August 16, 2014
British novelist GEORGETTE HEYER (1902–74) wrote over fifty books, mostly in the genre she created: Regency Romance. For Heyer, as for her plucky poor-but-well-bred heroines, there was never enough money. She was the sole support of young brothers, an underemployed husband, and a son; thus, at the height of her career, in the Thirties and Forties, she turned out a new romance or thriller every year. The thrillers, which her husband sometimes plotted, are mostly to be avoided, but the romances — filled with witty repartee and a sense of deep immersion into the period, thanks to the author’s exhaustive research — are delightful. Heyer’s plots are all marriage plots. A smart, unconventional, shabby-genteel heroine brings joy to a rich, jaded man (for example: 1958’s Venetia). A rich but headstrong woman meets her match (for example: 1950’s The Grand Sophy (1950), which is the best-known of this sub-genre, if unreadable due to its anti-Semitism). An heir beset by relatives learns that the cousin he’s known his whole life is full of unconventional wit and charm (for example: 1953’s Cotillion). Even the cross-dressing twin protagonists of The Masqueraders (1928) end up in proper pairs by the end. If you consume her writing in quantity you will have a reasonable working knowledge of the making of reticules, fads in snuff consumption, the Battle of Waterloo, the decadence of George IV — not to mention the kinds of worlds to which Depression-era and postwar British women might have preferred to retreat.
ALSO: Georgette Heyer’s 1921 novel The Black Moth is on HILOBROW’s list of the 40 Best Atavistic & Historical Adventures.
READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).