“An Appreciation of Georgette Heyer”, by Jay Dixon, Solander

Back in 2002, International Heyer Society member and antiquarian book collector Jay Dixon penned a lengthy piece about Heyer, her life and her work, for Solander, the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. Here are some choice snippets:

Heyer’s historical novels can be divided into those set in the Georgian and Regency periods, other historical fiction and historical biography. The Georgian/Regencies can be further divided into the early adventure romances and the later comedies of manners. Of the books set in other periods, Simon the Coldheart is set in the time of Henry IV and its later sequel, Beauvallet, in the Elizabethan period. The Great Roxhythe is set during the last years of Charles II’s reign. These are not entirely successful – outside her beloved Georgian/Regency, she did not have an ear for period dialogue, and the books suffer in consequence.

Her historical biographies were also uneven. Royal Escape, the story of Charles II’s escape to France after the Battle of Worcester, has flashes of brilliance, where the characters, particularly of Charles, come alive, but her meticulous research led her into giving too much detail for the general reader. The Conqueror, which follows the life of William the Conqueror from birth to his coronation as England’s king in 1066, shows her ability at describing battle scenes, but the main character remains an enigma, and the dialogue is stilted. My Lord John, the story of Henry V’s brother, John, Duke of Bedford, which she was working on when she died, is, for many readers, impenetrable.

Heyer was more successful with The Spanish Bride, which is based on the Autobiography of Sir Harry Smith, Governor-General of South Africa. Set during the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo, it is the story of the then Brigade-Major Harry Smith and his fourteen-year-old Spanish bride, Juana. In this novel, the background of murderous battles and long, killing marches melds seamlessly with the love story of the main protagonists, who are lively characters who remain in the memory long after the story is finished. Whatever the faults of her books, Heyer always had the ability to lift a character off the page and into the reader’s imagination.

He goes on to say:

Although not a romance novelist, one of Heyer’s consistent themes is the triumph of love over adversity.

Which is very interesting. Is Georgette Heyer a romance novelist? Many, if not most, of her readers believe so, especially as, in most of her books, the romance is the whole point — which is the very definition of a romance novel. Definitely something worthy of further thought, and discussion.

Read the whole piece here.

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