Georgette Heyer Biography Kindle Edition
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Georgette Heyer famously wrote that she could be found in her work. What then, was the woman behind some of the 20th century's best historical romances like? Jennifer Kloester draws a sympathetic picture of an intelligent, strong-minded and private woman born into quite ordinary middle class circumstances, whose novels drew as much on her own Edwardian childhood as on her careful historical research. A natural conservative, Georgette was drawn to the past; yet many of the traditions that are described in her books were breathing their last gasps during the period of her youth. Her depictions of the past, Kloester argues, are successful because they are at least to some extent drawn from life. Ironically, for someone who wrote so effectively about high society in the Regency period, Georgette Heyer was herself from a much more modest background; her Heyer grandfather was a refugee from Russia (possibly Jewish), and her mother's family were originally (shock!) in trade. Despite, or perhaps because of this, she could be a crashing snob. When a young woman tobacconist wrote to complain about a rude remark put into the mouth of one of her characters about a tobaconnist's assistant, Georgette Heyer retorted that were her own son to marry such a person she would regard it as a tragedy. The tobacconist's assistant was silly to write the letter, but it remains a deeply unattractive response. Aspects of her character that informed her regency fiction also combined to limit Georgette Heyer in other areas of her writing. Most notably, Kloester points out (as did Hodge) that her total lack of interest in religion prevented her from ever really nailing the mediaeval mindset when she wrote about that period.
Kloester is an academic, and while her writing style can sometimes be pedestrian, she has researched her subject thoroughly. This new biography is good on the circumstances of Georgette Heyer's life and particularly thorough on her relations with her publishers and agents. It is interesting to see how she was not an immediate bestseller, but on the contrary, spent years slogging away on the mid list before hitting on the regency romance formula that turned her into a star. Heyer enjoyed writing and was a meticulous researcher, but all her life she wrote from financial necessity; she was the main breadwinner for her own family for many years, and also supported her widowed mother. From my own viewpoint as someone who works in publishing, Georgette Heyer must have been an absolute pain to deal with; it is hard to imagine how far any author would get today demanding their books be published without any editorial changes, and refusing ever to do interviews. Yet though she was painstaking over her work, she was often a poor business-woman, and suffered money problems throughout her life as a result. To give but one example: after sacking her agent of many years, she let her publisher act as her agent because she liked and got on with him. This mind-bogglingly inept decision immediately resulted in a massive royalty cut, yet despite their expensive lifestyle and ongoing problems with the taxman, neither Georgette nor her husband appeared to even notice. Also spelled out in detail here are her ongoing plagiarism complaints against Barbara Cartland, alluded to by Jane Aiken Hodge, but not expanded on as Cartland herself was then still alive.
It would have been nice to get more analysis of some of the actual novels, but Heyer wrote so many that this is perhaps an unrealistic expectation. All in all, this is a biography that will probably be the standard work on its subject for some time to come.
Here is all the background to Heyer's relationships, sometimes fraught, with her publishers and with her family and friends. I always wondered why she changed from Heinemann to the Bodley Head in the 1960s and it was interesting to read about the reasons behind the change. At that time `The New Georgette Heyer' was always top of my Christmas list and I was desolated if no new book was published in a particular year.
It was interesting to find out why Heyer herself refused to allow reprints of her modern novels - , `Barren Corn', `Instead of the Thorn' and `Pastel'. She did not consider them to be her best work. An early historical novel `The Great Roxhythe' went the same way and has still not been reprinted though Simon The Coldheart has been reprinted since Georgette Heyer died in 1974.
This book brought Heyer vividly to life for me and I felt as though I knew her by the time I had finished reading the book. She was a highly intelligent, witty person with great stamina and dedication to her work. She had a well developed sense of the ridiculous which must have been obvious to anyone who has read her books. At the same time she had diffidence about her abilities which at times prevented her from seeing how really excellent many of her books are. An Infamous Army for example is considered to be one of the best books of fiction or non-fiction about the Battle of Waterloo.
I had not appreciated how prolific Heyer was at times - writing more than one book a year and sometimes finishing them in a matter of weeks. Her publishers for many years never even bothered to read her manuscripts and just sent them sent straight to the printers. Heyer herself rarely revised to any great extent and the stories seemed to just flow from her brain into the typewriter fully formed. The novels which were based on historical events such as Royal Escape and The Spanish Bride took longer to write because of the research involved. She was rarely faulted on her historical accuracy though the author does point out one or two relatively minor mistakes in some of her novels.
The book has plenty of information about the author's sources, an index - though this is not interactive on the ebook version I read - a full list of Heyer's novels and short stories published in the UK and the USA. The publisher has clearly gone to some trouble to ensure that the illustrations display properly in the ebook version and these are very good. This has to be the definitive biography of one of our most popular authors and I would recommend it to anyone who has read and enjoyed her novels.