In 1923 Georgette Heyer published her first contemporary novel, INSTEAD OF THE THORN; her fourth novel to be published. This post-WWI novel tells the story of Elizabeth Arden*, a sheltered 19-year-old who finds herself completely unprepared for the people and situations she finds when she ventures out into the world on her own.
Elizabeth meets and imagines herself in love with Stephen, a successful novelist much older than herself. They marry, and young, innocent Elizabeth, who had been reared by her father and a spinster aunt, is horrified by her first sexual experience with her older husband. The father and aunt had balked at explaining the facts of life to Elizabeth in any way, and, unable to deal with the realities of married life, she runs away from her husband. She comes to learn a lot about herself and marriage in general, and eventually returns and really falls in love with her husband this time. Stephen is depicted as a very good, loving man, who shows a lot of forbearance for his young wife.
This has been called a courageous book to have been written by an unmarried girl of the 1920s, and it is. The journey Elizabeth takes from being appalled by sexual relations to beginning to have real insight into herself and the world around her is well written, and the book sold well when it was published, although not as well as the historical novels.
INSTEAD OF THE THORN is one of only four contemporary novels that were not crime novels, and it is felt to be the most feeling of the four (Heyer later supressed all four of them). It is hard to find an older copy of this book without paying a fortune for it, but Buccaneer Books reprinted it in the 90s, along with the other three set in post-WWI, and this newer issue can be found and purchased at a decent price. The image below is of a 1923 issue. My own copy is one of the Buccaneer editions.
I do recommend reading this book if you have access to it, and if you are building a Heyer library, be sure to include the four post-WWI novels. They are the only novels that can be said to have offered any kind of insight into Heyer's everyday life.
*It is interesting that the heroine's name is Elizabeth Arden, but there has never been any indication that this was not simply a name pulled out of a hat. The real-life Elizabeth Arden, of beauty spa fame, opened up her first salon in Paris in 1922, and I suppose it is possible that Heyer could have seen the name and that it appealed to her, but again, there is no evidence of that.