History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

11 January 2015

The Incomparable Inspiration of Georgette Heyer

Happy New Year! I'm starting off the new year revisiting the start of my writing career. The first three of my mom's (Joan Grant) and my Regency romances have just been re-released as ebooks (originally they were published under the name Anthea Malcolm; they've been re-released under Tracy Grant). Georgette Heyer was a huge inspiration on my mom and me when we began to write Regency romances, so I've been thinking about her books a lot lately. My fascination with the Regency era began with Jane Austen’s novels (and before that with Garson/Olivier Pride and Prejudice that I saw at the age of six), novels that were actually written in the Regency, it was further cemented by reading Georgette Heyer’s Regency and eighteenth century-set historical novels. I still remember my first introduction to Heyer’s books. I was nine-years-old, and though I was reading to myself, my mom still read outloud to me as well. One evening we were at a bookstore, and I asked what we were going to read next. She held out a book with a cover showing a dark-haired young woman with side curls in a high-waisted pale green dress and said “let’s try this and see if you like it.” “This” was Heyer’s The Grand Sophy one of my favorite novels to this day. From the first chapter where Sir Horace Stanton-Lacey calls on his sister Lady Ombersley, I was entranced by this vividly created world. Over the next few years, I went on to read most of Heyer’s historical romances and several of her contemporary mysteries, some outloud with my mom, some to myself.

I reread her books frequently, and I’m hard-pressed to pick favorites, though I do have a fairly consistent top three. The Grand Sophy which has a wonderfully tough, independent heroine, a nicely understated love story, a sharply-detailed cast of secondary characters, laugh-outloud humor, and an hysterically funny ending in which all the characters and plotlines converge. Veneita which beautifully captures the wonder of finding a friend and lover and manages at once to be deeply romantic and yet have a keen edge of reality (I also realized writing this that Venetia and Damerel toss quotations back and forth, which is probably yet another reason why my Suzanne and Malcolm do the same). And An Infamous Army, set in Brussels in the weeks before and then during the Battle of Waterloo. An Infamous Army started my interest in the Napoleonic Wars and introduced me to a collection of real historical people who figure in the book and who I’ve gone on to use in my own books (Wellington, Fitzroy Somerset, the Prince of Orange, the Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Lennox). And its rebellious heroine and quietly honorable hero are a fascinating pair. I wanted to write a book about Waterloo ever since I read it and finally did with Imperial Scandal.
Those are my favorite three, but they leave out so many others I love–Sylvester, Arabella (after whom I named my Madame Alexander doll when I was ten), Frederica, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, Friday’s Child

My mom's and first two books in particular were modeled on the style of Heyer’s later Regencies (her earlier books have more adventure elements) - London season settings, banter between the central couple with sexual tension beneath the surface, humorous subplots involving secondary characters, comedy that plays off the manners and mores of the time, Our first book, The Widow's Gambit (begun when I was thirteen and published when I was still in college) is the story of three orphaned sisters who gamble their small inheritance on a London season in the hope of the beautiful eldest sister making a good marriage. Our second, The Courting of Philippa, concerns a young novelist who blossoms from an ugly duckling into a swan and finds herself with two unexpected suitors but is still intrigued and maddened by a fellow writer of more serious novels who had the audacity to write an unfavorable review of one of her books. Our third book, Frivolous Pretence, is set against the back ground of the divorce trial of Queen Caroline, the estranged wife of George IV (the former Prince Regent). The hero and heroine are a married couple with tensions in their own relationship. It is still set against the social whirl of the beau monde, but my mom and I were developing our own style which has carried over into my Malcolm and Suzanne books, with an intrigue-drenched plot, real historical characters and events intertwining with fictional ones, and a central couple with a complex history. Still Frivolous Pretence has a lot of Heyeresque elements, including, like our first two books, a finale in which all the characters converge on a single location and the subplots intertwine and complicated each other. Heyer excelled at these endings. The finale of The Grand Sophy is particularly brilliant and hysterical, and Devil's Cub and Friday's Child are also favorites of mine. Even now,  writing thrillers, I lean towards these types of  endings though with less humor and more suspense (The Paris Affair concludes with the characters converging at an inn in the French countryside). Heyer continues to influence my in myriad ways, from her sharply drawn secondary characters to her wonderful action set pieces to her vivid period detail.

Have you read Georgette Heyer? Any particular favorites? What makes those books stand out for you? Writers, has Heyer influenced you?

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Blogger Helena said...

I love Georgette Heyer, and re-read her books constantly (both in print or ebook, and as audiobooks). The Grand Sophy is one of my favourites, as is Frederica. I also love The Talisman Ring and The Reluctant Widow for the banter between the heroes and heroines and the mysteries, and Venetia. But I love almost all of them, for different reasons.

I would love to know more about your collaboration with your mother. Did she write books when you were little, before you wrote together?

2:59 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I too love different of Heyer's books for different reasons, Helena! My mom was a research social psychologist. She didn't write fiction before we wrote together, but she did tell amazing stories. I think I assumed all mothers could weave beautifully constructed stories on a half hour drive, but looking back I realize how amazingly talented she was. Especially now that I'm trying to make up stories for Mélanie!

4:45 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

First, my favourites in no particular order and similar to yours: Sylvester, Arabella, Devil's Cub, Grand Sophy, Frederica and Quiet Gentleman. If forced to choose my absolute favourite: Devil's Cub, as Vidal is divine and it's quite possible to imagine I am Mary Challoner. But you know, now I've written this, I've just remembered Phoebe and Sylvester... Oh and Mr Beaumaris and Arabella... And... Oh well. Second and more seriously, I wanted to say how infuriating it is that Georgette Heyer is so under-appreciated as a writer - her prose style, comic timing and characterisation are far better than she is usually given credit for.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Thanks for posting, Grace! Love hearing your favorites. It is so hard to choose, isn't it? And I too wish Heyer was more appreciated. Though I find I run into fans of her books all over the place. A friend recently introduced her husband to them and he loves them for the humor and characterization.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

I started reading Georgette Heyer in high school. I have all her books in paperback and eBooks. I Reread them often. I especially like to read the related books in order - These Old Shades, Devil's Cub, Regency Buck, The Spanish Bride, An Infamous Army - they have interconnected characters. I also like Arabella and Venetia, and, and, and all of them. Whenever I read several of them, I find myself using the word "odious" a lot as well as other cant expressions and vocabulary. Jane Aiken Hodge wrote a wonderful biography of Georgette Heyer which you might enjoy - The Private World of Georgette Heyer.

11:22 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

I have loved Georgette Heyer's books ever since I used to borrow them from the school library as a teenager. Being very unhappy at school at the time I used to lose myself in her world and characters, which were so beautifully described that it felt like being there. I thoroughly enjoyed all of them but the ones I keep going beck to and reading over and over again are The Reluctant Widow, Venetia, Black Sheep and Bath Tangle. The last time I visited the UK I took my copy of Bath Tangle, with heaps of notes on the back page, so I could visit all of the places in Bath that were mentioned in the novel. The hotel I stayed in was actually an old Georgian house in Great Pultney Street about 200 yards from Laura Place where Lady Serena and her stepmother lived, which was a hug thrill.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Karin said...

That's so funny, because I never really noticed that Heyer habitually gathers all the characters together at the climax of the book, and of course you do it too, Tracy, I just never put two and two together!
I remember the end of "Devil's Cub" being especially funny, with Rupert and his cases of wine. And I was amazed at how complex the scene and dialog was at the end of "Shadows of the Night", and wondered how you kept everybody straight. "Devil's Cub" is my favorite but I do have a soft spot for "A Civil Contract".
Also, Jennifer Kloester has written a newer biography, called "Georgette Heyer", and she also wrote a book called "Georgette Heyer's Regency World" which sounds like a lot of fun.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I love the interconnected stories too, Diane, and it's fun to read them in order. I love The Private World of Georgette Heyer - fascinating both for the perspective on her writing and historical tidbits.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

How fabulous to trace Bath Tangle in Bath, Suzanne! I've been intrigued by Berkeley Square ever since The Grand Sophy. I fell in love with it when I actually visited it and put Malcolm and Suzanne's house there.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

The ending of Devil's Cub is hysterical, Karin! And Frederica's is very funny too, though a lot of it happens "off camera". Thanks for the Jennifer Kloestr recommendation. I don't have a book called Shadows of the Night - do you mean Shadows of the Heart? or The Mask of Night?

6:05 PM  

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