The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge

 The Private World of Georgette Heyer  cover

I’m not what you would call a huge fan of Georgette Heyer but I have probably read and enjoyed around ten of her books and they are a bit more than just good comfort reads as Heyer put a massive amount of effort into researching the historical periods that she wrote about. She compiled books of Georgian/Regency slang, fashions and such, including cutting out illustrations from magazines and drawing different types of carriages and even coats of arms, so that she could describe them properly in her books.

While she was actually writing her books she was inclined to be her worst critic and often described the one she was engaged in writing in letters to friends as being a STINKER. But once it was completed her opinion often changed.

To begin with she appeared to be very different from most authors in that she seemed very normal and went out of her way to avoid publicity, never gave interviews or did anything to promote her books. Even her married name was kept from the public and she wanted nothing to do with any other writers. I often judge people by whether I would be happy to have them as a neighbour or not and to begin with I would have been more than happy to have Heyer as one, but as the book progressed my opinion changed.

For one thing when she was actually writing books she wrote well into the wee small hours. I doubt if many readers would have guessed that her book writing was fuelled by Dexedrine and gin. Yes she was apparently on speed! She and her husband were obviously the type of people who always lived beyond their means, despite the fact that they must have had a huge annual income between them. During the war they took out a lease on chambers in The Albany. I watched a TV programme about that place a few years ago and it is only the super wealthy who can afford to live there, it has always been a very salubrious address. They chose not to buy property and didn’t even employ a proper accountant which led to great difficulties with the Inland Revenue over the years – stupid beyond belief! She was one of those women that don’t like other women and she was quite open about her dislike of young girls.

I suspect that the trouble was that she and her husband were very keen social climbers and for them it was imperative to own a new Rolls Royce and other such fol-de-rols. Heyer had in fact financed her husband through his law degree and he did eventually go on to become a successful QC, but before that he had run a sports shop with his brother-in-law and spent his time re-stringing tennis racquets and such. They both came from rather lowly backgrounds but that seems to have been forgotten when Heyer in later years described other lawyers’ wives she had met as being not out of the same drawer as her!!

One heartening thing was that they both loved Scotland and habitually holidayed there, but she hated Ireland, in fact she said that she had never been the same woman since visiting Ireland!

She was a wonderful letter writer though and I imagine that a book of her letters would be very entertaining, she was very witty as you would expect from her books.

Heyer was dogged by ill health for years, particularly problems with her throat so I was astonished when towards the end of the book it was mentioned that she smoked between 60 and 80 cigarettes a day. Given that – the drugs and the booze it’s just amazing that she lived to the age of 72.

All in all this is a good read. Georgette Heyer was just quite a flawed and odd character, but then most writers are and I’ll continue to read her books from time to time.

3 thoughts on “The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge

  1. Fascinating about the background facts of Heyer’s life–thanks for sharing! I think most well-known, popular, and even the greatest artists of whatever craft often put the ART first and above and beyond every other aspect of life. Not all great writers, but many do. Some artists simply can’t live an ordinary healthy life and do their art, because their art would never get done unless they take extraordinary measures.

    I like writers and artists who are kindly to people who appreciate their work, but not all can do this, because of the extra energy it takes away from the pursuing the ART.

    A lot of food for thought in her life, I’d say.

    • Judith,
      I remember that quite recently somebody conducted research into the morals of people who were supposedly artistic in some way, and the upshot was that they all thought that any rules of society didn’t apply to them, because they were somehow exempt and above everyone else!!

      • Katrina,
        That seems right on to me, based on the artists’ and writers’ lives I’ve studied. I’m not sure that they truly think, “I’m above everybody else,” but their actions do give that message. But there is a cultural thing going back at least to 1600, that artists and savants and other brilliant creators live a “special, rarefied life.”

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