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.
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
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.
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.