By Lauren Hurst
For her review of an author popular with our first interviewees, born in the mid-20th century, Sheffield Hallam student Lauren Hurst has chosen Georgette Heyer.
Georgette Heyer began her writing career in 1921 with The Black Moth, originally written at the age of seventeen as entertainment for her brother (The Times, 1974). She is recognised today as the creator of the Regency genre of historical fiction, having over fifty published books. After finding out which of Heyer’s books were most popular, I decided to begin my research by reading her first published novel and I must admit I was disappointed. It seemed from what very little I knew that her novels were quite popular, but I felt that this book was lacking substance and I was unable to connect with the story. My following research proved that opinions on Georgette Heyer are mixed.
After her writing debut with The Black Moth, Heyer’s name appears frequently in various newspapers (including The Sunday Times, Daily Mail and Aberdeen Journal) advertising her newly published books, suggesting that her novels were widely read and commendable from the 1920s onwards. In various articles throughout the ’20s, her writing is praised for its historical reconstruction. One article promoting her new novel Simon The Coldheart in 1925 commends it as ‘a well-written and most interesting medieval fiction’ (Daily Mail, 1925). The Times Literary Supplement describes the same novel as ‘above the average of the former class of romance,’ and praises Heyer’s talent for reconstruction of past times withal (Falls, 1925).
An article in The Literary Times Supplement, 1929, compliments Heyer’s Pastel as a pleasant novel however goes on to say, ‘the book remains readable to the end but as soon as we begin to suspect the author’s disinterestedness our belief in the story wavers’ (Bailey, 1929). Overall, in the first decade of her career, Heyer’s books were a success, praised for their enjoyability and delicate reconstruction of the past. They did not, however, receive acclaim for sincere or influential content.
In most newspaper articles, Heyer’s novels are advertised as readable stories but never as thought-provoking masterpieces. It seems that her novels were enjoyable as a consumable product and not valued as anything more than trivial stories. For example, The Sunday Times called Heyer’s novel The Unfinished Clue a ‘stereotype’ and ‘vain,’ but noted that it was still an enjoyable read as ‘good writing would often carry a poor plot’ (Sayers, 1934). While Heyer’s novels were well-written and pleasant, she failed to inspire her readers further.
Fortunately, Heyer’s writing improved with time; her 1935 novel Death in The Stocks was described as ‘refreshing’ in The Times Literary Supplement (Hayward, 1935). The Sunday Times also described this new novel as ‘a great advance in plausibility’ upon her earlier novel The Unfinished Clue (Sayers, 1935). Furthermore, Regency Buck received praise, ‘another careful piece of reconstruction for those who enjoy escaping from the present to the novelist’s past’ (MacKenzie, 1935). Again, Heyer’s talent for creating historically accurate fictions is noted.
Fourteen years after Heyer’s first publication, the reviews still echoed the same sentiments. The Literary Times Supplement recognised that Heyer always had an ‘attention to accuracy which is admirable’ in the creation of her historical backdrops. However, her novel ‘flags’ and ‘there is the feeling that the novelist has changed places with the social historian’ (The Times Literary Supplement, 1935). This feeling I relate to, as when reading Heyer’s novels I found that they concentrated more so on historical accuracy than the building up of an intriguing plot.
By the mid-1960s, Heyer had become a global phenomenon, going on to write eleven detective novels and, whilst they might be an improvement upon her earliest romances, I don’t think I will be reading any more of her works. On the Reading Sheffield website I found that opinions were mixed, Rosalie Huzzard enjoyed reading Georgette Heyer whilst Joan C says, ‘I didn’t like Georgette Heyer, she was too frivolous’ (Reading Sheffield).
Jennifer Kloester, writer of the 2013 biography on Heyer, believes that her novels ‘continue to inspire readers and writers around the world,’ (Bartlet, 2012) and whilst I agree that critics and those with a particular interest in the Regency period of literature may take interest in her work, I would argue that younger readers will not continue this tradition.
Georgette Heyer was not a bad writer; in her time, she entertained many readers, ‘from all levels of society,’ (The Times, 1974) with her historically accurate fiction. However, without any consequential content, her novels have failed to stay relevant and encapsulate readers outside of her own generation. Readers of today find that her writing is too stylised and her plots insubstantial.
Bartlet, K. (2012). Kloester, Jennifer. Georgette Heyer [Review of Kloester, Jennifer. Georgette Heyer]. Library Journal, 137(17), 76–. Library Journals, LLC.
Cabbage as an Entree about the New Books. (1925, October 20). Daily Mail, 15.
Falls, C. B., & Falls, C. (1925, November 19). Simon the Coldheart. The Times Literary Supplement, (1244), 770.
Bailey, R., & BAILEY, R. (1929, June 13). Pastel. The Times Literary Supplement, (1428), 472.
Sayers, D. L. (1934, April 1). Crime Methods in Contrast. Sunday Times, 9.
Hayward, J. D., & Hayward (AKA). (1935, April 18). Death in the Stocks. The Times Literary Supplement, (1733), 256.
Sayers, D. L. (1935, April 21). Pleasant People in a Crime Novel. Sunday Times, 7.
Mackenzie, C. (1935, September 19). Novelist Calls a Spade a Spade. Daily Mail, 4.
Other New Books. (1935, September 26). The Times Literary Supplement, (1756), 597+.
Mr. Punch’s Staff of Learned Clerks. (1935, October 2). Our Booking-Office. Punch, 189(4948), 390+.
West, D. (1936, May 28). First White Woman in a land of Desert Wars. Daily Mail, 20.
Kennedy, M. (1936, May 31). A Dram of Poison. Sunday Times, 9.
Miss Georgette Heyer. (1974, July 6). Times, 14.