About a year ago, a friend of mine recommended her favorite book, Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson (which I in turn recommend to you), to me. The back of this book contains an interview with the author, wherein she discusses how Georgette Heyer’s books have inspired her writing. So, of course, I decided that if these books were in any way similar to Edenbrooke, I had to read one of them.
That summer, I picked up Venetia and have since read another ten of Heyer’s regency romances. Obviously, I think that Heyer’s books are wonderful, but why do I like them? And, further, why should you read them?
In my opinion, the last thing anyone needs to read is porn on a page like Fifty Shades of Grey. The problem with many romance novels, including the regency sub-genre, is that they are (maybe less abusive) mini versions of this book. Just look at one of their covers. Is there a half-naked man? A lady in a skimpy dress? Both?
Anyway and therefore, one of the things that I respect most about Heyer’s books is that they steer clear of smut in favor of focusing on relationship-building and the plot. Heyer wrote from the 1920s to the 1970s, which probably accounts for some of the cleanliness of her books and maybe they would have been vastly different if she was writing today. But can’t we all agree that well-written, clean romance novels are the best romance novels?
Note: Maybe it’s just because I’m young, but I wasn’t aware of some of the phrases we use nowadays that in the past had vastly different connotations. I thought Heyer’s characters were extremely brazen before I realized that “making love” used to mean “flirting.” So just keep that in mind….
They Have Great Characters
Others have pointed out that Heyer’s main male characters have two different archetypes, as do the female main characters. This is true, but her characters are still very good characters. Her archetypes are some of my favorites so maybe I’m biased, but I don’t get tired of them. Give me more silly middle-aged ladies, sassy heroines, and unimpressed gentlemen!
Be that as it may, the characters are full of life, and if the phrase “jump off the page” ever applied to a fictional character, it applies to these characters. They are consistent (without being static); their actions and thoughts aren’t all over the place, but they aren’t entirely predictable. I tthink that one of Heyer’s greatest writing strengths is her ability to write life-like characters that are a joy to read about.
Heyer’s books are generally fluffy and exciting, and sometimes lack any real substance. They are meant to entertain, and they do it beautifully. You of course know from the beginning that the two main characters will get married in the end, but that isn’t the point. The point is how they get there. Often, it’s by galumphing down a path full of ridiculous circumstances, sometimes while trying to solve a problem that concerns both of them. I like Heyer’s books because the problems that she throws in her characters’ ways are unique and often hilarious.
Also, the dialogue is witty. Her characters frequently (cleverly) insult the characters they don’t like or make jokes that very few or none of the other characters will understand, but the reader most certainly does. Or they are simply a bit sarcastic or rude to each another. Take a couple of my favorite quotes for example:
“Fair Fatality, you are the most unusual female I have encountered in all my thirty-eight years!” “You can’t think how deeply flattered I am! I daresay my head would be quite turned if I didn’t suspect that amongst so many a dozen or so may have slipped from your memory.”
“I was under the impression that I warned you that in London country ways will not do, Frederica!” “You did! And although I can’t say that I paid much heed to your advice it so happens that I am accompanied today by my aunt!” “Who adds invisibility to her other accomplishments!”
They Do Have Value
Heyer’s books may not have loads of important insights that will revolutionize the way you think, but they still have value. First of all, because they were written so long ago, they contain words that I’ve never even heard of. As your resident logophile, I am extremely grateful to Georgette Heyer for introducing me to such unusual words as “mendacious” and “mien” and “exculpate.” What’s better than learning new words?
In addition, these books are extensively researched. Heyer has been praised by many for her accuracy even in minute details. I’ve learned a lot about regency life and customs, as well as important historical details, from her books. And I don’t feel like I’m being pounded over the head with knowledge like I do with some books.
Finally, some of the books do have important themes. I love Arabella because the title character goes out of her way to help those in need. In fact, for my English class I did a presentation about the book and the lives of the poor during regency times because of Arabella’s unusual actions and the reactions of the other characters to her behavior. Actions like these are common in Heyer’s books and are impactful if you spend time thinking about them.
Georgette Heyer’s multitude of regency romance novels are enjoyable, important, and aren’t perverse like many modern romance novels. They are perfect for curling up in bed with a cup of coffee/tea/hot chocolate/your hot beverage of choice as it snows outside. They’re perfect for ignoring people at lunch (which some people call rude, but I call a good use of my time). They’re perfect for whiling away boring hours in the car. They are wonderful stories that I will recommend again and again to as many people as I can. Trust me and try one.