hate, that probably reflects temperamental differences as much as anything
  • her style is a delight
  • she takes you into a fully realised, detailed world
  • her sense of period feels spot on
  • her history is well-informed and perceptive – also accessible
  • her characters have life, fire and principles, even when they’re not very good ones
  • her secondary characters are all three dimensional, intrinsic to the story and sometimes delicious
  • her books differ  more widely than you’d expect or than she herself seems  to have thought
  • they re-read her, sometimes again and again, over their whole lives
  • the good end happily in her books and if the bad don’t end badly, there is nevertheless a sense that justice has been done
  • she gets you through bad times
  • she both observes and explodes genre expectations (bit narrow this one, but it interests me, so I’ve bunged it in)
  • she crosses generations – I noted how often the commentator found Heyer’s books on the shelf of a mother, grandmother, family friend or shared the long loved pleasure with a daughter or granddaughter.
  • she is reticent, not just about her personal life but about the emotional development of her characters and their experience of falling in love. (I’m going to come back to this. I think it’s true, especially in her quieter books and I have come to like it. Some readers don’t so much.)
  • she’s fun
  • with substance
Don’t think they missed much. We should all have such readers. Hope Miss Heyer would have appreciated them.

Attendance at the blue plaque unveiling is now up to capacity.

I’ll maintain a waiting list, if anyone would like to come and doesn’t mind waiting to see whether there’s room. Sorry about that, but delighted that so many people want to come and celebrate Georgette Heyer and her work.


*Byatt, A. S. “An Honourable Escape: Georgette Heyer.” Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings. London: Chatto & Windus, 1991. 258-65.

—. “The Ferocious Reticence of Georgette Heyer.” Sunday Times Magazine 5 Oct. 1975: 28-38. Rpt. In Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective. Ed. Mary Fahnestock-Thomas. Saraland, AL: PrinnyWorld, 2001. 289-303.

26 Responses to “Georgette Heyer and her Readers”

  • Elizabeth Bailey:

    Wonderful post, Jenny. Have shared it with the Georgette Heyer Appreciation Group on Facebook and they are loving it. Many Americans didn’t know about the Blue Plaque.

  • Super, Jenny. I agree with most of the comments and like most people, reread especially when in need of cheering. Recently I went to a charity shop where I found a hardback copy of a title I owned in paperback. I went to the counter to buy it and there was the former head of the classics dept at a well-known public school. I wondered what this erudite scholarly gentleman would think of my purchase.
    ‘Not my favourite,’ he said, ‘but a cracking good story never-the-less!’

  • PHilippa Jill Manasseh:

    I would love to come on 5th June to
    the blue plaque unveiling and if possible to
    the tea after wards.
    I was not sure how else to
    contact you.

  • Sarah McConnel:

    I like your comment “she is reticent, not just about her personal life but about the emotional development of her characters and their experience of falling in love. (I’m going to come back to this. I think it’s true, especially in her quieter books and I have come to like it.)”
    I used to be bowled over by Regency Buck and Bath Tangle, but increasingly I find myself re-reading Sprig Muslin, and trying to fill in all that emotional development bit at the end between Sir Gareth and Lady Hester. It’s the more frustrating, because this is about the only one of her books (Venetia excepted) where there’s a sense of real anguish (when Hester refuses Gareth for the first time.

    • I agree with you about Sprig Muslin. That’s always got to me. And, although she’s very young,I think Hero has it in Friday’s Child. You suddenly see how brave she is being, when she acknowledges it to George – that training as a poor relation, I suppose. Truly painful.

      But the upside(I’m getting ahead of myself here) is that there is room for a really empathetic scriptwriter and, more important, an actor to supply the missing moments. See my next post on the subject. Or possibly next-but-one.

      • Fiona Marsden:

        Heyer is on my prozac shelf and I have read her so many times I can’t count. I’ve recently discovered the joy of Heyer on Audiobook. I also discovered that I can’t listen to abridged versions. Much as I loved Richard Armitage, I missed a lot of those supplementary scenes especially in Sylvester. I know them too well.

        I know there is some reason why they can’t be filmed but I thought Emma Thompson did a lovely job on the screenplay of Sense and Sensibility and I would like to see how she would handle Heyer’s books.

        • Interesting point about abridged editions, Fiona. I think they have their place. But for me nothing beats cuddling up with the whole book in front of the fire. During a recent power cut I ended up reading The Corinthian by candlelight. Brilliant!

          And you’re certainly not alone on the appetite for Heyer movies.

  • Fantastic post, Jenny. I’d like to come if I can. What time?

    • Jan, that would be wonderful. Though it won’t be as well organised as the parties you run! Have sent you the details direct.

  • Claire Muir:

    Thanks for the great post, Jenny! Wonderful news about the plaque. I will share this post with my fellow fans.

    I do love to re-read Georgette Heyer. I recently read Sprig Muslin aloud to a friend (over the course of several weeks) and it was a fun and interesting new way to engage with the text. We’ve also done Devil’s Cub as well.

    Incidentally, I hope all Heyer fans are aware of the wonderful audiobook versions of Sylvester, Venetia and The Convenient Marriage starring Richard Armitage…

    • Hi Claire. Yes, it’s very pleasing, isn’t it?
      You’ll see that you’re not alone in being attached to Sprig Muslin.
      Yes, inded, Richard Armitage has recorded them for Naxos. Sadly, they’re abridged. But even so, I agree, very atmopsheric.

  • Please may I come, too? Lovely post.

  • Jaycee Stringer:

    I am 55 now, and read my first Georgette Heyer at 12 – it was Venetia – perhaps not one of her best but still good enough to capture and still hold my imagination. Her detailed descriptions of this fascinating period in time and her eloquent use of the English Language and cant expressions are a joy. I own all of the romances in paperback – some of them are over 50 years old, tattered and torn, but well loved. I also own all that have been published in audio format. I lost track years ago of the number of times I haver re-read or listened to her works. Her books are like beloved old friends, witty, sometimes frivolous and for me always entertaining. No one surpasses her either before or since in my opinion. I am so glad that she is gaining recognition with the Blue Plaque

    • Interesting, your view on Venetia. It’s the absolute favourite of some people. Do you have a favourite now? Or does it depend on your mood? I sometimes forget them and am astonished, when I go back, at how good they really are. Have just re-read The Black Moth, the first time for years, and couldn’t believe that she was only 17 when she wrote it.

      • Jaycee Stringer:

        I would have to say I have several favourites, but if I had to pick two – and I couldn’t pick just one, it would be The Reluctant Widow and Cotillion would top the list.

        Could I trouble you to resend the details of when and where? My computer seems to have mislaid them.

        Thank you so much. I have already organised the time off for such a wonderful event. I have a huge smile on my face just thinking about it.

        • I am so glad. That’s exactly what we hoped for. Beaming here.

          I’ve forwarded the timetable and directions again to the email address from which you posted. If they fail to land again, email me a physical address and I’ll put them in the post.

  • Jaycee Stringer:

    I wonder is it too late for the tea and unveiling – I would really love to attend and honour her work.

  • John Jackson:

    I would have loved to have been there! I’ll be in Ireland, having fun but also doing some research for the WIP.
    My Dad was a fan and introduced her books to me – and I’ve loved them ever since.

    Favourites? Frederica, The Spanish Bride and An Infamous Army.

    She was originally published by Mills & Boon (Powder & Patch)

    I’ll raise a glass to you all from across the Irish Sea


  • Jen:

    A wonderful article, Jenny. Thank you. One of the things about Heyer’s novels that continues to impress is her ability to bring something new to each novel. Whether it’s through her secondary characters (and there are so many memorable ones) or her depiction of romantic love or her unfailing humour, there is always something there that has not been there before. I love Black Sheep (among others) and am in awe that it was her 52nd book. It still makes me laugh and Miles Calverleigh was indeed (as Heyer herself said) a new kind of hero. It’s wonderful to see Heyer being acknowledged with a Blue Plaque – so well deserved – and it will be great to celebrate with her readers on 5 June.

  • Susannah Fullerton:

    Hi Jenny, Thanks for your most interesting articles on the wonderful Georgette.
    Along with some friends, I am organising a GH conference in Sydney, Australia, this year. As part of the conference, we are publishing a booklet on GH, with various people writing about how her novels have influenced them. I would love to have you contribute to this booklet if you are interested, and would also be interested in earing from any of your blog readers who love her books. I can be contacted on
    Many thanks,
    Susannah Fullerton
    President, Jane Austen Society of Australia

    • Happy to do so, Susannah. Sounds a wonderful event. So glad that she is getting such recognition.

      I have put the word out to everyone I can think of.

Leave a Reply