Georgette Heyer, Queen of the Regency Genre

Georgette Heyer, Queen of the Regency Genre

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.

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.

The overdressed Regency man

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.

45 Responses to Georgette Heyer, Queen of the Regency Genre

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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).

    • 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.)

  7. 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.

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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! ?

  10. 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.

  11. 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.”

    • Our very own Don Jacobson has talked about what traits in JAFF stories would be more likely to draw in male readers. Would you say that Heyer’s plots and characters would attract men to the genre?

      • 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. …

  12. 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.

    • That’s a very kind attitude you have about the books. I would be weeping and wailing! But having made my way partly through my first Heyer book, I would say you’re selling yourself short if you don’t grab at least one of her books in between a volume of JAFF or two.

  13. 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.

    • I’m glad you liked it! I’ve had fun identifying the various tropes already seen in The Black Moth: the overdressed fop, murder and mystery, regency slang, the mysterious dark hero, fashion, and poking fun at the higher class. That’s six already!

  14. 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:

    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:

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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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