I tweeted a picture of all the Georgette Heyers in the house a couple of years ago.
I have considerably increased my stock since then.
These books come from a range of sources:
- A lot of them are old editions from the 50s and 60s that come from my parents’ house. Though I have already rescued many of these, there are still more.
- Some of them I bought myself before my parents’ copies became mine.
- Many of them came from a friend of my parents who handed them over before she died (a delightful woman, she was the aunt of a famous Cork actress and I often point to the Waterford Crystal bowl she – my parents’ friend – gave Mr. Waffle and me when we got married which sits on our mantelpiece any say to the children “Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia’s aunt gave that to us” to universal indifference).
- One was a really thoughtful present – a first edition given to me by a friend in Brussels many years ago.
- A further six (yes, six) hard cover first editions were given to me for my 50th birthday by one of my bookclubs.
So, I’m going to talk about them all and if you are not a Georgette Heyer fan, you’re probably best off turning away now. Like Stella Gibbons in “Cold Comfort Farm”, I’m going to asterix the ones I think are best.
** “Arabella” is a lovely not quite rags to riches story. It was one of my mother’s favourites and I am very fond of it myself. I love how Arabella’s family who largely don’t feature in the book are so elaborately and lovingly drawn in the first few chapters. There are some wonderful set pieces involving Arabella’s well developed sense of justice.
I am not a massive fan of “Bath Tangle”. I will read it, if I’ve read all the others too often but I find the heroine a pain which is never great. I have three copies of it all the same (one of them a first edition), just to be on the safe side.
“The Black Moth” is pretty dire. Famously, it’s her first book written when she was 18 to amuse her convalescent brother (I say famously as this is inside most of the books in the about the author bit, so only famously for a certain value of famously). As a rule, any of the books that features characters saying, “‘Pon rep” are not a good bet. Free tip for you right there.
“Black Sheep” is another one set in Bath and I just don’t seem to really go for Bath ones though they have given me an abiding wish to visit Bath, as yet unrealised.
“Charity Girl” is ok. The title character is a bit mawkish (as Georgette herself would say) but her con artist father is worth the price of admission.
**”A Civil Contract” is one of my own favourites. It’s about an avowed marriage of convenience and how the parties get on. There are some great characters including the hero’s first love who is hilariously dreadful and his mother who is unbearable.
“The Conqueror” is just dreadful and I retain it for completeness only. I read it many years ago and I can’t face re-reading. It’s historical, about William the Conqueror and unreadably awful. Worse even than “Beauvallet” which I haven’t read since I was a teenager.
“The Convenient Marriage” isn’t bad but not quite as good as it might be. It’s one of the few set almost entirely inside a marriage.
“The Corinthian” is not one I particularly like. Pen is an annoying heroine and acts her age which is, if I recall correctly, about 17. On the other hand, it is a regency romance, so that’s something.
**”Cotillion” is one of my favourites, possibly my favourite. The slightly gormless guy gets the girl and it is enjoyable and full of fun. The father of the hero is a consistently entertaining bit player and there are loads of great characters. A real ensemble effort with a great cast of characters. I have four copies including a first edition.
“Cousin Kate” has an over elaborate an slightly gothic plot line involving madness and murder which does not appeal to me but, you know, it’s grand.
“Devil’s Cub” is one of the few sequels she wrote (it’s a sequel to “These Old Shades” which was very popular). I don’t love it. I didn’t love “These Old Shades” and felt no particular joy in being reunited with these characters which is at least part of the charm. But I’ve re-read it. More than once.
**I love “False Colours”. I am beginning to realise, as I write this, that I like best the ones with a great ensemble cast. This one has that. It’s about twins who swap places and as well as the hero and heroine, whom I like, features an elderly dandy, a former mistress and a miserly uncle all of whom are quite funny.
“Faro’s Daughter” is alright. It features a rather annoying Irish sidekick who says “me darlin'” a lot and that tends to annoy.
*”Frederica” is a classic with loads of great characters. I find Frederica herself a bit irritating from time to time but overall it’s a lovely book.
*”Friday’s Child” is one I do quite like with some fantastically entertaining characters including the dastardly Sir Montagu Revesby who gets his comeuppance and cousin Ferdy who is dim but charming but I always had a reservation about this one because Sherry is always threatening to box Kitten’s ears (also very stupid nickname) and I am not sure the domestic violence trope has aged as well as it might.
**”The Foundling” is a favourite of mine – not really a romance, just a coming of age story about a charming if unsure hero. The romance is incidental. It features an inept but entertaining villain.
*”The Grand Sophy” is many people’s favourite Georgette Heyer and was mine until I made a college boyfriend read it. “It’s alright except for the anti-antisemitism in the middle,” he said. Once seen, cannot be unseen.
“Lady of Quality” is another dull Bath epic. Only alright, if you ask me.
**I reread “The Nonesuch” very recently but I can’t find my copy anywhere. Ominous. I thought I might never read it again. We had it in the cabinet in my mother’s nursing home and I used to read it to her when I visited. Partly for her, partly for me. We both loved the heiress Tiffany Wield; bold as brass and inclined to tantrums. I was so sad after my mother died that I thought I might never read it again but I did.
“Pistols for Two” is a book of short stories. They are pretty deftly done and a good introduction to her style. Some are better than others and the title story is probably the best.
“The Quiet Gentleman” features a practical and enjoyable heroine but the murder mystery aspect is not for me.
“Regency Buck” is only alright. I would not recommend it but I have read it a couple of times.
“The Reluctant Widow” has a special place in my affections as it’s the first Georgette Heyer book I ever read. It’s not very good but I was not, it appears, a very discerning 13 year old. I still remember my complete shock that the heroine marries the hero. “But she didn’t even like him,” I thought on my first introduction to a not uncommon romantic trope.
“Sprig Muslin” is a bit idiotic. It’s about a runaway who an older man protects which finally leads him to appreciate his fiancÃ©e’s true worth. Alright at best.
“Sylvester” is not for me, I fear. The hero has weird eyebrows and that’s probably the most interesting bit. The plot involves kidnap and is needlessly convoluted.
“The Talisman Ring” is set pre-Regency period and like anything of hers outside her best era, is poor. The heroine is deeply irritating.
“These Old Shades” is alright. I used to like it better when I was younger. It’s outside the Regency period and, as ever, these are just not as good, in my view.
“The Toll Gate” is another one that is more detective than romance but I have a bit of a soft spot for it as I have a lovely first edition and neither the hero nor heroine is irritating.
**”The Unknown Ajax” is such a favourite of mine. I have read it more times than I can say. It made me keen to visit Rye (it’s set nearby) which is, incidentally, well worth a visit. The hero is a delight, the heroine is great and all the bit characters are richly rewarding. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
*”Venetia” is reasonably good. The story is a bit unlikely but the heroine is engaging and things really pick up when her new sister-in-law and her mother turn up at the house.
I also re-read a fair bit of Terry Pratchett whose Discworld books I find appealing and undemanding which is ideal for a pandemic.
I listened to all the Harry Potter books on audio walking around the block at lunchtime. It was a lengthy commitment but I quite enjoyed it. I find some aspects of the books a bit disturbing now. I mean house elves and their weird speaking patterns and enjoying being enslaved? What exactly is that about?
I also re-read all the Hercule Poirot short stories. I must say, I thought they held up pretty well. A much better read than I remembered.
It’s not quite re-reading but Mr. Waffle got me a subscription to Slightly Foxed for my birthday which is a quarterly publication which has essays on older books which have fallen out of favour or are not widely known and I found it a real pleasure to read. Unlike the London Review of Books which was, frankly, anxiety inducing it’s undemanding and comes infrequently. I love it. They’ve also got a wonderful monthly podcast.
I gave up my intensive re-reading on my summer holidays. Probably for the best but the publications above took me through the early phases of the pandemic and I can only say that I am grateful for old favourites.