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Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge

Georgette Heyer is the author of more than fifty novels, most of them Regency romances, for which she was justly famous. She also wrote a half dozen historical novels and twelve mysteries. She was known for her wit and historical accuracy. Even with a vast body of published works, very little is known about the personal life of Georgette Heyer, as she valued her privacy almost to the point of being reclusive. Based largely on interviews with close friends and family along with letters and journal entries documenting Heyer’s research, The Private World of Georgette Heyer brings to light the life of a woman as vibrant as the heroines she wrote. 

Obsessed with privacy, Heyer destroyed much of her correspondence, but Jane Aiken Hodge was granted access to Heyer’s  remaining papers and for the first time was able to interview many of Heyer’s family and friends, who shared insights on Heyer only those closest to her would be privy to. 

Using each of Heyer’s novels as a guidepost, Hodge examines the events of Heyer’s life that occurred during the writing of each novel, searching for the elusive influences that inspired her, treating fans to a glimpse into the mind of a most beloved author.   Through letters, photos, and interviews, Hodge reveals a the portrait of an early fashionista who possessed a quick, biting wit, an incredible sense of humor, and a  brilliant mind --a  woman ahead of her time and as captivating as the heroines readers have come to love.

My Thoughts:

Georgette Heyer was a very private person.  I don't believe she did any interviews, was not overly friendly with her publishers or agents, and spent most of her time furiously writing her stories or meticulously researching historical details.  Heyer does not seem like a warm and friendly person, but I think this stems from her upbringing.  She had a bit of a tough road and once she realized she could make money from her writing,  she immediately set herself to assist in supporting her family, both before and after she was married.
Heyer was a very intelligent and educated writer.  She was practically a historian, and although her romantic fiction books are infused with intrigue and love, I think those are merely side plots; a way for her to demonstrate her prowess at historical writing and showcase this world she created.  It is Heyer's world indeed since she spent so much time creating and maintaining it.  The notes that Heyer kept to ensure authenticity for her historical world are astounding.  Manners of dress, slang, food preparation, you name it Heyer had notes on it.  This makes me enjoy her books even more because I know what I am reading is accurate and painstakingly created.

However, for all the detail Heyer included in her stories, the details of her life are not as known.  Heyer was married, had a son, enjoyed visiting Scotland, and despised the taxman.  Heyer also didn't like those fans who read her books strictly for romance and adventure, even though those were the fans that made her famous.  A bit ironic.  No matter.  I don't care what you think Georgette, I love you anyway. Rest in peace my dear.

Jane Aiken Hodge read every one of Heyer's books (I think it's 57) and this autobiography is told through the context of each book's publishing story.  At first it is quite interesting, but after a time it bored me a bit.  The best thing this context did do for me, was further convince me that I must read all of Heyer's works before I die.  I think that is the only way one will ever get to know the real Georgette Heyer; through her works.  Her life was so private but she poured her soul into her work.  I feel that as readers, we owe her that much.  To read as many of her stories as we can since she was wonderful enough to create such an elaborate world for us to immerse ourselves.
My Rating: 85/100

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Genre: Biography
Trade paperback, 256 pages 
Book Source: Sourcebooks

Thanks to Danielle from Sourcebooks for my review copy.