Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What I Read Over Summer Vacation

Hello! It’s great to be back to regular twice-weekly posts after our summer schedule. It’s also great to note that this is our 100th post! Thank you so much for reading and commenting and sharing our history geekism—your input has kept us going.

Did you have summer reading that you had to do, either for school or for a book club? I did: I set myself to remedy a huge gap in my education, and read Georgette Heyer. Does that name sound familiar? It just might, because Ms. Heyer was more or less the inventor of the Regency romance novel.

The Regency is that period between 1811 and 1820 during which George, the Prince of Wales, served as regent for his insane father, King George III. When King George died in early 1820, the Prince Regent became king and reigned another ten years as King George IV. These years are best remembered for their style: the Prince Regent was known for his interest in the arts, and British culture reflected this. Prinny was also known for his love of fun; after years of boring, drab formality under George III, high society blossomed under his son. It’s a fascinating period, and Georgette Heyer’s books offer a delightful fictionalized view of it.

Ms. Heyer (she published under her maiden name) wrote over fifty books, mostly historicals though she also wrote twelve mysteries. The majority of her historical fiction has a Regency setting, usually involving courtship and marriage among aristocrats and wealthy members of the gentry (the so-called ton). The heroes are world-weary, rakish, fabulously rich earls or viscounts whose jaded hearts are captivated by charming, sprightly country girls or elegant, intelligent bluestockings who’ve sworn never to marry. Don’t expect reality from the plot-lines, but do expect to be entertained when a strong-minded young heroine decide to rescue the hero from marriage to a painfully prim stick-in-the mud and falls in love with him herself, or a poor but spirited young woman fabricates a family tie to a reprobate Marquis in order to get his help in introducing her beautiful young sister into society, or a girl decides to save her older sister from marriage to a known rake by proposing to him herself. The tone of the books is generally light-hearted and amusing (if not downright humorous), but surprisingly touching bits creep in when you don’t expect them.

But the best part of a Georgette Heyer book is (of course!) the look at Regency period life and customs. Ms. Heyer was an enormous stickler for detail, down to giving the names of real coaching inns and men's tailors. She tends to go a little heavy on period slang, which can take getting used to—and some think that her use does not necessarily reflect actual speech—but it’s all part of the fun…the dialogue is wonderful, sparkling, and often laugh-out-loud funny.

Intrigued? Here’s a link to a list of her work: http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/h/georgette-heyer . Until recently her books were out of print; I lucked out and found a huge lot of them on eBay, but they’re easily found in used bookstores, and several titles have been re-released with handsome new covers by Sourcebooks and can be found in bookstores and on-line. My favorites so far (I’m only about a third of the way through the list) are The Grand Sophy (wonderful fun!), Frederica, Arabella, and The Spanish Bride (based on actual people and events.)

So if La Petite Four and Bewitching Season have whetted your appetite for fun historical fiction, you just might give Ms. Heyer a try.


Tia Nevitt said...

Sounds delicious. I'm due to visit the used book store this week. Another author to look for.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting on one of my new favorite authors. My favorites are:
Black Sheep, Lady of Quality, Frederica, Venetia, Arabaella and the Grand Sophy. What about everyone else? I really like the spirited older heroine meets wicked rake. Any suggestions on what to read when I finish with Heyer?

Marissa Doyle said...

Oh, I'm with you, qnpoohbear! I quite fell in love with Mr. Beaumaris in Arabella, but I think Frederica and The Grand Sophy are my favorite heroines.

I'm going to try Marion Chesney after I get through my very tall stack of Heyers. And there's this Regency author named Regina Scott whom I know writes a darned good story. :)

Anonymous said...

I just discovered Ms. Heyer this year too! A lot of her titles are hard to find unless you search AmazonUK. I hope they re-release more of her titles over here! So far, The Grand Sophy and Cotillion are my favorites.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anyone will see this but I have discovered Clare Darcy to be a worthy successor to Georgette Heyer, if you like the comedy of manners books. Marissa, you must read Georgina and Elyza since you love Frederica and The Grand Sophy! Both Georgina and Elyza get into outrageous scrapes.