Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Daring For Its Time

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 suppressed 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.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Personal Lives of the Heyers...

The following information is taken from THE PRIVATE WORLD OF GEORGETTE HEYER by Jane Aiken Hodge.

Georgette was named after her father, George, who was also named after his father. The senior George Heyer came from Kharkov, Russia in the middle of the nineteenth century to settle in England where he married an English girl named Alice Waters. He was a fur merchant. There is little known about him or about why he immigrated to England, although it is posited that he may have been a fugitive from the Russian pogroms of that time.  Georgette's brother, Frank, remembered him as being bearded, having a strong accent, and being a practical joker.

Their son George was born in Islington in 1869, enlarging their family of three girls, Alice, Ilma, and Inez. George attended King's College School in London, read classics at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and wrote regularly for Cambridge's Granta. In the 1890s he became a teacher at Weymouth College, and later was invited to teach French at King's College School in 1897 when it moved to Wimbledon.

In 1901 he married Sylvia Watkins at the Church of St. Peter in Eltham. She was 25 at the time and the daughter of a Thames tugboat owner. She had been an outstanding student of cello and piano at the Royal College of Music. Georgette was born a year after her parents were married, George Boris four years after that, and Frank Dmitri five years later.

George was well thought of at King's College School where he also discovered a gift for fund raising. In 1903 he gave up teaching and held various other positions including organizing Queen Alexandra's Charity Matinees and acting as Secretary of the Memorial Theatre at Stratford. He also wrote occasionally for Punch.

Boris and Frank both attended Lancing College, with Boris going straight from there to a junior job with Bovril. Frank went on to Cambridge and became a schoolmaster, teaching for twenty-one years at Downside. 

Little is known about Heyer's life as a young girl. It is not known where she was educated. She herself said that she was educated at "various day schools", and that she never attended college. At the beginning of the 1914-1918 war she was for a time in Paris where her father was working when the war broke out. Hodge reports that Heyer recalled hearing the German gun, Big Bertha, before they returned to Wimbledon.

At that time she was enrolled for a while at The Study, one of Wimbledon's two main girls' schools, and, according to Hodge, the more socially conscious of the two; but no records of her time there are in existence today.

George Heyer was very active during the war. Even though he was over-age he obtained a captaincy in the Army Service Corps. He was a requisitioning officer in France, and was awarded the O.B.E. after the war. At that time he went to work for the War Office as a staff captain, but left, after suffering a severe illness, to become Appeal Secretary at King's College Hospital.

More on their personal lives to follow.

Next Entry: Daring For Its Time