80 years ago when a young Georgette Heyer sat down to write her first, and arguably the world’s first, Regency Romance: Regency Buck I like to think she knew exactly what she was doing. Anyone who puts as much attention to detail into her novels as she did has to have a master plan.
Maybe it was just a perfectionist desire to ‘get things right’ but nearly a century on her novels still define the genre which has grown far past those pages which make up Regency Buck. Georgette Heyer defined a genre in a way that no other author has since, she created a blueprint for the historical romance, a set of rules almost, that is still being adhered to today.
Of course, Heyer took her cues from that other grand name associated with Regency England; Jane Austen. But, where Jane looked at that world ensconced in the bubble of contemporaneity Georgette looked it through the crystal ball of hindsight. As an outsider describing an unfamiliar world she needed to observe quirks, trends and details that the insider has no need of.
The world crafted inside Jane Austen’s pages is that of an author familiar with its nuances and rhythms. As such, she has no need of the level of detail, the minute attention to dress, manners and turns of phrase that are the particular calling card of Georgette Heyer. Absent are mentions of sprig muslin and poke bonnets, with coats made by Weston and boots polished until they gleam. Heyer wrote for an audience unfamiliar with the Regency, for whom it was a time before all memory or familiarity. As a result her writing needed to come alive with the sights, sounds and tastes of the era she evoked.
I have often wondered what made her settle upon Regency England as her modus operandi. By the time Regency Buck was published in 1935 she was already an established author of 13 books, more than many will ever publish. Some of these were murder mysteries in a contemporary setting and the others were historical, mainly focused in Georgian England. However, the majority of the 38 books she would write after Regency Buck were all set in Regency England. Something of an interesting change of pace for an author who seemed to have shown a predilection for powdered wigs and lace ruffles!
The reason for this is, I believe, that in 1935 the Regency must have felt far enough in the past to be classed as history and yet recent enough that it still bore some vestiges of familiarity to readers. A time apart from ‘now’ and yet close enough that its inhabitants were not lost to a world entirely divorced from modern manners and associations. Were she beginning her career today, I am tempted to say that she would have written Downton Abbey, or some other drama set in the 1920s. For the same reasons as I have listed above- the 1920s holds a fascination for being so distant, yet close to us in 2015.
Whatever spark of genius it was that guided her pen towards Regency Romance, I am (and many authors, surely) entirely grateful for. The enduring popularity of the Regency as a setting for many beloved romance novels is, undoubtedly, down to Georgetter Heyer. I am even tempted to place her name above Jane Austen’s as the mother of Regency Romance, for perhaps without the desire for a Regency Romance, Jane Austen would be like other authors who wrote at the same time. Defoe, Johnston, Radcliffe, each is appreciated for his or her contribution to the literature of the long eighteenth century but none calls up such slavish devotion as Jane Austen and her Janeites. An interesting topic to explore another time perhaps!
Georgette Heyer finally got a Blue Plaque from English Heritage! A just reward for such an amazing author! Stephen Fry officially unveiled it!
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