Donnalee's Georgette Heyer Page

Georgette Heyer (1903 - 1974) is a British novelist best known for her 41 historical romances. She also wrote 12 mystery novels and 4 dramatic novels, but it is her historical novels, particularly her Regency romances for which she is so loved. I think her romances are marvellous. I've have never read any other romance novels by any other writer that have come close to caputuring the quality of a Georgette Heyer.

Why do I like Georgette's Heyer's books so much? I think her romances stand apart from all others for several reasons. Firstly, because the wonderful humour which laces all of her romances makes her characters seem so believable. Humour and romance go hand in hand, yet few writers have been able to so skillfully combine the two. Secondly, because of the amazing historical detail that is so essential to all of Heyer's romances. Heyer did a great deal of research for her novels and went to great effort to make them accurate. Many so-called historical romances are just costume pieces, with an essentially modern heroine being given an historical setting just as an entertaining backdrop. In a Heyer romance, however, every detail reminds the reader of the attitudes, behaviour, customs and events of a bygone age. Heyer heroines are not modern ones merely playing dress-up, but are true representatives of the age in which their stories are set. Heyer does not revise history, but uses it to show both the advantages and limitations of the times of which she writes. The very language that Heyer uses transports the reader to almost 200 years ago. Her books are not easy to read, but once she has drawn a reader into her world and the reader becomes part of it, her historical language begins to sound familiar and natural. Thirdly, Heyer does think of very original and interesting plots. In most other romances, the hero and heroine are usually kept apart throughout the book only because they behave idiotically and unrealistically, but Heyer heroines are generally intelligent females who find themselves dealing with a variety of problems and situations and the plots often become complex. Fourthly, in almost every book there is a wealth of supporting characters, all of whom have a part to play. Heyer is a genius at creating minor characters who can be comic, villainous, kind, or vain, but always, always interesting.

Georgette Heyer's romances are wonderfully rich, complex stories, full of fascinating characters, set in detailed, believable historic settings. And they are fun to read! Heyer herself preferred working on her more serious historical books, such as "My Lord John" and "The Conqueror" over her more frothy Regency romances, but I think she underestimated her own skill at writing the romantic comedies of manners for which she is renowned.

(Please note that the grading system used to rate Heyer's books is being used to compare Heyer's books against each other. So a Heyer book that gets a "B" grade would still be an "A" if being compared to other historical romances. More titles will be graded as time permits.)

HISTORICAL NOVELS (in order of publication):

The Black Moth 1921 A great beginning. This is the story of two brothers, John is the elder and is the Earl of Wyncham, Richard is the younger. John takes the blame when Richard cheats at cards, and finds himself a disgraced outcast. John takes the blame to allow Richard to go ahead and marry Lady Lavinia Belmanior, but their marriage proves a troubled and stormy one. Years later, John foils an attempt by Lavinia's brother, the Duke of Andover, the villain of the story, to abduct Diana Beauleigh. John is injured and while being nursed at Diana's home, they fall in love. The story contains swordfights, abductions, a highwayman, but is missing the humour and subtlety of her later works. It's greatest weakness is its female leads: Diana is a bit dull, and is treated merely as a beautiful object of desire instead of as an interesting character, while Lavinia is shallow and self-centred. Grade: B
Powder and Patch 1923 Originally published as "The Transformation of Philip Jettan, Heyer was finding her way with this book.  Young Philip Jettan is a perfectly happy country gentleman, and his romance with his neighbour Cleone Charteris is progressing quite satisfactorily, until Cleone expresses disatisfaction with Philip's sober and ordinary ways.  Cleone longs for romance and colour, and contrasts Philip with a visiting London fop.  Cleone and Philip quarrel. She sends him away to acquire some polish and dash, and he sets off to Paris in pique.  The book is grand good fun, and when Cleone meets the new and "improved" Philip in London, things do not quite go as she would have liked!  The plot is quite entertaining, and Philip is charming, but as with "The Black Moth" the weakness is with the heroine.  Cleone's alleged beauty does not compensate for her lack of personality!  The language often seems a bit stilted, without the flow and polish of her later books.  Overall, it is still charming.  Grade:  B 
The Great Roxhythe 1923 I finally found a copy of this elusive title. I can't wait to read it!
Simon the Coldheart 1925  
These Old Shades 1926 This is the story that established the very popular Heyer formula involving a cynical, experienced, slightly villainous older man who falls for a much younger heroine who captivates him with her innocence, spunk and spirit. In this case it is the Duke of Avon, nicknamed "Satanas" for his evil ways, who encounters Leonie, a penniless orphan masquerading as a boy named Leon. The Duke arranges for her to be his page, quickly discovers her secret and so begins this enchanting Cinderella story. The story is funny, the plot is fast-paced and entertaining, involving a kidnapping, a trip to Versailles, and an evil Comte. The romance is charming, as Leonie's charm, directness and vivaciousness lead the Duke to forgo his cold, callous ways and reveal his heart of gold. Heyer's obsessive need to prove Leonie's "worthiness" by establishing that she is really of noble and wealthy birth is a bit grating. And Leonie's supposedly "quaint" ways can be a tiny bit irritating on subsequent readings. But overall, this rags-to-riches confection is delightful. Grade: A-
The Masqueraders 1928 This gender-switching romp is very pleasant. It is quite plot-driven, involving duels, blackmail, murder, the Jacobite Rebellion, plus the complications of a girl pretending to be a man and her brother pretending to be a girl. The story is very lively, but seems to have a sluggish start because it is difficult for the reader to identify with either Prudence or her brother Robin since they are so rarely behaving as themselves, but instead are busy playing their roles. The story kicks into high gear when their eccentric and unpredictable father arrives in town, claiming to be the legitimate Lord Barham. The language seems stitled and awkward at times. I found Prudence, the heroine, to be rather shadowy. Even though she has a lot of independence and opportunities while masquerading as a man, she remains a very reserved, somewhat quiet character. Her romance with Tony, while pleasant, is not very passionate. Overall still a very satisfying and entertaining story. Grade: B
Beauvallet 1929  
The Conqueror 1931  
Devil's Cub 1932 This title is a rarity for Heyer: a sequel. The hero is Dominic, Marquis of Vidal, the wild, angry and rebellious son of Leonie and the Duke of Avon, who are the protagonists from her popular book "These Old Shades". The heroine is Mary Challoner, who is saddled with a stupid, greedy mother, a selfish, vain but beautiful sister of questionable virtue and a dissolute, spendthrift and deceased father of noble birth. Mary herself is quiet, intelligent, dignified but also with a keen sense of humour. This book has a lot of humour, a lively plot and many reappearances of characters from "These Old Shades". Mary and Dominic have a nice rapport and her calm good sense is a nice foil for his impetuosity. Unfortunately, the book opens with Dominic cold-bloodedly killing a footpad, and later in the book he also shoots a man during a drunken duel. I know I shouldn't apply modern day morals to Heyer's books, but it's a little hard for me to just accept that Dominic is a murderer, and it somewhat spoils what is otherwise a delightful book. Grade: B+
The Convenient Marriage 1934 After experimenting with different genres, Heyer returns to form with this sparkling Regency comedy of manners. Marcus, the Earl of Rule, decides at age 35 it is time to marry. He settles on Elizabeth, the eldest Winwood girl. But since Elizabeth is already in love with someone else, her 17 year old sister Horatia offers herself to Rule instead. Horry and Marcus have a charming relationship and naturally fall in love with each other, but Horry mistakenly believes Marcus married her for convenience only and she nobly determines not to interfere with him, even if it means accepting that he has a mistress. This is the first of Heyer's book featuring an already-married couple.  This book is fun, lively and exceptionally sparkling.  Grade: A-
Regency Buck 1935  
The Talisman Ring 1936 My very first Georgette Heyer, given to me by my mother when I was in my teens. Thanks Mom!
An Infamous Army 1937  
Royal Escape 1938  
The Spanish Bride 1940  
The Corinthian 1940  
Faro's Daughter 1941 Deborah Grantham and Max Ravenscar begin their relationship as terrible adversaries. Max is appalled that his younger cousin, Adrian, Lord Mablethorpe, has developed a passion for Miss Grantham, a young woman from a gaming house! Max is determined to end the relationship between Deb and Adrian, unaware that Deb has no intention of marrying Adrian. After Max begins insulting and offending Deb, they begin a campaign to out-manouver and out-insult each other. This story features an abduction, but for a nice change it is the lady who does the abducting. Deborah is one of Heyer's older heroines (she's 25, eeks!) and she is very independent, determined and spirited. Max is the classic thirty-something Heyer hero, who is somewhat top-lofty, cynical, and cold, but is a very intelligent and very manly man. This book is very smooth. Grade: B+
Friday's Child 1944 Heyer gives full reign to her comic side in this tour de force.  Viscount Sheringham is NOT a typical Heyer hero.  He is an impulsive, reckless and occasionally silly young man.  He has a group of impulsive and silly young friends.  And, in a fit of pique, Viscount Sheringham proposes to and immediately marries the very young, frequently silly, and improbably named Hero Wantage.  Newlyweds Hero and Sherry entangle themselves in a variety of messes and predicaments, and the reader becomes increasingly fond of this silly but endearing pair and their friends.  This book is a true joy from beginning to end and these characters are some of Heyer's best creations.  Grade:  A
The Reluctant Widow 1946 This book opens with a fascinating premise.  Elinor Rochdale, well-born but penniless, has inevitably become a competent governess.  Arriving at night by stagecoach to fill a new position, Elinor is picked up by a coachman and whisked off to fulfill her new duties.  To her horror, she learns she got into the wrong coach and that it is assumed that she is there for the purpose of marrying an extremely unpleasant young man.  High-handed, autocratic Lord Carlyon had advertised to find someone for his disreputable, dying cousin to marry, so that he will NOT be his cousin's heir.  Elinor is appalled by the mistake, but reluctantly agrees to go ahead with the marriage.  She is immediately widowed, and the story then proceeds with the question of "now what?"  Elinor and Lord Carlyon develop a charming relationship that is partly friendly, partly adversarial.  This book has an unusually mysterious and suspenseful subplot involving a Bonapartist agent.  The romance, mystery and humour are all perfectly balanced, adding up to another wonderful Heyer.  Grade: B+
The Foundling 1948  
Arabella 1949 Arabella Tallant is an unusual heroine, in that she has a large, loving family and both her parents are still very much alive! En route from her modest Yorkshire parsonage to London, Arabella's ancient coach breaks down, and she inadvertantly seeks refuge at the hunting box of that wealthy, fashionable Corinthian, Mr. Beaumaris. He is the classic bored, jaded, seemingly arrogant Heyer hero with a heart of gold. Arabella overhears Mr. Beaumaris' contemptuous assumption that she is a common gold-digger who deliberately staged the coach "accident". Furious, she recklessly claims that she is a great heiress and is tired of being pursued for her wealth. To her horror, the rumour of her wealth follows her to London, spelling disaster. Arabella and Mr. Beamaris gradually become friends as Arabella's impulsive goodheartedness brings new complications. Characters like Jemmy the chimney sweep, Quartern Sue and Leaky Peg show a rare glimpse of the dark underside of Heyer's glittering regency world. Arabella is strong, intelligent, and sweet, and, like her complexion, this wonderful story is flawless. Grade: A
The Grand Sophy 1950  
The Quiet Gentleman 1951  
Cotillion 1953  
The Toll-Gate 1954  
Bath Tangle 1955  
Sprig Muslin 1956  
April Lady 1957 The Earl and Countess of Cardross (aka Giles and Nell) have already been married for a year when this story begins. Nell loves Giles wildly, but assumes he only married her for convenience so she is careful not to show her feelings, and she remains distant. Giles loves Nell madly, but wonders if she only married him for his title and money, since her days are filled with frivolity and she remains emotionally aloof from him. This book starts off with great promise, but then seems to falter. Giles seem to hardly be in the book at all, and most of the book seems occupied with the unusually dull subplot involving Giles' headstrong sister Letty. This story seems like a watered-down version of "The Convenient Marriage", but without its freshness and sparkle. This book has some good moments, but does not live up to its potential. Grade: B-
Sylvester; or, the Wicked Uncle 1957 Vintage Heyer. Phoebe is a wonderful heroine, and I particularly like the fact that Phoebe is an author. She has written an anonymous novel about the ton. The problem is that she models her villain after the seemingly arrogant Duke of Salford, and then is faced with a proposed match with him. Phoebe runs away, but she and the Duke are stranded at a small inn during a blizzard, and they become friends. Later, in London, when Phoebe's book is published, everyone recognizes Salford as the villain, and Phoebe is revealed as the author. Now what will happen to their blossoming romance? Of course there are many other characters and sub-plots, but the story of Phoebe and the Duke is the heart of this lively story. Grade: A-
Venetia 1958  
The Unknown Ajax 1959 This book is nearly perfect.  Cousin Hugo arrives as the most unwelcome heir to the family title and estate, after his father had been disowned years ago.  No one in the family has high expectations for Hugo, but he slowly and masterfully wins the respect and liking of his relatives after his memorable arrival at Darracott Place.  The story is extremely funny, and Hugo is delightful.  An exciting smuggling subplot is woven skillfully into the story, and the ending is quite suspenseful and hilarious (a rare combination!).  Hugo's courtship of his cousin Anthea is pleasant, but it is the Hugo's gradual integration into the heart of his estranged family that is the core of this masterpiece.  Hugo's pretence of being a dumb hick merely to irritate his family shows Heyer's writing at its comic, clever best.  Grade:  A
Pistols for Two 1960 A short story collection. These stories are pleasantly entertaining, but not especially memorable. Without a chance to develop complex characters or plots, these stories are very glossy but undeniably thin. They read almost like imitations of Georgette Heyer, instead of being the real thing. Clearly short stories are not Heyer's best medium. Grade: C+
A Civil Contract 1961 This quiet book has no duels, no chases, no identity mix-ups, no comic misunderstandings, yet this quiet, domestic tale is Heyer's masterpiece.  It is perhaps the most unromantic romance book I've ever read, but it is the most satisfying.  Upon his father's sudden death, Adam, the new Viscount Lynton returns home from the Peninsular War to find his family overwhelmed by deft and facing ruin.  With extreme reluctance, Adam turns his back on Julia, the beauty he loves, and marries Jenny, the plain daughter of a extremely wealthy merchant, for her money.  This seemingly ill-suited marriage seems to hold little prospects for happiness, but Heyer's skillful and slow development of Adam and Jenny's relationship is a thing of beauty in itself.  And Heyer also uses specific historic events to add to her story in an extremely deft and unparelled way.  This is her best book.  Grade: A+
The Nonesuch 1962 This is perhaps my favourite title. It was one of the first that I ever read, so it has some nostalgic value, but I also think it is one of her best titles. Ancilla Trent is one of Heyer's older, more confident heroines. She has taken a position as a well-paid governess, in spite of her genteel family, due to her desire for financial independance. She is content with her decision, and Heyer has created a dignified, intelligent heroine with a good sense of humour. Heyer creates a match for Ancilla with Sir Waldo Hawkridge, a wealthy man whose arrival in Ancilla's quiet village creates quite a stir. Their romance is quite pleasant and convincing. A wildly entertaining subplot is provided through a love quadrangle involving Ancilla's tempestous but beautiful teenage pupil, Tiffany, Sir Waldo's young cousin, Julian, Waldo's other cousin, Laurence, a n'er-do-well young man, and Patience, the shy daughter of the local vicar. The book contains many funny scenes, a lot of attention is paid to minor characters and the ending is very exciting. Grade: A
False Colours 1963  
Frederica 1965 A solid, sturdy Heyer.  Vernon, the Marquis of Alverstoke is a typical cynical, seemingly arrogant Heyer hero who is not looking for love.  His life is interrupted by the arrival of the Merrivales, an entire family who is distantly related to him.  The family is led by Frederica, one of Heyer's intelligent, older, competent heroines, who proves herself Alverstoke's match and he slowly begins to fall in love with her.  The book has many fabulous and funny moments, often provided by Frederica's lively younger brothers, who are new characters for Heyer and add quite a lot of originality to this book.  Frederica's beautiful but silly younger sister and Alverstoke's own family provide enough subplots, and this book is extremely satisfying in every way.  Grade: A-
Black Sheep 1966  
Cousin Kate 1968 This is probably my least favourite Heyer. I think Heyer was experimenting, but it just doesn't work. The gothic mystery elements just don't seem to fit in with the regency romance elements. Menacing Aunt Minerva and weird Cousin Torquil are unpleasant to read about, and while Kate herself is charming, her romance isn't very interesting. Philip is an attractive cookie-cutter hero, but he's given very little to do and is almost a minor character. And I loathe the violent ending. When I finish a Heyer book, I want to feel happy and satisfied, not disturbed. Grade: C-
Charity Girl 1970 This Heyer is fun and pleasant, but the plot seems a little thin and seems repetitive of some of her earlier work.   There is nothing wrong with this book, but there is nothing that seems very new or original.  Viscount Desford is one of Heyer's quiet, pleasant men.  The only unusual thing about him is that both of his parents are still alive!  Desford befriends a young runaway, Cherry, and, in desperation, brings her to his childhood friend, the quiet, calm Henrietta.  Hetta and Des make a charming couple, young Cherry is satisfactorily dealt with, but not much really happens in this book.  Grade: B
Lady of Quality 1972  
My Lord John 1975  


DETECTIVE NOVELS (in order of publication):


Footsteps in the Dark 1932 A group of pleasant young people, a spooky old house, a creepy ghost, mysterious noises, hidden passageways, trap doors, and a dastardly villain. Other than the one murder in this book, this story is just like a Scooby Doo episode! (I don't mean this as a criticism, but rather as a recommendation.) As a murder mystery, this book is admittedly not very intriguing, but as a pleasantly silly, mildly spooky ghost story, this book is nicely entertaining. As her career became more established, Heyer herself wanted this book suppressed, but I think she was being her own worst critic. Grade: B-
Why Shoot a Butler? 1933  
The Unfinished Clue 1934  
Death in the Stocks 1935  
Behold, Here's Poison 1936 The setting of this book is a country house (of course), there is a large squabbling family (of course) and the victim is a rich old uncle that nobody really liked (of course), but the murder method is quite original and ingenious and the resolution to this mystery is quite surprising and satisfying.  The characters are entertaining enough, although none of them are particularly endearing.  Overall, this mystery is quite good and shows Heyer mastering the mystery genre quite nicely.  There are many humourous bits, and the suspense builds throughout the book.  There is a romantic sub-plot that is a bit ho-hum and the fact that it involves first cousins is a bit icky.  Superintendant Hannasyde presides over the case.  Grade:  B+
They Found Him Dead 1937  
A Blunt Instrument 1938  
No Wind of Blame 1939  
Envious Casca 1941 This book has all the right ingredients:  a country house party at Christmas and a locked room murder mystery.  Unfortunately, the identity of the murderer is not very surprising, although the solution to the locked room is quite entertaining and solved nicely by Inspector Hemingway.  This book quickly becomes more of a "howdidit" rather than a "whodunnit".  The biggest problem is that Heyer failed to provide a character to really root for in this book.  All the characters are either unlikeable or colourless.  There is a very tepid romance plot, but I expect more from Heyer in the romance department!  It's a decent enough read, but for a Christmas mystery it seems very glum and I'd like a bit more sparkle.  Grade:  B-
Penhallow 1942  
Duplicate Death 1951 "Terrible Timothy", the bane of Sargeant Hemingway's life in "They Found Him Dead", is back in this book, all grown up and the romantic hero of this book.  And this time around he also assisting Hemingway.  This book contains a pair of mysteriously identical murders, the first taking place at a duplicate bridge party.  The bridge party setting is fabulous, and this book has an underdog heroine to root for, Beulah Birtley, who is both a suspect and the love interest of Timothy Harte.  This book is a fast-paced, fun and frothy read, featuring some memorable scenes with a truly ghastly yet glamourous blonde named Cynthia.  Grade:  B+
Detection Unlimited 1953  




Georgette Heyer also wrote four other novels, Instead of the Thorn (1923), Helen (1928), Pastel (1929) and Barren Corn (1930), but I've never read any of them.

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