Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The influence of Georgette Heyer - part 1

To celebrate the fact that Georgette Heyer has recently been classified as a Classic Author by the British library system, we're running an series of posts about Heyer's far-reaching influence.

We begin with some biographical information about Heyer, taken from jay Dixon's excellent article, An Appreciation of Georgette Heyer on the Historical Novel Society Site.

jay, a fan of Georgette Heyer ever since discovering These Old Shades on the classroom library shelf at the age of 12, is currently researching a book on Heyer. She is the author of The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon 1909-1990s (UCL Press, 1999)

Georgette Heyer was born in Wimbledon on 16 August 1902. A consistent best-selling author since her breakthrough novel, These Old Shades, was published in 1926, she wrote 12 crime, four contemporary, and 40 historical novels in a working life spanning 53 years. Her historical novels are set in various periods, but she is best known for her Georgian/Regency novels, set in the period she had most affinity with.

Heyer’s first novel, The Black Moth, set in 1751, was first told to her brother Boris when the 17-year-old Georgette Heyer, accompanying him on a convalescent holiday at Hastings, started telling him a historical adventure tale to relieve his (and presumably her) boredom. Her father encouraged her to write it down and, when completed, sent it to the literary agent Leonard P. Moore, an acquaintance of his. Moore promptly sold it to Constable in England and Houghton Mifflin in the USA, and it was published in 1921, when she was just 19.

The Black Moth was followed by a further two historicals – The Transformation of Philip Jettan (later republished minus its final chapter as Powder and Patch) and The Great Roxhythe.

Heyer married Ronald Rougier in 1925, a few months after her father’s death. After her marriage, Heyer followed her husband, a mining engineer, to Tanganyika in 1927 and Macedonia in 1928, where she wrote The Masqueraders. Unhappy in his career, Ronald left his job, and they returned to England in 1929 where, after a failed partnership venture, he opened a sports shop in Horsham. Georgette Heyer was now the breadwinner of the family, writing one crime and one historical novel per year between 1934 and 1941.

Her first crime novel – Footsteps in the Dark – was published in 1932, the year she gave birth to her son, Richard Rougier. In 1935 she published the first novel set in the period with which she will always be associated, Regency Buck. Meanwhile, Ronald was studying to become a barrister and was called to the Bar in 1939. During the Second World War they lived in a service flat in Hove, where she wrote The Spanish Bride on her knee, but in 1942 the Rougiers seized the chance to fulfil a long-held ambition of Heyer’s and moved to the Albany, where they lived until 1966. They then moved to a flat in Jermyn Street, to move again in 1971 to a flat in Knightsbridge, where she wrote the last of her Regency novels, Lady of Quality, published in 1972.

Georgette Heyer died of lung cancer on 4 July 1974. Through her own love for one particular period of British history, in her writing life she forged a new sub-genre of historical novel – ‘the Regency’. And with her wit, her page-turning writing ability, and her genius at bringing characters to life, she still brings new admirers to her novels, more than 30 years after her death.


annie burrows said...

very interesting to hear about Heyer's life...I have a shelf full of her books, which I have read and re-read until they drop to bits. I am really glad that there is a new set being published (which you show some cover photos of) and am gradually replacing my most tatty old copies for the lovely new ones.
Look forward to reading more about her life and works,
chris b

Redrosesfor authors.reviews said...

What a wonderful opening pice about Heyer Mandy. I found it very enjoyable. Anne Herries

Amanda Ashby said...

Annie - I'm in exactly the same position - most of my GH books are so old that they are starting to fall apart when I open them, apart from the old Heinemann hardbacks, which have stood the test of time and have the most gorgeous covers!!