I’m afraid I’ve been bingeing on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Poldark. Outlander. And the inimitable Georgette Heyer’s regency romances.
I could explain it away as research, of course. Trying to immerse myself in the subtleties of the period so as to better to convey the context in which Elizabeth Macarthur lived. But lets not kid ourselves. I’m just swept away by the romance – and possibly also by the many and obvious attractions of the leading men in the relevant TV adaptations.
And yes, you’re right, perhaps I spent a little too much time trying to find just the right photos with which to illustrate this post – but what can I say? I’m dedicated.
While I’m in the confessional mode, I might as well also admit that I’d never read a Georgette Heyer romance before this year. Why did no-one tell me what I was missing?
Of course they are formulaic – innocent fresh young woman meets darkly handsome dissolute rake; various barriers to romance are overcome; her virtue and good sense encourages him to become a Good Man; cue the wedding waltz and happily ever after music. But all done with such style, and wit, and loveliness! And only formulaic in the sense that crime fiction is too: there is a crime, and we find out over the course of the novel whodunnit and/or, sometimes, howdunnit.
In Heyer’s regency world (the Regency period formally lasted 1811–1820 but is often used to describe the whole Georgian period of 1795–1837) the charming girl always gets her man. The pleasure lies in finding out just how they will come together through the maze of societal expectations, errors of identity, family approbation, want of funds and, often, one of the pair’s own better judgement.
Jane Austen may well be the original master but Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) is no literary slouch. Her beautifully written and thoroughly researched work crackles with life and fun – her books are full of droll little episodes which are laugh-out-loud funny. With words in them like ‘droll’. Her heroines are in the mould of Elizabeth Bennet: intelligent, articulate and not without personal flaws. Her heroes are much less the upright (and uptight) Mr Darcy and much more like Wickham, only with money and brains and moral scruples, despite their bad-boy reputations. Who doesn’t love a bad boy?
According to Wikipedia Heyer has eight Georgian romance novels and twenty-six Regency ones, which bodes well given that I’ve only read four so far: A Convenient Marriage; Arabella; Devil’s Cub; and Venetia. Heyer also has thrillers and other stories but I’m not tempted. Heyer’s romances are like dessert at a fine restaurant, sweet and definitely more-ish.
But I’m not here to talk about Heyer, really. I’ve little to say about her that hasn’t been said before, and better. Try Georgette Heyer’s biography, for instance, written by Australian Jennifer Kloester. And I’d love to hear what Sue at Whispering Gums, Austen fan par excellence, has to say about Georgette vs Jane.
The real point of this post is about genre, and literary judgementalism. By which I mean, the fact that some folk can get pretty judgemental about what other folk read. And I’m not sure why. Read whatever floats your boat, blows your hair back, rocks your socks, or melts your butter. Who cares what we read as long as we do! Read, I mean.
I’ve said it before but here it is again: genre is a great way to choose which book we want to read on any given day but it’s never a good way to judge a book. There are excellent books in every genre. There are awful books in every genre. And by genre I mean all the fiction shelves in the bookshop – literary fiction being just as much a genre as crime, or fantasy, or rural romance.
My non-academic friends who have read all the Outlander books love that in doing so they learnt about eighteenth century Scotland (and about time travel too, but let’s not go there). All those readers of Fifty Shades of Grey may well have been reading poorly written tripe, but at least they were reading. Because frankly you can get more – and better – for free on the internet (but let’s not go there, either.) I was put off reading Heyer for years by my own misconceptions and bias and it’s been a delight (and an awakening) to find out how wrong I was.
So tell me: what books were you wrong about?