Thursday, December 24, 2009

Take Me Heyer!

by Anna Campbell

In my family, we always pronounced 'heyer' as 'higher' - but actually the joke in the title doesn't quite work as those in the know tell me it's actually pronounced 'hare' like the furry creature with long ears.

Sigh. The world is conspiring to stop me punning!

Having looked at Jane Austen last month, I thought I'd continue my reviews with a story by the other pillar of Regency romance, the immortal Georgette Heyer.

May as well start at the top, I think!

Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) is an Englishwoman (with a surprisingly exotic background as I discovered when I read her biography last year - she was half Russian which seems very odd as her books seem so quintessentially British!) whose first romance, THE BLACK MOTH, was published when she was 19. It's still in print!

Although she set books in the Middle Ages and the Elizabethan and Georgian periods, her most popular stories are set in the Regency. In fact, you could argue the case that she's single-handedly responsible for the thousands of Regency romances that have hit the presses since.

I went to a really interesting lecture that Jennifer Kloester, the author of GEORGETTE HEYER'S REGENCY WORLD, gave at a writing conference recently. According to Jen, when Georgette wrote her first Regency, there were only four nonfiction books about the period from 1811 to 1820 when Prince George (who would become George IV) took over the reins of government as Prince Regent from his incurably mad father George III. Now nonfiction books about the Regency period number in their thousands.

If you're a bookish Australian female of a certain age, odds are you grew up reading Georgette Heyer. She was as much a staple of our culture as cricket in the summer and chucking a shrimp (which we call a prawn!) on the barbie. My mother loved her books and passed them on to me and I can remember reading them over and over in my late primary school and high school years. They were the backbone of any self-respecting school library. I read them again in my late 20s, when a friend of mine collected the complete series. Again, I was captivated.

It is now MANY years since then.

Nonetheless, I was surprised when I picked up DEVIL'S CUB, one of the beautiful new SourceBooks Casablanca editions, how much of the story I'd forgotten. I remembered it was a sequel to THESE OLD SHADES. I remembered it featured a rake. And I remembered the heroine shot the hero. But other details had faded completely.

Something else I'd forgotten was quite how sparkling the prose is. The dialogue is as sharp as the rapier the Marquis of Vidal carries as he wends his rakish way around Georgian London (I'd also remembered this as a Regency story whereas in fact it takes place pre-French Revolution - which makes for some fun fashions, especially for the men who dressed like peacocks in the 18th century). DEVIL'S CUB was written in 1932 but the writing is completely fresh and new. There's no fusty tinge of the museum piece about this story. It's huge fun and Vidal is absolutely gorgeous, if in need of a good kick you know where!

The Marquis of Vidal is the spoilt, debauched, frighteningly intelligent only child of Leonie and the Duke of Avon, who were the hero and heroine of THESE OLD SHADES. He's 24 and running wild, killing men over the fall of a card and cutting a swathe through the ton's ladies. When his attentions turn to a respectable (if very flighty) middle-class girl, Sophia Challoner, scandal threatens. After a duel goes wrong and he has to flee the country, he decides his companion must be the innocent but mercenary Sophia, in spite of his father's warnings against seducing the girl.

Sophia is perfectly happy to be ruined, as long as she can shame the marquis into marriage afterwards, but she has a stalwart older sister, Mary Challoner, who decides to stymie the elopement. However Mary's reckless scheme to save Sophia goes awry when the Marquis decides if he can't have one sister, he'll take the other.

Hmm, you can see why he deserves a bullet, can't you?

The rest of the story covers the hijinks among the various characters as they attempt to sort out this tangle, complicated by the fact that for once in his life, Vidal decides to play the man of honor. What a pity his intended bride won't have a bar of him!

This is a romp, a romp that's as perfectly put together as a Mozart opera. I can see now why so many people choose DEVIL'S CUB as their favorite Heyer. There's wit, there's drama, there's comedy, there's a surprisingly deep hit of emotion amidst all the laughter. And Vidal is the perfect rake - along with most of the women he's ever encountered, I bet you fall in love with him. I sure did, right along with Mary. He's a rogue, but he's redeemable and it's wonderful watching him fall victim to a passion for the last woman he ever thought would interest him. Definitely some sigh-worthy moments there.

Just lately, I've been asked by a few people for my reading highlights of 2009. The best book I read this year comes from 1932 and it's DEVIL'S CUB. If you've never read a Heyer, pick it up and wallow in its delights. If you're a fan already, I know I'm talking to the converted.


  1. Anna, great post. It always brings a smile to my lips to talk about Devil's Cub because it is on my list of all time favourite books, never mind all time favourite Heyer books. I have a lot of debates on this with friends who prefer Avon in These Old Shades as the quintessential alpha hero. For me, though, the fabulous pairing of Mary and Vidal, despite or because of their deep differences in character, is more a partnership of equals than that of Avon and Leonie (now someone will shoot me down!)

    There are so many wonderful moments in Devil's Cub. I adore the conversation Mary has at the end with Vidal's father, the Duke of Avon, when she says that Vidal is easy to manage if only one knows how. Such superb dialogue! Heyer at her best.

  2. Thankd for the blog Anna. I've never read any Heyer book. I'll have to put Devil's Club on my list for 2010 !

  3. Hi Anna, I'm with you on the pronounciation thing - I say "higher", too, because the German "Heyer" is pronounced like that. Whenever reading names that were originally German I pronounce them the German way in my head and then I'm oh-so-confused when I hear someone speak them out loud and they sound completely different.

    I've haven't read any Georgette Heyer book, I think mostly because there are so many new authors out there to discover and I mostly try to keep up with them. But I'll definitely give this one a try!

  4. Oh, I forgot to say that in Germany, Christmas is celebrated today, so I wish a very Merry Christmas to everyone and a Joyeux Noël exclusively to Emmanuelle! Have a beautiful day!

  5. Okay, I may get kicked out of my Historical writers group for admitting this, but I have never read one of Georgette's novels. Of course now I'll have to go and find them all to read.

    Oh Anna, by the way, just finished 'Captive of Sin', be still my heart, Gideon has won my heart. Love it Anna.

    Merry Christmas

  6. Well, I may as well make it a clean sweep. I haven't read any of Heyer's books either. Anna, after reading your beautiful review and hearing you, Keira and others talk about the fabulousness that is Heyer's works, I made a resolution to seek out and read all of her books this coming year. I'm excited that Sourcebooks has made it easy for me with these beautiful reissues!

    With which book do you recommend I begin?

  7. Anna, what a super post. Thanks for the background info; I like "stuff" like that. GH had very little to go on for her story backgrounds/settings, yet the woman seems to have added to the foundation Jane Austen built for Regency authors of today.
    I read a Heyer book a long time ago, but I remembered not liking it much, so, shame on me, I never picked up another. After today's post, I'm going to check some out, especially DEVIL's CUB.

  8. Okay, Anna, I must put myself in the "never read a Heyer book" group. *hanging my head head in shame*

    I will most definitely be reading her books this year! And if it will help, if no one told me differently, I would pronounce Heyer as "higher". Makes sense to me. :)

  9. Well I HAVE read all of Georgette Heyer's books, thanks to two retired librarians in a little village called Kelsale in Suffolk. I will be forever grateful to them for that introduction!

    I have to admit that I have a real soft spot in my heart for Vidal! He is just too DELISH!!

    Happy Christmas, everyone!

  10. Anna, oh, Anna, you have made my day! I discovered Heyer (who knew it rhymed with hare?) in the seventh grade. And if I had to pick ONE of her books as my favorite, it would be DEVIL'S CUB. It's hard to beat for wit, dynamite dialogue, plot twists and fabulous romance. Although I could name a dozen scenes I absolutely love (the fight scene is one, and any scene with Rupert is a gimme) one of my favorites is the bit where he tells his featherbrained, spoiled cousin that he's discovered he can't live without staid Mary Challoner. Sigh. Oh, my goodness, when you read one of her romances it's like falling into another world. Along with DEVIL'S CUB, I love THESE OLD SHADES, COTILLION, THE MASQUERADERS, THE QUIET GENTLEMAN, THE UNKNOWN AJAX, FARO'S DAUGHTER, and LADY OF QUALITY. And those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head! Like you, though, I found A CIVIL CONTRACT and A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE a little on the dry side.

    Ouch, I just got beaned with a missile from an angry Heyer fan. Seriously, for those who have not had the pleasure of reading her books, I think you will be surprised at how many cant terms you recognize from modern Regency novels, terms which Heyer often originated! What a great, inventive mind she had and what a fabulous storyteller!

  11. I too, must hang my head in shame, I have never read a Heyer. (hey, in Canada, we pronounce it 'higher' too!) I have heard of the name, had no idea she had written these books so long ago.

    I do have an excuse, I only came to romance a few years ago, surprising isn't it? Though I have danced at the fringes, reading Taylor Caldwell and Catherine Cookson through the years, as I too, am a bookish female of a certain age, LOL!

    Wonderful background into her life, and astonishing her books are still in print, still popular.
    That lecture must have been fascinating!

    I loved your synopsis of the book, 'Devil's Cub', and I will certainly buy a Heyer next I am venturing out to a bookstore.

    Wonderful post Anna, and Happy Holidays!!

  12. Wow, I didn't realize that I had so much company in the "never read a Heyer" group. O_O Like Lisa, I've just never gotten around to reading one because there are so many authors already out there! Your review has made me want to give this one a try, Anna. If I get a chance in the new year, I will pick this one up. ;-) Oh, and I was told (corrected) after pronouncing her last name like "higher" that it's actually pronounced like "air" with a silent H. So, perhaps that person was wrong, too! LOL

    Merry Christmas, everyone!!

  13. Actually, Nicola, I know exactly what you mean. There's an element of father/daughter in Avon/Leonie. Yeah, I know I'm going to get shot down too whereas as you say, Mary and Vidal are more equal in spite of the differences in their social standing. Also I thought Avon was a little too superhuman for me to feel like I could meet him - Vidal was much more believable as a character, I thought. I'll have to re-read These Old Shades now - again, it's years since I read it! I remember in my teenage reading it was one of my faves but when I read them in my 20s, I still enjoyed it, but it dropped behind some of the others in preference.

  14. Emmanuelle, definitely give Devil's Cub a go. I bet you're laughing out loud in spots - I was! And Vidal is delicious!

  15. Lisa, most people in Australia say 'higher' or I've quite often heard 'hayer'. But I recently read the Jane Aiken Hodge biography of Georgette Heyer (Jennifer Kloester has one in the works too that I think will be brilliant!) and there was a piece in that on how GH herself insisted on 'hare'. That's where I got the info about the Russian background - there's a theory that the people who write best about the English upper classes are themselves not part of the set. Evelyn Waugh springs to mind! Give Devil's Cub a try - it's great fun!

  16. Lisa, Happy Christmas to you too! It's actually already Christmas Day in Australia. I'm up early - caught a flash of red and white in the sky as Santa skedaddled home! ;-)

    Happy Christmas to all the Dishies and their friends too!

  17. Sandie, how lovely about Captive of Sin (yeah, I know we're supposed to be talking about DC, snort!). So glad you love Gideon! I had quite a crush on him when I was writing him ;-)

    Hey, pick up Devil's Cub. Seriously, it's a romp and Vidal is absolutely gorgeous and you'll love how Mary stands up to him. Thanks for swinging by and happy Aussie Christmas!

  18. PJ, you haven't read her either? How amazing. As I said, she was like a rite of passage here. Everyone I know who read romance (everyone of my sort of vintage - I'm not sure she's quite so much a part of the scene with the younger ones) read Heyer first. Christine Wells is an absolute fanatic (waving wildly at CW who is a very nice fanatic!).

    I think asking what one to start with is a great question. Any suggestions?

    As I said, it's a while since I've read her, although reviewing DC has made me want to pick her up again, and isn't that a great recommendation? I loved Venetia which has a gorgeous rakish hero, and The Unknown Ajax which is really funny and The Grand Sophy. Probably my least favorites were The Convenient Marriage and Regency Buck. The Quiet Gentleman and A Civil Contract are a little more subdued although I love them both - perhaps don't start with them and start with the rip-roaring ones.

    It's interesting - picking your favorite Heyer is one of those games people play! ;-)

  19. Deb, check out Devil's Cub. I think you'll like it - and it's easy to see her influence on some of the bestsellers of today. The wit and the romance are absolutely magical still. Thanks so much for checking out the review - and happy Christmas!

  20. Gannon, you haven't read her either! As I say, maybe it's an age thing. She was hugely popular in America - and I think she still is or else they wouldn't keep reissuing her stuff. In the last few years, Harlequin have reissued her books and now there are these gorgeous SourceBooks editions. Seriously, you have to read a book where the heroine shoots the hero ;-)

  21. Louisa, lovely to see you here. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas! And how fantastic that you have read her! Do you have a favorite? What one do you think PJ should read to start off with?

  22. Anna, for me (and a lot of US ladies of my age), Victoria Holt's books were our rite of passage. I'm looking forward to reading Heyer's books as a grown-up. ;-)

    Thank you for taking time from your Christmas morning to spend with us. Hope you sent Santa in our direction! Merry Christmas!

  23. Jeanie, a Heyer girl! Fantastic! As you say, any scene with Rupert in it is brilliant. And I love that bit where Vidal admits what he feels - and he's quite up front about it which I just love. None of this havering! And I love the way Vidal is so utterly flummoxed when Mary won't have him when every woman he's ever met has given him his way. And he's finally doing the right thing with this one. Priceless! I didn't get time to go into the secondary characters - but some of the best I've ever read are in this book. Everyone has that spark of life that makes them leap off the page.

    I love your list - another one I've never been able to finish is The Spanish Bride although I loved an Infamous Army. Brilliant descriptions of Waterloo. Apparently, Sandhurst, the military academy in Britain, use An Infamous Army as part of their teaching curriculum on the Napoleonic Wars. That's how great GH's research is!

  24. Hey, thanks for swinging by, Drew, and Happy Holidays to you too. Hope Santa brings you lots of great books! Oh, and chocolate to eat while you read those great books.

    You haven't read her either! You know, I grew up on Taylor Caldwell and Catherine Cookson but it's the Heyers that stuck to me. Although having said that, I remember crying my way through Dear and Glorious Physician as a teenager.

    The lecture was absolutely fascinating and it was packed to the rafters which shows GH still has major popular appeal. Jennifer has had access to a lot of family correspondence that Jane Aiken Hodge couldn't get hold of so the new bio should be full of really great stuff. One of the sad things about GH is that she really wanted critical approval for her fabulous research and beautiful writing but because she wrote 'romance', she never really got it. Seems so sad that such a brilliant writer and someone whose books are still being read with such enjoyment 70 or 80 years after they were written should have missed out on that. I mean, surely that's the definition of a classic, a story that can stand the test of time.

  25. Like you I grew up with her but definitely in the "hare" camp over in olde England. Love Devil's Cub - one of my favorites along with Faro's Daughter, Frederica, Cotillion, Friday's Child, etc. etc. etc. I could go on but won't.

    What interests me is how much Heyer invented the Regency romance world - and in some cases I mean invent. There are a bunch of conventions of the genre that have no basis in historical fact but come directly from her. She was also very much a writer of her own time - thus the huge age differences between h and h in some of her books. (I love The Convenient Marriage but 17 and 35? ick).

    The best thing about Heyer is her wit and DC has some of the best examples. Love Rupert and his wine and - like Nicola - I love the conversation between Mary and Avon.

    I reread DC lately and I noticed there is relatively little face time between Mary and Vidal compared to a modern romance. But boy does Heyer make the best of the little there is. When she makes him drink the gruel, for example. Priceless.

  26. Ha ha, Andrea, yet another pronunciation! I think I'll retire bruised but not defeated on that issue. I have to say I still say 'higher'! Hey, try Devil's Cub. I think you'll like it and I know you'll take to Vidal!

  27. PJ, a big merry Christmas to you too. Actually I adored Victoria Holt and I think of the two, she's the one who had the longest lasting influence on my writing. I must re-read one and see what I think. I remember Mistress of Mellyn was reissued in the last few years so she's clearly a classic as well. I devoured VH as a teenager!

  28. Miranda, I love the gruel scene. Gruel to be cruel, in fact! As you say, it's interesting how little face time Mary and Vidal have but those scenes just ring in your mind as so memorable. Another thing that struck me was how long it took the hero and heroine to be together on the page in any meaningful way. He spends quite a bit of the start dealing with his parents (love the scenes there - and you know then that Vidal isn't a complete rotter!) and with his flirtation with Sophie. Oh, and the ruthlessness of that duel scene. Eeek! Heyer really doesn't pull any punches when she writes this particular rake - he really IS a selfish cad at the start. Even if a very charming, fascinating one.

    You're right about Heyer creating the Regency world we know today, much more so, I think, than Jane Austen.

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  30. Anna, I knew you were going to be here today and since i've discovered Georgette in the last 6 months I was anxious to read your review. I actually have The Devil's Cub with me for my holiday week reading! My favorite so far is The Grand Sophy! I have also read Faro's Daughter, Cotillion and Sylvester (loved him)! i am a big Kindle fan but love the beautiful reissues by Sourcebook and have been ordering them.

    I have read all your books and loved them......Gideon is a huge favorite with me also.

    I love the final declarations of love and the sigh worthy kisses at the end of the Heyer books :-) Thanks again for a wonderful review......can't wait to start it.

  31. Hey, Connie, cool to see you here. And how fantastic you're a new convert to GH!

    I remember The Grand Sophy as such a sparkling comedy. It's the one with the hilarious declaration of non-love at the end, isn't it? Absolutely lovely! Sylvester is one I don't remember at all but people keep mentioning it as a favorite so I must drag it out again. I actually don't own many Heyers - as a young un, I mainly read them from the library or borrowed copies from other people. These SourceBooks GHs are a beautiful edition so perhaps I should start collecting.

    One of the things that struck me - and I think it's among the reasons the endings work so well - is that she's such a master of tone. She knows exactly what she's doing with the writing, whether she wants to scare you or make you laugh or make you cry. It's an amazing skill!

    And thank you so much for those lovely words about Gideon and the other books! Happy Christmas!

  32. Anna, Victoria Holt was my introduction to romance--The Pride of the Peacock. My 7th grade English teacher recommended VH to me, and I will always be grateful!

    Merry Christmas, Anna!

  33. Hi Anna,
    I've actually never read that book by Georgette Heyer. I do credit Heyer for my love of gender bender romances. ^^ This is because the first one i ever read was by her which was "Lord Harry".

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  34. RD (is it PJ again?), an aunty left Master of Pendorric at our house after a visit and I snuck it away and read it. I hadn't read any gothics at that stage so I didn't know that no matter how evil the hero appeared, he always turned out as the good guy and the supposedly good guy was always the bad guy. So I was absolutely on the edge of my seat reading that saga of the innocent young bride who thinks her hubby is out to kill her. I paid MOP a bit of a tribute in COS - all that wild Cornish scenery! That's another think VH did brilliantly - the settings were like another character!

  35. Jedisakora, which one's Lord Harry? Is it the Masqueraders? I loved that story! Give Devil's Cub a go - seriously it's a heap of fun! Happy Christmas!

  36. I've been reading Heyer for ages too, and I also pronounced it "Higher". Every three or four years, I do a major reread--in addition to reading favorite scenes in between. I started reading Clare Darcy, Patricia Veryan, and Fiona Hill in the 70s because longed for something similar like Heyer. Then I discovered the old Candlelight Regencies (I must have read a dozen or so by Janet Louise Robinson) and the Signet Regencies with writers like Vanessa Gray, Sheila Walsh, and sandra Heath. I still love the trad Regencies.

    I love Devil's Cub, but Frederica, The Grand Sophy, Venetia, Arabella, and Cotillion are my top five. And I adore Sylvester and oh, The Unknown Ajax with the wonderful Major Hugo Darracot and one of the funniest scenes I've ever read. In fact, about the only Heyer I don't love is The Reluctant Widow.

  37. Taylor Caldwell was heavy reading for a teenager, that's when I read her too. 'The Wide House' and 'This Side of Innocence' are a couple of my favs. Love how she injected history into her stories, sounds like Heyer does as well.

    I fell in love with my first male character in 'The Wide House', LOL!
    And going off topic for a second, and speaking of falling for a male character, I finished 'Captive of Sin.' Gideon had me in shreds. Just a wonderful read. And he was to die for. Anna, take a bow.

    I admit, I gravitate toward male characters in romance novels. And you make Vidal sound glorious.

    I will definitely be checking out this book, thanks Anna, for the introduction to the world of Heyer!

  38. Hi Janga! Merry Christmas! Hey, I should have known you'd be a Heyer fan! She's great, isn't she? I think it's wonderful that she's still so beloved so many years after her death. This discussion is convincing me I need to do a re-read too. I've only recently read the Clare Darcys - Christine Wells lent them to me. They're lovely. Must try and find the Patricia Veryans and Fiona Hills.

    Great list of faves and I think PJ would be fine starting with any of those. Ooh, I'd forgotten the Reluctant Widow. I don't particularly go for that one either - and there's a dreadful film of it that's an absolute travesty.

  39. Anna, do try Veryan and let me know what you think. I started with the Regency-set Sanguinet Saga:
    Some Brief Folly
    Feather Castles
    The Lord and the Gypsy
    Love's Duet
    The Noblest Frailty
    Married Past Redemption
    Sanguinet's Crown
    Logic of the Heart
    Give All to Love

    But I also love the Golden Chronicles set after Culloden and revolving around a treasure raised by supporters of Prince Charlie. Veryan does the best villains!

    Fiona Hill's best IMO is The Country Gentleman. As Ellen Pall, she has also written a couple of fun mysteries with a Regency romance author as protagonist.

  40. Hi Drew! Happy Christmas to you and yours!

    It's odd - I think I did a lot heavier reading as a teenager than I do now. I think it's part of exploring the world in a safe way when you're younger. Now I'm perfectly happy to escape! It was as a teenager that I read Wuthering Heights about 100 times and read Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary and assorted other overwrought tragedies.

    I really need to check out the Wide House. I don't remember reading that one.

    Hey, thank you so much for saying those lovely things about Gideon. And thank you for your patience waiting for your prize to arrive! Glad it was worth the wait!

    Seriously, check out Vidal. I think you'll take to him like a duck to water (tall, handsome water!). Let me know how you go with Heyer! She has a huge band of dedicated readers as I'm sure you know!

  41. Janga, I'll chase up the Veryans. You're not the first person to recommend them - and I used to love a well done trad Regency (perhaps because of having grown up on Heyers). Loretta Chase wrote a couple of real beauties too that were reissued in doubles a couple of years ago. There's one called The Sandalwood Princess and one called Knaves' Wager that I think you'd enjoy. Thanks for the list! The Regency romance writer crime books sound like huge fun!

  42. Hi Anna!,
    I actually got the title mixed up with another book. The book i meant was "The Masqueraders". *blushes*

  43. Hey, don't blush, Jedisakora. Unless you're practicing to be a Heyer heroine. I knew which one you meant. I love the squeeze of the heroine in that one - is he Sir Toby? He's kind of like this placid man mountain but he's Mr Incredibly Competent.

  44. Hey, thanks, guys, for coming out on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending on where you are. It's been a great discussion. Those who haven't read Heyer, seriously give her a go. Not often you read a writer who started a whole huge genre!