Georgette Heyer, Queen of the Regency Genre, by Elaine Owen

Georgette Heyer, Queen of the Regency Genre, by Elaine Owen

Over the years I’ve heard Georgette Heyer’s name come up in lots of different places, usually in a highly complimentary way: “This story is so good, it reminds me of one of Georgette Heyer’s!” Or, “This sounds like a plot in a Georgette Heyer novel!” It was always assumed that I knew exactly who Georgette Heyer is.

Plot twist: I really didn’t! I had a vague idea that she was a regency type author, and I thought I must have read some of her stories at some point. I read a LOT so I figured I must have come across one of her books at some point. But I finally decided to look her up and find out why she is famous and what makes her so well loved. Also, to figure out if I have ever read one of her stories!!!

Heyer was born in a middle class family in London in 1902 to parents who were educated and cultured. Heyer’s father was in the military and the family lived in Paris for a time before returning to London. Heyer’s parents encouraged a love of reading, and as a teenager Georgette and her friends would get together to discuss stories and, later, to write them. It wasn’t long before Heyer stumbled into her life’s work.

The overdressed Regency man

At the age of seventeen Georgette wrote a novel called The Black Moth. Her father urged her to prepare it for publication and helped her have it commercially published when she was just nineteen years old. From then on Heyer would write prolifically, in multiple genres.For the rest of her life she typically wrote and  published at least one novel a year.

Although Georgette wrote mysteries and other types of fiction, she really made her mark in the regency fiction genre. Some people claim that she single-handedly defined the genre for modern times. She was no Jane Austen – nobody can match our girl! – but she took what Austen did and built on it. Scholars agree that she popularized a number of common elements of regency fiction used even today. Raise your hand if you’ve run across any of the following tropes in Jane Austen fan fiction:

  • A dark and brooding hero who is misunderstood by the woman who loves him
  • A silly, foppish regency gentleman with a flair for dressing well
  • Fashion and the ways of high society
  • Regency slang and figures of speech
  • Forced marriage scenario
  • Arranged marriages
  • Sarcasm and irony
  • Poking gentle fun at people, especially the upper class
  • Murder and intrigue
  • Marrying for love rather than money
  • Detailed descriptions of the time or setting

Of all these elements, Heyer is best known for the level of historical detail in her stories. To achieve this detail she didn’t just keep pages of notes for her novels. She kept whole notebooks. She had more than a thousand historical reference books in her library (pre-Kindle!!!!), and she had a collection of antiques from the regency period. Her level of detail and minutiae allow readers to be utterly immersed in the time period, or at least that’s what some readers say. Other readers claim to be annoyed and distracted by so much description.

Heyer’s first published novel. At 19!

How detailed did Heyer get? How meticulous was her research? According to critic A.S. Beyer, Heyer claimed that every word attributed to General Wellington in her novel An Infamous Army was actually spoken or written by him in real life. Now that takes dedication!!!

How I wish we could know what went on in Heyer’s mind as she wrote. Did she plan out her plots ahead of time, or was there any element of making it up as she went? How did she come up with her plot ideas? Were any of the silent, brooding heroes in her novels based on someone she knew? We may never know because Heyer was notoriously private and did not give interviews. She didn’t need to. Her books sold well even without her doing a lot of publicity. Most of them are still in print today.

Heyer died in 1974 in London and left behind a body of work (at least forty-five novels!) that seems to become more popular as time goes by. Every regency writer today owes something to Georgette Heyer, and to be compared to Heyer as a writer is a tremendous compliment. It’s almost as good as being compared to Jane Austen!

As for me, in looking over her list of novels I discovered that I have never read a Georgette Heyer book!!! Obviously this is a fault that must be remedied at once. I downloaded The Black Moth and I’ve enjoyed it so far although Heyer’s writing can be . . . dense. Very dense. Still, if I could fall in love with Jane Austen when I was fifteen, I can totally handle Heyer at the age of fifty something, right? Those of you who are familiar with her stories, which one is your favorite, and why? And how do you think she stacks up to Jane Austen? Please let me know in your comments below.

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Bill Whitaker
Bill Whitaker
October 5, 2021 7:04 PM

The Black Moth is (a) not a Regency, (b) not at all a typical Heyer and (c) not very good. Read Cotillion, Venetia, The Nonesuch, The Grand Sophie, Frederica, The Unknown Ajax, any of a dozen others.

Sandi Deines
Sandi Deines
September 20, 2021 6:26 PM

I have never found a regency author I love as much as Heyer. I believe I read her for the first time in high school….The Reluctant Widow which I adore to this day. Her writing is classy, sharp and witty. I am appalled at the trash that is churned out today with the lusty sighs, moans, gropings and descriptions of the marital bed…so crass. I was so angry when I found out that she died and wouldn’t write anymore books. (Selfish of me I admit). I have enjoyed all of Clare Darcy’s books as a pretty good substitute but unfortunately I have never found another author to match or top Heyer and I have been a prolific reader for 45 years. I have to be careful what books I read as I literally walk into the book and live it. Therefore I am uninterested in filling my mind with drivel and have learned to be choosy about authors. I was sad though when I read a biography of Heyers’ life recently and discovered that she apparently didn’t think too much of her readers. Oh well, that is her loss. In the meantime I read her books ragged since I live alone and am now handicapped so it’s nice to go to another time and place and live through her novels when I can’t get out of bed for days on end. I love all of her books to different degrees except for cousin Kate which I found much too dark and not to my taste. I believe Faro’s daughter was my favorite though there are ALOT of close seconds.

Irene Irvine
Irene Irvine
September 6, 2021 9:45 PM

The first Georgette Heyer novel I read was ‘These Old Shades’ which I live. However, my favourites include some of her quiet but more interesting heroines such as ‘A Civil Contract’, ”Sprig Muslin’, ‘The Quiet Gentleman’ and ‘Devil’s Cub’.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
May 17, 2021 9:49 PM

My absolute favorite is These Old Shades, followed by Black Sheep, The Unknown Ajax, and The Grand Sophy. Then pretty much all the rest of her Regency and other historical novels…

Angie
Angie
May 17, 2021 4:59 AM

I love them all except Cousin Kate. One of my favourites is Cotillion… I love Freddie!l

Katherine
Katherine
May 9, 2021 1:12 PM

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (Kindle Edition) is free to download at Amazon.
It’s a wonderful reference.

Cd
Cd
April 19, 2021 5:44 PM

Arabella, for me, is the GH starter book that I usually recommend.

Sela Still
Sela Still
April 7, 2021 3:20 AM

I have a soft spot for The Reluctant Widow which was my first Heyer but also love Arabella, The Talisman Ring and The Tollgate. In fact a much shorter list would be the ones I dislike and never revisit, notably Powder and Patch and Cousin Kate.

Heather
Heather
October 11, 2020 3:04 PM

I only came across Georgette Heyer because I was on a Harriet Evans kick for a while and Heyer’s books are mentioned in a lot of them just in passing. So if course I had to look up who that was and so far I’m only on my 4th Georgette Heyer book at the moment my my favorite so far has been Frederica. It’s just so charming and funny.

Anne
Anne
August 18, 2020 10:56 AM

I personally find any article regarding Georgette Heyer that doesn’t mention her raging anti-semitism and historical revisionism in her work to be complete.

cassandrableigh
July 8, 2020 7:58 PM

I absolutely adore Georgette Heyer and have read every romance multiple times. It’s hard to pick a favorite because I love so many. Faro’s Daughter, The Black Sheep, The Nonesuch, The Talisman Ring, Friday’s Child, and Sprig Muslin are at the top of my list. Her flowing wit, attention to detail, exquisite use of the language, and her heroes keep me coming back again and again. How lucky you are to have them all to look forward to! Consider checking out #GeorgetteHeyerReadalong on Twitter, currently featuring Sylvester.

darcybennett
June 26, 2020 12:25 PM

I don’t believe I’ve ever read one of her books. I will have to add her to my wishlist.

carylkane
carylkane
June 22, 2020 3:15 PM

Austen Authors, Thank you for introducing me to Georgette Heyer.

Teresa Norbraten
Teresa Norbraten
June 21, 2020 3:50 PM

There are two books about Georgette Heyer and her books and “world”. They are very informative about her and her books. They say she has two male heroes Mark I and Mark II. Brooding or Fashion leader.

Teresa Norbraten
Teresa Norbraten
June 21, 2020 3:45 PM

I LOVE her books. I have read most of the Regency books and several of her mysteries. Her details in each book is even to the level of making sure language and actions are specific to a certain year! Really, she does spoil you for other Regency books.
My favorites are “The Grand Sophy”, “A Civil Contract” (where the couple are married at the beginning of the book!), “An Infamous Army” (which is used in military colleges because it explains the battle of Waterloo so well).

Heather
Heather
October 11, 2020 3:07 PM

I’m reading The Grand Sophy right now! So far it’s only the 4th Heyer book I’ve read so far but Frederica has been my favorite (although I’m not even halfway through The Grand Sophy so that may change.)

virginiakohl
virginiakohl
June 20, 2020 12:45 AM

I am a collector of her novels including her witty country mysteries (comparable to another beloved author, Agatha Christie).

Her extensive Regency slang is part of the research used for my own books. 🙂

Thank you for this informative post.

virginiakohl
virginiakohl
June 20, 2020 12:42 PM
Reply to  Elaine Owen

Yes, I do. I have a stack of research books as well as quite the interesting search history in my laptop. 😉

Dianne
Dianne
May 9, 2021 9:14 AM
Reply to  virginiakohl

The 1811 dictionary of the vulgar tongue is very helpful when it comes to cant terms. I found it in a bookstore decades ago but you can still look it up.
For, I’ve read all of Meyer’s books- regencies and mysteries. Death in the Stocks is my favourite of the mysteries mostly for the banter and it was a decent mystery.
I don’t like Faro’s Daughter or Cousin Kate but I have read all the other regencies many, many times.
Entertaining, amusing, such attention to detail and historical accuracy. Wouldn’t it be great to see Georgette Heyer’s notebooks!

Regina Jeffers
Admin
May 9, 2021 12:56 PM
Reply to  Dianne

Dianne, The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was written by my 6th Great Uncle, for his parents are my 6th Great-Grandparents. Francis Grose, Sr., was a jeweler of some renown, who fitted up the King’s coronation crown.

https://reginajeffers.blog/2020/03/18/meet-francis-grose-author-of-the-1811-dictionary-of-thevulgar-tongue/

Ally Shields
June 19, 2020 8:49 PM

I have all of Heyer’s regencies and most of her mysteries! My favorites includes Faro’s Daughter, Devil’s Club, and the Nonesuch. So witty.

SueLein
SueLein
June 19, 2020 8:16 PM

I thought I’d read all of her regencies but I was looking at my list on Goodreads and found several that were still marked “want to read”. Oh joy! I just finished “The Nonesuch” yesterday. It was fabulous! I also highly recommend the audio version of “The Corinthian” read by Georgina Sutton. I listen to many audio books and it ranks at the top – a superb performance! Yes, I’m a fan! ?

Katherine Skok
Katherine Skok
July 6, 2020 8:55 AM
Reply to  Elaine Owen

Daniel Philpott does an outstanding job reading The Unknown Ajax! Please give it a try!

Marilyn
Marilyn
June 19, 2020 4:29 PM

I have never read any of Georgette Heyer’s books. The Bas Bleu catalog had her books. There is also a Facebook group dedicated to Ms. Heyer.
Marilyn

Katie Jackson
Katie Jackson
June 19, 2020 1:32 PM

I read many of Georgette Heyer’s novels several years ago and remember particularly enjoying The Grand Sophy and Frederica.

Collins Hemingway
June 19, 2020 1:08 PM

Heyer suffered from a number of copycats who used a lot of the ‘cant’ she had uncovered–the Regency slang. She reportedly started using fake cant–making up her own words–to catch writers who were copying her and went after them when they did. Of the 4-5 I’ve read, my favorite is “Frederica.” Though I liked the heroine in “Infamous Army.”

Collins Hemingway
June 20, 2020 11:58 AM
Reply to  Elaine Owen

Elaine, I have not read enough of Heyer’s books to be able to characterize all her heroes, but the ones I’ve seen are rather too perfect. If her men were as complex as her women, she’d have something. But you tend to have this complex woman falling for a perfect (and perfectly stiff) gentleman, which doesn’t do a lot for me. Her “Infamous Army” was supposed to be a great depiction of the battle of Waterloo, but the “battle” stuff is just a listing of roads and villages, no real sense of what was happening. The battle scenes were all off stage. Maybe in another book she’s got some curricle races or maybe a demolition derby involving barouches or space aliens kidnapping a heroine. …

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
June 19, 2020 10:45 AM

I had heard of her but never read any of her books. Want to know something sad? My mother was a prolific reader along with her sister. They swapped books back and forth and when mom died, dad sold over nine-thousand books in her personal library. Oh-My-Goodness. What was in that collection? I imagine she had Heyer books along with who knows who else. Man… I can’t regret it because I didn’t have the room for them [downsizing myself] and dad sold them to someone who had a used book store. At least someone was able to enjoy those books. This was an amazing look at an author’s life and her work that sprang off the shoulders of our girl. Thanks for sharing. Maybe someday I will read one of her books. The only problem is that I have so many JAFF books I want to read… time… sigh. Blessings and stay safe and healthy.

summerhanford
summerhanford
June 19, 2020 9:16 AM

So we could refer to Bingley as a mushroom??? 🙂

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
June 19, 2020 8:29 AM

I LOVE Georgette Heyer and have all her novels. My absolute favorite is The Nonesuch and has been since I first read it. Black Sheep comes a very close second though. The Black Moth was the first of her books I ever read and while not a favorite it still encouraged me to go on and read the rest of her books. This was a lovely post.

SueLein
SueLein
June 19, 2020 8:18 PM

Tiffany! ?

reginajeffers
Admin
June 19, 2020 8:23 AM

Elaine, I think you would enjoy The Quiet Gentleman. You might draw many comparisons to Pride and Prejudice. Gervase Frant is definitely the Darcy type, and his stepmother, the Dowager Lady St Erth must have been inspired by Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
In 2015, the Beau Monde did a series of articles celebrating Heyer’s 80th Birthday. Each of us chose a book. You can find my review of The Quiet Gentleman here: https://thebeaumonde.com/the-quiet-gentleman/

Or, you could start on this page and work your way backward to see how members of the Beau Monde chapter of the Romance Writers of America saw each of Heyer’s books: https://thebeaumonde.com/tag/georgette-heyer/

Glynis
Glynis
June 19, 2020 8:16 AM

I absolutely love Georgette Heyer books. I have all the Regency romances and all the mysteries, all of which have been read many, many, many times over the forty plus years since I first found them.
My favourite? Hard to say as I do have many! Frederica, Venetia, Arabella, The Unknown Ajax, Cotillion, Black Sheep, False Colours, These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub……………. it depends which one I’m reading at the time?
I haven’t read many lately as I’m obsessed with Darcy and Elizabeth stories at the moment but I do manage to read one or two in between.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
June 19, 2020 8:03 AM

I have read Venetia and her short story collection called Pistols for Two. They were both good! I have never read the lBlack Moth,I may have to look into that one!

Danielle C
June 19, 2020 6:59 AM

I had not heard of her until I found this page many years ago. I have since read every one of her books and LOVED them! I have found so many wonderful stories to love because of you all here, thank you so much!!!

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