Thursday, November 8, 2007

Second Contemporary Novel

HELEN -- published in 1928

Original dust jacket.

I bought my copy of HELEN several months ago, but only recently sat down to read it. I found it extremely charming from page one.

This is supposedly the most popular of the four contemporary novels, and the one that was the most autobiographical.

Helen's father, faced with raising his daughter alone after his wife dies in childbirth, takes on the job with joy and much appreciation for his reserved, stoic, little girl. Helen, extremely close to her father, becomes his beloved companion. The book takes place before, during, and after World War I, and the great changes taking place in the world at that time form a background for the changes in the life of the main character, Helen's. Since Heyer had lived this time period herself she is able to paint a very real, poignant picture of the aftermath of the great war on England.

The love story in Helen is one of the most beautiful ones that Heyer ever wrote in my opinion. In Helen, when her father dies suddenly, she turns to her childhood friend, Richard, for comfort and realizes that she has previously undervalued his many good qualities. Richard is portrayed as an intelligent, athletic man who knows and understands Helen's natural reserve.

Helen mirrors Georgette in many ways. She likes and understands men better than women. She is reserved, intelligent, self-controlled, and believes in the social classes. But Helen was very athletic, and Georgette wasn't.

Georgette wrote Helen two years after her father died. There is a touching part in the book where Helen, also a writer, picks up her unfinished book for the first time since her father's death and sees some pencilled corrections he had made. But she goes on about her business, "dry-eyed and smiling", with Richard understanding and respecting her reserve.

It is indeed a very beautiful, brilliant book, and if I had not already been a fan of Heyer this book would send me looking for her other novels. There is a happy ending, but there is much drama on the way there.

My copy is a hardcover published by Buccaneer Books in the 1980s and is in perfect condition.

Heyer dedicated HELEN to Leonard P. Moore, a friend of her father's and her agent with Christy & Moore.

I have never seen HELEN in any library, but it is worth a look. It isn't too difficult to find a copy for sale, but you will not find a paperback, so expect to pay at least $20 or more on Amazon. I have once or twice seen a first edition on Ebay where the bidding went up very high.

Writing In Africa

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, Georgette must have been writing TOS while she was dating Ronald. After their marriage, while Ronald was prospecting in the Caucasus where it would have been impossible to take a woman, she stayed behind in the flat at Earl's Court. She probably had her hands full helping her mother deal with her widowhood. Mrs. Heyer did not take up her music again, but lived for the rest of her life in hotels. And although TOS was published in 1926 there was no book published in 1927 which suggests that she was doing little or no writing during the first year of her marriage.

Ronald returned to England in the Summer of 1926 but by Autumn was journeying again, this time to Africa. Georgette joined him in Tanganyika in the Spring of 1927 where she lived in a compound in the bush, surrounded, according to Hodge, by "lions and leopards and rhinoceroses." Aside from one other man, a rough Cornish miner, the Rougiers were the only white people for one hundred fifty miles.

While Ronald was on safari prospecting for tin, Georgette was left alone for long periods of time with only their native servants who had never seen a white woman before. She did once go on one of these safaris with him but never went on another one, although she never complained about the rough 20-mile-a-day travelling or the one bottle of water allowance.

THE MASQUERADERS was written while she was in Tanganyika in these primitive conditions. She got one fact wrong in this book -- the date of the founding of White's Club. She was only off by one year, though. The book was published in 1928 by which time Ronald was prospecting in Macedonia, where Georgette again joined him. More on her Macedonia experiences in a later entry....

Ronald and Georgette

Georgette, according to her contemporaries was very beautiful as a young woman. She was tall, too, at 5'10". She was not athletic, and according to Hodge "took no exercise that she could avoid", but she did enjoy dancing.

She met Ronald Rougier in 1920 at Christmas when both families were staying at the Bushey Park Hotel. Ronald liked George Heyer immediately and was impressed by his intelligence. He also took to the young Georgette. In the 1920s young ladies were expected to bring their own partner when they were invited to dances, and Ronald became Georgette's.

Ronald, tall and handsome, was two years older than Georgette. His family were of Hugenot extraction, but had settled in York where they ran an import-export business. His first love, the navy, had to be given up because of poor eyesight, so he attended The Royal School of Mines to become a mining engineer. In 1922 he qualified as such and worked in Nigeria for a while. He also played first-class rugger with the Harlequins.

After dating for five years, he and Georgette became engaged in 1925. A month later, after playing tennis with his future son-in-law, George Heyer died of a sudden heart attack.

Two months later the wedding went ahead as planned on August 18, 1925 at St. Mary's in Wimbledon. Georgette wore a pretty little cloth hat and her wedding photo in Hodge shows her carrying a huge bouquet and standing next to a smiling and dapper Ronald. The ceremoney was kept simple with no bridesmaids.

As close as Georgette was to her father, she must have been suffering immensely from grief. Ronald must have been of great strength to her. She confided to a friend a few months later that a girl never got over the death of her father.

As a couple they were always reserved. Georgette was already an established writer, bringing in a good income with her novels. At all accounts they were a well-suited and happy couple. She learned to play bridge for her husband's sake, and, though she disliked exercise, walked many golf courses in his wake. A friend stated that she was 100% loyal to Ronald and that he was entirely devoted to her. They were married for almost fifty years.

She may have been Georgette Heyer to her fans, but she was Mrs. Ronald Rougier in her private life.

A Trio Of Writers

In 1919 Heyer was introduced to two women with whom she would become good friends -- Joanna Cannan and Carola Oman.

Joanna was the youngest daughter of Charles Cannan, Dean of Trinity College, Oxford, and Mary Wedderburn. Her cousin, Gilbert Cannan was a British novelist and dramatist, and her sister, May, was a poet. She married H. J. Pullein-Thompson in 1918. Captain "Cappy" Harold J. Pullein-Thompson was badly injured during the war and Joanna became the main bread winner of the family, publishing her first novel in 1922 and then publishing a novel a year until she died in 1961. She encouraged all three of her daughters to write, with happy results, all three becoming writers. One of her granddaughters is also a published author.

Carola Oman was the daughter of noted British historian and Oxford professor, Sir Charles Oman. Carola became Lady Lenantan in 1922 after marrying Sir Gerald Lenanton. She published her first novel in 1924 and continued to write. Her biography of Nelson is still considered the standard against which Nelson biographies should be judged.

In checking Amazon for Joanna's first novel, The Misty Valley, I found a copy for $174.99, so it appears it may be a hard one to find at a reasonable price. I plan to check the library for any of her books. As for Carola, in checking for a copy of her first, The Royal Road, an historical novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, there were none currently available. I plan to check my library for any of her books as well.

It would be interesting to read books written by such close friends of Georgette. I will write more on Joanna and Carola in future entries.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My List, So Far

Of these seven, the order in which I rate them:

1. The Masqueraders

2.  Simon The Coldheart

3.  These Old Shades

4.  Instead of the Thorn

5.  Powder and Patch

6.  The Black Moth

7.  The Great Roxhythe

The "Old Gentleman" Orders All

The Masqueraders

Heyer's seventh novel, The Masqueraders, was published in 1928. I absolutely love this one!

Set in England it tells the story of Prudence and Robin Merriott, brother and sister, who arrive in England from France on the orders of their father, whom they call The Old Gentleman.

The two have grown up following their father across Europe, often taking assumed names and even switching genders with one another -- which is how they arrive in England. Prudence, tall and built on queenly lines, dresses and acts the part of Mr. Peter Merriott, while Robin, small and compact, dresses and acts the part of Peter's sister, Kate. Since Robin, along with their father, has recently taken part in the late Jacobite Rebellion, they feel it is a matter of life or death to maintain such a disguise.

They are guests of an old friend, Lady Lowestoft, who knows their true identities, and are supposed to wait quitely until their father arrives. But they are inadvertently drawn into society in their disguises by chancing upon and thwarting the abduction of a young innocent. Robin (Kate), of course, falls for the girl, while Prudence (Peter), befriended by Sir Anthony Fanshawe, a close friend of the girl's father, finds herself drawn to him.

With the help of their faithful retainer, John, the two maintain their disguises through many close calls until the very end of the book, when The Old Gentleman sets all to rights with a surprise that rocks the ton and restores the family's fortune and rightful place in society.

The Masqueraders has romance, adventure, intrigue, and one of the most annoyingly egotistical characters ever encountered -- The Old Gentleman. There is a dastardly villain, swordfights, tipping wine down sleeves (you have to read it to see what that means!), and a wonderful love story! All ends well, of course, but the journey to that delightful end makes this one that you MUST try to find in your local library.

Heyer was only 25 when she wrote this book and was living in Africa with her husband at the time. This is one of my favorites, in my top 10. It is light, has a fast plot, and adorable main characters.

My only copy is a hardcover, Heinemann edition, a fourth printing of the first editon, and even though it is in poor physical shape, I am very proud to have it. The image at the top is of a newer softcover copy.