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14 August 2010

After Georgette Heyer

I enjoy reading romance novels.  I especially enjoy reading Regency Romance, that period in British history in, around and following the very significant reign of King George III as his sanity unraveled (with what is now known as a hereditary disease called porphyria), allowing his sons and other political aspirants to wield some havoc until finally, his son King George IV succeeded to reign disastrously as Prince Regent.  That was the time of the Seven Year's War (involving almost as many countries as the later "Great War" in the early 1900s), American Revolution, Napoleon, the French Revolution, and many other "peacetime" events like the near revolution by Jacobites and domestic riots by Luddites and hungry farmers, which made it such an interesting time for storytelling.

We can hide behind the concept that Regency romances are a "guilty pleasure," as featured on NPR, but it has been an important genre, if not begun then furthered and refined by one Georgette Heyer.  The publisher Sourcebooks from right here in Naperville, Illinois, has launched a series of reprints in trade paperback.  Before now, there have been a few reprints in hardcover and in mass market paperback (also known as pocket books), with introductions by popular authors of today like Kay Hooper, telling of their introduction and continued loyalty to Heyer from 'tweenhood.  Just so that I don't keep you on tenterhooks, I am referring specifically to Harlequin's 2003 Special Georgette Heyer's Collector's Editions now out of print in which Hooper's foreword appeared in The Foundling, a fat volume chock full of Heyer's plot turns, devices and endearing characters.

My first read was Frederica.  I absolutely adored her practicality, levelheadedness and generous love of her siblings and totally understood the Marquis of Alverstoke's attraction to her.  I also appreciated Heyer's wonderful way of bringing to life a time so long ago and so different from my own.  Yet, the characters and their responses to situations seem so timeless that I am expecting that soon we will (if we already have not) witness a how-to book entitled What Would Frederica/Gilly/Hugo Darracott/Venetia/Duke of Avon Do?

It was simply a coincidence that Helen Simmons, author of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (recommended by both myself and he who shall not be named -- the FACE of Books on First), spoke on NPR"s All Things Considered about Georgette Heyer.  Heyer is mentioned often in British books, representing what sentiment, I'm not sure -- probably the same feeling of "guilty pleasure" as on this side of The Pond.

I actually began this post planning merely to tell you about a simply marvelous heiress to the throne of the "Queen of Regency Romance," Rose Lerner, who brings us In for a Penny, which not only acknowledges the loyalty to and influence by Heyer, but also seeks to move the genre forward into the 21st century. While the Regency period was no doubt full of intimate assignations resulting in hasty marriages or out-of-wedlock births, Heyer wrote in the 1950s of chaste but witty repartee between the hero and heroine from actual but low-keyed descriptions of the sex act (let's call it by it's true name, why don't we? -- breeding) to keeping appearances to dealing with foolish relatives to ultimately falling in love.  Nowadays, it's much more explicit (and somewhat silly).  Lerner overcomes the silliness and explicitness without succumbing to the pale aping of Heyer's mid-20th century ideas of how people spoke and thought in the 18th century, which so many current writers seem to do on an uneven basis (alternated with a lot of 21st century description of sex).  Now, in my humble opinion, this appears to be a worthy successor to the throne of the Queen of Regency.

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