Thursday, February 12, 2015

Turning In New Directions, Part Two

Continuing on from Part One and referring to Beauvallet, Hodge states that it sold 86,000 copies and helped cement Heyer as an author whose historical books would sell. 

In her personal life, things were changing once again. Ronald's partnership in the gas, coke, and light company did not work out, and they actually lost money. They borrowed money from Mrs. Heyer's sisters, bought a sports shop in Horsham, and moved to Sussex. They repaid the loan with interest over the years. Boris left his job with Bovril, lived over the shop, and helped Ronald run it.

A few miles from Horsham they found a four-bedroomed house in Colegate in Lower Breeding. Hodge describes it as a "rambling, two-storied, comfortable" house that in layout was very much like the one at 5 Ridgeway Place. Georgette continued to write, and Heinemann continued to reprint the old titles. 

Next Entry: Barron Corn, the third of the "Moderns"

Turning In New Directions, Part One

In 1928 Georgette joined her husband in Macedonia, which was to be his last prospecting job. In Macedonia she almost died from an anesthetic while in the dentist's chair, and lived in a "haunted house" where she wrote PastelHodge posits that the climax of this book, where the main character, Frances, has her baby, shows how Georgette's mind was working; she was ready to have a baby. Pastel was dedicated to her mother.

Ronald had never really wanted to be a mining engineer, anyway, so the two decided to return to England. Georgette had shown that she could support them with her writing, and that is what she planned to do while Ronald looked about him for a new career.
By 1929 they were back in London, and for a time Ronald was a partner in a gas, light, and coke company. Georgette continued writing. She had tried five different publishers before settling on Heinemann. A. S. Frere, Heinemann's managing director, became a lifelong friend and confidante to Georgette. Hodge writes that Frere recalled that Georgette was discouraged about her career when they first met; then after the success of These Old Shades, Heinemann decided to take over the rights of her previous books, reprinting The Great Roxhythe and The Black Moth in 1929, and changing The Transformation of Philip Jettan to Powder and Patch in 1930.

In 1929 Georgette published Beauvallet with Heinemann. This new historical novel was set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth and was another fast-paced, swashbuckling story, centering on the hero. She dedicated this book to her brother Frank.

Next Entry: Turning in New Directions, Part Two

Updated List

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

1. The Masqueraders
2.  Simon The Coldheart
3.  These Old Shades
4.  Helen
5.  The Black Moth
6.  Instead of the Thorn
7.  Powder and Patch
8.  The Great Roxhythe

Next Entry: Turning in New Directions, Part One

HELEN -- published in 1938

    Original dust jacket.

I bought my copy of HELEN back in 2007 I believe, but it was several months before I 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. 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 penciled 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.

Next Entry: Updated List

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 traveling 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....

Next Entry: HELEN

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 Huguenot 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.

Next Entry: Writing in Africa

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.

Next Entry: Ronald and Georgette

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My Order So Far

Of these seven, the order in which I rate them:
1. The Masqueraders
2.  Simon The Coldheart
3.  These Old Shades
4.  The Black Moth
5.  Instead of the Thorn
6.  Powder and Patch
7.  The Great Roxhythe

Next Entry: A Trio of Writers

The Old Gentleman Orders All

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, 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 quietly 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 tonne 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, sword fights, 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.

Heyer's Son Dies at 75

Sir Richard Rougier, aged 75, died this past Thursday, October 25. Details in the Telegraph.(I originally published this post on October 28, 2007)

What Was Her Mysterious Parentage?

   Published in 1926

THESE OLD SHADES by Georgette Heyer

These Old Shades was Heyer's sixth published novel, and was set in Georgian times. It tells the story of Leonie, a girl brought up in a humble home in Paris, but whose origins are anything but humble.

Through a series of interesting events, (and after first masquerading as his page "Leon") Leonie becomes the ward of the Duke of Avon. The mystery of her real parentage lies in the hands of the Duke of Avon's enemy, the deadly Compte de Sainte-Vire, a man Leonie greatly fears. 

Published in 1926, the book is very much "of its time", with a rather melodramatic tone. It seems to be a favorite with members of the Heyer Listserv (book discussion group), and Avon is definitely a favorite hero with some of the ladies on the list. Justin, Duke of Avon, is amusing, arrogant, self-centered, with a sometimes destructive wit at the beginning of the book. About halfway through we see him maturing a bit; he is kinder, his good characteristics have strengthened, and he actually puts someone else's interests above his own. 

Leonie, I have to admit, annoys me at times; she worships Avon with slavish adoration and defends him to all. The man's nickname is "Satanas", for goodness sake! But I still have a kindness for her, and, as I said, he does grow up. This is a Heyer that I do like to re-read once in a while. The characters of Justin's family are so very funny. There is a lot of wit and charm in the book (which one expects of Heyer, after all). I think my favorite character in the whole book is Rupert, the Duke's brother. Rupert makes the book worth reading all on his own. 

It is a fast-paced, tension-filled book, which will keep you laughing throughout -- from the moment Avon first meets Leonie, dressed in boy's clothes and going by the name of "Leon", to the excellent chase and rescue at the end. It is a feel-good read with hilarious dialogue throughout and characters that you can't help but love. And although it is not in my personal top 10, I know some who put it in the #1 spot on their Heyer list. So look for it in your library or buy an inexpensive paperback on Ebay or Amazon. It's worth the read.

My copy of TOS is a Bantam Books paperback, published in 1970.

Note: Heyer did not do sequels, but it is generally accepted by "Heyerites" (and stated by Heyer biographer Jane Aiken Hodge) that she did take the main characters in The Black Moth and use them again, under different names, in These Old Shades. She titled the book so, as a hint to her readers -- the characters in TOS were "shades" of those in TBM.
Since TOS was published in 1926, she was probably writing it at the time of her marriage to Ronald Rougier in 1925. It was published during what is known as The General Strike in England when there were not only no trains or newspapers, but no advertising or reviews, either. Yet the book was an instant success. Hodge suggests Heyer may have been encouraged to believe that she didn't need publicity to have a successful novel, after TOS sold 190,000 copies on publication.

My list, so far:

1. Simon The Coldheart
2. These Old Shades
3. The Black Moth
4. Instead of the Thorn
5. Powder and Patch
6. The Great Roxhythe

Next Entry: The Old Gentleman Orders All

More On Their Personal Lives...

According to Hodge, the Heyer family moved from an address in Woodside to a slightly better address at 11 Homefield Road in Wimbledon in 1918. In 1923 they moved to 5 Ridgeway Place, to a newly built house. It was a four-bedroom house with a secluded garden on what was once the Ernle-Drax estate and was within easy walking distance of Wimbledon Commons. Hodge suggests that it probably had an air of country living about it.

In 1923 George Heyer gave a talk on "History in Fiction" to the select Wimbledon Literary and Scientific Society, and in 1925 he gave a talk on "The Humour of Dickens's Minor Characters".  In 1924 the Oxford University Press published his translation of Francois Villon's poems, saying they were proud to handle it. Georgette appeared with her father, playing Prince Arthur to his King John in a literary tableau at the age of 11, for the Literary and Scientific Society which he had been invited to join in 1909.
It is easy to imagine how much his appreciation of her first literary effort in The Black Moth must have meant to Georgette.

Next Entry: These Old Shades

Simon The Coldheart

Book Number Five --
          Heyer published this book in 1925, the fifth of her 54 novels.  I have to count Simon as a favorite, though not in my top 10.  

The book is set in the year 1400 and tells the story of Simon, the illegitimate son of Geoffrey of Malvallet who, at the age of 14, has to fend for himself. He puts himself in the service of Fulk of Montlice (his father's natural enemy), and I do mean "puts himself" into his service. He has a very forceful nature and gets what he wants. He wanted to serve Fulk, and so he does! He works his way up from being a page to Fulk to becoming a friend and equal to Alan, Fulk's son. The book follows Simon to age 32, by which time he has made a name for himself as Simon of Beauvallet, has a castle of his own, and has won for wife the lady he chooses, a spitfire and a beauty.

Simon is set during the reign of Henry IV, a favorite historical age for Heyer. She dedicated the book to her father, George, because, of all her published books at the time, Simon was his favorite.
Heyer, however, put Simon on the list of books she was adamant about keeping suppressed, even when fans wrote to ask that it be re-issued. After her death, her son allowed its publication in 1977, saying that in this one case his mother had been too harsh.
I have to say I agree, because I do enjoy reading Simon now and again. My own hard cover copy looks exactly as the photograph above. I was able to get it on Ebay for $32.00 plus shipping, and it came to me encased in plastic and in pristine shape. It is a 1978 Book Club Associates edition, published by arrangement with William Heineman Ltd. And I don't mind at all that it isn't a first edition (which would be a find, indeed) because it is such a beautiful book, and I love that cover. I also have a Pan paperback, published in 1979.

Now that I've written about Heyer's first five, I will begin to put them in the order in which I enjoy them. Of these first five, the order would be:

1. Simon The Coldheart
2. The Black Moth
3. Instead Of The Thorn
4. Powder And Patch
5. The Great Roxhythe

Next Entry: More on their personal lives...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Autobiographical In Nature

Georgette was so very private, but she reportedly told those who asked that they would find her in her work. A very cryptic remark. 

Critic and novelist A. S. Byatt wrote a long memorial piece for The Sunday Times when she died, based on interviews with her husband, her good friend, Carola Oman, and two of her publisher friends. That is about the only written source for any information on her early life. Hodge supplemented that info with interviews with her surviving family and friends and some of the letters to which she was given access when she wrote The Private World Of Georgette Heyer, published in 1984.

Heyer's brother, Frank, asserted that the four suppressed contemporary novels (Instead of the Thorn, Helen, Barren Corn, and Pastel) were somewhat autobiographical in nature, in particular Helen. But it is still a guessing game, as far as I can see, as to which parts of the novels were autobiographical.

We have Hodge's work, based on the only written and interview sources available, and we have our own opinions or surmises as to what she was really like and what her life was really like. She will forever remain somewhat of a mystery. I guess it should be that way because she obviously preferred it that way while she was living. But those of us who have had a love affair with her work still crave more.

Next Entry: Simon The Coldheart