16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I have a love of Georgette Heyer's Regency and Georgian novels that spans 45+ years. Her first book, The Black Moth, written when she was just 17, is easily 90 years old yet Heyer's language and characters don't get stale or dated like other old books. She was an incredible world builder. Heyer controlled her Regency world like Disney controlled his theme parks. Nothing of the Regency she didn't want ever made it into her fiction. But what did was totally, sparklingly genuine, historically accurate, and entirely absorbing.
Jennifer Kloester has done an amazing job in giving us an absorbing, real, comprehensive and engaging account of Georgette Heyer. In her time it was quite easy for Heyer to remain out of the public eye, so before this biography, there was very little known about her with the exception of Jane Aiken Hodge's biography.
Kloester lays out Heyer's life in such detail and shows us her personality and humanity, I was able to discern things that motivated her, and wonder about other things that weren't so clear. Her first "crush" was "Cappy" Pullein-Thompson, 16 years older than her, who married one of her few close friends. It seems to me he and her father, George Heyer, were the basis for her charismatic, older hero archetypes (These Old Shades, Regency Buck, Arabella, Frederica). Kloester takes the time to limn George Heyer and he leaps from the pages as an amazingly talented man of character who was well-liked, a brilliant teacher, poet, business manager and successful fund-raiser, and who was responsible for the formation of Georgette Heyer's mind, world view,independence, and for developing and encouraging both her brilliance and work ethic. But she says very little of Pullein-Thompson. The other archetype was her husband, Ronald: large, handsome, athletic, thoughtful, slow moving but quite smart (The Quiet Gentleman, The Unknown Ajax).
I read the book in one sitting. Heyer's letters were like other peoples conversations, and I loved her caustic relationship with "SB" who serialized her work in an American magazine. She was loyal to and could tolerate people who didn't necessarily work in her best interests, for example, Hodder who published her detective books, her accountant Ruben and others. She had a contentious and continuous struggle with her finances. We get to see which books she thought were her best and those she didn't. She thought a lot of Sylvester, and rightly so. You won't find a more exceptional lead paragraph anywhere. Yet she thought The Grand Sophy was fluff - go figure!
Lots of paradoxes too. The Heyer Regency world is a land-based economy. To be gentry, aristocracy, and nobility in Georgian and Regency England, you had to own land, your fortune and your social worth came from the land. People in her books who loaned money and made money from trade were the wrong people, always to be less than and held in contempt by the landed classes.
Yet neither Heyer nor any of her antecedents owned property. Every house she and her husband Ronald lived in was leased. She was maybe two generations removed from the trade class. Her maternal grandfather owned a tug-boat company, and her paternal grandfather, a Russian was in trade there, although in one generation family jumped from trade to academia. Both Heyer and Ronald Rougier had Russian ancestors, and Heyer's were quite probably Jewish immigrants escaping from pogroms, certainly not White Russians. Like most of her peers she was anti-Semitic.
Heyer didn't spring from the leisure class. Income came from work. She was an Edwardian-era middle class woman who grew up in a moderately privileged world with servants. She had very little formal schooling. Yet from her late teens, her writing provided a living for her, her husband and son, 2 brothers, and mother. Not until her husband became a barrister -- his third career -- was he able to significantly contribute. She was a shy person who loved to socialize with a small circle of friends. She held rigid class distinctions, and she kept deep emotions, like grief at her father's sudden death, to herself. She had to capacity to overwork, resulting in a nervous breakdown. And her writer's ego and insecurities just shine through.
She smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, loved cocktails, and later in her life intentionally used Dexedrine so she could write all night. Heyer was hounded by financial shortcomings most of her life despite an enormous literary output. Very decent advances and royalties were sucked up by taxes. And it was essential given Heyer's workload for her to have domestic help, including a governess for her son. She also had a certain standard of living to keep up. She appreciated quality but was not material.
It's lucky for us that the Rougier family and others opened their Heyer kimonos to Jennifer Kloester, and that she has done such a masterful job bringing Georgette Heyer to life. What a job it must have been to connect all the dots from so much source material!
However, there are some blank spaces I would love to have filled. A few of Heyer's earlier novels (The Great Roxhythe, Masqueraders, The Corinthian, etc.) have cross-dressing and homoerotic themes,and one she outright suppressed. Heyer could write affection, love, and growing love, but with few exceptions there were no sexual sparks to be found. I would love to know more of what Heyer's own sexual view was like.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
As a devoted Georgette Heyer fan, I was anxious to read this new biography, based in part on private papers that were made available for the first time. As a devoted fan, however, the biography did not add to my appreciation of Miss Heyer's writings. That's not Ms. Kloester's fault. Her book is obviously carefully researched, and it is well written. Moreover, it relies on actual evidence rather than on speculation.
The problem is Ms. Heyer herself. First, she was intensely and determinedly private, which limits the amount of information on her life that is available. The evidence that is available -- in abundance -- is correspondence with her publishers and with her agents. But what that provides is mostly a great deal of information about her progress with books, her relations with her publishers, and her financial affairs. Ms. Heyer's private life appeared only infrequently in these letters, and the record of her life that they do provide -- this book, that problem with a publisher, the other difficulty with the tax authorities -- is less than thrilling.
Second, Ms. Heyer does not seem to have had much emotional complexity, particularly as she aged; if she did she was stunningly sucessful at hiding it. The author cites singularly insensitive letters that Ms. Heyer wrote, and implies a lack of attention to her son. Ms. Heyer did fulfill family duties, but if she did so out of fondness rather than obligation, it's not obvious. She seems to have been narrow minded about anyone outside the British upper middle and upper classes, with Americans, Jews, her fans, poor people and other regrettable types coming in for criticism. That's consistent with her time and place, but it's still not likeable. She comes across as a self-centered and rather domineering person, in a very proper British way, of course, with some charm but not all that much.
I come to the conclusion that what Ms. Heyer cared most about was writing. That's how she spent her time, that's what controlled how much time she had available for other people, and that's what her life was about. As a biography, that doesn't make for fascinating reading, or for warm and fuzzy feelings about the biographee.
And that brings me to the final point. You don't have to like an artist to enjoy their work. Think of Picasso, Frank Lloyd Wright, Hemingway, and so many other really awful geniuses. Ms. Heyer wasn't an artist of their stature, but I do believe that she was a real artist. Also, she has given enormous numbers of people, including me, enormous pleasure. What price a nice personality?
Heyer fans, no matter much they are warned that she does not come across as a terrific person, will still lap this book up. As an accredited fan, I may now move on to the other recent biography, by Jane Hodge, seeking just a little more information ----