Georgette Heyer – what’s with the hype?

OK folks, you lot owe me an explanation.

Everyone has raved about Georgette Heyer, how sparkly her prose is, how clever her characters… “if you love Austen, you’ll love Heyer” is the impression I’ve got.

Well, I don’t.

First I started listening to Beauvallet, and it’s a good thing I was in motion and thus unable to switch audiobooks because I would have given up on it within 5 minutes. So much period detail that I didn’t understand – I gather the inclusion of a large quantity of period detail is one of Heyer’s most lauded qualities, setting the reader in the moment. Well, it made me feel pretty left out. I don’t know what the different decks of a Spanish armada ship are called, and how they differ from the decks of a British ship in the same period, and I don’t really care either.

And then the heroine is a strong a courageous girl, but is mocked and then romanced by the hero! In the Mills and Boon/Twilight model*, she needs to be rescued, is swept off her feet by his winsome smile and excellent ancestry, blah blah blah. I’m astonished that a woman who grew up with the fight for women’s suffrage could write this sort of dependent, sappy female character!

TNLRC told me I started with the wrong one, and pointed me towards her regency work, so I picked up Black Sheep, lent to me by Mini-me. I quote the blurb:

Charming and wise in the ways of the world, Bath society-belle Miss Abigail Wendover has tried hard to detach her spirited niece Fanny from a plausible fortune-hunter. Her valiant efforts on behalf of her relative become vastly more complicated with the arrival of Miles Calverleigh. The black sheep of his family, a cynical, outrageous devil-may-care with a scandalous past – that would be a connection more shocking even than Fanny’s unwise liaison with his nephew! But Abby, adept at managing her sweet, silly sister Selina, her lively niece and the host of her admirers among Bath’s circumscribed society, has less success in controlling her own unruly heart.

I mean, do you think I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here? 70 pages in and nothing has happened I didn’t expect from the blurb, Abby is wise but finds Miles vexatiously handsome… Urgh.

Enough now.

*I’ve never read any of either of these. But I’m prepared to be snobbish and prejudiced. Live with it.

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12 thoughts on “Georgette Heyer – what’s with the hype?

  1. Sarah 9 March 2012 at 6:06 pm Reply

    Back in my teens I think I read everything she ever wrote… And loved (most of) them. Probably wouldn’t read her now 🙂

  2. Leeswammes 9 March 2012 at 7:16 pm Reply

    I don’t know that there’s a hype (or it passed me by) but I will admit: I do love a bit of Heyer myself. I read These Old Shades a few years ago and Devil’s Cub more recently and those books are lovely! Of course you know what’s going to happen, but it doesn’t matter. It’s written so funnily, they way they talk, the notions they have of prim and proper ladies, the rogue men, I love it.

  3. heavenali 9 March 2012 at 10:10 pm Reply

    I have never read any Heyer at all – I sort always associated it with bodice ripping romance and that is not not my kind of thing – but I know several people who love her. Now I hadn’t heard anyone say that Austen lovers would like her – maybe I should give her a go one day?

  4. Desperate Reader 9 March 2012 at 10:31 pm Reply

    Both those are duds, she did write better books – but there’s absolutely no guarantee that you’ll like them any more than those two. Her detective fiction is very much in the Agatha Christie mould and is quite entertaining and if you ever are in the mood for predictable but meticulously researched romance I would almost dare to suggest the Spanish Bride or Sylvester. for the most part though I don’t recommend Heyer despite loving her books. I think she’s brilliant but quite understand that she won’t push everyone’s buttons.

    • readingwithtea 10 March 2012 at 9:43 am Reply

      I will try her detective fiction at some point and then give up.

  5. Mona 10 March 2012 at 5:39 am Reply

    I don’t know what to tell you because I’ve had limited experience myself. I read The Grand Sophy by Heyer a few years ago and loved it. But many Heyer aficionados say it’s her best work in terms of romance novels (she also wrote historical fiction and mysteries but I haven’t come across any strong recommendations about those books. I’ve tried a few other books by her since then and gave up just a few pages in.

    I guess…try one of the popular favorites (The Grand Sophy or maybe These Old Shades) and if you’re still not interested, maybe Heyer isn’t for you.

  6. Alex 12 March 2012 at 11:23 am Reply

    Amen Yvann! I never understood the allure and hype around her either. Just like you said, her novels don’t differ much from the Mills and Boon-types (and I’ve read some). I’ve tried more GH than I should, just because everyone is so crazy about her, and everytime I was disappointed.

  7. Emma 12 March 2012 at 11:12 pm Reply

    I am unashamed and unabashed in my love of Georgette Heyer, but fully in recognition that it is trash and thoroughly predictable! It was my guilty pleasure when I was a teen and before I realised that better written stuff was out there with more indepth characters! Probably not something that’s easy to get into after you’ve read all of the “better stuff”…

  8. […] keep this short because of my tirade against Heyer the other day. From the blurb: Charming and wise in the ways of the world, Bath society-belle Miss […]

  9. Caroline 19 March 2012 at 4:41 pm Reply

    I’m not a heyer fan either, but for fun and feminism try The Grand Sophy. Sophy is a very independent, high-minded woman. The only thing I disliked about the book was it mocked nerds and blustockings and they made the bluestocking a downright villain which isn’t fair to clever women. Sophy is intelligent but not interested in bluestocking stuff. I loved it as a teenager. I think in Heyer you shouldn’t take her characters too seriously. Another funny one is Sprig Muslin and the Convenient Marriage. Jane Austen is better but at least in historical fiction they let you see the details and background better.

  10. Lori 17 April 2012 at 9:53 pm Reply

    You should try Cotillion: witty, funny, and a bit surprising as well.
    Heyer did NOT write bodice rippers. Sometimes when her books were republished they were given jackets by the publishers to make them look like that’s what they were — I guess they were trying to appeal to readers who would like that. But Heyer did not have any sex in her books at all.

  11. victorialambtudor 6 May 2012 at 11:51 am Reply

    You definitely started at the wrong end of the Heyer spectrum. Try Venetia or The Grand Sophy or, for a writerly twist, Sylvester, which is a funny love story about a ‘lady novelist’.

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