The works of Georgette Heyer have always been abiding favourites of mine. I read my first Heyer novel at the age of 11, when staying at my Grandmother’s house. I was immediately entranced by the romantic and dashing world (as Heyer portrayed it) of the Regency period in which she mostly based her novels. I became a voracious reader of all Heyer works thereafter, and have remained so till this day. My mother some years ago gave me her collection of Heyer novels, mostly bought in the 60’s, though the collection over the years had become sadly depleted.
Despite being an avid reader my entire life, in the last five years or so I have not read quite as much as I would like. Mostly because having had a child, as those with children know, ones free time becomes severly limited, and given my that my main preoccupation is my art, one has to make choices. However, of late I have been trying (when not drawing and painting) to spend less time online and more time reading. I decided recently to revisit my ‘old friends’, and work my way through my Heyer collection. I also decided that I wanted to reread the first Heyer novel I ever read, which was ‘These Old Shades’ (a sequel of sorts to ‘The Black Moth’), and which though not set in the Regency period (and in fact during the 18th century during the reign of Louis XV) remains my favourite.
As this (and it’s sequel ‘Devil’s Cub) had been lost a few years ago, I ordered the two from Amazon and waited their arrival with excitment. When they arrived I very naughtily (and this was always my problem) sat down and read them both through in two sittings. ‘These Old Shades’ on the Monday, and ‘Devil’s Cub’ on the Tuesday.
I have to say, that despite the passage of years, neither book had lost its charm for me. I was still able to engage with the characters utterly, was totally submerged in both stories, and carried away with by excitement of the narrative. Heyer’s characterisation is excellent, her writing style witty and engaging (somewhat in the style of Austen and Gaskill though with the dryness of her own time and personality), and her knowledge and understanding of the period in which she writes is without par. Leonie and Justin’s story had me reading at breakneck speed with excitement, despite having read the story so many times. I delighted in her debut into the fashionable world when she became a girl again, was excited by her abduction and rescue, and the commitment of all the supporting characters, and thrilled at the ultimate comeuppance of St.Vire and Justin’s declared love for Leonie (Justin Duke of Avon remains my favourite Heyer character of all time).
I subsequently read ‘Devils Cub’ with the same glee and excitement and enjoyed the story as much as it’s predecessor. A week later I ordered Arabella, (firmly set within the Regency period) and read that through in one sitting also.
One thing I will say, it’s an interesting (and slightly bitter sweet) experience to read these book so many years after the first. My understanding, perception and feelings towards the characters have changed considerably since the first time I read the books. Hardly surprising given I was eleven, then in my early teens, and am now in my forties. At the time of first reading, I identified strongly with Leonie (and all the young heroines), and thought that Justin was terribly old as a lover for a young girl (given he was in his forties) and could not understand how she would fall in love with a man so much older, as being over 40 seemed positively ancient to me. When I read these books, I was so very young and had still the excitement and uncertainty of love and romance to look forward to. Now, with the passage of years and being …well, middle aged, I read with a slight pang the knowledge that those days are now far behind me (though that’s not to say I have no romance in my life at all… if my husband chances to read this!).
Interestingly, most of my favourite Heyer novels when I was young were her earlier works, and then as I grew older, my preferred books were those written in her later life. The reason being, that as she grew older, so did her heroines so become. Less were there the 18 year old wide eyed heroines, and her female characters became more mature and self possessed, and to be honest, a lot more interesting).
(to be continued)…
‘These Old Shades’ by Jane Austen’s World