What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day—in a literary way—than to read an excellent romance? (Well, chocolate might go head-to-head with a romance novel. But it is February and, as usual, the momentum from holiday chocolate intake has resulted in somewhat of a chocolate addiction, so I’m doing a cleanse. Guess I should have waited a week to start it!)
One day about 15 years ago, I walked into Indigo bookstore and browsed the romance section. I’d become frustrated with constant disappointments in what were considered top quality romance, and before I quit reading that genre altogether, I decided to give it one last try. I asked the saleswoman if she could give me some suggestions, and she asked me who some of my favorite authors were. I listed several popular authors and classic authors, and she brought me to the “H” section where she introduced me to Georgette Heyer.
That first book was Cotillion, and it is still one of my favorites with its delightful characters, engaging plot and humor.
“Well aware that to bring the voice of sober reason to bear upon the exaggerations of agitated females was both fruitless and perilous, Freddy wisely let this pass…”
—Georgette Heyer, Cotillion
Miss Charing is animated, sweet, and driven to help others however she can. And Kitty, as she is called, will receive her guardian’s fortune if she marries one of his nephews.
Unfortunately, Kitty has her eyes set on the rake nephew, “rake” being short for “rakehell”, analogous in today’s language to a hell-raiser, who is in no mood to settle down. So Kitty persuades another nephew, Freddy Standen, to pretend to be engaged to her. Freddy is kind-hearted, says as little as possible, is hilariously understated with a dry, dry sense of humor, and never plans to marry.
Her plan is to make the rake jealous, and when he comes to his senses and proposes to her, she and her friend Freddy will break off their engagement. But of course things never go as planned. The action moves quickly and the dialogue keeps a smile on the reader’s face.
“You think I’ve got brains?’ he said, awed. ‘Not confusing me with Charlie?’
‘Charlie?’ uttered Miss Charing contemptuously. ‘I daresay he has book-learning, but you have—you have address, Freddy!’
‘Well, by Jove!’ said Mr Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself.”
—Georgette Heyer, Cotillion
After I’d read a few of Georgette Heyer’s books, and was looking for more, I found out that she’d written around 57 books! Many of them are in the genre called Regency romances whose settings are during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, approximately the time of British Regency. Having written over twenty-four of these between 1921 and 1972, Georgette Heyer is actually credited with establishing the genre, known as the “novel of manners.”
I browsed around the web and compiled my own list of her most beloved books, which I am still working through. Here is my list of books that I haven’t read yet, and am still looking for in the used book stores. They are ranked as some of her best, compiled from the various fan websites :
The Grand Sophy
(Okay, I’ll admit it, I carry this in my wallet!)
Cotillion was originally published in 1953, and was republished, as are many of Heyer’s books, thank goodness. I find most of her Regency romances equally humorous, full of intelligent, warm, witty heroes, and naïve yet determined and spirited heroines. What a breath of fresh air!
I give this an A+ and highly recommend it and her other Regency romances, which can be found just about anywhere, including many brick-and-mortar book stores and libraries, and the Internet Archive.
Painting “On the Threshold” by Edmund Leighton (1853–1922), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_On_the_Threshold.jpg
Cover and author images from www.librarything.com
(And the two valentines are straight from my elementary school scrapbook!)