Category Archives: Commentary/Reviews–Books, etc.

5 Reasons You Should Be Reading Georgette Heyer

1. You wish Jane Austen had written more books.

rouget 2 regency women

If you are an Austen fan, you know that one of the chiefest pleasures of her books is rereading them. But that only goes so far, and at some point (probably right about the time you are trying to force yourself to yet again face Mansfield Park), you may want to branch out a bit. If only you could find something romantic (but not sentimental), with witty dialogue and interesting characters, all in a Regency setting. Why not give Georgette Heyer a try? No, of course her books aren’t exactly like Austen’s—nor should they be. But they have plenty of sparkle, humor, and romance. It’s rather like choosing between champagne and a champagne cocktail.

2. You’re a rom-com fan.

You know the drill—they meet cute, they don’t get along, circumstances force them to spend time together, and they keep fighting until—just when one of them realizes they’re in love—disaster happens, a disaster that somehow turns into a happy ending. With a good cast and a halfway-decent script, it’s a painless way to spend a couple of hours and five or ten dollars. Well, Georgette Heyer’s books have all the fun, but with much better dialogue. And they’re cheaper, too, on a per-hour basis.

3. You’ve been spending too much time lately reading literary fiction.

Why not take a break from the heavy, deep, and real to sample Georgette Heyer’s oeuvre? Trade the free-floating angst and existential crises of today for witty exchanges and foolish escapades among the rich and idle of two centuries ago—well-crafted prose that, light though it may be, still manages to thoroughly explore the mysteries of the human heart in all its absurd glory.

4. You’re into chick lit.

Georgette Heyer has it all: gossip, friendships, backstabbing, parties, wardrobe, romance, shopping. What’s not to like?

5. You have a sense of adventure.regency man

Georgette Heyer’s novels aren’t just ball gowns and banter. She manages to pack plenty of action into her plots. A quick survey of her stories reveals kidnappings, several duels, a couple of attempted murders, housebreaking, smuggling, a few shootings, insanity, a runaway hot air balloon, and the Battle of Waterloo. [I’m told that her account of the battle is so accurate that An Infamous Army has been used as a text at Sandhurst (the British military academy).]

So, where to start?

The most fun is probably The Grand Sophy, but you really can’t go too far wrong with any of her novels. I definitely recommend Arabella, Bath Tangle, Cousin Kate, Faro’s Daughter, The Foundling, Sprig Muslin, Sylvester (or The Wicked Uncle) and Venetia. My own favorite is Cotillion, but since it’s partly a self-parody, to really enjoy it you need to read a few of her other books first.

I Still Want to Be Jim Hawkins

When I was 10 or so and finally read Treasure Island (having previously been introduced to the story through Classic Comics), I distinctly remember one day walking home from school and suddenly realizing I wished I were a boy—not because I actually wanted to be a boy (ew), but because only boys have adventures.

Who Gets to Be a Hero?

The obvious exception is Lucy Pevensie, of course, but somehow she didn’t count—maybe because the whole glorious Narnia thing was completely out of reach. In my heart of hearts I knew that, although it was years before I stopped feeling a little twinge of hope opening a closet.

At that point, my 10- or 11-year-old self had read a respectable pile of books, and although a few had heroines or girl sidekicks, somehow the best ones, like Kidnapped and Guns in the Heather and The Three Investigators, all seemed to feature boys—boys doing fun and amazing things, escaping from bad guys and solving mysteries and foiling nefarious plots.

The Best Adventure of Them All

I’ve always been a romantic—in the classic sense of imagining that life could really be exciting and full of derring-do. Robin Hood, D’Artagnan, Tarzan, David Balfour. But best of all was Jim Hawkins. Treasure Island enthralled me, enraptured me, filled me with that delicious combination of “you are there” excitement and poignant “if only I could” longing that I still feel when I read a really good book.

Rereading Treasure Island for the first time in about 20 years, I’m struck with how much better it is even than I remember. Having written my own pirate romance (in the modern sense), I’m bowled over by Stevenson’s masterful plot construction, vivid descriptions, lively dialogue replete with sea lingo and piratical slang, and his subtle characterizations (Silver in particular, and of course Jim himself).

But that’s only when I accidentally slip out of the narrative for a Wow! moment. Mostly I’m just carried along by the flow of the story, swept up in one wonderful scene after another, the (for modern readers) long opening that builds up the mystery surrounding Billy Bones, the shock of the pirates’ violent intrusion into Jim’s peaceful life, the peculiar oilskin packet that turns out to be a treasure map, etc., etc. How I love it. How I wish it would go on forever.

The One and Only Jim

Best of all, of course, is Jim himself. Resourceful, courageous, self-reliant—he would be an extraordinary hero at any age, but to have him be my own age was utterly magical. The two best moments in the whole story are when he really shows his mettle.

The first is when, having been chased around the deserted ship by a murderous pirate, Jim manages to scamper up a mast, perch in the cross-trees, and, with the pirate hot on his heels, reload his pistols (spoiled by a dousing) just in time to coolly declare, “One more step, Mr. Hands, and I’ll blow your brains out.”

Now that’s a hero—“Romeo’s a dishclout to him” (and so is anyone else you could name—go on, I dare you).

But the very best is when Jim, captured by the pirates, wounded, abandoned by his friends, surrounded by angry desperadoes only a hair’s breadth from murdering him out of hand, is offered a chance to save his life by joining the buccaneers. Instead, he stands tall and sets them at defiance with a bold speech that begins:

“Here you are, in a bad way: ship lost, treasure lost, men lost; your whole business gone to wreck; and if you want to know who did it—it was I!”

He proceeds to recount every single thing he has done to thwart them (it’s a long list), and concludes by counteroffering to testify on their behalf when they come to trial. However many times I read this scene, it thrills me through and through.

Yes, I still want to be Jim Hawkins.