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.

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