For Christmas, I bought my mum the hard back copy of Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, about one of my all time favourite writers. My cunning plan was (obviously) to read it, but as this has proved tricky due to us not living in the same country I have had to resort to borrowing a copy from the library. I am now on my third renewal and not quite finished reading it yet as various other books have intervened. I may actually buy myself a copy since it is an excellent addition to my stash of literary biographies. I could see Georgette nestling in nicely next to Daphne; though I’m not sure what she would have made of Dolly Wilde.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey through Georgette Heyer’s extensive output and I feel inspired to do much re-reading. However, I will have to make do with the sole Heyer title residing on the landing bookshelves. This is an Orange Penguin edition of The Devil’s Cub (1954, originally published in 1932). The original price of this volume was 2/6 though I see from the inside cover that I paid £1.50 for it in 2001. It is still in good condition so it was money well spent despite the inflationary price.
This is a title that I have read and then re-read many times. It is possibly my favourite Heyer, though in truth it would be tricky to decide which of her forty-six titles is my favourite. I think I have read most of her books, barring only a couple of her contemporary novels that Heyer suppressed and that I have not yet managed to locate. I have a feeling that either I’ll need to be very lucky or very wealthy to get hold of them.
I wrote the short piece below about The Devil’s Cub a couple of years ago (I think) when I was inspired by reading a piece by journalist Rachel Cooke. Many people still tend to dismiss Georgette Heyer as just another romantic novelist without bothering to find out anything about her work. Some people even speak of her in the same breath as Barbara Cartland which is mystifying to a Heyer fan like me.
The Devil’s Cub Georgette Heyer
‘If you know, you know. If you don’t, you should stop being so stuck up, and read her, pronto’. This was journalist Rachel Cooke outing herself as a Heyer fan. It is, apparently not the done thing to admit a liking for Heyer’s books. I am however, willing to stand up and be counted as a fan alongside Cooke.
I first read The Devil’s Cub as a teenager and in retrospect, I can see that the ‘dark and extremely handsome’ hero appealed. However, in the end it was the wit, madcap adventures and sheer escapist fun that had me hooked on Heyer. The giggle out loud lines had as much (if not more) staying power than the romance. A lesson for life really. From Heyer I gained a lifelong love of comic fiction.
I also admired her heroines. Never passive, they were intelligent, capable, and calm in a crisis and certainly did not faint at the sight of blood. In this novel, a case of mistaken identity results in Mary Challoner being abducted by Lord Vidal for strictly dishonourable purposes. In the ensuing action, Miss Challoner shoots Vidal to thwart his intentions and then calmly dresses his wound. Next morning she makes him eat a nourishing gruel for breakfast.
‘I observe that the sight of blood don’t turn you queasy.’
‘I am not such a fool, sir’ Miss Challoner began to roll up his sleeve. ‘I fear the lace is ruined my lord. Am I hurting you?’
‘Not at all,’ said Vidal politely.
Heyer’s female protagonists were the equal of any man and commanded respect. Woe betides the man who underestimated them. It was about woman, not girl power and it was not necessarily the best-looking woman who won the beau. Of course, the novel ends happily but I think the great thing is that the story ends with a riotously comic scene and not a clichéd clinch. I would ove to be able to write comedy as well as Georgette Heyer could. It is a great gift. In addition, her elegant and precise use of language is something to which I have always aspired. Her grasp of historical details and Regency slang were second to none. She always made it look so easy.
Are there any more fans out there? Shout out if you’re a Heyer lover….
UPDATE – I’ve just discovered that the paperback edition of Jennifer Koestler’s book (published by Cornerstone) is due to be released on 20 June 2013. I may just treat myself!