Heyer for Beginners #1 — Introduction

Damn you, Gregory!

Hello, my name is Maura, and for decades I completely discounted historical romance as a genre. The very thought of historical fiction in any form, in fact, simply made me roll my eyes in distaste. I didn’t read it, I didn’t watch it, I didn’t like it. I preferred my fiction to be honest in its pretenses, and the strange hybrid of reality and fantasy that most historical fiction seems to aspire to just felt silly to me. For this I blame Philippa Gregory. I read The Other Boleyn Girl and I despised books of its kind from then on.

For me, Contemporary Fiction was a far worthier pursuit for study and leisure, because it echoes the eras in which it was written and gives us a window into the thoughts of those alive at the time. Jane Austen, the Brontës, George Sand, Thomas Hardy, Evelyn Waugh, Henry James. They all gave us fiction that is set in the past but was written in their present, and to me that has always been a much more interesting, and certainly more revealing, thing to read than anything invented by a writer looking back on an earlier period with longing, or revulsion, or rose-colored glasses. To me, historical fiction is invention. Contemporary fiction was – and remains – living history.

As a lifelong (perhaps too long) student of contemporary literature, with several degrees from major universities around the world, it has been my purpose to tease from the annals of fiction evidence of fact, and thereby come to understand the cultural precepts, biases and assumed knowledge that so heavily influenced every facet of life in previous eras, across the world. From the reading of Ancient Greek sagas to Middle Ages polemics to florid Renaissance romances and through to the present day, nothing is so revealing to me – to us all – than the stories that are shaped by the time, place and attitudes in which they were both written and set.

But after reading Georgette Heyer’s contemporary novels Barren Corn, Helen, Pastel and Instead of the Thorn for the essay collection Heyer Society, at the very strong suggestion of that book’s editor, and then rocketing through her detective fiction at breakneck speed (thank you, Madeline Paschen, for your essay in Heyer Society explaining what the hell was going on with Penhallow – I was confused and alarmed), I have to say that I found myself wavering on my non-historical stance. I was just so damned impressed with Heyer’s use of language, her clever characterization and her gift for dialog that I was suddenly willing to, if not embrace historical fiction as a whole, at least give Georgette Heyer’s brand of it a try.

So, taking them in order of publication, I read through each Heyer historical novel at what can only be called breakneck speed, and here I present to you – presumably, the Heyer knowledgeable – my thoughts. I hope you will indulge me as I navigate my way through this unchartered territory, and come out on the other side changed forever.

– Maura Tan
Singapore, 2020

Maura Tan was born in Zanzibar, grew up in Morocco and lives in Singapore, where she is currently studying for her third degree in Contemporary Literature.