Monday, 26 January 2009

Comfort Reading--And A Little Unwarranted Prejudice

There are writers that one returns to time and time again in moments of illness, crisis, sadness, or just plain 'in need of comfort'. For me, one of these is the late, great Georgette Heyer. Perhaps some will scoff at my liking for Regency romance, which got a bad name with the advent of such lesser writers as Barbara Cartland. But Heyer is a different kettle of fish altogether. A fine academic historian in her own right, she did her period research meticulously and well, and her ear for the conversational tone of the era is second to none. I have learned many fine and useful (but no longer in use) words and expressions from her books, and am entirely likely to describe one of my children as looking 'as queer as Dick's hatband' if they are pale and ill, or, alternatively, 'shamming it', if they are only pretending to be so. Her heroines are no milk-and-water creations, but tend to be intelligent and to think for themselves, despite sometimes adverse circumstances of fortune. Some of her rather masterful heroes I like less, especially the ones very high in the instep--indeed they often set up my (feminist) bristles--but then no Regency romance is complete without one, so they have to be borne for the pleasures of the rest of the writing.
My historian grandfather, not a man of romantical tendencies, having survived terrible battlefield injuries and then a German prisoner of war camp from 1915-18, was the person who introduced me to Heyer's books. He always said that her description in An Infamous Army of the battle of Waterloo was, bar none, the best he had ever read. I would have to agree, adding that the descriptions of life during the Peninsular War in The Spanish Bride run it a very close second. Those are two of my favourites, along with Frederica, These Old Shades, The Masqueraders, Beauvallet and Devil's Cub. However, I have to admit to an unwarranted piece of Heyer prejudice here. Before this month, I had always refused to read both Royal Escape and My Lord John. Neither are Regency--but I love the Elizabethan swashbucklings of Beauvallet, so that is no excuse. According to her husband, the mining engineer turned QC, Ronald Rougier, the Regency period was never her first love, but the one her myriad fans demanded she write about over and over again. Her heart lay much further back in history, with the royal families of York and Lancaster. After her death, her novel on this subject, the aforementioned My Lord John was edited by Rougier from the papers she had left behind, and published. Now that I have, finally read it, I can see why she loved the intricacies and intrigues of John of Gaunt's time. She has a knack of getting behind dry and dusty historical personages and imbuing them with life and laughter and, more importantly, making her reader love them despite their flaws and mistakes. Royal Escape covers the period after the Battle of Worcester and the fate of King Charles II during that time, including the famous oak tree episode. Not only am I now totally enthralled by and in love with the wickedly engaging Charles (I always was a natural Cavalier), but I am also actively pursuing further knowledge on his time with the wretched Scottish Covenanters. (Being a Scot-by-blood, I was naturally delighted to have confirmed by Heyer my inborn, inbred belief that trusting a Campbell is always a Bad Idea.) I have learned much from these two unloved-till-now books. Would I have loved them when I was a teenager? Perhaps not. But discovering two new treasures from a favourite author for my comfort shelf has been a delight. I almost look forward to the next bout of misery in order to have an excuse to read them again.


AnneR said...

Ashamed to admit I'm a GH virgin... but it sounds as though I should lay some in for next time I'm feeling ill. Where do I start?

Lucy Coats said...

Oh my goodness! A GH virgin! I think, possibly, I should start with 'The Spanish Bride'. I think you will like the 'true story' element. Harry and Juana Smith were real people, and most of the officers and men are real historical characters too. If you fancy pure romance, though, I would start with Frederica, my own absolute favourite of that genre.

AnneR said...

Will add Spanish Bride to my Amazon basket directly, to be delivered with next order (got to get that free delivery...)

edina monsoon said...

I've only recently ( ie last year ) gotten to read G.H. books. And that too because I found a whole stash of it at a warehouse-like sale. I've read three....and I have like 8 other books to go. Find it a little difficult to understand in parts. But some bits can be very funny.

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