If you’re not burnt out on all things vintage I have an author for you that you might enjoy. Georgette Heyer published her first novel in 1921 and her last in 1975 (after her death) and she is credited as the founder of the Regency Romance. Her books are chock full of accurate historical details. More importantly, her books are fun.
Heyer is my favorite author of all time, all genres. I discovered her on my mother’s bookshelf as kid and I still read her stuff. At this point of course, I’m re-reading her books (for the zillionth time) and they are like old friends. According to wikipedia she wrote 56 novels and looking over that list I can find only one I haven’t read (The Great Roxhythe).
I started my Heyer collection by stealing some from Mom. She still complains about that. Then I started buying my own copies. Now I’m buying them all again for my Nook. Some of these titles, I have three copes of.
Heyer is best known for her regency stuff and lots of the modern romance writers rip off her style and her plots (In her own lifetime she was plagued by plagiarists). But her books cover other time periods too. The earliest, I think, is an account of William the Conqueror and the most modern is, well, all of the thriller/mysteries that she wrote.
For her fans, Heyer wrote her books with humor and wit. The characters are often funny, often foolish. In her stories you will sometimes find:
- A huge, badly behaved dog that cheerfully terrorizes the household and gets into all sorts of trouble. This dog is always of “uncertain breed” but its owners will fib and make up a breed name that no one has ever heard of and insist quite strenuously that the dog is a perfect example of that. Just to, you know, give the dog some dignity.
- A heroine that is not the image of perfect beauty. She is older, or plain, or short, or impoverished. Sometimes she is dreadfully bookish. In one case the heroine has a stutter. Lol.
- A pack of idiotic but cheerful young men who follow the other characters around and helpfully contribute to whatever blunders are being made. They speak with lots of period-appropriate slang. You can barely understand them. They are more concerned with their own clothes, horses, gambling debts, or where the next bottle of wine is coming from then with what is going on in the story. Usually they are friends of the hero but in one book, Cotillion, such a young man is the actual hero himself and it makes for a great story.
For herself, Heyer wrote with historical accuracy. She is often compared to Jane Austin. But, unlike Austin, Heyer wrote stories that took place 100+ years ago or more. She couldn’t assume that her audience was familiar with the setting and times of when her story took place; she had to add historical details. She does that really, really well and this is why I’m recc’ing her during Vintage Week. As you are reading some light hearted tale about a clueless young bride who thinks she in is a marriage of convenience when in reality her husband is head-over-heels in love with her (and feeling very frustrated), you will learn:
- Where she has her gowns made, what styles they are in, what fabric they are made from and sometimes how much she pays for them
- The names of the fashion periodicals that she reads to stay current
- The name of the fashionable, and expensive French dancing master that she hires to come to her home and teach her how to waltz
- The name of the ridiculous new style of tying a man’s neckcloth that her bother’s best friend is trying, and failing, to achieve
- The differences between a hack, a landaulet, a phaenton, a barouche, a chaise, a post chase, and a curricle. You might also learn which of these vehicles her brother is going to drive neck-or-nothing in his next race on which he has laid a monkey in the betting books at White’s gentleman’s club.
There are details galore. When you read a Heyer novel you are in the world. Its like a movie.
One more thing about these romances, they are romantic not sexy. There are no sex scenes. These stories are about two people falling in love with each other while you, the reader, fall in love with them. My mother let me read these when I was a kid! There are no naughty parts.
Two of her books actually have been made into movies. The Reluctant Widow movie is pretty terrible. The Hollywood types tried to make it thrilling and suspenseful. They made the heroine French and desperate. The book its based on is about an impoverished English woman trying to earn a living as a governess when she finds herself in possession of a falling down house. This house comes with a idiotic young man, his wretched dog, and a pack of Neopolean spies, most of which are pretty incompetent at being spies. There is a handsome man to fall in love with and he he should be the macho recusing type. Mostly he is practical and kind of bossy. Why Hollywood thought this would make a good thriller is beyond me. (The second movie made from a Heyer book is Bezaubernde Arabella. Its in German. I haven’t watched it but I betcha it’s a stinker too.)
So.. if you want to get to know Georgette Heyer, you have to read her books. Here are three you might try first:
These Old Shades – it’s the BEST. It takes place in Georgian time (not Victorian) when the bad guys are bad and the good guys are… also kind of bad. The setting moves around from France to England and then back to France. The hero is wicked and sexy and wicked. Did I mention wicked? He is. I think the only actor who could have played Justin Alastair is John Malkovich. To match that, the heroine is the sassiest, most indomitable, spunkiest girl who really and truly does not care what anyone else thinks. She gets what she wants and everyone thinks its adorable.
Cotillion – I love this one because Freddy, the hero, is such a idiot who still, STILL, manages to save the day. He is charming as hell.
The Talisman Ring – Everyone in this book is having fun, having a grand adventure (including the bad guy) expect for Sir Tristan. Sir Tristan has to put up with all of them and all their nonsense while solving the mystery, restoring the rightful heir, and winning his lady. And his lady teases him mercilessly throughout. That’s why he falls in love with her.
Next time you a looking around for a good read try out one of these. They are quick, easy, and full of all kinds of vintage-y goodness. Who wouldn’t like that?
And while you are reading some Heyer, I’ll be playing around in all the Revive-A-Vintage entries. Winners get announced tomorrow! I can’t wait! I think I’m having more fun picking winners then ya’ll will be at winning.