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Thorough without being illuminating
on 26 April 2015
This is a thorough, well-documented account of the events of Georgette Heyer's life and of the circumstances in which she wrote her novels. Over a ten-year period the author had unlimited access to her papers and surviving family and friends, which accounts for the hundreds of people listed in the 'acknowledgements' section at the end of the book.
After ploughing through it all, I'm not sure how I feel: having worn the books to shreds over the last 50 years, will my attitude to them change now I've got to know and rather dislike the author?
Born in 1902 into one desperately aspirational middle-class family and then marrying into another, she was very much a woman of her time and class with some very fixed ideas about things like manners and entitlement. The many quotes from her letters don't show her in the best of lights, being mostly concerned with the deals she made with publishers and agents and the taxes she paid - extremely reluctantly - while living beyond her means. After a while it all gets rather repetitive, and I found myself skimming through some of it - weren't there any more letters that talked in depth about the books themselves, and the unforgettable characters she created? How much more interesting that would have been, and possibly more illuminating about the author.
By the end I felt that I'd learnt a lot about the circumstances of her life without getting to grips with the woman herself. Perhaps no book could do this: I suspect that even in her private letters she was putting on a public persona. I was left with the impression of an unfulfilled woman, chain-smoking her way through a book a year to placate her readers and earn enough money to support her lifestyle (and, to her credit, her feckless-sounding family), but never quite satisfied with the results.
Did she spurn publicity all her life because she was rather ashamed of her 'regency romances'? Ironically, of course, these, rather than the 'serious' but dull medieval novel she never completed, are the books that will endure.