Private World of Georgette Heyer

Private World of Georgette Heyer

by Jane Hodge

"The Georgette Heyer bible...This is a must-have book for any Georgette Heyer lover."
-Historically Obsessed

An internationally bestselling phenomenon and queen of the Regency romance, Georgette Heyer is one of the most beloved historical novelists of our time. She wrote more than fifty novels, yet her private life was inaccessible to any but her nearest


"The Georgette Heyer bible...This is a must-have book for any Georgette Heyer lover."
-Historically Obsessed

An internationally bestselling phenomenon and queen of the Regency romance, Georgette Heyer is one of the most beloved historical novelists of our time. She wrote more than fifty novels, yet her private life was inaccessible to any but her nearest friends and relatives.

Lavishly illustrated and with access to private papers, correspondence and family archives, this classic biography opens a window into Georgette Heyer's world and that of her most memorable characters, revealing a formidable, energetic woman with an impeccable sense of style and, beyond everything, a love for all things Regency.

"One of the most beautiful books I know. Time and time again, on reading this book, I found myself breaking off to lift another dog-eared Heyer from the shelf and lose myself in the increased pleasure of a re-reading."
-Washington Post Book World

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a competent and thorough portrait of the writer at work (first published in the U.K. in 1984), Hodge covers the life of Georgette Heyer (1902–1974), a bestselling but intensely private author of historical romance novels. Through a close reading of the British writer's oeuvre and voluminous correspondence with publishers as well as interviews with friends and family, an image emerges of a shy, stylish but formidable woman who "loathed pretentiousness, hypocrisy, and self-deception," was a stickler for manners, morals, and historical accuracy, and who admired and emulated Jane Austen's unromantic, ironic style. Her career was launched when she was only 19 with the successful publication of The Black Moth, and Heyer became the breadwinner for her mother and two younger brothers after the early death of her father as well as the chief wage earner in her long, happy marriage to barrister Ronald Rougier. If her books never received critical acclaim during her lifetime, says Hodge, her elegant romantic comedy had fans among dons, lawyers, high-powered businessmen, and critics and novelists like A.S. Byatt. This book may entice readers to explore Heyer's novels (some of which have been reissued by Sourcebooks). Illus. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
A must-read for fans of Heyer's work and anyone else interested in the origins of the Regency romance.

A competent and thorough portrait of the writer at work.

If you are looking for an insight into Georgette Heyer's world, I recommend this one for your library.

Hodge gives a fascinating view of the context in which Ms. Heyer's novels were written.

This book will endear Heyer even more to her fans and allow a new audience to fall in love with Heyer's voice and her work.

I can see myself picking this book up again and again to read Heyer's thoughts on many of her own books.

Hodge's explanations and analyses of Heyer's fiction introduce the reader to a new examination of this notable author, one sure to fascinate lovers of Regency romances, thrillers, and historical fiction.

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Read an Excerpt


Georgette Heyer was an intensely private person. A best-seller all her life without the aid of publicity, she made no appearances, never gave an interview, and only answered fan letters herself if they made an interesting historical point. Having scored an instant success with The Black Moth at the age of nineteen under her own name, Georgette Heyer, she experimented with a pseudonym, Stella Martin, for her third book, published by Mills & Boon, then achieved a permanent alias when she married Ronald Rougier at twenty-three. From then on, Georgette Heyer wrote the best-sellers, while Mrs Ronald Rougier led the deeply private life. She never talked about her background and early years, giving only the barest facts of her life in eighteen lines of Who's Who. After her death, A. S. Byatt, the critic and novelist, wrote an invaluable long memorial piece for the Sunday Times, based on interviews with her husband, her friend Carola Oman and her two good publisher friends, A. S. Frere of Heinemann and Max Reinhardt of The Bodley Head. This is the only source for much of the information about her early life, about which she herself never talked. I have been able to supplement it by talking to her surviving family and friends (her husband and Carola Oman are now both dead) and by reference to her letters and to the four early novels she later suppressed.

Her own invariable answer, when asked about her private life, was to refer the questioner back to her books. You will find me, she said, in my work. So should one now, almost ten years after her death, try to look behind the curtain of privacy in which she shrouded herself? My first instinct, when I started work on this book, was to concentrate entirely on the work, merely giving the barest facts of her life as a foreword. Then I began to talk to the people who knew her, and to read her letters. Everyone who knew her had loved or respected her, and they all seemed glad that a book should be written about her. But her own letters settled the question. She may have been a private person socially, almost a recluse, but on paper she was a compulsive communicator. And she wrote, her son says, just as she talked. Her letters to her publishers are full of sidelights on her own life and pungent comments on the world at large. They confirm, in short, her friends' unanimous description of her as shy on the surface, but a formidable, positive person underneath, with strong views and a great sense of style.

It hardly sounds the description of a purveyor of romantic froth. But in fact, for those with eyes to see, the strong character is there in her books, even in the lightest and most frivolous of them, and an awareness of the kind of person she was adds a new dimension to one's enjoyment of them, or, perhaps, helps to explain just why one does enjoy them. She may have been a compulsive writer, but she was also an immensely skilled and meticulous craftswoman. She did her best to conceal her high standards and stern moral code behind the mask of romantic comedy, and succeeded, so far as her great fan public was concerned. But she had a smaller audience, among dons and journalists, among her husband's legal associates, among intelligent women everywhere, and even among feminists, who enjoyed the romantic syllabub all the more because they were aware of the hard core of realism underneath.

Naturally, it was the ravening fan public that made its voice most clearly heard during her lifetime, and its adulation served both to drive her further into herself and to put off readers who might have enjoyed her as they do Jane Austen or even Ivy Compton-Burnett, a favourite of hers. There is a terrible snobbery in the average intellectual reaction to her work. It is not everyone who has given her name to a type of novel, and it is unfortunate that that name should tend to provoke an uninformed, unjustified sneer. My aim in this book is to try to redress the balance by giving a feeling of her and of her work, as far as possible through her own words in the extensive correspondence which her publishers have kindly made available to me and her letters to friends. Some of her friends, though happy to talk about Georgette Heyer, have felt that she would not have wished her letters shown or quoted, and this is a feeling that must be respected. Her letters to her publishers, on the other hand, are part of the professional world she enjoyed, and unless otherwise indicated all the quotations in this book are from them.

Unfortunately, hardly any letters survive from before the 1940s, when she herself was in her forties and had been a best-seller for years. By this time she was taking a sadly deprecatory line about her own work. Speaking of Friday's Child in 1943 she says: 'Spread the glad tidings that it will not disappoint Miss Heyer's many admirers. Judging from the letters I've received from obviously feeble-minded persons who do so wish I could write another These Old Shades, it ought to sell like hot cakes. I think myself I ought to be shot for writing such nonsense, but it's unquestionably good escapist literature, and I think I should rather like it if I were sitting in an air-raid shelter, or recovering from flu. Its period detail is good; my husband says it's witty — and without going to these lengths, I will say that it is very good fun.'

The statement sums up the problem she had with her readers. The dons and lawyers mostly kept quiet. The more vociferous of the fans tended to like the wrong books for the wrong reasons. They kept asking for swashbuckling romance when she was writing neat romantic comedy in the vein of Congreve and Sheridan. The reviewers, too, failed to appreciate the style and craftsmanship of her work as it developed into what would be known as 'the Georgette Heyer.' It is no wonder that she turned against publicity of any kind. As well as the letters, Georgette Heyer left the unfinished typescript of about half of what she had planned as a serious mediaeval book, since published as My Lord John; a remarkable research library of some thousand volumes (now unfortunately dispersed); and a small but highly significant collection of papers, to which her son has kindly given me access. There was no attic full of carefully hoarded manuscripts and first drafts. A flat-dweller since 1939, she found the proliferating copies of her published books problem enough without indulging in the sentiment of keeping old papers, however fascinating they might have proved to posterity. She saved a few reviews, and one fan letter. It was from a woman who had kept herself and her cell-mates sane through twelve years in a Romanian political prison by telling the story of Friday's Child over and over again.

Meet the Author

Author of over 20 novels, Jane Aiken Hodge worked as a journalist, reviewer, and civil servant before her death in 2009. Born in the United States, and raised in England, she studied English at Oxford and then received her master's degree from Harvard. She considered Heyer's work to be of high literary merit.

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