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Old 10-03-2021, 07:11 PM   #1
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Georgette Heyer - An appreciation by Stephen Fry

I know there are a lot of Georgette Heyer fans here and a lot of Stephen Fry fans as well. Turns out that Fry is also a fan of Heyer, going by an article in the Guardian.

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But there is another style of literary historical fiction whose project it is to research and reproduce the airs, modes and everyday details of a period with so much authenticity that you might almost be reading an author of that age. Georgette Heyer stands as first among equals in this approach.
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you will discover her to be one of the wittiest, most insightful and rewarding prose writers imaginable.
https://www.theguardian.com/books/20...eorgette-heyer
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Old 10-04-2021, 12:34 AM   #2
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Yes, I saw the article. And, in general, I quite agreed with it. I first found Heyer's Regencies when I was still living in NYC. I read them all, many of them bought though some from the Library. And I moved those I'd bought to California, where they got read again. But didn't move them to Canada. But then, several years ago, there were massive sales on pretty much all of her books, at $1.99. Just when there were also 90% coupons for Kobo. I bought literally every single Heyer I could find, and finished off the list the following year when Amazon had then at $1.99 again.

These days, I parse them out, hoarding them in my TBR, but avoiding splurging on them.
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Old 10-04-2021, 12:07 PM   #3
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Thanks for linking to this article! I like Heyer's books, and strongly disliked Fry's praise of them -- I've enjoyed writing everything I didn't like about it!

My main impression of this article is that it's immensely snobbish. I suspect that Fry had a crisis of "Oh no, I like some romance novels! I must explain why these romance novels are vastly superior to all those other romance novels, or I'll get romance cooties!"

He hates all Heyer covers: They are appalling, disgusting, and trashy.
Huh. Mostly they look just fine to me. Of course, most of them show that the novels are romance novels, with images of couples or a single protagonist in a romantic setting. The people are all fully clothed, mostly in period-appropriate clothing, no heroes with bare chests or heroines with artfully ripped bodices. I wonder what Fry finds so disgusting about them?

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Her stories satisfy all the requirements of romantic fiction, but the language she uses, the dialogue, the ironic awareness, the satire and insight – these rise far above the genre.
Sigh. No, they don't "rise far above the genre". Allowing for Sturgeon's law (90% of everthing is dreck), there's a lot of romance that's on Heyer's level or better. It's perfectly possible to praise Heyer's language, dialogue etc without talking down a whole genre, and he's betraying his ignorance of the genre when doing it.

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But there is another style of literary historical fiction whose project it is to research and reproduce the airs, modes and everyday details of a period with so much authenticity that you might almost be reading an author of that age. Georgette Heyer stands as first among equals in this approach.
Really? Her books show Heyer's version of the regency. Maybe it was well researched by the standards of historical novels written at her time, but Fry's claim is vastly exaggerated. (Compare Austen - who was contemporary with the regency - with Heyer, or read studies about Heyer like this one ("Her famous "Regency slang" is Heyer's own creation") or this one.)

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...Bridgerton and other less strait-laced and tightly bodiced dramas and novels can give us the style of the Regency without its abominable injustices and stifling hierarchies, and with lots of extra romping and fizz..
I have only watched the first two episodes of Bridgerton, and I haven't read the books, but even that small sample was amply full of injustices and hierarchies. A lot of modern historical romance novels show these. Many of them do, like Heyer, show the world from the viewpoint of the upper classes, and the hierarchy is simply given, not shown as problematic, or at most shown as problematic when its victims are white upper class women. Despite its shortcomings, this kind of book can be quite fun to read.
Other authors engage with the injustices and hierarchies in a thoughtful way, and use the setting consciously in character development and plot. My favourite historical novels do this.

Heyer has plenty of what romance readers affectionately call crazysauce: Babies switched at birth, deathbed marriages, stolen government documents, murder, hidden treasure, secret passages, dashing smugglers, unexpected heirs, mistaken identities, women masquerading as men and vice versa, elopements, kidnappings, carriage chases, blackmail, duels, and dramatic revelations of sinister secrets. So what's this "extra romping and fizz" which mar modern romance novels, and which Heyer's novels are blessedly free of? I strongly suspect he's talking about sex. If anyone can see another way to interpret that part, I'd love to hear it.
And sure, not everybody like explicit sex scenes in their books. That's fine, obviously. There are a lot of novels, including modern romance novels, without explicit sex, just as there are a lot of them with it. It really rubs me the wrong way when a preference for either of those is described as superior, instead of just a matter of personal taste.

Fry writes a lot about how the regency was a turbulent time in history. I really like books which use the historical setting consciously. To take just one example: In Courtney Milan's Brothers Sinister series (victorian, not regency, but like Heyer historical romances centered around the upper classes in England) she uses the political upheaval around expanding voting rights, the controversies about Darwin's scandalous new theories, the legal vulnerabilities of women, and the difficulties of Indian people who want influence in the British empire as important drivers in her plots. Some of Heyer's books use the Napoleonic war, that's the only part of the turbulent time I can remember her using.

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Those who read and wrote books of any kind (such was the tenor of the times) were almost exclusively those who owned land, or came from land and believed without thinking in birthright, noble blood, titles, dignities and hierarchies.
Hm, I'm not convinced he's right about either readers or writers, but even if he is, so what? Is he implying that modern authors who write as if they "believe without thinking in birthright, noble blood, titles, dignities and hierarchies" are superior to modern authors who write thinkingly about those aspects of society?

Fry ends with talking about the lack of films and TV series based on Heyer's books:

Quote:
My own view is that her apparent unsuitability for dramatisation might be for the very reason that, while she may not be, or set herself up to be, an author of Great Literature, Georgette Heyer is nonetheless a writer, a real writer, whose gifts and glories reveal themselves most perfectly in the act of reading. If a new fad for the Regency age causes her to win new readers, then that is enough.
Implying that authors whose books have been dramatized are not "real writers" is absurd, and I'll mention Dickens, Austen, Atwood, and Tolkien as just a few counter-examples.
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Old 10-04-2021, 12:15 PM   #4
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Now that I've got that off my chest I'll share some of my favourite Heyers:
  • Cotillion. Freddy is one of my favourite romance heroes, with kindness as his superpower.
  • Frederica also has a kind hero (although gruff on the outside), and hilarious scenes like the Baluchistan hound and the declaration of love thwarted by calves foot jelly.
  • Three dramatic adventures:
    • The Masqueraders. Crossdressing siblings falling in love (not with each other!) while pretending to be their opposite sex.
    • The Talisman Ring. A practical, sensible couple and a wildly romantic couple, mixed up in an old mystery with a missing priceless ring.
    • The Devil's Cub. A mistaken identity abduction with a delightful confrontation of most of the cast at the end. (I just have to hold my nose and ignore the sexist slutshaming in the beginning.)
  • A Civil Contract. Starting with a marriage of convenience, and the couple getting to know each other and learning to love each other afterwards.

What are yours?
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Old 10-04-2021, 03:46 PM   #5
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Now that I've got that off my chest I'll share some of my favourite Heyers:

What are yours?
Ooh, now there's a good question. I always like The Grand Sophy, Beauvallet, The Toll Gate, The Quiet Gentleman, The Unknown Ajax, and Venetia.

I turn to them a lot when I want undemanding reads that don't insult my intelligence.
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Old 10-04-2021, 04:33 PM   #6
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I've read a few Heyer novels but found the constant slang and silly hijinks annoying. I figure this is a personal taste issue.
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Old 10-06-2021, 07:06 AM   #7
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Thanks for linking to this article! I like Heyer's books, and strongly disliked Fry's praise of them -- I've enjoyed writing everything I didn't like about it!

My main impression of this article is that it's immensely snobbish.
The above is why I've gone right off Fry in the last few years.

It sums up his approach to pretty much everything. In love with his own erudition in everything, even when he's actually spectacularly wrong. The UK-based tech info website The Register delights in lampooning him when he pontificates on tech matters, a field in which his precision is in inverse proportion to his pomposity and pretension. I skipped his review of Heyer for that reason - authors I actually like have praised her, I didn't want that tainted by his supercilious elitism.

Last edited by Uncle Robin; 10-06-2021 at 09:57 AM.
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Old 10-06-2021, 09:38 AM   #8
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I liked Fry as an actor in Jeeves and Wooster. However his personal comments I've read in the past would put me off Georgette Heyer. Except she's one of my favourite authors already!
So I don't care to read what he says. I've no idea why the UK describes him as a National Treasure.
I agree with ‘El Reg’ on their lampooning.
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Old 10-06-2021, 09:47 AM   #9
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a field in which his precision is in inverse proportion to his pomposity and pretension.
I do love alliteration in a proper insult.
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Old 10-06-2021, 09:56 AM   #10
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I agree with ‘El Reg’ on their lampooning.

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Old 10-06-2021, 01:18 PM   #11
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Really? Her books show Heyer's version of the regency. Maybe it was well researched by the standards of historical novels written at her time, but Fry's claim is vastly exaggerated. (Compare Austen - who was contemporary with the regency - with Heyer, or read studies about Heyer like this one ("Her famous "Regency slang" is Heyer's own creation") or this one.)
I had to single out this paragraph for comment. I’ve never succeeded in really liking Heyer and this suggests why. To me, she screams, “Look at all this impeccable research I’ve done!” The parade of vehicles, for example; the only time I can remember an issue being made in Austen regarding a type of vehicle is the famous barouche-landau in Emma. And that’s because, it’s obvious, contemporary writers not only can’t be bothered to draw attention to everyday items, it also wouldn’t occur to them. The same comment can be made about Heyer’s famous slang, whether real or made up. It’s not organic, it’s there to make a point.

Heyer’s not alone in this, of course. I’ve just started the Dissolution series by C.J. Sansom; the first book’s set in 1537. It’s a good read, don’t get me wrong (although shorter would be better; there’s too much wheel-spinning), and at least Sansom doesn’t fall into the “Forsooth!” trap. He falls into others, though, due to his first person narration. Why would a sixteenth century person make a point of saying that he walked beyond the overhang of the houses, so as to avoid the pisspots? Of course he would! That’s autopilot stuff, like saying you look to the left when crossing the street, noteworthy only when you’re a Yank in London and about to get run over. The one that particularly gets me because it happens every few pages is when Shardlake comments on body odor. I can’t even imagine how ripe a denizen of the 1500s would have to be in order for it to be worthy of comment.

Anyway. As to your second question, I quite liked The Corinthian, which was funny. People love Grand Sophy but I was pretty meh on that; it was one where I felt metaphorically run over by all those different carriages. I have an interest in the Napoleonic Wars and read her Waterloo novel, An Infamous Army which was only ok, but it was better than The Spanish Bride, a fictionalized true story which was awfully dull stuff. However, I’ll note that there’s nothing like a historical novel for fixing the facts of an event in your mind, so I’ll give them both credit for that.

No mention’s been made of her Golden Age mysteries. Sayers doesn’t have to look to her laurels, but they’re readable of their kind.

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Old 10-06-2021, 03:52 PM   #12
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*snip*

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No mention’s been made of her Golden Age mysteries. Sayers doesn’t have to look to her laurels, but they’re readable of their kind.
I quite enjoy her Inspectors Hannasyde & Hemingway Series - well plotted Golden Age mysteries set in the aristocracy.
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Old 10-06-2021, 04:46 PM   #13
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Re: what Issy said - I thought all the slang in the Heyer books I read felt like just too much/trying too hard.

It was like reading a modern book where the author has tried too hard to make it sound like regional dialect by putting in way too many instances of "och" or "y'all" or whatever.

I'd prefer it if the author just threw in an occasional slang word or local term for flavor but mostly stuck to standard English. It's just easier to read.
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Old 10-07-2021, 05:50 AM   #14
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It's real Regency Cant. You can even get a dictionary Most of it is obvious to readers here and plenty is obvious from context. But certainly she was proud of her research, had a library of about 1000 books on the subject and even bought a letter written by Wellington.

I agree there are some info dumps because they are not replicas of actual Regency era novels, but humorous adventure-romances set in the era. Iv'e read fantasy & SF with worse info dumps, that unlike Hayer's, are technobabble or otherwise fantasy.

Getting the balance of regional, slang or historic usage in a novel is hard. Also depends on the ethnic-regional background of the reader and the time gap between writing and reading. I've found plenty of older (but contemporaneous at the time published) USA books hard to read at times. Grammar, vocabulary and things less understandable than British or Irish books of the period (1850s to 1950s).
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Old 10-07-2021, 06:28 AM   #15
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Iv'e read fantasy & SF with worse info dumps, that unlike Hayer's, are technobabble or otherwise fantasy.
Info dumps are a deal-breaker for me in any fictional genre. They're not made any less worse by being grounded in reality. It's the dump that's offensive, not the info.
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