Four by Heyer ...

So I had a long plane trip coming up. San francisco to Hong Kong is a long airplane ride, and I needed to stock up my Kindle with something new.

I was out of reading material, but I had just recently reread A Civil Campaign by Bujold, and she named Georgette Heyer as an influence. I figured it would be worth trying her out, how bad could it be?

I found out.

I downloaded four of her books to my Kindle and got to spend the next 11 hours with as unpleasant a crew of parisitical, good for nothing, useless twits as ever earned a short ride in a tumbrel cart. By the time I got to Hong Kong, I was rooting for Napolean. By the time I got back to San Francisco I was thinking the Lenin had a point.

The books:

  1. The Grand Sophy

A traumatized young woman is evacuated from the war zone after the battle is over. She comes to stay with her aunt’s family and causes much emotional turmoil, destroying relationships left and right, shooting a house guest, and at the end finding love with a man whose idea of expressing affection is to choke her half to death while shouting insults at her.

  1. The Toll Gate

A recently demobilized military veteran looking to escape from his responsibilities comes across an abandoned toll booth and decides to investigate. In the process befriending the abused son of the missing gate keeper. After uncovering numerous felonies, and committing still more, he finds love with the grand-daughter of the local squire. She accepts his suit because the alternative is much worse.

  1. The Unknown Ajax

The least objectionable of the four novels, a recently discharged major (for good cause no doubt) goes to visit his estranged grandfather in the south of England, it seems he is in line to inherit the title. After conniving at smuggling (Watch the wall my darling, while the Gentlemen go by …) and almost getting his cousin killed in the process, he finds love with another of his cousins. Since he has money and she doesn’t, he can pretty well do what he wants. It all ends happily ever after, at least for him.

  1. The Corinthian

God, this one was disgusting. A teenaged girl decides to run away from home, for no very good reason. She immediately falls into the hands (literally) of a somewhat skeevy older man who spends the next fourteen chapters systematically seperating her from her friends and family. In the last chapter, she has an attack of good sense and runs away from him trying to get back to her family. He chases after her, drags her by main force out of the vehicle she is riding in and commits sexual assault right there in the middle of the road.

After reading this one, I needad a shower. Unfortunately, I was over the North Pacific, somewhere between Kamchatka and Adak.


I notice that half of the books involve cousin marriage. Is the British aristocracy really that inbred? It would explain a lot.

There was also the occaisional mention of luddites and revolutionaries of various sorts, but they were all safely off screen.

The protagonist of The Unknown Ajax was probably the most sympathetic of the lot. He was safe from ever having to perform manual labor, but at least his maternal grandfather had worked for a living, rising to be a mill owner. He seemed to have some understanding of the problems facing those tho aren’t to the manor born. Yes, I know that’s a mis-quote, the pun is intended.

All in all, they were an interesting read, if a little disturbing. I had never read any of these books, but I have read and enjoyed books by Lois Bujold, and Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. It was interesting to see where they got the source material from.

On the whole, I prefer the Flashman books. He was more honest about the whole thing. And the history was better researched.

I was 13 when I read her for the first time, and I’ve loved her books ever since. Different tastes, I guess. I love Bujold, too.

I love Bujold and detest Hayer. Just because an author I like likes someone, does not mean I will like them. She also likes Jane Austin and I could use Pride and Prejudice as presurgical sedation.

<shrug> I would have found some way to get sample chapters before buying an unfamiliar author.

That being said, I freaking adore project gutenberg free books - I have a couple thousand of them on my hard drive, but then I adore the old purple prosed pulp fictions like Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, or anything by Abe Merritt, so many free books to rummage through =) No to mention there are sources of free books - Baen has a free library where you can get whole books to get addicted to the authors of.

It was a long airplane ride, and they don’t have wireless on the trans Pacific routes. It kept my mind occupied for the flight, and the Kindle editions aren’t very expensive.

They were actually fun to read to read, I just don’t think I interpreted the plots the way the author intended.

I love both Bujold and Heyer, but I can see where the OP is coming from. I think Heyer requires the same suspension of belief that makes “romantic comedy” seem romantic and funny rather than horrific dramas about obsessive stalker behavior.

In Heyer books:

  • being good at sport = being virtuous and deserving
  • having good taste in clothes = being virtuous and deserving
  • a complete lack of virtue (including the period equivalent of date-rape) = being interesting and romantic
  • covering up murder and other crimes committed by relatives = family values

In Heyer’s defence, a number of the characters come very close to breaking the fourth wall in pointing out just how shocking the apparently frivolous and romantic behavior would be if it was made public.

Bujold’s “A Civil Campaign” is structurally very similar to Regency Romances, but Bujold subverts the genre by making clear that the romantic interest is a real person, and not remotely interested in being pursued, manipulated, or otherwise denied agency.

I think the big problem for me was in reading four of them back to back on the airplane. If I had stopped at one, I probably would have been able to maintain the suspension of disbelief required.

I’ve read a few Heyer novels, a long time ago now. Basically not to my taste – though I did genuinely enjoy one, Frederica. My problems with Heyer were different from Tatterdemalion’s: re historical fiction, my thoughts usually go along the lines of “other times, other ways; and every human society there has ever been, has had its horrors and inequities”.

The big “minus” for me about Heyer, was perhaps a weird one: it was the dialogue. A pet hate of mine about fiction in general, is when the author makes it standard procedure to render on the page, characters’ speech in conspicuously odd, non-modern-standard, ways. Found, obviously, especially in historical fiction. Some readers enjoy this: with its adding, for them, to the period “feel”. Just my personal quirk; but it drives me round the bend – I find it distracting, big-time. My sentiments here – essential human nature has been the same throughout history, and I much prefer characters’ speech to be put in standard, non-weird modern English.

Heyer’s characters use a great deal of racy Regency slang – some of it was so unfamiliar to me, as to make it necessary at times to pause and work out from the context, what they were going on about. Distraction of a kind that that I don’t want – however, I long considered that although I hated the presence of this gobbledegook, Heyer was due credit for industrious research into how people talked then. I have seen it suggested, more recently, that in actual fact she made most of this stuff up: the slang is in the main not authentic for that time, or any other. This discovery made me totally determined never to open another book by the lady.

I’m a fan of Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels; and mostly, delighted in A Civil Campaign (with its “period romance” traits, different from most of the series) – marred for me slightly, by a couple of “goofy and whimsy” sections: mercifully, these amounted to only a small percentage of the whole book.