HEYER TODAY EPISODE 12: COTILLION

Transcribed by Jill Livingstone

Listen to this episode here: [link to be added: https://fablegazers.wordpress.com/binge-our-podcasts-now/]

Also available on any good podplayer, iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music.

SARA-MAE: Previously on Heyer Today.

JEN KLOESTER: In a way, the PhD was really a means to write Georgette Heyer’s Regency world. And having the imprimatur of the university meant that when I contacted people like Georgette’s son, Sir Richard Rougier of Jane Aiken Hodge, there was a reason, you know, as a research student at the University of Melbourne, it lent me a credibility that I may not have had otherwise.

And I just hugged that bag to my chest all the way back to London. I just couldn’t believe it. And, I tell you, if you had offered me the crown jewels, I would not have swapped them for that bag. I would have hung on to that bag, as if my life depended on it. I still have that bag, you know.

Look, she came from a very not tactile generation. You know, public displays of affection were certainly never going to happen. But I don’t know that she was particularly interested in sex that’s certainly been said to me in the course of my research, from people who had things said to them by Georgette Heyer.

SARA-MAE: Hello, and welcome to Heyer Today, season two of Fable Gazers podcasts. We’re spending this season exploring the life and work of Georgette Heyer, so if you haven’t listened from episode 1, do go back to the start, as we’ve had some cracking guests like Stephen Fry, and many more.

This is one of our fortnightly book club episodes in which we ignore Heyer fans and experts and try to convert Heyer virgins to her work. So far, I’ve got six converts out of eight victims …[cough] willing participants.

Who’ll be joining me today? What dastardly methods have I used to coerce them…. well, I’d have to be a nodcock with bats in my belfry to tell you wouldn’t I?

My lovely friend Jojo Thomas is a trained Co-Active coach, master hypnotist, writer, editor, speaker and public speaking trainer. Apart from all her other qualifications Jojo brushed off an English Lit degree to chat to me about this week’s book, Cotillion. Did I have to hypnotise her into it? Judge for yourself.

The other person who’s delved into the book with us was Aiden Truss. He’s a novelist and copywriter – and a lover of horror fiction, so, Regency romance is definitely not his milieu. But did I manage to win him over? You’ll have to wait and see….

As ever this episode is chock full of spoilers as we discuss the book in depth, so do read it first, it’s available on Naxos as an audio book if you’d like to treat yourself. But first, what was Heyer up to when she wrote the delightfully frothy Cotillion? Here’s Mike to fill us in:

MIKE: A cotillion (from the French for petticoat) is a dance for four couples. A courtly version of a country dance, interspersed with ‘changes’ – figures breaking out of the square formation.

What a perfect metaphor for the 1950s. It’s the beginning of a decade of exciting change – it’s like Britain is changing fast – from post-war monochrome to vivid colour.

For a start, in 1952 the country has a new monarch – Queen Elizabeth II – just 27 years old. Her coronation was the first to be broadcast to the world on TV.

The cinemas in the West End would have been showcasing fellow Albany resident Dame Edith Evans and Margaret Rutherford, at their scene-stealing best in the film version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

And just a bus ride away from Albany and Piccadilly, in 1953, scientist Rosalind Franklin is working at King’s College. She’s experimenting with high resolution photographic images that would eventually capture the structure of DNA.

But it wasn’t all English roses and Union Jack bunting….

In 1950 and 1951 the Mau Mau Rebellion declared a state of emergency in British ruled Kenya.

In 1952, Vallentine Mitchell Publishing releases the first UK version of The Diary of Anne Frank, from a manuscript kept by Anne’s father Otto, her family’s only Holocaust survivor.

In five days in December 1952, the Great London Smog kills around 4,000 people and makes thousands more ill, quite possibly also affecting Georgette who experienced persistent colds and flus around this time.

Rosalind Franklin’s lecture about her unpublished findings on DNA was seen by American biologist, James Watson and shared with English physicist, Francis Crick. They would eventually win the Nobel Prize for the discovery. (While Franklin’s work was acknowledged, unfortunately, she died before the end of the decade and the Nobel committee did not give out prizes posthumously.)

Also, Georgette’s beloved Fortnum & Mason’s was taken over by a Canadian following a boardroom coup!

The power of TV was on the rise – The Flower Pot Men and Sooty make their BBC TV debuts. Before TV really takes over, there is still radio and magazines – lots of magazines.

Perhaps because of the changing roles for women during and in the aftermath of war, the 1950s were the golden age of women’s magazines – when most women (83%) read at least one magazine a week. And of course, Georgette can be included in this readership herself.

As Heyer fans know, since the 1920s, the magazines had been a lifeline for Georgette, publishing short stories and serialisations. They provided a useful supplementary income on the same novels that were selling in the bookshops, and were a way of introducing new readers to the Heyer romance canon.

It was usually the romance titles that were popular. In fact, when Georgette offered up her latest mystery novel, Detection Unlimited in 1953, Dorothy Sutherland of Woman’s Journal was one of several editors who rejected it.

When her brother Boris announces his engagement in early 1952, Frere offers to advance her £3000 for Cotillion to help out. Instead, Georgette dashes off a batch of short stories as a way to fund the wedding reception.

These stories are published in Illustrated London News, Good Housekeeping, Everywoman, and the Woman’s Journal. (After the wedding, bills from her dentist and the tax man force her to call in the advance after all!)

In addition to the many British journals, there was also a US and colonial market in Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.

The times may indeed have been changing. Georgette – now in her 50s – must have felt the need to boost her potential readership pool, because she agrees to meet an Aussie journalist – former war correspondent and writer for women’s magazines, Coral Craig. They meet for an interview at Albany. It is Georgette’s first – and last – interview.

British literature in the 1950s is also going through a golden age with bestselling titles by Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, William Golding, JRR Tolkien, Iris Murdoch, Anthony Burgess, Ian Fleming, Kingsley Amis and Agatha Christie.

The literary and magazine worlds collide when Georgette attends a launch party for the New Windmill Press in Kingswood. A photo of Georgette, Frere and Pat Wallace is captured by Tatler magazine. At the party they meet writers and editors – including Arnold Gyde and Noel Baker.

Georgette is still Heinemann’s star, but appearing as Mrs Rougier she is perhaps not as instantly recognisable as her more famous nom de plume.

NARRRATOR: It’s June, 1952. Georgette is talking to Pat Wallace and Frere at a glittering party to celebrate the grand opening of the New Windmill Press in Kingswood. Somerset Maugham is to open it, and Georgette is present as one of Heinemann’s star authors. Tatler is taking snaps.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Miss Heyer! Over here please!

GEORGETTE: It’s Mrs Rougier, actually.

PHOTOGRAPHER:  Who’s she? Mr Maugham, Mr Maugham, over here!

PAT: Oh dear.

GEORGETTE: [Laughing] It seems Mrs Rougier isn’t of much interest to the huddled masses.

FRERE: Darling, I’m just going to go and slap a few backs – don’t flirt too much with all the famous writers.

NARRATOR: Frere pushes his way into the crowd, leaving the ladies by themselves.

PAT: Well? What do you think of all the glitz and glamour?

GEORGETTE: It’s a squeeze, isn’t it? I’m sweating commas and clauses.

PAT: Rather like one of your Regency Almack affairs.

GEORGETTE: Don’t you dare start spouting Corinthianisms. The last thing I want to do is bore on about my books – especially amongst so many authors. Really, Pat, I would have thought you’d know better, being married to a publisher!

PAT: I abase myself. So…?

GEORGETTE: Well, I haven’t forgotten that they rather dropped the ball on An Infamous Army. I handed them the best thing I’ve ever done. I put my whole heart into that book, and I expected my publishers to put some of theirs into its production. Ah, there’s Arnold Gyde, the head of editorial. He had the touching but misplaced confidence not to read Army, and he let some meddlesome and illiterate person take it upon himself to change my spelling and punctuation after I’d passed the proofs on for publication.

PAT: Scandalous! Oh, he’s caught my eye… he’s coming over here.

NARRATOR: Arnold Gyde approaches with Noel Baker.

ARNOLD: May I introduce you to Mr Black. This is Lady Jones, whose pen-name is Enid Bagnold. 

GEORGETTE: Well, I am not Enid Bagnold.

NOEL: Nor am I Mr Black.

ARNOLD: Oh, I say. [LAUGHS NERVOUSLY] I hope very much that you’ll put that down to mental exhaustion. It’s just that…uh…

NOEL: Mr Baker.

ARNOLD: Mr Noel Baker, of course! He said to me, ‘Who’s that fine-looking woman?’ and so I came over here to, er…that is, I must have confused him with Mr Black of The Daily Mail. I uh, oh do excuse me, I have to go and see to the er…

NARRATOR: Mr Gyde dashes off, flushing a bright cherry red.

GEORGETTE: Very nice to meet you, Mr Black.

 NOEL: And you too, Miss Bagnold.

[THERE’S A BEAT AND THEN ALL THREE, PAT, GEORGETTE AND NOEL LAUGH.]

MIKE: Today Tatler is very glossy and glamorous, and calls itself ‘the original social media’, but in June 1952, it was still mainly printed with its distinctive red masthead featuring the red-coated ‘man about town’ motif, and on plain (but high quality) newsprint.

Despite its early literary origins, by the 1950s, it was more busybody than bookish. I suspect that Georgette was secretly beaming to have made it to the famous ‘Bystander’ pages among the full-page ads for chic attainments and lifestyle aspirations.

Ironically, when you try to access the Tatler archive today, you are greeted with a pop-up advert for Find My Past DNA test – not something Rosalind Franklin could have anticipated.

Considering the times, making the pages of Tatler is an achievement. Let’s face it, London was becoming a city for the young – with curvy pretty girls in full multi petticoated frocks on the arms of angry young men.

And these hep cats needed a place to let loose – London’s coffee bar craze begins, and Frith Street in Soho is rechristened “Froth Street” due to the plethora of new coffee bars serving European style cappuccinos!

Georgette did not always appreciate the speed of social change, famously sputtering: “Oh Christ, why did I have to be born into this filthy age!”

When Cotillion is published in 1953, Georgette was 51.  Cotillion had an initial print run of 140,000 copies and was to become one of her most cherished novels.

Georgette knew, in Regency times, the uncertainty caused by the constant presence of war and revolution made dancing incredibly popular. She also proved adept at adjusting her step when the dance moves changed.

She’s a survivor and would continue to twirl on the dance floor with elegance and grace. After all, she’s only halfway through the song and ready to promenade into the second half of her writing career.

SARA-MAE: Now that you know what Heyer was up to while writing Cotillion, here’s our interview with Jojo and Aiden. I hope they’ll both love it as much as I do.

Hi, Jojo.

JOJO: Hi, Sara.

SARA-MAE: Welcome to Heyer Today.

JOJO: Thank you.

SARA-MAE: Can you tell me who you are?

JOJO: I’d love to tell you who I am. So, I’m Jojo Thomas. I’m a life coach and public speaking trainer. A long, long time ago, I did an English literature degree, and I’m a passionate book lover.

AIDEN: I’m Aiden Truss. I’m a 45-year-old copywriter. I work at the Royal Academy of Dance – that pays the rent, but in between that I write. I’ve had a novel published a couple of years ago Gape, which hasn’t bought a yacht yet, [laughs] so yes, I just try and fit in as much reading and writing as possible in between visits to the pub and the office.

SARA-MAE: Before I asked you to read any Georgette Heyer, had you ever encountered her before?

JOJO: Absolutely no clue who Georgette Heyer was.

SARA-MAE: And what would you say the genre that you’re kind of most comfortable writing in and also that you enjoy reading?

AIDEN: Well, I grew up as a big horror fan and when I set out to write my novel, I envisaged it as a fantasy horror, but it kind of evolved into fantasy, comic horror. I don’t actually read very much horror or fantasy. I’m more into factual books and art history and things like that. I don’t have a set genre. I like to kind of flit between genres and read a bit of everything. Everything except for Regency romance up until now. [laughs]

SARA-MAE: Uh oh, this doesn’t bode well for my converts tally. I’m guessing he’s not a fan of Austen. Never mind Heyer.

SARA-MAE: You missed that.

AIDEN: The closest I’ve read to that was probably Vanity Fair, which this book kind of reminded me of that sort of vibe, but yeah, I’ve gotten no further than that. Obviously Thackeray had a social point to make. I’m not sure this book did. I don’t think I’d wander into a bookshop and head for that particular section. It seems like it’s writing by women aimed at women.

SARA-MAE: That’s an interesting if rather sweeping statement. Funnily enough, I know loads of women who really love fantasy, myself included.

AIDEN: People I’ve discussed it with say yeah, I used to love Georgette Heyer when I was a teenager, I couldn’t get enough of it. You mention it to another guy, and get – who? It’s very similar with Jane Austen. It’s all part of the canon of English literature, but I must confess, I’ve seen a couple of screen adaptations, but never actually read her stuff. My wife reads her, she loves her stuff, not sure that she is actually aimed at me in any way.

SARA-MAE: Why do you think they’re sort of seen as being particularly aimed at women?

AIDEN: I assume it’s the escapist aspect of it. I’ve no data to back this up but I’ve always assumed that fantasy is…although Game of Thrones has probably changed that now… It’s always predominantly been a male genre and the same with science fiction. And that historical romance always seems to have been the purview of women.

And there were times when I was thinking – God this guy needs to grow a pair – I mean these women should be stronger. What’s going on? It’s an accomplished piece of writing that sometimes you read more as a historical document.

SARA-MAE: What were your sort of preconceptions? What were you expecting?

AIDEN: My reading voice in my head is normally my own voice. But the first chapter of this one I was a really bad Lady Bracknell.  What really struck me was the language – it kind of seemed a bit more historical, just because… I flatter myself I’ve got a fairly decent vocabulary, but I read the Kindle version, so luckily, I was able to highlight words, but even that floundered sometimes where it just couldn’t find some of these old slang terms, the first one I highlighted, they just had me roaring with laughter actually, where someone was accused of being ‘dicked in the nob’. [Laughs] A set of gudgeons. What’s a set of gudgeons? Another one I highlighted – ‘dashed bacon brained notion to take into your cockloft’. I thought what’s a cockloft? It’s very simple when you look it up, it’s part of the gable of a house or whatever.

But I think I spent two thirds of the novel actually going through looking things up. So in that way, it was a really good experience. She obviously did tireless research on the argot of the time, which I really appreciated.

SARA-MAE: Did you find as a writer that enjoyment of the language and did it give you any sort of inspiration to think about maybe phrasing things in your own work a little bit differently?

AIDEN:  No, I’m kind of a subscriber to the parsimonious style of writing of people like Hemingway, and if you can say it in fewer words, and less flowery language. I guess the fiction I tend to read is a bit more modern and a bit more edgy. Reading things like you know, DeLillo and people like that.

I really did struggle with the length of some of her sentences. It’s so prolix and ornate. Yeah, not for six chapters at bedtime. A chapter at bedtime. Hence finishing the book this morning, rather than last week, I had to take it in sort of small doses – I have the same problem with Dickens, who… I absolutely love his stuff.

But yeah, it’s kind of… you have to retrain your mind, get used to it all through the book, then you’re there. And then the best time to read another Dickens, of course, is after reading Dickens. I suspect it’s the same with Heyers.

SARA-MAE: You do enjoy them even more as you go along. She’s very famous for the humour that she uses. Did you get her humour?

AIDEN: I did. There were some nice ones and I sort of underlined another one of Freddy talking to Kitty at one point says that, ‘you’ve a deal more hair than wit’ and I thought – I totally saw that the way that they were always talking about their appearance. And is this the right shade? Is this the right material? It was such a preoccupation. And the thing is, he’s such a dandy himself. So yeah, there were bits that I just thought were very funny.

SARA-MAE: Were you by any chance wondering what Stephen Fry thought of Cotillion?

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, Cotillion is a great one, isn’t it? I love…

SARA-MAE: Freddy, Freddy Standen.

STEPHEN FRY: Is it Freddy? Yes. He’s a bit like Ferdy Fakenham isn’t he? Quite Wodehousian  but very, very honourable and likeable – quite a lot of ‘dash it’!

It’s an unusual one, it’s much less guessable as to who’s the hero is going to turn out to be in that sense which makes it very likeable. And it’s got a big family – what’s the name – Penicuik the Penicuik family, all ghastly.

JOJO: So, very quick precis of the plot and how it starts out is that your leading lady is an orphan, Kitty Charing, who has been sort of informally adopted by an old friend of her family who is your typical, grumpy, old, miserly character and he considers himself on death’s door. And he has a fortune, of course, and he wants to leave this fortune to Kitty but on the condition that she marries one of his great nephews. So, the premise right at the beginning is which one of the great nephews is Kitty going to choose? Indeed, if she chooses any of them.

SARA-MAE: Yes. Matthew Penicuik.

JOJO: Yeah, Penicuik. Its spelled ‘cuik’, but again I looked it up, but it’s Pennycook, apparently.

SARA-MAE: I’m glad one of us has done their research.

JOJO: According to Wikipedia.

SARA-MAE: Oh, dear Wikipedia pronunciation versus Stephen Fry. What do you think, is it [Penny-quick] or [Penny-cook]?

SARA-MAE: He’s a really irascible old man, isn’t he?

JOJO: That is exactly what you’d call him. He’s grumpy, he’s a little malign, you get the feeling that he really likes putting people’s backs up. You do occasionally get little flashes of humour coming from him. And I suppose you also have this sense that he must have some goodness to him to have raised this child as his own to have given her a home even though it hasn’t been a particularly happy home for her. He has looked after her.

SARA-MAE: And it is quite funny because they sort of imply that he was perhaps in love with her mother who is a French woman.

JOJO: The French woman! He thinks she (the mother) is probably the only beautiful woman that he’s ever really seen in his life. So yeah, there is that sense and there is a question quite quickly dispatched of whether or not he might in fact be the father of Kitty. But the sense is that actually, that’s not the case, it’s just a rumour that’s gone round.

SARA-MAE: The French link comes back into play in the novel, doesn’t it?

JOJO: It does, indeed, later on we meet the Chevalier d’Evron.

SARA-MAE: Ooh la la! Isn’t Jojo’s French accent good?

JOJO: Who is Kitty’s French cousin, and he appears and he plays the role of one of these dancers in the cotillion. He’s very dashing and you do wonder right at the beginning if he is going to be a….

SARA-MAE:  Contender.

JOJO: Yes, is he a love interest for Kitty? She holds him in very high esteem.

SARA-MAE: She also does because he’s one of the few family that she has really. We find out late in the novel, that’s a bit of a thing with her because she’s sort of always had to feel beholden to this grumpy, great uncle and he’s really begrudged every penny [to] poor old Fishguard who’s her governess…

JOJO: Yeah, old Fish.

SARA-MAE: I loved her.

AIDEN: Initially, I thought it was quite a stilted thing but then as you get to read more into the characters, and Fish, she’s absent for most of it. But every time you hear of her, she makes you giggle.

SARA-MAE: She’s always quoting from these Romantic poets that she adores. And has filled Kitty’s head a little bit with this romanticism, which spurs the plot on.

JOJO: It really does. And what you’re saying about family is so important. So, Kitty is really alone in the world. She doesn’t feel connected to anyone really. She calls these boys, the great nephews of Matthew Penicuik, her cousins, but really, they’re not. She doesn’t have any blood ties until the Chevalier d’Evron shows up – Camille.

SARA-MAE: I suppose we should introduce the suitors for her hand. We’ve got Lord Dolphinton….

JOJO:  Dolph.

SARA-MAE: Who plays a massive role.

JOJO: Yes. So, one of her second cousins, he’s a sort of hard-up Irish peer. And really what Dolph wants to do is go and breed horses on his Irish estate. He’s not a great communicator. He’s very, very frightened of his mother. She’s a bully, and she’s constantly trying to make him do things that he doesn’t want to do. But he is a dolt.

SARA-MAE: So, we have Lord Dolphinton, who’s clearly not in any way a legitimate suitor, but he even says that he’s been kind of coerced into coming along.

JOJO: Oh, he’s the first to propose, you get your first proposal in the book within about 10 pages.  And he makes it very clear that he’s offering for her because his mother’s told him to and he looks absolutely petrified that she might say yes. And he’s so relieved when she says, ‘don’t worry, Dolph, no intention of accepting you at all’.

SARA-MAE: But it’s a really funny interaction between the cousins because I mean, there’s a bit of Basil Expositioning going on where they’re talking about who is and isn’t there. And Jack Westruther is who they all thought had Kitty’s affections already. And so everyone’s kind of thinking, where’s Jack? Why isn’t he here? So, you’re really introduced – oh, maybe this guy’s the hero.

JOJO: Absolutely. So, the first people that you have in the house are Dolph. You have Lord Biddenden, George and his brother, Hugh.

George is married. And Dolph makes a very big point of saying that he wasn’t invited, which in fact, he wasn’t. So maybe Dolph’s not as stupid as he looks. So actually, in the room, you have three people, George, Dolph and Hugh. And Hugh is a rector and very stiff, very proper. And Hugh also offers for Kitty.  He doesn’t really care about the money, but – I will marry her because she needs somebody to show her the ways of the world and look after her and she’ll be a very upright young lady under my tutelage – which of course, Kitty is totally unwilling to do.

My actual first impression of the book was one of frustration. Because there were only three people in the room. It shouldn’t have been that complicated. But Heyer keeps flipping between their first names and their second names. And they’re talking about people, flipping between first names and second names as well. And I had no clue what was going on for the first three or four pages. I was – who are these people? Who are they talking about? I’m utterly lost. So my first impression was, I don’t think I’m going to like this book because it feels like a mess. It’s nothing to the way Austen so elegantly lays out who you’re looking at and talking to in very simple terms.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, no, I get that. I’ve read it many times. So, it was a bit easier for me to slip into that. If they’re a lord, they have a separate name. So, for example, Lord Biddenden is George Rattray, brother to Reverend Hugh Rattray, but then he’s called Lord Biddenden. And I agree with you actually, the first chapter for me is not the greatest of her introductory chapters. But once the action kicks off, once we meet Freddy really….

JOJO: Let’s go to Freddy. So Freddy is another of the great nephews. Indeed, it transpired he’s also been invited to this great event, at which Kitty is going to bestow her hand theoretically, but he’s running a bit late because he really dithered about whether to come or not.  He wasn’t going to come because he doesn’t really like being summonsed in that way. Also, Freddy is of absolutely independent fortune, his father’s very wealthy. He doesn’t need any of Uncle Matthew’s money, not that he knows what the summons is for. So, he just has this random summons and he thinks – I’ve got better things to do than this. I’m not going to go.

But then he bumped into a couple of people, which again, you discover later who slightly goad him in different ways into going. And I think one of the people he met is Dolph’s mother, who evinces absolute delight that he’s not going which of course makes him want to go. But he’s running late and he’s stopped at the inn for a drink and something to eat basically. So he stopped at the inn just outside Arnside, which is the property where, Uncle Matthew and Kitty and Fish live and he’s just relaxing in the salon, there’s a nice roaring fire, the innkeeper’s looking after him and who should bundle in but Kitty.

Kitty is running away. Now she’s running away for a couple of reasons. On one level, she’s horrified by what’s happened and these awful proposals from Dolph and Hugh and she’s feeling like – why should I be chattel in this way? I’m not property.  But actually, she’s really sore because the person that she is in love with, Jack, the other cousin, hasn’t shown up. She feels abandoned, forsaken by him. So, she decides to run away. She’s put no thought into this at all. And she’s got literally 10 to 15 minutes outside of the house, and she stopped at the pub, basically because she didn’t know what to do. And who should she run into but Freddy. And she’s furious with Freddy.

They’ve always had a nice cousin-like relationship and she’s like – what the heck are you doing here? Surely you didn’t come to propose marriage to me – that is atrocious. I thought better of you. I thought you were a better person. You don’t need the money. Why would you do this?

Freddy of course, had no idea, absolutely baffled.  Good God Kit, you know, what can you be thinking? Of course I didn’t do that. At which point she immediately goes – oh, thank God! Fine, I’ll sit down and think what I’m going to do because really, I’ve run away from the house without thought. Everyone thinks I’m upstairs in my bedroom. And actually, I have no idea what to do. She proposes becoming a housekeeper or a chambermaid, which obviously Freddy finds laughable because she’s been brought up to do nothing much.

AIDEN: She was considering all these domestic roles she might be able to take on just to look after herself, which kind of seems retrospectively progressive. I mean, I’m saying somebody was writing in the 50s about the 18th or 19th century. Again, it just adds to Kitty being this more well-rounded, fleshed out character.

SARA-MAE: As Hugh points out to her, she isn’t very accomplished either which I didn’t think was particularly tactful of him.

JOJO: Hugh is not a tactful gentleman at all. Of course, the problem is Fish, who’s this nanny, who’s the companion who’s been employed to look after Kitty most of her childhood. She loves this poetry and she spouts it left, right and centre but she’s probably not very good at anything else. You know, she hasn’t taught her French and Italian and Latin and her sewing’s not up to much, her pianoforte playing’s not up too much. She’s not an accomplished young lady, particularly.

SARA-MAE: Except when it comes to remembering quotes from poems.

JOJO: Well, Fish is very good at doling out quotes from poems at all occasions, much to everyone else’s sort of horror.

SARA-MAE: What was your first impression of Freddy?

AIDEN: He does come across as the most human character. He’s not the most eloquent.

JOJO: Charming, not the sharpest tool in the box again, so not Dolph levels, but, just a lad about town quite happy in himself. He uses an awful lot of slang. And this was my other struggle with the book. Having not read any Heyer before and in fact, not that much Regency romance. The slang was shooting over my head, I had to keep looking things up. And there are some passages in the book where I was – just let this page wash over you Jojo, because you’ve got no idea.  Every other word is something I haven’t heard of. So, he’s a lad about town, he’s obviously in with the fashionable folk. He seems pleasant. Not really much of a care in the world. Not a very deep character, that’s probably your first impression.

SARA-MAE: Yes, he’s very amiable and kind is the word really and what Kitty grows to really like about him, as opposed to the other people in her life, who are patronizing, who are kind of telling her what she should and shouldn’t do… He’s not really like that. And she manages to steamroll him into this quite ill-conceived plan to help her to get to London. She realises that that’s the best thing for her. If she can go to London, she can maybe have at least one month of fun. And you know, ‘who knows what might happen in a month’, she actually says to him. And he’s very reluctant at first. I mean, he is someone who is very concerned about his clothes. And the first time I read it, I very much wrote him off as a fribble.

JOJO: Yeah, I mean, I didn’t know much about Regency romance. But of course, the character read from the modern day, I’m like, well, he’s gay. She’s painting this picture of someone who’s absolutely – one of the first things you see about him is that he gets distracted by – is his buttonhole slightly off centre? Or, has he got some water on his face from the rainy journey he just took? He gets distracted by his appearance, very much and he’s really into fashion. He’s got this incredible eye for colour. And he’s constantly advising people how to dress. If you’re reading that in the modern day you’d think well this is a bit of a stereotype of a homosexual man. So, you think that he’s a bit player.

But Kitty who’s the absolute queen of ill-conceived plans thinks – aha! right, here’s Freddy. He doesn’t want to marry me, great. I don’t want to marry him either. But he does have an independent fortune. He does have a family in London. He’s got access to all the places.  

Kitty is desperate to see something of the world, to experience parties. She’s dressed in very dowdy clothes, that’s all that gets made for her. She hasn’t got anything pretty or bright and no adornments apart from some topaz jewellery that was left to her by her mother. 

And she wants to get out there and see the sights and the bright lights and enjoy herself and she thinks – right, Freddy. ‘What if we just said we were engaged, just for long enough for me to have a month in London? Meet, or remeet your family and enjoy myself? And then I don’t know what we’ll do, but we’ll sort it out. And Freddy says no, absolutely not, old girl. Not going to happen, not going to happen. And then the innkeeper who’s just trying to eavesdrop on the conversation, comes in with a massive bowl of hot punch. They both have two or three cups of warming rum punch and get a little bit drunk. I mean, there are so many words for slightly tipsy in the vocab. And I can’t remember any of them right now. They’re quite funny.

 SARA-MAE: ‘A trifle disguised’.

JOJO: Yes, disguised, right. But he says no, she starts crying and the next thing you know he’s agreed.

SARA-MAE: So Kitty goes back to Arnside, Freddy proposes, and they sort out the intricacies of getting her to London.

SARA-MAE: So, let’s cut to London. He fully enters into her feelings when she talks about why she wouldn’t marry of the three that were there, obviously the only potential one was Hugh and he’s so ‘saintly’, she says in a really disgusted tone. Indeed, you don’t really want that for her to have never seen the world to just settle into life with Hugh. And so, she arrives in London, because they’re foisting her… without having told his parents that she’s coming… It turns out that there’s some kids that have measles, and the upshot is she can’t stay there. So, Freddy, surprising his father, who’s a great character… I don’t know if you enjoyed his character?

JOJO: I very much enjoyed the father and I enjoyed the father’s enjoyment of Freddy. So, Freddy is slightly written off by his father as not the bright one. They’ve got a younger son Charlie, who’s at Oxford, but Freddy’s considered a bit of an airhead by his father. But his father’s quite indulgent and a very nice, caring sort of a father, but doesn’t think much of Freddy’s intellect, and really enjoys watching Freddy problem solve, which he in fact, divulges a bit of a talent for. He keeps saying – ‘I’m sure I’ll think of a way’ and then sure enough, he thinks of a way.

So, Freddy’s sister, Meg, is married to Lord Buckhaven who’s gone off to China (of all places) on some sort of tour. They’ve only been married a year. Meg is pregnant and her odious mother-in-law is demanding that she come down and stay with her in the country while Lord Buckhaven’s away, for propriety’s sake. She probably knows that Meg is a little bit of a girl about town. She’s also really into fashion. She likes to have a good time, she’s not demure. Of course, Meg’s pregnant, she can’t go and stay at her parents’ house because of the measles.

So poor Meg is about to be foisted back off to the country and Freddy is – ‘aha! what we’ll do is we’ll install my fiancée’, although they don’t announce the engagement in the Gazette which is where it should in fact properly be announced. They don’t announce it there because of the measles. And also obviously, because they’re not really engaged. Propriety is covered, measles not a problem. They’ll be fine. Sure enough – great solution for everyone.

So, Kitty, having arrived and then being horrified finding the house in sickness, is then moved across to Meg’s house which is very comfortable and very nice. ‘Yes, I’ve got my month in London!’  And by the way, she doesn’t just want to see the sights, her secret plan is to show Jack Westruther that she’s engaged to Freddy, make him jealous, have him come and propose to her.

SARA-MAE: In her innocence… because she is an innocent. She’s not a scheming minx by any means.

JOJO: No, no, no, she’s formed a very real attachment to Jack. You know, it’s never absolutely revealed what’s been said between them, but for sure he encouraged her affections.

SARA-MAE: I like the fact that we got to see the different people’s perspectives. Which, actually you don’t get so much in Austen. You know, you certainly don’t get the male perspective as much.

JOJO: At all, I don’t think you get it at all.

SARA-MAE: And Jack, it turns out, was deeply offended and annoyed by the summary demand that he come down to Arnside. And so, he deliberately didn’t go down out of pride.

JOJO: And also because he’s so absolutely full of himself, that he feels totally safe in Kitty’s affection. He’s sure she won’t marry anybody else. Heyer gives us this internal monologue where he says he always intends to eventually make Kitty his wife.

So, what’s really interesting here is, when you first meet the idea of Jack, you assume that he is the romantic interest of the book. And personally, if I was writing a book like that, I might have tried to keep that going a little bit longer. So, if you think of Wickham, or Willoughby in Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, there’s a good old chunk of time where we think that is a believable hero love interest for our female character. With Jack, it takes all of one meeting with him before you go – no way in hell. I mean, he’s a jerk, he’s unkind, he likes taking the mickey out of people, he’s entitled…

SARA-MAE: It’s funny that you say that though because I think, having read maybe more of her books, she certainly has a certain type of hero, who could be seen as this kind of ‘bad boy’. And then gradually he changes over the book, through the love of a good woman. Is, if not reformed… because Heyer has a lot of time and affection for these bad boy characters. So, there’s characteristics that aren’t as charming as the other rakes.

JOJO: Maybe if I’d read other Heyer books beforehand, I might have had more of a sense of – oh, what’s his journey of redemption going to be? But as it was, I went – he’s a jerk, nah, yeah, no thanks. But I guess that leaves space for your head to go – right, so who is a love interest? Is it going to be Camille the Chevalier d’Evron? Is it going to be somebody else that we haven’t met yet? Who is going to come in and whisk Kitty up and transform her life, which is, of course what we’re yearning for when we’re reading this book.

SARA-MAE: What I loved in the book was Freddy’s journey, because he starts off, as we said, as this complete fribble that you sort of write off, you know, he’s very sort of self aware in the sense that he’s always talking about how he’s not the bright one and whatever. But through the course of the book, through all the scrapes that Kitty pulls him into, he comes up with these very ingenious and practical ways of subverting the problems that face them, and overcoming the obstacles, which is really lovely to see, particularly when you see him in exchanges with Jack, who is the sexy one, who is the one that all the women want, and who’s convinced that he’s got Kitty in the bag.

And, as you say, it’s surprising that Heyer allows us to see him thinking that because it is so off putting. Like there’s a moment where he  says he prefers the idea of her staying in that village like a sleeping beauty.

JOJO: That’s it.

SARA-MAE:  Which is so awful when you think about it.

JOJO: Yes, he wants the little woman at home. He sets up mistresses around town. He pays for women to have a very nice life and not be his wife but be there at his beck and call.

SARA-MAE: This reminds me of our British Podcast Award winning season 1: The Sugar Baby Confessionals. If you’re over 18 do give that a listen. It’s all about modern-day mistresses and it’s much naughtier than this one, so approach with caution…

JOJO: And he would like his virtuous, plain dressing, meek, mild Kitty sat at home waiting for him. And that is probably the life he would have given her. If he’d shown up that day to Uncle Matthew’s summons, that’s the life she would have had, she wouldn’t have been allowed to go anywhere. She would have been left there locked up in Arnside as the ‘sleeping beauty’.

SARA-MAE: Of course, he still thinks as soon as soon as Kitty and Freddy are going around town and Freddy’s doing his duty by Kitty… he really takes it seriously, which is very sweet… You gradually realise that he’s got this gentility of character where he goes to great shifts to protect Kitty from lots of different types of knowledge, like the knowledge of certain things that would hurt her. She befriends this lovely young woman just randomly…

[SOUND OF BAZAAR]

JOJO: She sees Olivia, a very pretty young, blonde lady at the bazaar where she’s encouraged Meg to come because Meg goes and shops at all the most exclusive boutiques, but Kitty gets a shock as soon as the price of the first dress is revealed and says we must try somewhere cheaper. So off they go. Olivia is at the bazaar with her again, horrible mother. There’s a few of those.

SARA-MAE: She’s very vulgar, isn’t she?

JOJO: Very vulgar. She’s trying to get her pretty daughter married off, or indeed not married off, to the wealthiest suitor, to the highest offer. And you get the sense that this is… it’s quite shocking, actually. That she would quite gladly pimp her daughter out. If someone offers lots of money for Olivia to be a mistress, she’ll take the highest bidder. And that’s pretty grim.

Kitty has a very sweet, kind heart and she wants to help people. She spots Olivia being browbeaten and bullied by her mother. She casually befriends her, to Meg’s horror because these people are significantly below the social standing.  But of course, it’s a bit too late now, Kitty’s made friends with Olivia.

Olivia shows up at the house a few days later, although without the mother who had the good sense to know she wouldn’t be welcome and, so develops a friendship and Olivia is one of the people that Kitty wants to help, [she] wants to help get her out of the situation she’s in and solve the problem.

SARA-MAE: Yes, it reminds me a little bit of Emma, you know, in the relationship between Emma and… what’s the name of the lady?

JOJO: Oh, the sweet little red head that falls in love with the reverend briefly.

SARA-MAE: Harriet Smith is the name of the character we’re racking our brains to remember.

She just wants to help this young woman. She just seems so sweet… and she is sweet. But it turns out later that it causes a lot more problems than she thinks because she is, in fact, the target of several men about town, including Jack, you gather later on, who have their eye on her as their next mistress because she’s so pretty. And you also find out that, in fact, her mother may have been a ‘prime article’ as they’re described, in her youth in Covent Garden, which is why she doesn’t mind the idea of…

JOJO: Having a daughter set up in the same way. So, Olivia, she’s the object of affection of a creepy old Lord, who’s going to theoretically offer for her and then indeed does offer for her – Sir Henry Gosford.  At some point they meet Sir Henry Gosford out in the gardens. Olivia and Kitty are taking a walk and Olivia is talking about how difficult it is and how her mother wants her to get married off. And then Henry Gosford shows up and they have this horrible creepy walk where they can’t avoid him.

SARA-MAE: I like the fact that when he’s talking about how he’s completely disconcerted, he says – ‘Ah, Amaryllis and her attendant nymph!’

JOJO: And Kitty, who knows all the quotes in the world can correct him on his use of that piece of literature.

SARA-MAE: And that is what draws his attention to her. Only to find this very clear-gazed young woman, not one of the vulgar people that Olivia is normally with, who would sort of ‘wink wink’, let him walk alone with Olivia. Instead, he’s got Kitty clinging like a burr to Olivia to protect her from having to spend time with him, because he kind of foists himself on them and tells him he will give them his company. And I just like the way… there was a moment where he thought – could she tell that he was wearing corsets?

JOJO: That’s right, yes, he’s suddenly like somebody is seeing the rot beneath the surface. The corsets and the powder on the face and actually the old, ugly person that he is inside.

Kitty is the queen of ill-conceived plans, but she has spirit. Actually, when it comes to it, she won’t stand for certain things. Even though she gets in a muddle and flustered and makes mistakes. There’s no way in hell she’s leaving Olivia alone with this creep. And that is something that I came to really admire about her. For all that she’s been brought up without access to society and a really clear idea of how she could be in the world, she’s got a strong moral compass inside that means she’s not going to marry someone just for the money and she’s not going to leave her friend to the wolves in that way. And that’s really cool.

SARA-MAE: It is lovely because, not only does she have innocent good intentions, she’s not a snob. There’s several moments where she befriends people that she really, really shouldn’t. In fact, she’s advised against when she helps Lord Dolphinton with his little love affair, which we discover later on.  He’s fallen in love with a very, very plebeian woman who is just very nice, very practical, who would suit Dolph down to the ground. And she doesn’t stoop to visiting her and helping them, offering her assistance, even though she doesn’t think it through enough. And Freddy has to help her and often extricate her from these situations.

JOJO: Absolutely. She hasn’t been enough in the world to have learned that society has a hierarchy and that she has a place in it, which she should respect. Which is why at the beginning, she’s like, ‘well, I could be a housekeeper, I could be a chambermaid’. She doesn’t see any shame in that work and she doesn’t see any shame in Olivia, you know although she’s not of a family or born and bred in the same way. She does start to realise the differences and… what is right and what is not right.

So, for example, Hannah, who is the love interest of Dolph and as you just explained, is quite a practical, not a beautiful lady. She’s quite a simple person. She’s smart, she’s set and she is not romantic. She cares for Dolph and she can see a very happy life for them. She feels like she’ll look after him. So, she is someone from a different social class who is portrayed as a totally good, honest, kind, sensible person.

And then you’ve got all of the family surrounding Olivia.

SARA-MAE: What are they called? The Scrotons? The Scortons. [Laughs]

JOJO: Yeah, the Scortons. I’m pretty sure I read it as Scrotons all the way through!  The Scortons.

SARA-MAE: The thing that was lovely was Kitty learning that there’s society’s rules and whatever. But also, it’s not like they’re saying you should be a snob or something. Because in actual fact, if not for her interventions… yes, she does need to be extricated and helped out of them because of her lack of street smarts or worldliness. If not for her taking these steps, there would have been really bad outcomes for all of the people – Olivia, Dolph – it’s really a combination of her good intentions, innocent and ill-conceived as they are, and Freddy’s practicality in helping her to navigate the world that they find themselves in. He has a lot of street smarts as well. Like he has a lot of knowledge about how society works. So, you gradually realise he’s not just this really kind of… unthinking person. He’s very knowledgeable about what will make her life easier, what won’t… and I think that’s quite a nice combination. She often apologises for getting herself into these scrapes because she didn’t listen to certain advice she was given…

JOJO: Yes, I know exactly what you mean. And it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because we were talking about Emma just a second ago and all of Emma’s attempts at matchmaking are slightly disastrous. And they don’t end up the way they were supposed to. Whereas actually, you’re right. The things that Kitty does, even though she goes about them in a thoughtless way, have positive impacts for the people that we want to see positive impacts on.

And I suppose I don’t know how much of this is in the text or how much it’s something that I want for myself and something that therefore I’m interpreting – Freddy, he comes to see a lot of value in Kitty’s just raw heart and the fact that she wants to help people. So even though he’s practical, and he does see the social separation, and what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in inverted commas, and to do things that maybe wouldn’t be considered proper by society – I hope that he comes away with a sense of, well, there’s some goodness in what she’s doing, even if she’s doing it in a crazy way and I think that’s why they make such an interesting pair.

SARA-MAE: I love how we’re talking about them as though they’re real people. For me, that’s a true sign of a book coming to life.

SARA-MAE: No, completely. If she hadn’t come into his life, he would have gone on living this very facile… he described himself as not being ‘in the petticoat line’. She really makes him change, she makes him reach into himself and discover these depths which constantly amaze his father. I mean, you see the father throughout, popping up… and every time he encounters Freddy, you know Freddy’s got some new problem – but ‘don’t worry, Dad’, you know, kind of thing. He’s going to solve them.

JOJO: ‘Bound to think of something’.

SARA-MAE: Yeah. And it’s really funny because his dad is actually more like one of the heroes in the rest of her books… this kind, but quite sardonic, very clever person. And you can tell that he’s never really anticipated his oldest son having these depths and that’s quite sweet to see their relationship changing as well.

JOJO: It’s lovely. We’ve maybe written Freddy off at the beginning and that’s what his dad has done as well. And, he’s done. And,  as everyone stops writing Freddy off or starts to notice that he’s got more depth, so do we, as the reader start to feel that.

SARA-MAE: We do have the Chevalier come into the scene and actually where we left her and Olivia, she’s met the Chevalier a few times. He’s very urbane, he’s very suave. He’s got this allure of the French aristocrat.

JOJO: So, the Chevalier is in attendance to a wealthy widow, who is again, you know, caricatured.

SARA-MAE: The picture that they paint of her is not very appealing.

JOJO: No, and we first see them at the opera and she comes in and she’s with an attendant sister who’s scrawny and tall, so you’ve sort of got a dumpy one and a big skinny one come in, and it’s not a charming picture.  And there is Camille in attendance and of course, the supposition of the society [at large] is that he is courting her in order to secure a fortune. It is Jack who reintroduces the Chevalier to Kitty. And she’s very thankful to him for that and she thinks he’s doing it out of some sense of real care for her and, you know, bringing her this family connection, but actually Jack just likes throwing the cat among the pigeons. He knows the Chevalier is a gambler.

SARA-MAE: He’s a bit of a pretender. His aristocratic…

JOJO: It’s all a bit vague, you know, who is the family? Where are the blue bloods? Are they there at all? And indeed, at Freddy’s request, Freddy’s father goes off to see if he can find out what the provenance is. What’s the story? Who is this family?

But Jack actually, what he’s doing is, he wants to see what happens. He’s enjoying watching Kitty in this world. Jack knows right from the beginning that the betrothal between Kitty and Freddy is fake. He just knows because he is so confident in Kitty’s adoration of him. So, he likes seeing what chaos he can cause, he enjoys the teasing. He enjoys setting people up to fail.

SARA-MAE: And perhaps he thinks she might fall in love with the Chevalier and that will punish Freddy. The fact that Freddy is even attempting to pull the wool over his eyes – Jack’s eyes – when Jack is so much his superior in every way. And it’s nice seeing Freddy get little moments of one-upmanship on him because I mean, Freddy is so unconcerned with being one up, he genuinely doesn’t care. He knows Jack is trying to tweak him. No, that’s the lovely quality that he has. He really doesn’t give a damn about being seen as ‘better than’ or whatever. He just wants to get on with his life…

JOJO: Yeah, in the nicest clothes possible.

SARA-MAE: Exactly.

JOJO: To look as good as he can.

SARA-MAE: And help Kitty. He sees it as his responsibility to steer her through the shoals of high society. So that’s one thing that Jack’s done to cause a rift. But it doesn’t really cause a rift because she’s so innocent. Although yeah, there is a chance… I was thinking maybe the Chevalier will be the one because he’s a very charming, handsome young man. He’s got a sense of fun about him…

JOJO: He also seems kind. He seems to know himself quite well. You definitely feel warm towards him straightaway.

SARA-MAE: Yeah. And then he comes to her and Olivia’s rescue in the park.

JOJO: That’s it. So, they’re walking with the creepy old Lord, who Kitty has steadfastly refused to abandon Olivia to, and then who should sweep in, but the Chevalier d’Evron. So, he sees the appeal in Kitty’s eyes, she’s staring at him – help! And they very swiftly between them contrive to dismiss Henry Gosford, which is absolutely delightful. He has no choice but to leave. And of course, what happens in the moment between Kitty introducing Olivia and Camille is a coup de foudre.

SARA-MAE: Dang girl!  I’m loving this French Jojo keeps coming out with…

JOJO:  It’s love at first sight for both of them. There’s nothing subtle about that, Heyer tells you that’s what’s happened. Of course, as soon as that happens… one thinks, well, probably these two are meant to be together. Although, of course, there’s always the possibility, isn’t there? That that will be Emma-like…

SARA-MAE: A red herring.

JOJO: Exactly.

SARA-MAE: Of course, Kitty is really chuffed. It’s her first attempt to match-make and she wishes them both well.

JOJO: Yes, although she realises fairly swiftly that this has its attendant problems, because actually are they equally matched? Will the Chevalier’s family accept Olivia?

SARA-MAE: Because she’s not really abjectly born, Olivia, because she’s got a father who was a Lord. But as Freddy later explains to Kitty – because Kitty can’t understand why she shouldn’t make a good match… And of course, it never enters her mind about the mistress thing until later, until the Chevalier basically blurts out to her that there are other men, including Jack, who’ve been setting out to set her up. And this is deeply shocking to her. But of course, she pretends that she’s worldly enough to know that already. And of course, Freddy has been protecting her from that knowledge all along. Freddy knows very well that Jack is very annoyed with Freddy for allowing her to befriend Olivia. And Freddy’s like – ‘listen, it was an accident. I wouldn’t do that’. And I think Jack knows that he’s got no machinations in him.

So, it’s a very complex imbroglio. On the one hand, you’ve got Chevalier and Olivia in love.

This is where we find ourselves in the book, Kitty’s been quite pleased with the results of her campaign to punish Jack, but also hopefully win him.

JOJO: Yes, which Jack has a mix of amusement and, actually, his back’s starting to get up about it, especially because Kitty is not shy to compliment Freddy and the compliments that she gives are real. They’re things that she genuinely believes. She believes him to be a good person and a kind person, the ‘best dancer in London’. So, she refuses to stand up with Jack at a dance and then she goes and dances it… ‘the only person I’m comfortable dancing a quadrille with is Freddy’. She’s also doing that because those are things she really feels about Freddy. And that’s really lovely. And of course, it bothers Jack because he knows the things she says to be at their heart, true. He probably deep down knows that Freddy is a good person and he is not, I assume.

SARA-MAE: Hmm. I mean, not that that kind of puts any dent into his confidence. I mean, unbeknownst to Kitty. I mean, in her innocent mind, she’s quite happy with the fact that she seems to be able to hold her distance from him and draw a line between the young girl who was just adoring and everything and this young woman who’s getting a bit of town bronze. We’ve got Chevalier and Olivia, of course… once Jack learns of that he warns the Chevalier off behind the scenes.

JOJO: Yes, in no uncertain terms, because Jack has been making a real play to set up what is – again a bit of vocab that I didn’t know in this context – the ‘carte blanche’. Which is the relationship between a wealthy man and a mistress, whereby he would set her up with a home and everything that she needed to just be there at his beck and call, until such time as he tires of her.

So, he’s had his eye on Olivia and she’s a real prize because she’s very beautiful and charming and demure.

SARA-MAE: And innocent.

JOJO: I’m not sure she’s as innocent as Kitty is. Jack is absolutely not going to have this upstart Frenchman come in and pinch his conquest that he’s just on the brink of making so he really in no uncertain terms, sees him off the property.

It turns out that Jack has a piece of knowledge, which is that the Chevalier ain’t no Chevalier. He’s just Camille from the outskirts of Paris. It’s not a high-born family. He’s made up this provenance in order to make his way and find his fortune in London.

And Jack says – ‘look, if you don’t want to be uncovered for who you are, you’d better just give Olivia a wide berth’. And so the Chevalier does indeed after that warning, leave Olivia alone, stop dropping in at her home with the Scortons slash Scrotons and goes back to paying his compliments to the wealthy widow.

SARA-MAE: We sort of glean this from Kitty’s interactions with Olivia and Olivia saying to her, have I done something to annoy him? And this is when everything is coming to the boil. Kitty has, by now, met Hannah Plymstock, Dolph’s beloved. She’s agreed to help them to appease Dolph’s mother. She’s been going out on drives and walks with him. And obviously, actually, they’ve been going to Hannah’s house, so she’s allowing them to carry on their romance.

JOJO: Which, it must be said, is one of the few things that really piques Freddy. Even though the engagement between Freddy and Kitty is not official, of course, lots of people know that it’s unofficial. And they say, ‘why, dash it all! What’s Kitty doing going around with Dolph all the time, does she mean to actually marry him instead?’ Because he is an Earl.

SARA-MAE: ‘Tip him the doubler!’

JOJO: Exactly. That’s the only thing really that piques Freddy because he doesn’t like being made a fool of.

SARA-MAE: Eventually he follows her. He’s like – ‘typical of Dolph to take her to this really bad part of town for his dalliances’ and ‘Kitty, what are you trying to do?’

It’s very sweet the way she’s very grateful to him, and she’s like, ‘I am a wretch for putting you in this position’. But this is the story. So, she unburdens herself. All the way through it’s very sweet the way she feels very comfortable in telling Freddy… He always hears her out, listens to her, gives her advice, and does his best to help her which is quite nice, because in a lot of these books, often there’ll be like, but for someone merely just having a conversation with someone, things could be resolved quite easily. And in this case, she actually does unburden herself all the time. They have a very comfortable rapport. I love the scene when they go to see the sights of London and obviously, Freddy is completely appalled. It’s like really infra dig to go to all these…Westminster…

JOJO: The British museum. Yeah, he hates it – to see the Elgin Marbles. Oh God!

SARA-MAE: He thinks it’s a huge cheat on the public because they’re missing arms and legs.

AIDEN: Heads missing… why would you want to look at that?

SARA-MAE: She has to stop him from going to give them a piece of his mind that people are wasting their money going to see this.

AIDEN: And the guide book said that St Paul’s wasn’t worth looking inside. It’s only the outside. I mean, this is a marvel of Baroque architecture. I mean, this is incredible, but no, the guidebook says it’s not worth it. So, we just looked at the outside. Just dismissed it. [Laughs]

SARA-MAE: He’s looking for any excuse, you know, to get out of it.

AIDEN: Exactly, he likes the writer of the guide book more and more. [Laughs] That made me laugh as well, because he had nothing good to say about anything, so they could move on to the next thing and not waste Freddy’s time. So, he was becoming more and more enamoured of the guide book writer.

SARA-MAE: He almost gets sidetracked when talking to his father later because he’s feel so incensed about it.

JOJO: He wants his father to do something about the fact that people are being tricked into going to see the Elgin Marbles. It’s quite delightful.

SARA-MAE: So, he is always fully aware of what’s going on with her various little things that she’s trying to sort out.

JOJO: Yes, it’s true. She never tries to hide anything from Freddy. It’s quite refreshing as a reader, because so often it’s the case where, as you just said, but for one conversation, things don’t have to be this bad. And she always does unburden herself to him – and you’re like, oh, thank goodness, right. And we quickly come to rely on him to solve the little problems. She doesn’t have the artistry to quite do it. And he comes in and he says – ‘well, bound to think of something’ – and indeed, he thinks of something and it’s such a relief when Freddy shows up.

SARA-MAE: It is, isn’t it? And we have a particularly strong sense of the tide changing in terms of her emotions towards him when she goes to dinner at the Scrotons. And she already knows even at the dinner, that she shouldn’t have really come to their house. Because they’re very vulgar, and they kind of – not forced her – but out of politeness, she’s sort of forced to go with them to this masquerade.

JOJO: She gets tricked essentially, I think, and it’s not malicious on their part, but it’s very thoughtless. And this is what I was going to say before about, you know, Heyer, not necessarily painting classist pictures. Because you’ve got Hannah, who’s this plain, simple person, not from the upper classes. And then you’ve got the Scorton/Scrotons, who are probably a similar, maybe even slightly higher, but who live in – and I thought that whole scene, the scene, first at the dinner party and where they’re playing lottery tickets, and then they go to the masquerade, was really elegantly drawn.

I found it very uncomfortable, because she quite artfully paints a picture of debauchery, and lack of propriety that really Kitty shouldn’t be anywhere near that, she’s not worldly enough. She didn’t make a conscious choice to be there. Interestingly, at this masquerade ball, she spies Meg, also in a mask, but in this lilac gown everybody disapproves of. She recognises the gown.

And so it’s really interesting that interplay between the social level and propriety and just what you’re into, and actually Meg likes a bit of a ruckus, she likes a bit of a party and she’s feeling constrained by her pregnancy and her marriage. And she goes out, of course, she’s escorted by Jack who has no qualms about taking a proper lady into such company. But it’s a really smart picture of how money or no money, you can choose how to behave and how to treat people. And it’s very, very overwhelming for Kitty. And she’s desperate to get out of there and she feels the impropriety of it deep in her bones. She’s learned so much from her time in London that she knows immediately – I shouldn’t be here, but what do I do?  And that sense of pressure and discomfort, I think is transmitted to the reader really, really well.

SARA-MAE: It is, yeah, because it just gets wilder and wilder and it’s a moment where you really realise that Jack has no qualms, as you say. Jack takes great pleasure in seeing Kitty’s discomfort, and he makes it worse by egging her and Meg on. Because obviously, when Kitty sees Meg and she sort of tells her off, and I mean, fair enough for Meg to be like….

JOJO: Who the heck are you to tell me where I should be?

SARA-MAE: Exactly. And Meg then swans off with Jack leaving Kitty to these wolves. Kitty has seen and conversed with the Chevalier. So I think Kitty sort of thought he might help to extricate her but it turns out that he’s more concerned with his own problems.

JOJO: So this is the big moment where Olivia had written to the Chevalier saying – where have you been? Come with us to the to the party tonight. And so, he of course, had followed the tug of his heartstrings, despite Jack’s warning to stay away from Olivia and had come to the party. And then upon seeing his beloved, had unburdened himself to her and said – look, you need to know I’m not who I say I am.  I’m not an aristo. And he unburdens himself out of pure love for her, and then he sees Kitty and he unburdens himself to Kitty – this has just happened. At which point Kitty realises what she’s done by introducing these two so thoughtlessly, and she realises that she goes about things a little bit half-cocked, and – oh gosh, Freddy was right. You know, I’ve been playing with fire.

SARA-MAE: What’s fascinating is this idea of nobility because actually, there’s a contrast that becomes very clear to Kitty in this moment. She doesn’t see it as noble for him to tell Olivia. She actually says, you know, if you’d just not gone and seen her she would have gotten over you. But the fact is that now you’ve made yourself into this romantic tragedy. You know, you didn’t have to do that, it would have been a stronger move [not to]. It would have been what Freddy would have done. He would have protected her at his own expense. And that’s not what the Chevalier has chosen. He followed the tug of his heartstrings, as you said, because it made him feel better to unburden himself, and to Kitty, which he really shouldn’t be doing. Because not only does he tell her the exact circumstances of why he and Olivia can’t get together, he also inadvertently tells her about Jack being this kind of thing. And it’s a horrible moment for Kitty because she was still holding out hope….

JOJO: That she loves him in some way.

SARA-MAE: And when she hears there have been these men luring and he’s one of them, it breaks her heart a little bit. And she has to pretend that obviously she knew. And the fact that she has to go back to this horrible group of people who are getting louder and louder, and I actually thought something bad would happen to her then.

JOJO: Yes, I was expecting something really bad from the party because the sense of peril is built up so well. I thought soon there’s going to be a real disaster here. And of course, what happens? Freddy swoops in.

He went to pick her up from the dinner party she was supposed to be at, thinking it’s not right the coachman was sent away. So he asks her coach driver – where’s Kitty? What time are you picking her up?  He says, I’m not picking her up, the Scrotons are bringing her home. That’s not on? I’ll go and pick her up. Finds out they’re not there, finds out they’re at the ball. Immediately goes. And what’s so lovely is he doesn’t tell her off.

SARA-MAE: No, he never tells her off.

JOJO: He doesn’t patronise her. He doesn’t condescend to her. He doesn’t tell she’s a silly little thing. He whisks her out of there. And then they have a conversation about it. And she’s the one who says, I knew as soon as I got there that it was wrong, and I didn’t want to be there. And I’m so thankful for you. And he never rubs that in her face, he’s not patronising at all and it’s really nice.

SARA-MAE: It leads to one of the cutest little discussions that she has with Meg because they make up when they get home. Because she sort of saves Meg’s bacon a bit in front of Freddy, because if Freddy had known Meg had been there…..

JOJO: He would have been really horrified.

SARA-MAE: Yes, so she kind of pretends that Meg has been waiting up for her, which clearly she wasn’t.

JOJO: Kitty covers Meg’s back and Meg who’s all ready to be furious with Kitty for ticking her off at the masquerade ball is so thankful to have been saved the embarrassment in front of her brother, that all is forgiven immediately.

SARA-MAE: And they fall into a little discussion. And you hear Kitty really going into raptures about Freddy, to Meg’s real astonishment which is quite funny because she really struggles to think of her brother in that way. But it’s a very sweet exchange in the moment, which is like – in romance, I always thought I wanted to like a romantic hero to sweep in on a horse.

JOJO: Lord Galahad, yes.

SARA-MAE: But, of course, if you think about it in real life, that wouldn’t be very useful it’d probably be quite uncomfortable.

JOJO: Yes, one  never actually needs anyone to slay a dragon at a ball. It’s great. She channels Fish, talks about the romantic heroes and comes to that realisation that, that’s not what a hero looks like. And actually to her, Freddy really is a hero. Meg is sort of blinking away at this like – good Lord, never thought of Freddy in that way. But it’s really charming. And again, it’s part of Kitty’s growing up, that realisation that the dashing gallant is not actually necessarily going to bring you what you need in your life.

SARA-MAE: Whereas having someone who always is there for you, who appears at just the right moment, because he’s thought about you, and he’s taken measures to, at every turn, to make her life more comfortable. He is just as shocked whenever Kitty pays him a compliment, you know, she keeps going – oh, you’re so clever. You always know what to do. And he’s like – oh, you must be thinking of someone else.

JOJO: Yeah, right. Right. You see him have these moments of – what is she talking about? But you’ve sensed that he grows in confidence through that. And he does start to believe in himself even more through that. It’s really smart how they balance each other out in that way.

SARA-MAE: So this all precipitates several events that could end in disaster. We have the Chevalier and Olivia who feel that they might as well just take their own lives because they neither of them can possibly have any affection for anyone else. We’ve got Hannah and Dolph. Kitty finds out that Dolph’s mother is holding the ultimate threat over his head. And this is pretty dark, where she’s threatening him with a doctor who she’s got under her thumb to say that he’s not mentally equipped…..

JOJO: To have him committed to it to a mental institution. It’s very dark.

SARA-MAE: And obviously then she’d be able to control his wealth what there is of it.

JOJO: There’s not much of it. Dolph’s mother doesn’t want him to do anything unless it’s her bidding. And of course, Dolph is terrified.

SARA-MAE: But that’s why Hannah is such a good match for him. She just makes him feel comfortable. Their plan is that they …..

JOJO: If they can just get married. Hannah is convinced she’ll be able to square things off with the old lady as she calls Dolph’s mother. Even though Hannah has said, I’m not in love with him. I don’t think anyone could be in love with him, but I believe we should do very well together. And you can see that that’s true. She’s kind and gentle with him. She’s sort of unromantic in the way that maybe Charlotte is and Pride and Prejudice.

SARA-MAE: So Kitty’s faced with this problem. How are they going to get them married? And of course, they don’t want to do like an eloping to Gretna Green.

JOJO: Dolph would lose his mind on the way up to Gretna Green.

SARA-MAE: Kitty says – Look, we’ll pretend that we’re going to elope together. And that way your mother will be perfectly happy to just let it happen because she’s got her spies.

JOJO: It’s important to say at this juncture that Freddy has had to dash off to Oxford, to dig his little brother out of a scrape. So, Freddy is not around. For some reason, it’s crunch time for Hannah and Dolph. And Kitty says – I know what we’ll do. We’ll get you down to cousin Hugh, who you remember is a pastor, is a reverend, and he’ll marry you. And once you’re married, all will be fine because there’s nothing that she can do. That’s her plan.

She wants Freddy to know but he’s not there. So, she writes him a long letter explaining in great detail everything that’s about to happen. Eventually the three of them, Hannah, Kitty and Dolph get into the carriage and off they go to Hugh’s. So it’s all going well, the elopement’s going to happen, Hugh will marry them as soon as they arrive, everything will be fine. That’s the plan.

SARA-MAE: And you do get this sense that she sort of feels like…..

JOJO: She’s resigning herself to you know, Jack’s not the one for me. My fun’s coming to an end. Let me do this one good thing before I basically have to release Freddy from this engagement.

She’s noticing that it’s not doing Freddy any good socially, because people are tittling about the fact that she’s been going around with Dolph. She feels like she’s making life difficult for Freddy and she doesn’t want to do that anymore.

My sense at that juncture is that she cares for him, but she doesn’t have any self awareness around that being romantic. I think she just feels like – he’s been so good to me. He’s been such a stand up friend. I need to release him from this engagement because it’s not fair.

SARA-MAE: But of course, then Freddy comes back into town.

JOJO: Meg talks at him for half an hour about how weird it was that Kitty was here and that lady, Hannah whats her name was here. I don’t know what was going on. And she tittles and tittles and tittles and Freddy’s about to go off and see if he can find out and Meg says – oh, by the way, Kitty left you a letter. So dash it all, Meg, you’ve been prattling away this half an hour, just give me the damn letter, just like you. Anyway, she gives him the letter and he sits and reads it. And he reads it with great concentration. And then he leaves.

SARA-MAE: He goes to meet with the Chevalier who’s desperately distraught.

Jojo brings up a great point about all our couples, romantic Olivia and Camille, practical Hannah and Dolph, with Kitty and Freddy trying to steer them through all their problems.

JOJO: If you think about it in the context of a cotillion, in fact, a dance between couples, it would be a right mess of a dance. Because you’ve got some people that know the steps and some people that just want to freestyle all over the place. So, I find that very funny.

SARA-MAE: We’ve had the contrast between Freddy and Jack and then we’ve had the contrast now between Chevalier and Freddy who is very, very practical. He’s like – I’m going to sort you out now, this is one other loose thread.

JOJO: What’s the solution? Well, obviously you two if you’re that in love with each other, you ought to elope.

SARA-MAE: And Chevalier has just got all this highfalutin kind of language of heartbreak. Oh, but I could not do that to my angel. And then Freddy is like, well, what’s the alternative? If you don’t rescue her, she’s going to become someone’s mistress. Tout de suite. And that’s a far worse life than living with you who she adores.

JOJO: Dash it all, it’ll be fine! And it’s great because he, you know, he lifts the Chevalier from the depths of despair to sudden hope and animation. But in the midst of all this desperate gratitude and excitement and romance, Freddy just wants to dispatch Olivia and Camille off to France as quickly and efficiently as humanly possible. He’s like, right, if you’re going to do it, we’re going to do it. We’re going to get you the heck out of here.

SARA-MAE: Here’s an extract from the audio book of Cotillion, courtesy of Naxos and read delightfully by Claire Wille…..

‘Came to tell you Miss Broughty’s in the devil of a fix’. The Chevalier had walked over to the window, but he turned swiftly at this. ‘You would say that Miss Broughty is in trouble?’ ‘That’s it,’ nodded Freddy. ‘Run away from Hans Crescent. Not the thing, but can’t blame her. Never saw such a set of rum touches in my life as those relations of hers!’ ‘For the love of God – –!’ cried the Chevalier impatiently. ‘What has happened to her? Where is she?’ ‘Left her with m’sister,’ Freddy replied. ‘She came to ask Kit to help her.’ ‘Ah, she has a heart of gold this Kitty, and she will do so!’ the Chevalier exclaimed, his brow lightening a little. ‘Daresay she might, but she ain’t there,’ said Freddy stolidly. ‘Not there! Where then is she?’ ‘Gone down to my great-uncle’s. Poor girl’s at a standstill: don’t know what to do! Seemed to me I’d best come and tell you about it. Thing is, she can’t stay in Berkeley Square. First place that Broughty woman will think of, when she starts searching for her.’ ‘But tell me, I beg of you! It is not – mon dieu, it not that madame has discovered — ? It is not I who am the cause –?’ ‘Oh, no nothing of that nature! You know Sir Henry Gosford? Offered for her.’ ‘She will not consent to marry that ancient!’ the Chevalier said contemptuously. ‘No, very likely not. Seems to me she’ll accept a carte blanche from my cousin Jack,’ said Freddy brutally. ‘No! no!’ ejaculated the Chevalier turning pale. ‘You shall not say such a thing! ‘Have said it. Very understandable thing to do. Frightened of her mother: won’t return to her. You go off to France: nothing else she can do! Must know Jack would treat her devilish handsomely: at least, he would while she was living under his protection. Trouble is, these little affairs don’t commonly last long. Mind, I don’t say Jack would turn her off without a shilling, because he wouldn’t. Shabby thing to do, and he ain’t shabby. But –’. ‘Stop! Stop!’ said the Chevalier hoarsely. He cast himself into a chair by the table, and buried his face in his hands. ‘Every word you speak is torture! Ah, why did I cross her path? I have brought misery upon her!’ ‘Don’t see that at all,’ objected Freddy. ‘Dashed good thing you did cross her path! Able to rescue her.’ The Chevalier raised his head, and flung out his hands. ‘But can you not understand that I am without power? Never would that woman permit me to marry Olivia! Ah, do you imagine that I do not care, that I do not desire with all my heart to call her my own, to take her to France, far, far from such as her mother–that Gosford–that roué, your cousin?’ ‘Well, why the devil don’t you do it?’ demanded Freddy. The Chevalier’s hands dropped. He sat staring at Freddy, as though thunderstruck. ‘Do it?’ he repeated. ‘An elopement,’ said Freddy helpfully. ‘Carry her off to France before her mother finds her.’ The Chevalier’s eyes flashed ‘But–It would be an infamy! I tell you, I have for that angel a respect, an adoration beyond your comprehension! To steal her in that manner–I, a gamester, an adventurer! –is a villainy too great!’ ‘Shouldn’t call it a villainy myself,’ said Freddy. ‘It ain’t the thing, of course: not saying it is. Mind, if you didn’t mean to marry her, it wouldn’t do at all!’ ‘If it were possible, I would marry her at this instant!’ the Chevalier said impetuously. ‘Well, it ain’t possible. Marry her when you get to France.’ The Chevalier began to pace about the room. ‘I would take her to my mother. She is not such a one as Madame Broughty, rest assured!’ ‘Very good notion,’ approved Freddy. The Chevalier drew a deep breath, and flung open his arms. Freddy’s eyes started from his head with horror, for it seemed, for one hideous moment, as though the Chevalier had every intention of embracing him. However, the excitable Frenchman contented himself with seizing both his hands, and exclaiming in a voice of profound emotion: ‘My benefactor!’

JOJO: What’s funny is that even though he wants to do it as quickly as possible, Meg packs a bag for Olivia and then she comes to the house looking for Kitty because she doesn’t know what to do, because she’s meant to marry. Her mother’s putting a real threat on her head that if she doesn’t say yes to Sir Henry, she’s going to be cast to the wolves. She finds Meg and Freddy at home. Freddy’s like right….

SARA-MAE: Just stay here. There was a line like, some people might not have had confidence in Freddy’s abilities to sort the problem out. But she did not number amongst them.

JOJO: Absolutely, absolutely. So Freddy goes, gets the Chevalier, says right you’re going to meet us here you’re going to jump in the coach. It’s all going to happen.

Dash back, tells Meg – go and pack her bag. Just give her some of your clothes. He gets Olivia in the coach. They’re on the way and then he’s like, hang on a minute, Meg packed the bag.  What’s in the bag love? And there’s like a shawl and a dress. And he’s like – is there a toothbrush in there? No, there’s no toothbrush. And despite everything, despite his hurry, he stops the coach and goes and buys a toothbrush and a comb for Olivia. Because the poor girl needs a toothbrush and a comb. And I just think that was such an adorable thing to do.

So, let’s jump back to the arrival of Kitty, Dolph and Hannah at Hugh’s. Now you remember the plan is, they arrive at Hugh’s and Hugh says – Oh, wonderful, I’ll get you guys married.

Of course, this is not what happens, because firstly, Hugh does not approve of the whole thing. And he makes it very clear that he doesn’t approve. And so we have a great amount of despair suddenly evinced, especially by Dolph and Kitty.

SARA-MAE: I mean, Dolph is at his wits end. He’s, you know, they’ve been driving for a long time. And he’s, as you said ….

JOJO: He’s a nervous wreck. So, when eventually they convince Hugh, he’s right, where’s the licence? Where’s the bit of paper and everyone goes, what bit of paper? Because of course, Kitty didn’t even think that they might need a special licence to get married without the banns being published. Now they’re stuck. At some point very soon, Lady Dolphinton’s going to come and she’s going to have Dolph committed to the asylum. And it’s going to be heartbreak and tragedy. And all through this process, Dolph is so on edge. Anytime there’s the slightest noise outside, he hides either under the table or in the cupboard. And this thing goes on for a while. And I actually was properly giggling away at the idea of Dolph hiding from his mother in the cupboard at his cousin, the reverend’s house. I thought it was very, very funny, very smartly done.

AIDEN: And Dolph, that’s one of the best comic scenes, that he’s absolutely petrified. He keeps hiding in the cupboard, thinking his mother’s going to arrive at any time. And he thinks he can protect her by taking her into the cupboard as well.

SARA-MAE: Well, I love that when, his cousin’s saying to him, listen, stand your ground, come on, protect her and he goes, she can go into the cupboard with me.

AIDEN: Simple.

JOJO: In the midst of this Jack shows up, there’s been a scribbled letter from the Fish, the governess, full of strange lines of poetry that Kitty couldn’t make head nor tail of…

SARA-MAE: Referencing Catherine of Aragon.

JOJO: Exactly. That was her excuse for getting the carriage and going – so we’re going to go and visit Uncle Matthew. Although, of course, what we’re actually going to do is go and get Hannah and Dolph married.

So, there’s this letter, and Jack’s got wind of it. And of course, what’s happened and I have to credit myself with really guessing this a long time before. When Fish was complaining about being left alone with Uncle Matthew when Kitty went to town, my little smart brain went – I bet they’re going to end up getting married. And of course, that’s what happened, which of course means where’s the inheritance going to go? If Fish who is actually not as old as she looks, has a baby? That’s the end of it. Cuts Jack out, cuts Kitty out.

SARA-MAE: He completely believed with all his heart …..

JOJO: That money’s for him. So he’s got wind of this betrothal and he’s in hot pursuit to see if he can’t persuade Kitty to accept his hand in marriage and then they go as two of Uncle Matthew supposed favourites and convince him to irrevocably bestow his fortune upon them. And he shows up and of course is completely unsympathetic to Dolph and Hannah.

SARA-MAE: Doesn’t give a damn. Like the nail in his coffin in terms of Kitty’s affections, isn’t it?

JOJO: Yeah, because he just shows himself an out and out cad, a rake, only interested in what he can get for himself. And he’s not even embarrassed. I feel like…

SARA-MAE: No because he thinks he can charm her and he can crook his finger.

JOJO: Exactly. And he is alarmed and distressed to find that that is not the case.

SARA-MAE: You know, every time there’s a carriage coming up, poor Dolph is like in and out of the cupboard, popping in and out like a Jack in the box.

And Hugh is, of course, very annoyed. His small house has been taken over. He doesn’t approve of any of this nonsense, and he’s exacerbating the situation because he’s got no patience. And him and Jack are rubbing up against each other, and of course who comes to the rescue?

JOJO: So Freddy’s carriage pulls up outside and what do you think dear reader, Freddy shows up with?

He actually surmised from Kitty’s garbled, very detailed, over detailed letter that – Freddy has read this letter and his brain, which is a whole lot sharper than he gives himself credit for, has gone: now she hasn’t mentioned the special licence. Can it possibly be that my dear young, harebrained Kitty didn’t know that they would need a licence to do this? So what has Freddy done? He’s gone and he’s got the licence. And it’s a lovely, satisfying little trope where he shows up says – oh, this licence – whips it out of his inside pocket. And there it is, saves the day in the most spectacular manner.

SARA-MAE: I love that, but my favourite moment comes where he actually stands up to Jack, because Jack is pouring scorn on their relationship and telling Kitty to sort of get over this, stop playing these games with him and everything. And you know Kitty’s basically like no Jack, leave it and Freddy’s overcome for the first time in his life and punches him. Upon Jack insinuating that Kitty’s done it out of some kind of deep cunning plan to get Freddy’s title and money.

AIDEN: He has his high point here, doesn’t he?

SARA-MAE: He does pretty unexpectedly even to himself. Just punches him and he’s aided in this by the fact that he trips over a table and falls down.

AIDEN: Yeah, but even then, Jack’s more worried about his apparel, more worried about that than whether he’s got a bruise or cut lip or whatever.

SARA-MAE: I think it was quite nice because Freddy admits that he wouldn’t have been able to land a punch, because Jack is this great sportsman. And Jack – this is something that shows him in a good light in that he takes it in good part and he realises that he was wrong and he obviously doesn’t want to just have a fight with Freddy for no reason.

AIDEN: Yeah, he’s too nice. He’s not the buccaneering sort of swashbuckling type, is he? He just wants a quiet life and he’s done this and that’s true bravery, isn’t it? Stepping out of your usual character and doing something like that.

SARA-MAE: And it shows how much he feels for Kitty. He would never do that in normal life.

AIDEN: And that clinches it for him with Kitty as well, doesn’t it, that she’s she sees his bravery and this big gesture that he’s made for her.

JOJO: It’s absolutely delightful. And again, it’s quite farcical. There has been referenced a couple of times previously, where Jack’s been quite rude to him, where Freddy’s really wanted to punch him in the face. In fact, I think Kitty wanted to punch in the face at some point.

SARA-MAE: Everybody wants to smack Jack.

JOJO: Yeah, everyone wants to smack Jack. But it’s this wonderful moment of surprise. Jack’s humiliated but also realising he can’t get what he wants.

SARA-MAE: It’s the one redeeming moment for Jack where he’s like, at least acknowledge that you could never have landed that punch, you know?

JOJO: Yes, if you hadn’t taken me by surprise.

SARA-MAE: And Freddy’s like, yeah, of course.

JOJO: Obviously, obviously.

SARA-MAE: And I really liked that interaction between the cousins. Jack isn’t a total dick about it. Once he realises that it’s not a game that she’s playing he does give Freddy his due doesn’t he?

JOJO: Probably there’s a little complex series of emotions going on in his head. One of which is: she’s not my slave anymore. She’s not my, my puppet anymore.

SARA-MAE: Which is good for his ego.

JOJO: And he never loved her.

SARA-MAE: Again. I could see a spin off though, where he also…..

JOJO: Is redeemed. Yeah, and I suspect that from what you’ve said, some of the characters in the other books are, you know, are Jack’s a bit further down the line?

SARA-MAE: So, what did you think of the final scene?

JOJO: The two of them in the coach.  Kitty is so thankful to Freddy and she’s also so shamefaced about the terrible hash she feels she’s made of everything, and then she finds out that he’s sent Olivia and Camille off to get married and she’s so grateful.

She says – right, now I don’t know what to do. I must release you. How are we going to make it happen? And Freddy, deeply romantic says, well dash it all, Kit, you know, there’s only one thing to do, isn’t there? Publish it in the Gazette and get married.

And she’s absolutely floored by it, you know – you can’t do that Freddy.

And then he gives this little speech. But I think he says, I love you. And I know you can’t possibly love me, but shall we?

And she says, I love you more than you could ever imagine. And I genuinely think that’s the moment she realises it. I don’t think she’s known on any….

SARA-MAE: Conscious level.

JOJO: I think it’s buried very deep. In fact, that’s why she’s able to be so genuinely complimentary of him throughout the book, because she’s not associating that with love. So, it’s such a lovely moment. And it’s over, it’s over. I was actually a bit shocked. I was like, it’s done. Oh, gosh, okay, but it was so neat.

SARA-MAE: From a writing perspective I find it very interesting and I think that in her oeuvre, she’s so good at what she does. I don’t know there’s something to be said – you can read your great literature and your postmodern works, classic works – DeLillo – and that’s a different level of enjoyment, but everybody has I think their kind of guilty pleasures.

AIDEN: Yeah, totally. It’s the same thing – it’s nice watching a good French film or whatever, but it’s always good to watch Diehard or something like that.

SARA-MAE: Speaking of movies and blockbusters, what do you think about the potential for this book to be made into a film?

AIDEN: Well, I’m not sure on artistic or literary merit and I don’t say that to do her down, but I imagine it being quite successful just because of the fact that that kind of thing is popular at the moment. Whether it’d actually be a movie or a six part BBC costume drama.  It just seems like we can’t get enough of that sort of thing. And so, it’s not the kind of thing I generally tend to watch. Downton Abbey even fell out of favour with me after one episode. I got fed up with watching people who couldn’t dress themselves and then insisted on getting dressed five times a day, it’s ridiculous. We’ve even had Jane Austen set in the world of zombies recently, haven’t we? People seem to be really into this.

SARA-MAE: Don’t talk to me about that.

AIDEN: Yeah, we won’t go down that route. It’s one of these things, art reflecting culture and this time of austerity and we’re more class conscious than we’ve ever been I think, because of the current situation. The Americans love it because it’s British and upper class and we tend to love it because we are just so class obsessed. We say we’re not but we absolutely are.

SARA-MAE: Yeah. In the very beginning, you had your reservations.

JOJO: Yes. So as I said at that first chapter, I felt oppressed by …. felt it was confusing. It wasn’t clear who was who and I thought if the whole book’s like this, I’m going to be in trouble. And once I was allowing myself to not worry about that, I really enjoyed it, it was a total page turner. And in fact, I hoped from quite early on, that she would get together with Freddy and I kind of thought that was what was going to happen. So even though it wasn’t packed with surprises, there weren’t massive twists, there weren’t massive revelations like there often are in Austen. It was just a damn good, page turning read with a very satisfying end. So of course I enjoyed it.

SARA-MAE: So can I say that you’re a convert?

JOJO: I’m definitely a convert, and I’m going to ask you which one I should read next. Hundred percent.

SARA-MAE: So happy. Thanks so much, Jojo. That was amazing. What an odyssey, I feel like we’ve really covered the book.

JOJO: We have! We’ve gone into – I hope your listeners were ready for that level of detail.

SARA-MAE: So, Aiden, it’s come to this. Have you been converted to Georgette Heyer?

AIDEN: I’ve been converted in as far as I would recommend Georgette Heyer to any of my friends that I speak to about books. I would say try, because I came into it thinking I’m really not going to, this is going to be such an onerous thing but came away thinking actually I’m glad I read that, try it. When it comes to female friends – I hope that doesn’t come across as sexist, unhesitatingly I’d say, read Georgette Heyer, especially if you like Jane Austen. If you like that sort of sort of milieu then, you know, definitely read it. Yeah, I just think it appeals more to the feminine side of people than the masculine. Even though as we’ve said, these what could have been very stereotypical male characters came out to be slightly more fleshed out than we initially imagined. I’d recommend her, but with qualifications, put it that way.

SARA-MAE: So you’re a partial convert.

AIDEN: Put me down as a partial convert. You can have a partial win on that.

SARA-MAE: Yes, I’ll take it. Thank you so much for spending the time to talk with me.

JOJO: Heyer today, Heyer tomorrow.

AIDEN: No problem. My pleasure. It’s been really good, really interesting.

SARA-MAE: So that was Cotillion, one of our longest episodes so far. Jojo and Aiden were both fantastic and I’m now forced to recline on a sofa to recover!

In episode 13, we’ll be interviewing Susanna Fullerton, president of the Australian Jane Austen Society. She’s helped organise several Georgette Heyer festivals and has written about many of our favourite authors, including Austen and Heyer. I can’t wait to chat to her.

Till next time, don’t be a bacon-brained nodcock, rate, review and subscribe.

This has been Heyer Today.

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me Sara-Mae Tuson with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn and Will Dale from Aurality for production support. Thanks also to Mike Scott for editing assistance. Plus, once again, this week Mike’s is the voice you heard reading our historical segment.

This week’s voice talent features audio drama heroes Sarah Golding as Georgette, Fiona Thraille as Pat, John Grayson as Frere, We Fix Space Junk’s Beth Crane and Hedley Knight as the photographer and the discombobulated Arnold Gyde, respectively.

I’ll be including information about this stellar group of actors in the show notes.

Thanks to Geraldine Elliot and Talitha Gamaroff, as well as all the other people who supported us throughout the process of making this podcast, including Suzy Buttress in particular, and the podcast community at large for invaluable support and advice. Read more about Jojo’s counselling and other work here. Joanna Josefina dot com that’s Josefina with an F. https://www.joannajosefina.com

More news and information about Aiden’s writing can be found here: aidentruss.com

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s fantastic album Chapter 1, as well as Jerome Alexander’s amazing Message to Bears Tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast by myself and Tom Chadd.

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media, we’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

Heyer Today is a Fable Gazers production.

HEYER TODAY EPISODE 11:

A JOURNEY TOWARDS KNOWING GEORGETTE, WITH JENNIFER KLOESTER

Transcribed by Jill Livingstone

Listen to this episode here.

Also available on any good podplayer, iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music.

SARA-MAE: Previously on Heyer Today…

[AUDIO DRAMA SEGMENT]

GEORGETTE HEYER: I want to cut it off, our association.

L.P. MOORE: Cut off? But my dear, it’s been… it’s been thirty-six years! I promised your father that I would look after you.

[INTERVIEW]

DOM PATMORE: Do not waltz.

SARA-MAE: Don’t you dare waltz!

DOM PATMORE: Don’t you dare waltz. You haven’t been presented. Don’t go waltzing.

SARA-MAE: I mean, you might as well just rip your skirt up and show everyone your ankles, you know what I’m saying?

DOM PATMORE: Yeah, exactly. You might as well, you know… calf… just show them calf, I mean.

SARA-MAE: Don’t even say that word! The c-word. [laughs]

DOM PATMORE: [laughs]

TALITHA GAMAROFF: I would much rather read one of these as a light-hearted [form of] escapism than some modern rubbish.

SARA-MAE: I’m extra excited for today’s guest, Jennifer Kloester, as she’s one of the most knowledgeable Heyerites on the planet. From the beginning, she’s been incredibly helpful and kind. I feel like her work has been intrinsic to this podcast. Not only does she write exhaustively about the Regency world, but her biography on Heyer is one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever read, packed full of insight and fascinating facts. Plus, it made me cry at the end. Yep, even though I knew what was coming. I mean – spoiler alert – she dies. Yet her description of Georgette’s passing was so touching that I got a major case of the feels. We’ve chatted a few times over the past few years and struggled a bit with getting the sound right across oceans and continents, as she’s in Australia, and I’m in London. But nevertheless, I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from Jennifer and that it inspires you to buy her book.

SARA-MAE: Hello, Jen. It’s lovely to talk to you.

JENNIFER: Well, it’s my pleasure to be here and thanks for having me.

SARA-MAE: Great. When I was researching you, I obviously read your book – that was wonderful! –  but I also read your doctoral thesis.

JENNIFER: Wow. That’s pretty impressive, I have to say. You’re one of the handful, Sara-Mae.

SARA-MAE: No but I really enjoyed it, actually. I was quite surprised to get really excited about someone’s doctoral thesis. [laughs]

JENNIFER: Yeah. One doesn’t expect someone to get excited about reading a doctoral thesis.

SARA-MAE: It was really, really well written, I think, probably far better written than a lot of doctoral theses… thesi? [laughs]

JENNIFER: Yes, theses. Indeed, no. Theses. [laughs]

SARA-MAE: You know, there’s loads of references. I felt that in your book, you did have quite a few references, but obviously not quite as many.

JENNIFER: Yeah, I would have loved to have had references to everything in Georgette Heyer’s Regency World and then in the biography, particularly the biography, but of course, commercial publishers… you know, Random House don’t want that. They really want a very free and flowing read for their general public. And so, I did the best I could. What I did do was put the archives of letters in chronological order so it would give a sense of where a lot of the quotes from the letters were coming from, because the archives don’t tend to overlap all that much. But yeah, it would have been thousands and thousands of references, and the book would have been twice the size.

SARA-MAE: Well, I would not have objected to it being twice the size. I love footnotes.

JENNIFER: Well, I do too. And I must say, I did actually, at the time, think when I finished writing the biography, that I did think perhaps I should have written a version with all of the references and then perhaps I could have done something with that later, but it’s a huge amount of work and it was sort of after the horse had bolted, so to speak. So, this year I’m planning to do a lot more blogs on Heyer on my website. I’m going to bring in some of the pieces that got cut from both the biography and from Regency World – two whole chapters went out of Regency World. There’s quite a lot of material there that might be interesting to Heyer fans that I can pull out and put up – because we have the interweb. Hooray! [laughs]

SARA-MAE: You being able to use the internet to do more research allowed you to find a huge collection of letters.

JENNIFER: Yeah, that was pretty amazing. That was very early on, I mean, in the early days of the internet. I actually began researching in the late 90s, but I began my thesis in 2001, and it was only in 2000 that the University of Tulsa, for example, actually catalogued their Heyer letters and put them online. So had I been looking online, say in the mid-90s, I wouldn’t have found them. So, it was rather serendipitous, actually.

SARA-MAE: Well, let’s go back to the beginning. What first brought you to Georgette Heyer?

JENNIFER: Well, we actually lived as ex-pats in some places around the world, and we spent five years living in Papua New Guinea, literally in the jungle, in a small mining town, and had a young family, and it’s fairly isolated, and so a lot of reading. They had a wonderful little, tiny weeny library – a YWCA library – and it was full of Georgette Heyer’s books, and it was really where I read my first Heyer, which I think was These Old Shades. And that really began me hunting out her novels.

SARA-MAE: So, you were in Papua New Guinea.

JENNIFER: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: And you were delving into these books that you were finding in the library? What were your first impressions?

JENNIFER: Well, I mean, she made me laugh out loud. That was always the thing that just caught me from the very beginning. You know, it’s a rare author that can do that to me, and I found it just wonderful. And she was so vivid, that sense of actually being there. It’s not just a great story but characters that you come to know, and wonderful language, and she’s just so witty. And it’s all so vivid and visceral, and I think that that’s just one of her hallmarks. I didn’t know that at the time, of course, I was just enjoying reading any of the books that I could get my hands on. Whenever we went out on R&R, I’d go to second-hand book shops or anywhere that I could find her and buy her books. So that’s what began it.

SARA-MAE: It must have seemed like a world away from the jungle.

JENNIFER: Oh, absolutely. And it was funny because years later, when I began researching her life, and then I discovered that she also had married an engineer and she’d gone off to live in East Africa, in a very remote part – not jungle, but still really, really remote – and so I could really relate to that, living in that sort of isolated environment. And so, it was quite interesting along the way, on my journey of discovery I actually discovered that she and I had quite a lot of things in common which… I suppose that probably would happen with any life, but I just found that very interesting. So, there were things that I could probably understand about her life and her reaction to things that perhaps people who hadn’t had those experiences wouldn’t have understood. So, I certainly understood that isolation.

SARA-MAE: When did you start becoming inclined to apply an academic slant to your passion for her?

JENNIFER: Some years later, we went off and lived in in the Middle East, in Bahrain, and they had a fabulous library in the company town and it had a huge collection of Georgette Heyer novels, which was pretty amazing, really. So, I read her again and she became my real comfort reading, my escape reading, my just joyful reading. And I was doing my Bachelor of Arts as an off-campus student. I’d been doing it when we were living in New Guinea, and then when we were living elsewhere, and then again in the Middle East, just working away, one subject a semester. And so, I was in touch with a good friend who also lived in the same town, and she was doing her PhD at Yale, in Literature. And so, we were talking and I introduced her to Heyer. She’d never read Heyer. Anyway, she fell madly in love with Heyer’s novels and couldn’t get enough of them. We both really mourned the fact that there was no way of really easily knowing what some of the things in the Heyer novels meant or what they looked like. Things like some of the clothing: what were half boots of orange jean, or what did a spencer look like? And what was a barouche? And a lot of the etiquette. You know, you understood them from reading Heyer, but you didn’t have a complete understanding because you couldn’t always know exactly what things looked like. A high perch phaeton, for example. So, we thought it’d be marvellous if there was some kind of a Georgette Heyer regency handbook. And so, when I came back to Australia from the Middle East, I finished my Bachelor of Arts and I said to my husband, ‘Before I get a real job, I’d like to spend a few months working on this private research project.’ And look, this is really kind of OCD, Sara, but I actually combed through every Heyer novel in chronological order, and I sort of pulled out everything that I thought might be mysterious or obscure to a modern reader. And I made these alphabetical lists and note cards and… Angouleme bonnets and all sorts of things – you know, people, places, traditions, money, fashion, anything that I thought might be mysterious. And anyway, I just did this for a while. And this was all by hand, so on note cards and in alphabetical books. And then one day I was having lunch with my former professor from my degree at the university, and I told him about my little project. Anyway, it was quite funny because he sat back in his chair, and I sort of held my breath and thought, oh, he’s going to say ‘Oh, what a waste of time’. And instead, he sat back and said, ‘That’d make a fantastic PhD’. And I just had this epiphany. I’d never thought of a PhD or doing anything like that. And I had this vision, suddenly, of me in a puffy hat. And spending time researching the Regency and Heyer and her novels, it seemed like a distant dream. But anyway, I set about it. I did honours, I got a first, I got a scholarship to the University of Melbourne and did a PhD.

SARA-MAE: Everything else you’ve done has sort of flowed from that, hasn’t it?

JENNIFER: Yeah, well, in a way the PhD was really a means to write Georgette Heyer’s Regency World. And having the imprimatur of the university meant that when I contacted people like Georgette’s son, Sir Richard Rougier, or Jane Aiken Hodge, there was a reason: it was as a research student at the University of Melbourne. It lent me a credibility that I may not have had otherwise. And then when I finished it, I pretty much got straight on with writing Regency World, which was that illustrated companion to her novels and to the era. I loved writing that book. That was just a fabulous experience. The biography grew out of that. In the course of doing all those years of research for my PhD, I discovered all the new archives of letters. There were untapped archives, letters that weren’t in the public purview. So, I was the person to go out and find them and make use of them.

SARA-MAE: Because Jane Aiken Hodge hadn’t had access to them.

JENNIFER: No, no, she wouldn’t have known they existed, most of them. Her biography was a really terrific account of Heyer’s life. Jane had a lot of really good insight. She was a very fine writer and had a brilliant mind, Jane Aiken Hodge, but she only had access to material that was directly about Heyer from 1944, when Heyer was already forty-two and very successful. So, all those early years – the formative years – were really missing. I think the first forty-odd years of Heyer’s life is just the first couple of chapters of Jane’s book, whereas my biography, the first two thirds are the first forty years of Georgette Heyer’s life.

SARA-MAE: That’s what’s so wonderful.

SARA-MAE: I asked Jennifer if she thinks the perception of Heyer’s work by critics and commentators has evolved. Most people, as far as I can tell, still lump her in with people like Barbara Cartland, whereas I think she’s much closer to her idol, Jane Austen, or PG Wodehouse.

JENNIFER: The thing I’ve really noticed in the last ten years or so is this decided shift in attitude to Georgette Heyer. And I think that’s to do with the enduring nature of her novels. The fact that she’s still a bestseller nearly a hundred years after she published her first book. And the further away we get from her death and the more she continues to sell, I think, the closer she comes to becoming a true classic author. I think it very likely that in the future Georgette Heyer will be studied, perhaps like Dickens is studied now. Her novels – fifty-one of the fifty-six novels are still in print, and the five that are not in print are because she has self-suppressed them – she’s still selling. What is it, this year will be forty-five years since she died? She’s read by five generations of readers now and being discovered all the time by the rising generation, which is great. Her books endure because she was a great writer, her prose is superb, she was a master of plot and character, ironic comedy, and of course, her dialogue. Stephen Fry really nailed it at the blue plaque opening. When she was nominated for an English Heritage blue plaque, which is a very prestigious thing – they only award twelve a year. That took ten years of investigation by the committee for them to then finally approve her as a recipient. And so, she received that honour, obviously posthumously. But in 2015, Stephen Fry, he unveiled it, and he was very clear about the reasons for why she received that honour, and it was all to do with her mastery of language, her contribution to culture and to literature. And I think that’s a massive change in the modern period. In her own lifetime she was highly regarded by her readers, both men and women. She was read by a lot of people in the law, and there were a group of Oxford dons who apparently used to meet to discuss her novels. She was very highly regarded by her publishers of course, and given as much kudos as people like Joseph Conrad, Elizabeth von Arnim…

SARA-MAE: Fun fact about Elizabeth von Arnim: the Australian-British writer had a torrid relationship with Georgette’s friend and publisher, Frere. The novelist, whose impressively chequered personal life is the stuff of legend, was thirty years Frere’s senior at the time. I find this literary connection delicious for some reason.

JENNIFER: …JB Priestley, writers who were very highly regarded in the day. And then, I think, in the 60s, 70s, 80s, when she became less well known, a lot of people just disregarded or dismissed her books as some kind of sort of trashy, pulp fiction or trashy romance. And only ever by people who had never read her books. Those who’ve read her books understand completely her extraordinary expertise.

SARA-MAE: Well, I think it’s the question of what makes a classic novel. It’s something I’ve talked about with other people as well, because I find it very interesting, particularly with regards to Heyer. Is it just distance or has it got to do with mass appeal, which she certainly had – being a bestselling author never being out of print – but so did Dickens and Austen as well. Do you think she’s on a par with those two?

JENNIFER: She’s very different from them. I mean, Austen is writing contemporary fiction about the period in which Heyer set her historical fiction. And Austen was Heyer’s favourite author and Heyer herself would never ever have compared herself or put herself in the same sphere as Austen.

SARA-MAE: As Jennifer says, Heyer was self-deprecating to a fault when it came to the quality of her writing. She thought it very unlikely that her books would go on to be remembered at all. Here she is in 1949, giving her ironic summation of her personal principles for successful novel writing.

[SARAH GOLDING AS OLDER GEORGETTE, READS]

1. Induce your publisher to hand over at once a sum of money grossly in excess of what the book is likely to be worth to him. This gives one a certain amount of incentive to write the thing, and may be achieved by various methods, the most highly recommended being what may be termed as ‘The Little Woman Act’.

2. Think out a snappy title. This deceives the publisher into thinking (a) that he is getting the book of the year and (b) that you have the whole plot already mapped out. The only drawback lies in the fact that having announced a title you will be slightly handicapped when it comes to hanging some kind of story onto it.

3. Brood for several weeks achieving if not a plot, depression, despair and hysteria in yourself and a strong desire to leave home. This condition will induce you to believe yourself to be the victim of artistic temperament and may even mislead you into thinking that you really are a creative artist.  

4. While under this delusion, jab a sheet of paper into your typewriter and hurl it on to Chapter One. This may give you an idea, not perhaps for the whole book but for Chapter Two.

5. Introduce several characters who might conceivably be useful later on. You never know, they may take matters into their own hands.

6. Assuming that he has been properly trained, read over what you’ve done to your husband. His extravagant enthusiasm may lead you to think you’ve perpetrated something good and this will inspire you to churn out a bit more.

7. Think out a grand final scene with the maximum number of incongruous characters massed together in some improbable place. Allow your sense of farce full play. This will, with any luck at all, make the reader forget what the rest of the book was like.

8. Try and work out how and why these characters got together, remembering that it is better to ‘gloss over’ by technique (which if you haven’t learnt in thirty years you ought to have learnt) than to put your head in the gas oven.

9. Book a room in a good mental home.

Finally, a few things to be avoided while engaged on this work.

  1. The thoughts that you are enduring this agony only to enrich the Inland Revenue.
  2. All thought of the book that has obsessed your mind and so for the past six months.
  3. Any rational thought whatsoever. To indulge in this can only mean that you will stop dead realising that you are writing unmitigated rubbish and would have done better as a charwoman.

JENNIFER: I mean, Austen is one of the truly great authors, that extraordinary observer of human nature, and her books are deservedly classics. But Heyer had her own gifts and she’s doing something very different from Austen, but there’s certainly a huge Austenesque influence and a Dickensian influence too. Dickens was another of her favourite authors and Heyer’s father had brought her up reading Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare, the Renaissance poets, and the Greeks. So, she was extremely well read and had a really comprehensive understanding of plot based on the writings of those iconic authors. So, she really had imbibed a lot of the skill that those authors had developed. She would never put herself on par with them, but she’s certainly doing something new and unique in her own writing, and her Regency novels have certainly stood the test of time. She’s certainly deemed a classic author by the British Library Service, and she’s always in the Top 10 of their most borrowed classic authors, which I think she would find extraordinary and secretly be very pleased about.

SARA-MAE: In your book, there’s lots of quotes with her going, ‘I should be shot for writing this kind of nonsense’.

JENNIFER: [laughs] Well, that’s a multi-stranded thing. One is that she would have felt it to be very vulgar to have, as she would have said, puffed off her consequence. So, to have actually acknowledged publicly that she was good at what she did, she would have thought that was conceited, and conceit would have been being vulgar, and to be vulgar in Heyer’s world was to commit the unforgivable sin. Another reason is, you’ve got to take into account the context. Now, here she is, she’s a woman writing. And so, coming through that long tradition of women writing fiction and often being denigrated for their fiction by the Academy, not so much the mass market or the mass audience – because they have always loved the sorts of books the Mrs. Gaskells, the Brontës, enormous audiences. And so, often just by virtue of being female, you might be denigrated. She was also a peer of writers like Somerset Maugham and Jane Howard and J.B. Priestley and Francis Brett Young and Forster, so I think also not having had a formal education, really…she didn’t go to university, she only had a very limited formal schooling, which didn’t mean she wasn’t educated – she was highly educated – but I think to grow up in a world where women were beginning to go to university, where women were often treated as sort of second class citizens, and in many cases still are, I think that she probably had a kind of cultural cringe. And it didn’t help either that both her husband, who was in fact her first reader and a great supporter, and her publisher, A.S. Frere of Heinemann, both of those men many times said ‘When are you going to jack up this Regency and write a real book?’ So, there was always that sort of external message being imposed upon her about what made literature literature, what made a book valuable, what gave it credibility, and she wasn’t made to feel that her writing was worthwhile in those ways. They weren’t the sort of books that the Academy would set for, you know, students at university. But by golly, they were loved and hugely popular and read by an extraordinary cross-section of society.

SARA-MAE: And still are, aren’t they?

JENNIFER: Yeah, absolutely. And they stood the test of time which, of course, she doesn’t get to know that. And she did once say, ‘I expect my books will die with me, but one or two might continue selling for a while.’ Well, she’s sold over a million books in the last two years.

SARA-MAE: Wow.

JENNIFER: So, she’s doing just fine.

SARA-MAE: I wonder what it is that’s given her this truly lasting quality. I think you mentioned to me in another conversation that you get people who are very perceptive by human nature, but they don’t tell a great story, and vice versa. And you mentioned Sir Walter Scott as an interesting case in point.

JENNIFER: Oh, very interesting. I mean, the great bestseller of his day, in the early 19th century right through to probably the early 20th century. He sold, I think it was a quarter of a million copies of Waverley and it would have been in the home of most Regent families, that book. He was an enormous bestseller. And yet today, very few people read Walter Scott. He’s read in some universities. But if you gave a Walter Scott novel to a teenager today, very few of them would ever read him. He’s considered difficult. He takes ages to get to the story, and the language is considered hard. Heyer is different. She has an elegant prose, her prose is stylish, her syntax and grammar flawless – she’s a master of English. But her books are often joyful, they’re highly entertaining. Her characters live and breathe. She endures too because the Regency is a period that has become enormously romantic for millions and millions of readers all over the world. I mean, Heyer created that genre, really. Austen began it and Heyer really consolidated into an accessible way of writing about that period. And any modern author of Regency novels, most of them would acknowledge their debt to Heyer and at the same time acknowledge that no one writes like Heyer. No one recreates the Regency…

SARA-MAE: Acknowledge? I mean, some of them shamelessly copy!

SARA-MAE: We discussed Barbara Cotton’s instances of plagiarism in her first historical fiction trilogy, for which she borrowed heavily from Heyer. We discussed this already in Episode 10, so do listen to that for more details.

SARA-MAE: I suppose the reason is because it wasn’t as though Heyer was making up all these lovely colloquialisms and turns of phrases, she was doing very, very deep research and buying letters at auction, wasn’t she?

JENNIFER: Yeah, that’s true. That particularly refers to the phrase ‘to make a cake of oneself’ which is to make a fool of oneself. And she had found that phrase in a private memoir, written by a soldier who’d been in the Napoleonic Wars, and it had been lent to Georgette Heyer by a descendant of that soldier. And she knew that Barbara Cartland had never seen that memoir. It was the only place that Heyer ever found it.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

JENNIFER: You know, she was incredibly accurate, historically,

SARA-MAE: A real stickler, wasn’t she? And she had copious notes.

JENNIFER: Oh, yes, yes.

SARA-MAE: So, before doing your research on Heyer, what preconceptions did you have about her? And did you find that they were correct? Or were they completely tossed out the window?

JENNIFER: I loved her books, but I knew nothing about the author. And then I read Jane Aiken Hodge’s biography, The Private World of Georgette Heyer, which is a really good book and beautifully written. And then I wrote to Jane and actually she invited me to lunch when I was on a research trip, where I met Sir Richard, Georgette’s son, and then went and had lunch with Jane Aiken Hodge.

SARA-MAE: Like Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge was a prolific author of historical novels and contemporary detective novels. She’d also been a civil servant and later worked for ‘Time’ magazine. Her admiration for Heyer’s work is clearly communicated in The Private World of Georgette Heyer and is well worth a read for Heyer completists. I’m fascinated to hear how the two biographers got on.

JENNIFER: She was marvellous, just marvellous. Extraordinarily sharp mind, really clever woman. And we had this fabulous lunch. We just talked and talked. And she had very kindly asked her housekeeper to get down from the attic, her notes from the biography that she had written. And there were twelve manila folders just jammed with all sorts of notes and photographs, original Georgette Heyer letters, notes from interviews that Jane had had with people who had known Heyer who were no longer alive. And so, she said to me, ‘I thought you might be interested in looking at these.’ Of course, I was pretty much salivating, really, but we’d spent this time talking – so interesting, Jane – and we ran out of time, and I needed to leave, and I hadn’t really looked at them. So, I was standing there quickly, you know, opening the first folder and seeing these riches, and Jane said ‘Just, you know, take anything you want.’ And I’m thinking, I’m like, ‘Well, no,’ because as an academic researcher, to me it would be a crime to break up an archive because the archive itself is a historic artefact, which has context of its own. And so, I just thought, ‘Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly.’

SARA-MAE: That must have been so unbelievably tough for Jennifer to have essentially a treasure trove in her hands and have to put it down. I love this honourable act and what it says about her integrity as an academic.

JENNIFER: And then she said, ‘Oh look, why don’t you just take it? Take the lot!’ And I sort of gasped and went, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t!’ and she disappeared out of the room and came back a few minutes later with this bag. It was a Swan Hellenic cabin bag – she’d obviously been on a cruise at some point. She proceeded to shove these manila folders into the bag, zipped it up and shoved it into my arms ushered me to the door and saw me out. Well, I was speechless really. I mean, I thanked her, but I didn’t know what to say. She lived in Lewis, and it was just a short walk to the station, and I caught the train back to London. And I just hugged that bag to my chest all the way back to London. I just couldn’t believe it. And I tell you, if you had offered me the crown jewels, I would not have swapped them for that bag. I would have hung on to that bag as if my life depended on it. I still have that bag, you know. I sat on my bed and just opened it and just spent hours just going through it and just couldn’t believe my luck. Because there were these, you know, interview notes from A.S. Frere of Heinemann, Max Reinhardt, who’d been Heyer’s publisher at the Bodley Head, Pat Wallace, who’d been her great friend, Dorothy Sutherland who’d been the editor of ‘Woman’s Journal’, all sorts of people who were dead and who I would therefore never be able to interview. And so, it was another layer of material. And then when I got these archives of letters, to be able to draw on the Jane Aiken Hodge archive, as I called it, and marry it to things in the letters was just fantastic. So, I felt very lucky.

SARA-MAE: What a lovely experience, in the sense that you were kind of enlarging and continuing on the good work that she had done. And the fact that she’d sensed that in you to such an extent that she was, like, ‘Take this incredible trove of mine and, sort of… I mean you could have been a… you could have done anything with it!

JENNIFER: Oh, absolutely. Well, I had that experience a lot. It was quite extraordinary. And whenever I went back to England – because I did, I think it was nine research trips to England in about eleven years, pursuing anything I could find about Georgette Heyer – whenever we would go back (and my husband sometimes came too), we would go down and visit Jane and take her out to lunch. And she was just the most marvellous conversationalist. She was just this extraordinary woman, I mean, she was a really successful author in her own right too. And so, in I think it was 2007, we take her out for lunch. And I’d always had this little bit of guilt about taking the archive. And I’d said to her, ‘Jane, are you sure you don’t want it back?’ and she said, ‘No, no,’ she said, ‘I was so relieved to pass the mantle to you, and I’m so pleased that you’re looking after it and making good use of it.’ And she died two years later, which was just tragic.

SARA-MAE: Sadly, Hodge took her own life by means of an overdose in June 2009. In her ‘Times’ obituary, it stated that she left ‘a letter expressing her deep distress that she had felt unable to discuss her plans with her daughters, without risking making them accessories.’ After undergoing a six-month legal ordeal, Professor Joanna Hodge and her sister, Jessica Hodge, were cleared of assisting their mother in her death. Joanna said Jane had been planning it for over fifteen years and called for assisted suicide laws to be changed. It’s unclear why Jane wanted so badly to take her own life. In a ‘Mail on Sunday’ article before her death, she spoke of ‘how much happier’ she would be if she knew she had a ‘reliable exit strategy planned for the dubious future’. Still, the fact that she planned this exit for so many years implies a long struggle with who knows what mental or physical challenges. Perhaps it was indeed a relief to hand over her Heyer archive to someone whom she knew would respect and care for the contents as well as Jennifer’s done.

JENNIFER: I felt very honoured. I’ve always felt just so grateful to have this experience. And to have had the opportunity to do this research and to meet some extraordinary people. I mean, my life has been changed by Heyer in so many ways. And I’m so privileged and so blessed and lucky to have had this opportunity. And people have been extraordinarily kind and generous.

SARA-MAE: Did Jane actually get to read your finished book?

JENNIFER: Jane read Georgette Heyer’s Regency World and loved that. And then she read a draft of the biography. And what was fantastic was that not only did Jane Aiken Hodge read it, but also Jean Frere – so, A.S. Frere of Heinemann’s daughter-in-law, who had in fact worked in publishing, worked for the Bodley Head, and knew many of the people that Georgette Heyer had known: she’d married Frere’s son – and she also read the manuscript. And I had this extraordinary experience one evening. I used to ring both Jean Frere and Jane Aiken Hodge from time to time and talk to them, and they were both incredibly helpful and very kind. One night I’d rung them, and Jane had read the manuscript. And she said, ‘Now, Jennifer dear, you do need to be careful. Don’t be too hard on Georgette. You need to be kind to her.’ And then that same evening, I spoke to Jean Frere, who’d also read the manuscript. And she said, ‘Now, Jennifer, you do need to be very careful. You mustn’t write a hagiography. You need to show the dark side of Heyer.’ And so, I thought, okay, I must have done both. Maybe I’ve got the balance right. I mean, it’s a challenge, you know – I’d never written a biography before. I probably will never write one again, to be honest, but this was something I was very passionate about and really wanted to do. And I wanted to do Heyer justice. But I really didn’t want to write a hagiography. I didn’t want to just write that she was this amazing, fabulous woman because nobody is.

SARA-MAE: Without allowing that kind of judgmental voice to creep in, which I don’t like when people do in biographies sometimes, their own opinion of the author colours it. Which you never do at any moment.

JENNIFER: Oh, good.

SARA-MAE: But you still manage to give a very full and rounded [view of her]… And that makes me sort of like her more.

JENNIFER: Yes. Well, she could be difficult – no question. She had emotional issues: losing her father as she did when she was twenty-two. She never recovered from that tragedy. And I think she shut itself down in many ways, emotionally, in her personal life, and kept a very small circle and was very private. And she had very strong opinions about things. But she was also very shy. Her son, Richard, always used to say she talked nineteen-to-the-dozen to hide that shyness. But, you know, she had her outlet in her books – that was, I think, her great emotional outlet. And so, she was a complex person – look, as we all are. And the thing too, I think, that people have to remember is that any biography is just a rough approximation of a life. If any individual thinks about their own life, and someone writing that life, how could anyone ever truly capture a life, you know, all of its subtleties and complexities and its nuances, the micro life as well as the macro life, you know? Think about all of the millions of decisions we make in a lifetime. And all I’ve really had is Heyer’s letters as primary source material.

SARA-MAE: These days, biographers have a wealth of different things and videos, and also, we literally only have these letters. Which makes you finding the Tulsa archive really remarkable because that began from when she was twenty, wasn’t it? 1923, they began?

JENNIFER: Well, that’s right. And before that, I had the small Society of Authors archive, which is held at the British Library, and that began when she was eighteen and had just received the contract for her first novel, The Black Moth. And that’s a fascinating, small archive, because in it, she shows off her acuity and her business acumen and her ability to question a contract. So instead of just going, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got this contract and of course I’m going to sign it,’ she actually wrote to the Society of Authors and asked them to examine the contract. And she raised several issues about it, questions she wanted answered, which at eighteen, I think pretty remarkable. She probably had help from her father, but she wrote several letters herself. And, you know, at one point in a reply to the Society of Authors, she says, ‘I was thinking of asking for a higher royalty, but as this is my first book, I’m not going to do that. I’ll wait until I’m better established,’ which you sort of think, wow! You know, she had a lot of courage. And that’s the thing that’s so paradoxical because there, as you said before, she’s so self-deprecating in her later life, but as a young woman, she had enormous confidence in her writing and in her ability, and she knew that what she was writing was good. I think that’s what I was trying to say before. Heyer always knew that what she wrote was good. She had a great belief in her writing, and she would defend it, but it wasn’t something she was going to publicly say out loud. She was going to say things like, ‘I should be shot for writing such nonsense, but I do think it’s good literature if you’re in an air raid shelter or recovering from the flu.’

SARA-MAE: [laughs] I love that quote.

JENNIFER: That’s the quote that’s always cited. But her son, Richard, told me that she would say those things, but it wasn’t what she really thought. And that she would talk about having to write another Regency to pay the tax, but it wasn’t true. She loved writing those books and she was a compulsive writer. Jane Aiken Hodge says this: ‘You can’t make up stories like that, you can’t write books like that, unless you love the writing process.’ And she certainly did.

SARA-MAE: L.P. Moore obviously spotted that in her first book, The Black Moth. [He was] her first agent, who shepherded her through that early stage of her career, but obviously Jane never had access to those letters.

JENNIFER: No, no, she didn’t. No, not at all. Nor to the Frere archive. A.S. Byatt, when she wrote that excellent article in 1975 about Heyer, she had access to some of the letters from the Frere archive. But that’s held by the family, and I only got permission to read that archive and to transcribe it because Sir Richard actually wrote a very nice letter about me to the Freres and gave me his stamp of approval. I had written to them asking if this archive existed because some of the things that Heyer had said in her business letters to Heinemann suggested to me that there must have been a private correspondence between her and A.S. Frere, who was CEO of Heinemann from the late 30s right through to 1960s. So, I managed to locate the Frere address, from Georgette’s daughter-in-law Lady Rougier, and wrote to them.

SARA-MAE: I really enjoy hearing about Jennifer’s sleuthing. She spent an incredible amount of time creating this biography, rich with the details of an intensely private person’s life. And it was these painstaking steps, coupled with her ability to genuinely endear herself to people like Jane Aiken Hodge and Georgette’s son, Sir Richard Rougier, that make the book such an absorbing and informative read. Plus, I always like a good detective story.

JENNIFER: And they were very uncertain until they wrote to Richard. And he wrote back and said, yes, that I was good news and worth helping. And so, amazingly, they then invited me into their home, and I stayed with them for four days – a complete stranger at the beginning, of course, and I hope a friend by the end – and I transcribed that entire archive. It was ninety-three letters, 70,000 words in four days.

SARA-MAE: Wow! There were no digital cameras or anything like that in those…

JENNIFER: Well, no, there weren’t, but they wouldn’t allow me to anyway. No, I was allowed to transcribe it. That was all. And then after that, they closed the archive.

SARA-MAE: That is so extraordinary, because essentially that means that future biographers and historians are not going to have access to those links, unless you very kindly do the same thing that Jane did and pass on everything that you’ve transcribed. [laughs]

JENNIFER: [laughs] That’s right. So, I don’t know what they’ll do with it in the end. You know, maybe their descendants will have a different attitude, and that would be good. They’re wonderful letters. They’re my favourite, the letters she writes to A.S. Frere, because they became great friends. He was her publisher. So, her first publisher was Constable, and we don’t know anything about that because they only published The Black Moth and their archive was bombed during the war, during the Blitz, so a lot of publishers lost their archives. And so, we lost a lot of really valuable documents. So, Constable, and then she was published by Hutchinson. And again, we don’t have any archival material about that. And then she was published by Longman’s, and they don’t have anything. But I do have all of her contracts, which is really good. They’re in the Random House archive. And then we have Heinemann, and Heinemann have an archive of her letters, but they’re mostly business letters. And they started in 1944 and go through to 1963. And then after that, we have what I call the Bodley Head archive, which Max Reinhardt’s widow, Joan Reinhardt, very kindly allowed me to borrow on one of my trips to London and – for twenty-four hours – and I took it away and had it photocopied, and then returned it to her. So that was exciting. But the Frere archive is a personal archive. It’s letters written by Georgette to A.S. Frere, who was the CEO of Heinemann. He and his wife, Pat Wallace, who was Edgar Wallace’s daughter, became great friends with Georgette and Ronald. And they both lived in Albany, they both had apartments or sets in Albany.

SARA-MAE: That’s one of the lovely things about the biography is getting these insights into her letters to them and their letters back. I mean, it’s really unfortunate that in the end, they sort of seem to fall out.

JENNIFER: Well, it was. It was an incredibly important friendship to Georgette through those years from 1937 onwards. But in 1963, Frere got, as they said at the time ‘kicked upstairs’ and eventually he was forced out of Heinemann. And when that happened, three authors, Graham Greene, Eric Ambler and Georgette Heyer, were very angry about it. They were great friends of Frere’s. And so, they left Heinemann and went to the Bodley Head as a kind of act of protest. And so, from then on Georgette didn’t see Frere as much. In 1966, also, she and Ronald moved out of Albany, because the concrete steps leading up to their apartment became too much for her, and they moved to German Street. And so, the contact was naturally less, both because they weren’t at the same publishing house any longer, but also they weren’t in the same building any longer. And so, I think there was a sort of natural separation as sometimes happens. But the other thing is that there was some kind of a rift. And I have letters from Frere, from Ronald, Georgette’s husband, and from Richard, her son, after Georgette died, in which each of them expresses… they say it’s a mystery as to why there was this rift. It has been suggested by a few people, including her son, that Frere never particularly liked Ronald, and that that was one of the reasons that they went their separate ways at the end, because Georgette was intensely loyal, and she would have always been loyal to Ronald first. But whether that’s actually true is not absolutely certain. You know, obviously, when you’re writing the biography, and you’re relying on testimony, there’s all sorts of factors that could make testimony unreliable. But in the end, that’s all you’ve got, often, and so you’ve got to use it the best you can and deduce as much as you can, with evidence to support the deduction.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, that’s another thing about the skill of writing a biography is knowing when to come down with a little bit of certainty, because otherwise you’re sort of leaving people hanging. I think you did a very good job of that.

JENNIFER: Oh, thank you.

SARA-MAE: Because she was very private.

JENNIFER: Mmm, intensely.

SARA-MAE: To glean what kind of relationships were important to her and…with the L.P. Moore thing I find interesting, because you would imagine being her first agent that he would have almost become like a father figure to her. And he was her agent for quite a long time.

JENNIFER: A very long time.

SARA-MAE: So that when she sort of parted ways from him, and I think you didn’t have any of his letters, unfortunately, back to her, so we couldn’t get his side of the story.

SARA-MAE: The incident I’m referring to is the one we dramatised last week, in Episode 10, in which Georgette summarily fired Leonard, after thirty years as his client.

JENNIFER: Just regarding L.P. Moore, I do think that if you follow the trajectory of Georgette’s relationship with Leonard Moore – he became her agent in 1921 when she was nineteen and he remained her agent until 1953, I think, so more than forty years. And early on, she treated him like a kindly old uncle. And through the middle period, she would sort of often write teasing letters and, and then she would take him to task because it seems that a lot of the people who should have read her work before publication didn’t ever read it. Her agent, her editors, no-one read it. She was not edited at all. They would just receive the manuscript, send her the proof pages, she would amend them, send them back, and they published the book. And it would then sell 100,000 copies or more, depending. So, you know, that would never happen today. After the war, he, to her mind, made the fatal error of moving out of Central London to St. John’s Wood. And she really resented that, I think. She felt that he was no longer available or accessible to her. And I think she found that very difficult. But Frere had also come on the scene by then. Frere was younger, he was charming and stylish and a real cosmopolitan man, a sort of a renaissance man, very intelligent, and she really was drawn to Frere very strongly. And I think Leonard Moore really was past his use-by date to some extent, which seems a bit hard. But I will say in her defence, her contracts changed after the war, and no one ever picked it up. So, her royalties went from 25% down to 20%.

SARA-MAE: And that would have made a massive impact, because she was always – throughout her life, as indicated in the biography – very concerned with money because she was supporting family members, she was supporting her husband when he was retraining to be a barrister. She seems to have been very concerned with the tax man taking her money and all this kind of stuff. So that would have been almost an unforgivable oversight in her mind. JENNIFER: I think. But also, there were options in her contracts that she didn’t know about, and so she wasn’t very happy about that, either. But, you know, he was a good man and very well-meaning and I don’t think he ever really understood her. I don’t think he ever understood her particular brand of humour in her letters or her sort of teasing way. And sometimes she would write him letters where she would, I guess, what we’d say today, she’d vent about this or that thing, and I think give him the impression that he was meant to sort of do something. I don’t think that’s what she wanted at all. I think she just wanted the outlet. Perhaps he never understood that. But whatever happened was that by the end of the relationship, she was saying, well, he was a bit of a silly old man. But that hadn’t been her attitude all the way through. And I think as humans, we all often rewrite history. We change something in the now very much from what it actually had been in the past. So that takes a level of self-awareness that perhaps she just didn’t have, I don’t know. But for all that, I’ve always found this extraordinary that she had this amazing insight into human nature and was able to write so well, and that’s one of the reasons her books endure, I’m sure, and yet in her own personal life she was often quite blind to human nature and to her own foibles and failings, and to reasons for why people might do the things they did. So, I’ve always found that a really interesting paradox about her.

There’s almost no two-way correspondence between Georgette Heyer and anybody that she wrote to. I have one letter from an American gentleman who wrote her a fan letter and she wrote back, so I have his letter to her, and I have her letter to him. But it’s very rare because most of the correspondence that she received, she destroyed – in fact, pretty much all of it apart from a couple of fan letters. She destroyed all her manuscripts too except for My Lord John and An Infamous Army. Richard said, ‘That’s because they mostly lived in flats, and so they didn’t have the room to keep everything.’ But I think it was just a habit with her too, to destroy things.

SARA-MAE: It’s so annoying! I wish that she hadn’t.

JENNIFER: Oh, I know. I know. Well, I was really hopeful, when I was researching, that her great friend, Carola Oman, who was a very popular author and very esteemed biographer herself. Georgette had written to her for years – right, I would have thought, from the early 1920s, and certainly probably from East Africa. And so, I had this great hope that there would still be an archive of Georgette’s letters to her. And so, I contacted Julia Trevelyan Oman, who was Carola Oman’s niece – and luckily, a couple of years before she died. And she was very kind. We spoke on the telephone and she said, ‘Oh no, our Carola never threw anything away.’ So, I had this just great hope. So, she went off and investigated, asked various cousins and relatives, but nobody had any idea of where such an archive might be, or had never seen any letters. So, I can only think that they were destroyed, because she did outlive Georgette by a year or two. And so, I wonder if perhaps she destroyed the letters after Georgette died. But perhaps one day they’ll turn up?  

SARA-MAE: I know, that would be great, wouldn’t it? I mean, it’s the same with Jane Austen’s family. They sort of heavily redacted or…

JENNIFER: Yes.

SARA-MAE: I asked Jennifer how protective of her legacy Heyer’s family were, particularly Richard.

JENNIFER: Well, he was very protective. It took him a long time to trust me, and I kept turning up and they’d have me to stay, and we got on very well. We became very good friends. And we had a lot in common in terms of books we’d read growing up, and we had a lot of common interests. Richard was a great raconteur, a great conversationalist, so it was always a pleasure to meet with him, and on every ensuing visit, he would come out with something new. I remember one visit where he brought out Georgette’s baby books that her mother had kept about her. And he very casually said, ‘Oh, I thought perhaps you might like to see this.’ And it’s like gold because there are things about Georgette from when she was born. She was obviously an early talker. She was an early reader. She was obviously very bright as a toddler. She was making up stories as a child. So, all these little nuggets of information that I would never otherwise have had. Then, one year he brought out all the photo albums, so they were the family photo albums, and then there’s the African album, which proved once and for all that she really did live in a grass hut when she was living in Tanganyika, as it was at the time. And that was funny because my PhD supervisor, he was a South African who’d been a Rhodes Scholar, and one day when I was talking to him about Heyer and my research and I said,’ Oh, of course, you know, she lived in a grass hut.’ And he sat back in his chair and said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous. No English expatriate living in South Africa in the 1920s would have ever lived in a grass hut. That would just be a family legend, she would have lived in a bungalow,’ and he was quite certain about it. So I dutifully altered that in my thesis. But it was actually true! But I didn’t know it until I saw the photographs in this gorgeous little photo album, which shows her crossing Lake Victoria and then going in this terrible sort of truck through the grasslands and getting all the way to this very, very distant… one hundred and fifty miles from the nearest settlement, and then living in a compound made of elephant grass, and she’s living in a grass hut! As she called it, ‘The Manor House’, which I think just delightful.

Richard would bring out more and more information and he began to tell me stories, and then I would write to him. I wrote him letters and I would ask questions and he’d say, ‘Oh, you set me another exam paper.’ And then he’d write me any answers that he had. But there were things he didn’t know. I mean, you must remember that he grew up in many ways separate from his parents because he went to prep school, he went to boarding school, Cambridge, and so much of his life was lived away from the family home. And they were very stiff-upper-lip sort of English people who weren’t tactile, didn’t believe in talking about feelings, and the sorts of things we do today – Georgette would have had a fit, she would just think it was so vulgar.

SARA-MAE: So, did meeting him give you some sort of insight into her personality?

JENNIFER: She adored him, but very proper, very formal, even when Richard had children. They would be brought downstairs by Nanny to say goodnight to Granny and Grandfather. It was all very much that sort of upper-class way of being with children. And she loved him, but they only had the one child and they taught him to play bridge, and they taught him to fly fish, and they taught him to play golf from a very young age. So, I don’t know that he had what we would consider a sort of fun childhood where Mum and Dad get down in the dirt and play with you. I can’t imagine that ever happening, really, but perhaps it did. I mean, part of the things we don’t really know. But photos of Richard as a little boy, even when they’re on holiday, he’s in a full school suit with a tie at the age of six or seven.

SARA-MAE: Wow!

JENNIFER: I mean, that was typical of the time. Many things have changed, so that’s why I tried to have to be so careful not to impose a modern sensibility onto that life. And that’s why I really wanted to let her speak for herself as much as possible. But again, I think it’s really important to remember that what we have of her is from her letters and her books. And that’s a very limited representation of someone’s life and feelings and way o.f thinking and way of being. Of course, some things come through. And I think you get, as I said, a rough approximation, but a letter, too, is written in a moment or a series of moments on a particular day in which you might have a particular reason for writing as you do that’s unknowable to the reader. I think it’s always going to be paradoxical and complex, but interesting, nevertheless,

SARA-MAE: The fact that you managed to speak to people so you could widen the aperture through which we get a sense of who she is, is amazing, but a lot of them have passed away now, unfortunately, like Richard.

JENNIFER: I know. That was terrible. Yeah.

SARA-MAE: Richard died on October 25th 2007. At the time of his death, he was described in his ‘Telegraph’ obituary as an outspoken and colourful high court judge, generating headlines for his high-profile cases, despite ‘his frequently professed abhorrence of personal publicity, a trait he shared with his emotionally inhibited but materially extravagant mother’. A bit of a glib way to write off our complex Georgette, isn’t it? In an eerily prescient remark, he told one interviewer, ‘I have strong views. I despise dirt and squalor and the rat race. The attitudes of the war years and those that followed were far healthier and considerably safer. I dislike the current lack of respect for people, the awful ‘I, I, I’, the total lack of restraint.’ Like his mother, he had a talent with words, apparently dispensing justice and bon mots weighted with literary and classical allusions – his memory for such being exceptionally good. Jennifer told me, in a previous conversation, that he might have written books if he’d wanted to but, apart from one tome on British birds and a poem on Caratacus, he never followed in his mother’s footsteps.

JENNIFER: I found him incredibly kind and incredibly generous. I think perhaps the best compliment I ever had for Georgette Heyer’s Regency World was after Richard had read the manuscript. He said, ‘I think my mama would have approved.’ And I always thought that was just wonderful.

SARA-MAE: What did he say about the biography?

JENNIFERL He was happy. He always said to me, as long as you don’t write anything scandalous. There’s been a bit of a thing in recent years for some biographers to write that this person or that person was gay or lesbian, or they like to find some kind of a hook – which isn’t to say that it’s not true, perhaps it is true. But I think sometimes, it’s a little bit of a long bow in some cases. And I think perhaps he didn’t want me to take that kind of an approach to his mother, to look out for some scandal in order to sell more copies. Well, I was never going to do that. I mean, if there’d been something scandalous, I would have done my best to put it out there and to be honest, write honestly about it, give it its proper historical context, but she lived a pretty private, reclusive life.

SARA-MAE: Some people have speculated about her sexuality because of the fact that, as you’ve documented in the biography, there did not seem to be a very sexual side to [Georgette and Ronald’s] relationship, and she used to joke about his ‘blonde’.

JENNIFER: His floozie, yeah, that’s right. Look, she came from a very not tactile generation. Public displays of affection were certainly never going to happen. But I don’t know that she was particularly interested in sex, that’s certainly been said to me in the course of my research, from people who had things said to them by Georgette Heyer. I certainly would never suggest that she was a lesbian. I don’t know that that’s out there as a suggestion, and there’s no evidence whatsoever for that.

SARA-MAE: But she could have been asexual.

JENNIFER: Yep, absolutely. It’s quite possible she just wasn’t particularly interested in sex. I mean, when you think about it, a lot of women didn’t know very much about sex and there certainly wasn’t an expectation that we were meant to enjoy sex in that period, necessarily, depending on what class you were from. And so, it may have been not particularly enjoyable. So, who knows? I mean, the fact is, Sara, we will never know. And it’s all very well, to speculate and come up with all sorts of scandalous ideas, but I’m a historian as well as a writer and I’m not going to make stuff up to please the public taste for scandal.

SARA-MAE: Or re-jig it so it looks a certain way, yeah.

JENNIFER: Yeah. Oh, certainly not. You know, I was able to say that in the biography, and I only said it in a very sort of low-key way, and that’s because I had had it said to me by people who then asked not to be named. So, I couldn’t reference it. I couldn’t say, ‘So-and-so said this,’ but I was allowed to actually say that she wasn’t terribly interested in sex. So, it’s difficult as a biographer because if you’re going to retain your integrity, then you get constrained. I think any biographer worth their salt recognises that at the outset that there are going to be things that are going to be possibly off the record. I mean, when Jane Aiken Hodge wrote her biography, she didn’t name Barbara Cartland because she’d been asked not to. It was off the record. And if something’s off the record, well, you don’t have any choice. I believe in honour and integrity very strongly. You know, I’d rather sell fewer books and maintain my integrity.

SARA-MAE: The end! I tweeted you [about this]… I know how it ends, and obviously, it’s her life, I knew it was going to happen: she’s going to die at the end. And the sadness of that, because you created such a living picture of her…

JENNIFER: Oh, thank you.

SARA-MAE: And then the fact that her husband was ill himself and committed suicide. I just, it just broke my heart.

JENNIFER: Terrible, isn’t it? Yeah.

SARA-MAE: It must have been so hard for her son.

JENNIFER: It was, yeah. Dreadful. Well, the thing, too, is that Ronald, being Ronald, he set about it in a very methodical way. He made sure that Richard and his wife were away at their country property that weekend and organised it down to the last detail, very much like in the way that he used to work out how the murder had been committed in Georgette’s detective novels. It was terribly sad. But he didn’t want to go on living, he had cancer of the jaw and he didn’t want to go on living like that. And so, he took matters into his own hands and did the best he could, I believe. I think, there’s no doubt that he did what he thought was the very best he could to protect his son from hurt and from pain, but the fact is you can’t when you kill yourself.

But he did do a great thing in getting A.S. Byatt… he gave her access to the family album, and he spoke to her and he got people to talk to her so that she wrote this terrific article in 1975, the most comprehensive account of Georgette Heyer that had ever been written up to that point. A.S. Byatt did a terrific job with that and wrote very insightfully and intelligently about Heyer. So, Ronald ensured that that was done, and I think that was his last great tribute to his wife.

SARA-MAE: Is there anything new that surfaced that you can tell us, that you wouldn’t have known since you wrote the biography?

JENNIFER: Well, obviously, we have the blue plaque – that was a very big deal. And the re-issued anthology, which has the three additional short stories. There are moves afoot to try and get up a film of one of Heyer’s novels, and there’ve been suggestions about a web series, which I think would be terrific, of one of the novels.

SARA-MAE: Do you know which?

JENNIFER: I think the web series is The Talisman Ring? And certainly, The Grand Sophy’s meant to be in production at some point. But we thought about trying to do a Kickstarter project to fund, perhaps a web series or see about getting a film into production? Because I do think that once one of her novels is produced as a successful film, they’ll just fall like dominoes after that, because there’s so much marvellous material there. It seems to be a no-brainer. I mean, look at the success of ‘Downton Abbey’. Austen’s been filmed to death, but still popular. We’ve just got to get the right script and the right production values.

SARA-MAE: What about Netflix?

JENNIFER: Yeah, Netflix would be fantastic. There are several books that would make brilliant TV series. Certainly, The Talisman Ring was produced very successfully as a play in Chicago. They did a wonderful job with that, and it was hugely popular.

SARA-MAE: I got to chat all about this production to Chicago-based director, Dorothy Milne, and writer Christina Calvert. These two ladies adapted The Talisman Ring for Landline Theatre. Our conversation gives an insight into the difficulties and creativity involved in producing a book for the stage. Look out for that in Episode 19.

SARA-MAE: Did you go to see that? I wanted to but couldn’t make it.

JENNIFERL: I did see Cotillion, which I thought was marvellous. But I think The Talisman Ring is really accessible and it’s so… it’s such a clever plot and so funny. So, it’s got a lot of great Heyerisms in it, I think. And two pairs of wonderful characters in Ludovic and Eustacie, and Sarah Thane and Sir Tristram. So look, I think there are some things afoot, bubbling away there that hopefully will come to fruition. And of course, there’s your fabulous podcast!

SARA-MAE: Of course. Do you know why her books haven’t been made into a film? There’s this kind of widespread notion that she was ‘agin’ it?

JENNIFER: No, she wasn’t. And I’ve written about that on my website under a blog called ‘Mythconceptions’. No, Heyer always wanted her books made into films, right from the very beginning. Simon the Coldheart was the first book she thought would make a terrific film. She wanted book after book after book. And many of them have been optioned, but for this reason, for that reason, they’ve just never got to greenlight. It’s a great shame because they would make wonderful films, TV series, web series, Netflix series. I think it’ll happen. The stars need to align a little bit. It’s like anything that’s successful: you need an element of the right people being in the right place at the right time. A bit of luck. Certainly, we’ve got the right vehicle. She’s got probably a dozen of her books, at least, that would be…

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

JENNIFER: So, it isn’t that people haven’t tried. And it certainly isn’t that she didn’t want it to happen. She most definitely did. And her son did too. So, the estate certainly wants a production company, and they certainly want the right script.

SARA-MAE: Fabulous, fabulous. Thank you so much, Jen. I really appreciate you…

JENNIFER: No problem at all. Great to talk.

SARA-MAE: Wonderful to speak to you.

JENNIFER: No worries.

SARA-MAE: Bye-bye.

JENNIFER: You too. Bye.

SARA-MAE: I’ve adored talking to Jennifer about Heyer’s life and work. Her integrity and obvious ability to win people over is inspiring. And one can’t help thinking that the two qualities are interlinked. I’m getting a wee bit emotional again thinking about the three people connected to Heyer, dead now and two by suicide. Suicide is such a harsh word. It sounds violent and terribly lonely. I can only imagine the resolve or suffering it takes for someone to be driven to doing it, and the terrible toll this violence takes on those left behind. Ronald’s death would have scored a deep mark on his son, Richard, the scar of which he clearly revealed to Jennifer, his mother’s biographer and ultimately good friend. I can’t help but wonder how many secrets Jennifer was privy to: darkness revealed or simple prurience kept under wraps. What a responsibility to hold the details and confidences of someone’s life. ‘I don’t think I’ll ever write another biography,’ she said, and I wonder if it’s because this burden is too heavy to bear.

Jennifer is a marvellous writer of fiction too. And her latest book, Jane Austen’s Ghost, is available to buy now on Amazon. Do support her by reading it. It’s an imaginative romantic romp, bringing Jane Austen into the modern world and exploring themes of love, literature, and life everlasting. If you’re a Regency romance fan, her book, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, is a must-buy packed full of information about the colourful details of the period. If you don’t know your barouches from your curricles, then take a peek inside. Her biography, of course, is a wonderful read, painting a picture of a flawed yet brilliant person, one who lived her best life through her books. And it’s there that I hope to find her over and over, forever.

Next week, I’ll be reading Cotillion with Jojo Thomas and Aiden Truss. Why not get it as an audiobook from Audible now? You’d have to be an oyster-faced clench to miss out.

This has been Heyer Today. This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn, and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott for nappy changing and production assistance.

Sarah Golding is our fantastic voice talent this week, a true legend. I’ll be putting info about her into the show notes. Thanks also to Geraldine Elliot, Talitha Gamaroff and everyone who supported me in creating this work. Thanks to Suzy Buttress in particular, and the podcast community at large for invaluable support and advice.

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s amazing album, ‘Chapter I’, as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious ‘Message to Bears’ tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast by myself and Tom Chadd.

Jennifer’s website is jenniferkloester.com, where you can find all her news as well as information about her novels, non-fiction work and appearances.

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media. We’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter. Remember to rate, review and subscribe. It really helps indie companies like us to thrive.

Heyer Today is a Fablegazers production.

HEYER TODAY EPISODE 8: ARABELLA WITH ROBERT & CAROLINE

Transcribed by Zoë Barraclough

Listen to this episode here.

SARA-MAE: Previously, on Heyer Today.

HARRIET EVANS: I’m smiling as I’m talking to you, because it’s just so joyful to talk about her. Because of all authors, she is the one who I and my friends re-read the most. There is no pleasure greater, I would say, than knowing you’re going to re-read her. The heroine I get on less well with is the ‘Arabella type’ who are big-eyed and guileless. They’re a bit more…I can take them or leave them a little bit. Oh God, this is just my idea of heaven, Sara-Mae, can we just do this all day?

SARA-MAE: Welcome to Heyer Today, a serial podcast in which we’ll be looking at 13 of underappreciated author Georgette Heyer’s regency romances. This is the fourth book club episode in which I try to convert (mostly willing) victims to Heyer’s work. This week, I’ll be talking to my mate Robert Scott, VP of Finance at impact, and the Right Rev Risdon, one of my favourite people, and the person who’ll be putting in a good word for me with the big kahuna, I’m talking of course about Beyoncé.

They have very different views on the book, which makes this a particularly piquant episode – don’t forget to let us know who you agree with via twitter @fable_gazers or Instagram @fablegazers.

But first here’s Beth to tell us what Heyer was up to when she wrote Arabella.

Psst, before we go ahead…if you haven’t read the book, do go and grab it from your local library or your preferred book retailer. Remember the book list is on our website fablegazers.com, so you can read along with us.

Oh, and before we begin, remember we discuss the book in its entirety, so there WILL be spoilers, ok?

Anyway, back to Beth.

[HISTORICAL SEGMENT]

BETH: In the early 1940s, Georgette Heyer’s detective and romance novels are mainly set in the English countryside. However, by 1942, Georgette and Ronald have moved into central London and are living in what are now grand, heritage-listed apartments.

Ronald is busy studying for the bar, and trying to get over the recent death of his mother. Meanwhile, they have inherited her dog – Johnny the bull terrier.

Georgette’s brothers, Boris and Frank, are both in the services and fighting in Europe. But they visit when on leave from the Army, too.

They are also joined by son, 9-year-old Richard, on his holidays from being safely away at boarding school.

The war years are the start of Georgette’s ‘Albany years’. The Albany – or simply ALBANY as those ‘in the know’ prefer – is a cosy group of prestigious ‘bachelor’ apartments, tucked away between Piccadilly and Mayfair.

The area holds its prestige today – with the flagship stores of Old Bond Street – Gucci, Prada, Chanel and Tiffany’s – a (gem)stone’s throw away.

Actually, Sara-Mae and I could have made a tidy sum if we’d been able to invest in Albany 20 years ago. Apparently a 2-bedroom apartment sold for a mere £715,000 (freehold) in 1999. Today Sotheby’s Realty tells us the same apartment would go for close to £5 million.

Today if you are wandering around Burlington Gardens, near Albany’s private rear exit, you could bump into some of its residents – which may include actor Bill Nighy – but we are giving away no secrets here!

Famous past residents include several former prime ministers, poet Lord Byron, writer Aldous Huxley, and actress Dame Edith Evans.

Also sealing the deal for Georgette on its literary heritage is Oscar Wilde’s Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest, and none other than Henry Austen of military finance agency, Austen & Co, a military payroll and banking agency which had offices in the most prestigious address at No. 1 The Courtyard, close to Piccadilly. Henry Austen is better known as Jane’s brother – and the one who supported Jane financially when their father died suddenly in 1805. This connection must have pleased Georgette no end.

Georgette and Ronald live at F3 Albany. They also lease a tiny attic room (F1) where Richard lives when he is older.

It must be Georgette’s ideal location. In one direction, she is a stroll from Fortnum & Mason’s, Hatchard’s bookshop – and a short taxi ride to Harrod’s. On the other side of Piccadilly is London’s West End and Covent Garden. 

As an aside, I think the extravagant Rougiers would have thoroughly approved of the current resident at F3 Albany – interior designer and gallery director Francis Sultana – who, fittingly, favours the Art Deco period.

On the Financial Times ‘How to spend it’ website, he says:

[MIKE SCOTT READS]: “If I had to limit my shopping to one neighbourhood in one city, I’d choose St James’s in London. I’m not a huge shopper, and I’m very loyal. Along with my Anderson & Sheppard suits, for 20 years I’ve been buying my shirts from Turnbull & Asser. On a Sunday after lunch, I’ll often spend an hour or so looking through books in Hatchards – it’s my local bookshop, so I make an effort to buy from there rather than online.”

I get the feeling that Georgette would approve – and I’d love to see what he’s done with F3.

During the Blitz, Albany wasn’t exactly the safest place to be. While most of the damage caused by Hitler’s bombs was initially felt in the East End – it wasn’t long before central London and even Buckingham Palace received its fair share of damage. Many landmarks were bombed or damaged by fire, and more than 1,000 City of Westminster residents lost their lives, with many more seriously injured.

So, you get an idea of the kind of place Georgette and Ronald central London was when they moved there in 1942. Ronald is working towards becoming a barrister and Richard is off at boarding school. Despite Albany’s strict ‘no children’ policy, the young man is allowed to visit his parents and stay during the school holidays.

So, apart from the war, the decade starts with yet more expenses for Georgette and Ronald – there is Richard’s schooling, their new London address – they would rent at Albany until the 1960s.

Of course, one of Albany’s main attractions is that it is home to her mentor and publishing director at Heinemann– Alexander Frere-Reeves – and his wife, Pat Wallace – Patricia Marion Caldecott Wallace.

While Frere is a fatherly figure at 10 years older than Georgette, Pat is closer to Georgette’s age. And, although Pat’s father, Edgar Wallace – reporter and writer of detective fiction – had died in Hollywood a decade earlier (while working on the script for his classic movie King Kong) – Georgette must have relished the connection to her own literary ambitions. (I wonder if she’d also heard that when Edgar Wallace died suddenly during the filming of King Kong in 1932, he owed hundreds of thousands of pounds in expenses and horse racing debts. Sir Patrick Hastings, the Wallace’s family friend and barrister, stepped in to sort it all out, kept the estate solvent and had royalties rolling in from Wallace’s literary assets.)

As well as her literary heritage, Pat has her own credentials – she is a journalist, reviews books and theatre productions. In her mid-30s in 1942, when she was younger, Pat had worked for Women’s Journal editor (and Georgette’s nemesis) Dorothy Sutherland. They didn’t get on and Pat resigned. This may have been something they bonded over, as Pat and Georgette become firm friends!

I mean, what does it say about the editor when Georgette finishes Friday’s Child in December 1943 – only to have Sutherland turn it down? And yet, Friday’s Child goes on to become Georgette’s first instant bestseller – selling out its first 25,000 copies – with a further 250,000 over the next 3 years!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as we move through the war years, 1943 is the first year Georgette did not have a book published. This trend continues every other year until the end of the 1940s. And, despite tax burdens in the middle of the decade, and the fact that he won’t complete his studies to become a barrister for at least another 10 years (1956), Ronald fulfils his boyhood dream of owning a Rolls Royce!

Things start to settle back into some sense of normalcy towards the end of the war.

Alexander Frere returns to Heinemann after doing his bit for the war effort.

Boris is safely back in England after his time in the army. The allies may have begun to win the war, but that didn’t immediately relieve the strain. In May 1944, Pat Wallace’s younger brother is killed in action.

In fact, the war is ever-present. Ronald continues nightly duties with the Home Guard, along with other Albany residents, including J.B. Priestley.

The Blitz may be over, but other air raids and V-weapon attacks continue over central London during the so-called ‘Lull’ between 1941 and 1944.

But the catchphrase for locals is “London can take it!”  You can imagine the creative Albany residents – Priestley, GB Stern, Graham Greene, Margery Sharp, Harold Nicholson – withdrawing to the cellars – gamely taking part in their own underground salons, including recitations by Dame Edith Evans.

If only we could go back in time – the D-Day and VE parties of the Albany set would really be something to experience!

[AUDIO DRAMA]

INT. ALBANY BASEMENT – THE RESIDENTS ARE HUDDLED TOGETHER AS AN AIR RAID SIREN SOUNDS.

NARRATOR: JB Priestley wanders in in an odd-looking tin hat.

JB Priestley: 

I feel like something left over from the Thirty Years War.

[MUTED BOMB SOUNDS, PLASTER FALLS]

MARGERY SHARP: That Doodle Bug was close today, wasn’t it? I couldn’t believe we got off without even a shard of glass blown, nothing but a bit of plaster falling. It was one of Those Moments, wasn’t it?

GRAHAM GREENE:

Well, if a bomb hit here, half of London’s literary elite would be decimated. I’m rather honoured to be in such good company.

[LAUGHS NERVOUSLY]

 NARRATOR: No one has the heart to laugh at Graham Greene’s joke.

ANOTHER BOMB FALLS, A BIT CLOSER. RICHARD WHIMPERS.

GEORGETTE: Come here. (under her breath) Now, you must be a brave boy. You’re the only boy here. That’s because you’re very special, but you have to be strong, do you see? You have to act like a man…like all these gentlemen here.

RICHARD: 

But…father’s out there somewhere!

GEORGETTE:

He’s being very brave, and that’s why I need you to be brave too, just like him. 

[BOMB HITS NEARBY. THERE’S A PAUSE AS THE DUST SETTLES.]

NARRATOR: Dame Edith Evans stands up, and walks to the centre of the room.

EDITH EVANS: 

(starts declaiming a Shakespearean monologue)

 ‘Till I have no wife, I have nothing in France.’
Nothing in France until he has no wife!
Thou shalt have none, Rousillon, none in France;
Then hast thou all again. Poor lord, is’t I
That chase thee from thy country, and expose
Those tender limbs of thine to the event
Of the none-sparing war? And is it I
That drive thee from the sportive court, where thou
Wast shot at with fair eyes, to be the mark
Of smoky muskets? O you leaden messengers,
That ride upon the violent speed of fire,
Fly with false aim; move the still-peering air,
That sings with piercing; do not touch my lord.
Whoever shoots at him, I set him there;
Whoever charges on his forward breast,
I am the caitiff that do hold him to’t;
And though I kill him not, I am the cause
His death was so effected. Better ’twere
I met the raving lion when he roar’d
With sharp constraint of hunger; better ’twere
That all the miseries which nature owes
Were mine at once. No, come thou home, Rousillon,
Whence honour but of danger wins a scar,
As oft it loses all, I will be gone;
My being here it is that holds thee hence.
Shall I stay here to do’t? No, no, although
The air of paradise did fan the house
And angels offic’d all. I will be gone,
That pitiful rumour may report my flight
To consolate thine ear. Come, night; end, day;
For with the dark, poor thief, I’ll steal away.

[THE GROUP CLAPS]

GEORGETTE: Which was that, Richard?

RICHARD (VOICE SLIGHTLY WOBBLY): All’s Well That Ends Well.

GEORGETTE: And it will. You’ll see.

BETH: The hub of creatives had proved that ‘London could take it’ – they’d supported each other through paper shortages, bombing, fires and, of course, tragic family news. 

Georgette was elated that both her brothers survived the war unscathed. She must have been looking forward to no more bombing raids or blackouts.

 After the war, Sylvia returns to South Kensington. Before the end of the 40s, Georgette would support Boris when he found it difficult finding post-war work. And she would pay for Frank’s wedding reception. 

While rationing continued in the UK until 1954, one place that was not suffering as much was Australia. Georgette had a particularly keen Aussie fan – 13-year-old Rosemary White – who wrote to Georgette from the countryside in Australia – worried that her favourite author would be weak from food rationing and wouldn’t be able to write. She offered to send a food parcel.

Rationed items included tinned fruit and dried fruit, meat and bacon, breakfast cereals, tea, sugar, butter, jam, biscuits, cheese, eggs, lard, and milk.

Sounds like a bake-off. And, actually in 1947, when Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip, Aussie Girl Guides supplied all the ingredients for the Royal wedding cake. They arrived in London in heavily stamped wooden crates – INGREDIENTS HRH PRINCESS ELIZABETH.

I can’t resist adding – for Sara-Mae’s benefit – that the South Africans contributed a rather stingy half bottle of brandy!

SARA-MAE: The least they could have done was send some biltong!

Rather than receive a similar crate, Georgette dissuaded her young fan. But she must have been touched by the gesture – it was one of the few fan letters she kept –But instead she replied to Rosemary –

“It is very kind of you to want to send me a parcel of food, but I think you had much better save the money to buy my next book! Then we shall both benefit! Things are difficult in England, but not desperate.”

And there was a growing income to enjoy – from royalties, she was earning about £1,000 a year (nearly £43,000 in today’s money), plus sizeable advances for new novels, and the same for serialisations. She has loyal fans in Australia, South Africa and America. Book club sales were also a valuable addition to her royalty income. So, you could imagine around £130,000 annual income.

Rent at Albany was only around £350 per annum. Remembering of course that Georgette had Ronald’s studies to consider, and her mother and brothers to look after as well.

So, for the time being, Georgette could enjoy shopping at Harrods and Fortnum’s, eating at the Savoy or Ron’s Club, and savour her friendships with fellow Albany residents.

She was also busy writing. Along with bestseller, Friday’s Child, before the end of the decade, she had published two romances: The Foundling (which Dorothy Sutherland DID agree to serialise in her magazine) Arabella, and two detective novels: Penhallow and The Reluctant Widow – which also attracted film company interest.  (Georgette is able to tell her young Aussie fan about it and send her an inscribed copy of the novel. She enthused: “It’s being filmed in technicolour next year!”)

Unfortunately, the filmed version in 1949 is not up to par and it’s not surprising that Georgette was not impressed.

And while they were anticipating a successful production, Georgette and Ronald employ a new accountant to take care of the increasingly complicated finances.

J.M. Rubens advises the couple to establish a limited liability company. Georgette and Ronald would benefit from dividends and bonuses from the writing contracts and copyright. Georgette would receive a wage from Heron Enterprises Limited for her services. And the company would also own the copyright in her works for the next 22 years.

It feels like a fresh start.

Georgette ends the decade looking to a new modern era – she has been given her first typewriter and has started using it to complete her manuscripts. Gone is the quill – on her desk at least; I’m sure her fictional heroines will continue to swirl in ink.

The 1950s are just about to arrive – will this affect readers’ taste? Will Georgette’s sales keep up?

Fittingly, we end the decade with the publication of Arabella in 1949.

With its scenes of travelling into London, and London’s High Society, you can’t help but feel that Georgette is using her keen observation skills of the past years to make London a central character in Arabella!

SARA-MAE: It’s fascinating to get a feel for how the war affected Georgette’s life. Perhaps it’s understandable that there were a few years there, where she didn’t produce a book. And now, for Arabella.

[ROB AND CAL INTERVIEW BEGINS]

SARA-MAE: Hi Cal, how are you?

CAL: I’m very well thank you, how are you?

SARA-MAE: I’m good. Can you tell me who you are and what you do?

CAL: My name is Caroline Risdon and I’m a full-time priest. I work at a church in London and I’m about to take maternity leave.

ROB: Why am I qualified to be on this thing?

SARA-MAE: That’s Rob – he’s an old friend of mine. He’s a little confused at being asked to read a Heyer because he rarely reads fiction, never mind Regency romance. If you’re thinking I’ve made my job of conversion difficult for myself…you’re right. But I wanted to select as random a group of people as possible. Maybe I’ll have better luck with my favourite vicar – after all conversion is kind of her jam, right?

ROB: So, OK, I’m man in the street who [laughs] is being asked to opine on Georgette Heyer I’m the epitome of white male privilege… which makes me perfectly qualified to read a women’s book.

SARA-MAE: It’s not a women’s book, it’s set in the Regency era, but that doesn’t preclude men from enjoying it.

ROB: Exactly, that’s the challenge to be addressed here.

SARA-MAE: Were you previously aware of Georgette Heyer’s work before you met me [laughs]

CAL: No, not before I met you, no.

ROB: I’d actually never heard of her before.

SARA-MAE: Have you read any Jane Austen?

CAL: Yes, I love Jane Austen, I’ve read all of her works and I watch any adaptation I see on TV or screen.

ROB: I tried and failed to read Austen when I was at university. I think it was all the airs of the aristocratic behaviour; the stiff upper lip and all the rules around etiquette that I found very difficult to suffer through and when you’re looking for a hero, you’re looking for people of action; there’s a lot of social tension that gets resolved by somebody raising an arched eyebrow.

SARA-MAE: Did you feel that there was a marked similarity between the two authors or…

CAL: Yes, it’s quite fascinating, the use of language and the descriptions of High Society and London and being in the countryside and the expectations [people had]. But also, I think there’s a similarity between the language they both use, their descriptions are so vivid and yet so succinct, and really just hilariously funny, for both of them.

ROB: There’s a little bit of Oscar Wilde in her? I really enjoyed Oscar Wilde when I was in that phase of reading fiction. I went through a phase in my twenties when I was reading a lot of fiction, and then I suddenly stopped.

SARA-MAE: Eh? How could you stop reading fiction? Fiction is my life blood. Why Rob? Why?

ROB: The witty banter and the great insults and coming across phrases that you wanted to write down and use and pass off as your own, it does appeal to me. It’s one of the parts that I enjoyed in the books.

SARA-MAE: Today we are doing Arabella.

ROB: The main character is Arabella who is the daughter of a vicar. She’s coming of age and there’s quite a lot of pressure on her to find a husband and preferably marry rich because the parents are… they’re not poor, but they’re not wealthy and there’s a perception that if Arabella can marry up then that will really help her family.

CAL: She has a rich godmother who is prepared to have her and host her and launch her in society for a season in London, which throws her and her siblings into a complete state of ecstasy… really planning and hoping what will happen.

ROB: The story is around that process of finding a husband and the pressures on Arabella; in a nutshell, what happens is she meets a man…

SARA-MAE:  Mr Beaumaris.

ROB:…By accident along the way to London and she happens to tell a lie.

SARA-MAE: When the book opens, I thought that there was a very funny scene introducing Arabella and her family, and I was wondering if you enjoyed the scene where they were describing [them]. I find it so hilarious when they show the youngest sister as a real pain in the neck. She’s a bit of a hypochondriac, she’s got an onion stuffed into her ear for some reason? Because she’s got earache? There’s the young brother who wants to be in the Navy… you kind of get the sense that this is a large rumbunctious family so that if Arabella can marry well, then all the other daughters can too.

ROB: Well, what is noticeable is that the father is spoken about in his absence. He’s referred to a lot in terms of the kind of person that he is and the way that he has raised Arabella.

SARA-MAE: Mr Tallant, his name is. What did you think of the vicar, her dad, and his part in the story?

CAL: [laughs] Yes, I liked him. He seems a genuinely very faithful and good man, but I found it amusing the way that his children constantly felt guilty about whether they could tell him anything about their real lives or…his conscience and his good nature actually weighed on them as a bit of a burden, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how my children will feel. [laughs] Not because I’m perfect, you know, but that there are high expectations of a clergy person, and perhaps they share those with their children.

SARA-MAE: A lot of times Arabella and her brother Bertram, when they do silly things, they kind of think about the effect on him. A lot of their actions are dictated by the way that he’s going to respond.

ROB: He’s chosen a life for himself that doesn’t bring him a lot of prestige in society. He doesn’t give his family a lot of material wealth and he thinks that those things are in a way beneath him so his family have to compensate around him.

SARA-MAE: Yes, the family who are more in touch with the realities of the day.

ROB: They are more pragmatic.

SARA-MAE: It’s funny how even his wife, she does little things behind his back. you know that she knows that he won’t strictly approve of but that they need to do like when they go and visit the uncle, because she’s kind of hoping that he’ll lend them his carriage. And it’s like, “best not to tell Papa”, you know? I mean he does seem wonderful and they all adore him.

CAL: In some ways, if he weren’t written about so generously or though the other characters’ warmth for him, you would think that he was either boring or hard.

SARA-MAE: Censorious, yeah.

CAL: Yeah, there’s a warmth that comes across.

SARA-MAE: Which is an amazing feat in terms of character description and development; because you’re right, it does sound rather difficult to live with someone like that.

CAL: He’s just a genuinely faithful man and that’s the priority rather than he’s shut off from his family in some emotional way.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, but they do do a lot of protecting of him. So, what did you think of her family, did you think that they were well drawn, did you sort of buy into their plight?

ROB: Yes, I did buy into their plight. I think you find that Arabella’s an immediately interesting character. it’s revealed further on throughout the book, that she has quite a kind heart and they’re in this spot economically where… they’re not dirt poor, but they’re not part of the rich and she aspires to live a good life but she’s very connected to the plight of people that are less fortunate than her. Which makes her really different from all the other characters in the book. All the other characters in the book are obsessed with behaving correctly and not doing anything that’s beneath you ,so that’s immediately drawn into the kindness of Arabella.

SARA-MAE: She has almost no regard for how people can respond [laughs] If it’s the right thing to do, she wants to do it. It puts at risk her social standing on a regular basis.

ROB: Yes, I think it’s very well done in terms of representing both the intimacy and frustration and bitterness that exists between brothers and sisters. So, you get the sense that they are really close, but are also really irritated by one another.

SARA-MAE: There’s like a lot of affection between them. They start fighting and the sisters are like “not in here” [quoting] “…shrieked the sisters in one accustomed voice, but as they had no expectation of being attended to, each damsel made a dive to snatch her own particular property out of harm’s way”, they’re all like… they’re so used to it! They know exactly what to do!

ROB: It doesn’t sort of sugar-coat it, it’s not as if they never fight. It’s quite a tender portrait of the interaction between brothers and sisters.

SARA-MAE: I really loved how they set up her family as well. You really get a sense of exactly who these people are, from the hypochondriac Beth…

CAL: Yes.

[they laugh]

SARA-MAE: …who is always saying these blighting things. Everyone is so annoyed with her, she doesn’t fail to delay Arabella’s going to London by coming down with a “putrid sore throat”. [they laugh] Her description of their family life is so wonderful, so you really are on Arabella’s side by the time she sets off.

SARA-MAE: I enjoy all the kind of fashion stuff as well.

CAL:  So did I as well, yes. It’s quite funny how they are all quite horrified by some of the things that her mother had worn [laughs] when she was in the height of fashion only, (whatever it was) 25 years ago. Now they are all thinking “gosh, what is this awful thing”. You know, it was ever thus, for mums and their daughters.

SARA-MAE: Exactly, although I mean, I think I’d quite fancy some of the stuff my Mum wore in the seventies.

[they laugh]

Maybe not the kaftan she wore on her wedding day but um…

CAL: I think they are quite comfortable, though!

SARA-MAE: So, you get this really warm sense, but also the sense of responsibility that she feels because there’s so many brothers and sisters. Poor old Bertram can’t go into the Army because you have to pay [a large sum for it]. She feels that it is her duty to go, especially since Mama has put aside money that they can ill afford to let her go off and have a bit of spending money. And also to be able to show herself to full advantage.

SARA-MAE: Rob brings up an interesting idea here, which has been a bit of a sticking point for those who are new to regency romances. The fact that many of the storylines revolve around the woman needing to find a man to marry. As a feminist, this is obviously something I’m a bit uncomfortable with… but most of the time the romantic in me tells that bit to shut up and just enjoy the romance.

ROB: Really early on there’s this theme that marrying the correct male will solve her family’s problems. For me it’s quite interesting. Obviously, it’s set well over a hundred years ago but you kind of get this real sense that, ok, the gender dynamic is really extreme and explicit, in terms of what a man can do and what a woman can do.

SARA-MAE: You’re absolutely right, It’s interesting.  Heyer manages to highlight this but also, all her heroines always buck the system, even though they set it up that this is how society is, how a woman’s main goal is to find a husband. This is their pathway for a safe stable life and a good respectable position. But all her heroines want to marry for love and actually that’s quite unusual in this kind of [book], even in Austen’s books.

ROB: I think it’s true for the first ninety percent of the book. I [actually] think the book has a dark ending.

SARA-MAE: Dun, dun, dun! All Heyer’s books have a happy ending – shut up feminist Sara. Yes, I know happy endings in romance and fairy tales are socialising us to have unrealistic expectations of relationships and love – just let me have this, OK? OK. it’s really interesting that Rob doesn’t see it as happy at all, though.

ROB: The ending of the book betrays that. Yes, you go along thinking “yes, she’s a rebel she’s sticking it to the man”, you certainly are led to believe that that’s what Arabella’s role in the book is initially –

SARA-MAE: Whoa, whoa, whoa. let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What happens next in the story?

CAL: Off she goes to London, and on the way her carriage breaks down. She seeks refuge at the house of Mr Beaumaris.

SARA-MAE: Ah, our hero. But what does Rob make of him?

ROB: It’s hard to describe him, but I mentioned Oscar Wilde, I picture him as a straight version of Oscar Wilde. Very fashionable, very witty, he’s very wealthy; he makes it very clear that he’s not interested in yet another woman who is pursuing him for his money.

CAL: Although he receives her somewhat frostily, his friend who is visiting him is captivated by her beauty and is very hospitable, and she overhears Mr Beaumaris say he apparently is such a catch himself because of his wealth. Women would do anything to force a meeting with him, including pretending that their carriage had broken down. And such is her anger, that she pretends to herself be an heiress, so as to put him in his place to show him that she’s not seeking after him.

ROB: Yes, Arabella makes the mistake here of telling a lie at this point which comes back to haunt her.

SARA-MAE: Her temper is what gets her into trouble in the first place and when they are checked in the doorway of the library, Mr Beaumaris has been essentially bragging to Lord Fleetwood about all these women who have pretended to break ankles just as he’s passing by, this just puts Arabella on her mettle, and she sails in… and it’s just such a fantastic scene, I don’t know if you enjoyed it as well, when she’s kind of like “oh, I had really hoped to be inconspicuous, you can just disappear in London”.

CAL: Yes, and I liked it when she said “yes, yes… THE Miss Tallant” As if he’s ever heard of her before. [laughs]

SARA-MAE: And she’s just going, “Oh, you know it is of the greatest mortification to me, being so rich, you can have no notion” and he says “I’ve always found, however, that a large fortune carries with it certain advantages”.

You know, he’s onto it almost immediately and that’s when he twigs that she’s not just a pretty face. It appeals to him, someone standing up to him for the first time probably in his whole life.

CAL: Yes, yes, I’m sure. It’s intriguing because it’s the opposite of what everyone else is doing; falling over themselves and I suppose, from the word go, he knows she’s not seeking his fortune, which makes her appealing and is probably quite a relief, it sounds as if [it’s] very unusual.

ROB: The evening ends with this idea that they have met each other, they’ve chatted, he’s slightly interested in her because she doesn’t fit the mould of all the other women [he’s met]. She’s interested in him although also frustrated by him and it’s left… you’re wondering what will happen with this encounter.

He’s won over by the fact that she’s quite different and he becomes more interested in her. In the beginning he’s not interested in even offering her dinner, in the end he’s willing to exchange the Georgette Heyer equivalent of exchanging phone numbers at the end of the interaction.

SARA-MAE: She sets off a chain of events which she obviously doesn’t anticipate. She asks them not to tell anybody, and Beaumaris, out of spite initially to put her in her place, vouches for her to Lord Fleetwood. And I love the way [Heyer] says, “Like most rattles, Lord Fleetwood thought he was the soul of discretion,” and of course, he’s the one that gets the word out , as Beaumaris knows very well he will.

CAL: Yes.

SARA-MAE: He goes, “Yeah, I’ve heard of her, she’s one of the richest heiresses in the north.” Of course, when she gets to London it gets out of her control almost immediately.

CAL: And off she goes to London. He helps to reinforce this rumour through his friend, and she starts the season off as the talk of the town and has a wonderful season.

SARA-MAE: Just a note here about the London season. It’s an intrinsic part of most Regency romances, made up of, seemingly, a lot of partying. It coincided with the sitting of parliament. During the months when parliament was in session, members of both Houses would come to London with their families. This influx of upper-class people meant entertainment was needed.

Parliament traditionally sat from late October or November through to May or June. As travel was difficult, there was little incentive to leave the capital once the winter weather had set in and so it was convenient for people to stay in London over winter.

However, as travel improved with the spread of turnpike roads and more investment in the infrastructure, fashionable folk travelled more easily to and from London during the winter months. According to historical romance author Rachel Knowles, on her blog, Regency History: “It was no longer necessary to become established in London before the winter weather set in and so the opening of parliament, and hence the season, shifted to January or February. The most active part of the season was the period between Easter and when parliament adjourned for the summer, in July or August.”

SARA-MAE: She’s staying with Lady Bridlington, who is her mother’s friend. I love the description of Lady Bridlington and I think that she’s one of those fools, very much like in Pride and Prejudice, [like] Lizzie Bennet’s mother, who is very pragmatic and commonsensical, but also very silly.

ROB: So, she’s also connected enough to all the right people, including not just being aware of Mr Beaumaris and his influence but  also able to invite him as well. She also knows that Mr Beaumaris is the make-or-break individual for her, if he has a favourable view of her, she’ll be set, she’ll be the envy of the town.

SARA-MAE: She thinks at the very least he won’t spread the story round, but then the story starts coming to her aunt’s ears.

SARA-MAE: She’s not her aunt, but her godmother, an old friend of her mum’s – please forgive the numerous mentions of her as an aunt…!

SARA-MAE: All these young men who are quite hard-up, who are turning up at the balls to become acquainted with her, and people who are noted guys who need to marry well, it kind of starts making her aunt a bit suspicious.

ROB: It’s also a really hard lie to come back from, because, pretending that you’re secretly rich, it becomes the more you deny, the more forceful it sounds.

SARA-MAE: Yes, and in fact her stuffy cousin…

SARA-MAE: Lord Bridlington is not her cousin, but her godmother’s son so…soz, lol.

SARA-MAE: …Does his best to stomp out the rumour. But because he’s such a pompous ass, most people are disinclined to believe it’s true, [they think] he’s trying to keep her for himself, that he’s just trying to put people off.

ROB: There’s also a fear Arabella has… Lady Bridlington sort of stokes it, that she’s going to be spoken of as a fraud and the whole thing is going to be end up as a shame[ful episode]. “Here’s this beautiful heiress, but actually it’s all a lie” and I think that fear kind of hooks in quite deep.

SARA-MAE: But she still manages to have a good time, doesn’t she?

CAL: Yes, you know, like any young woman, is she eighteen? Seventeen or eighteen in the novel?

SARA-MAE: Yes, eighteen, I think.

CAL: Yes, who is not going to enjoy dressing up, and having this different life and going out every day to just be in society and be seen in your carriage… or having a walk in these parks and going to the museum and whatever amusements are on.

SARA-MAE: She becomes the toast of society mainly because Mr Beaumaris, in such a way as to make anybody who is anybody pay attention… he’s one of those people who, just a look or a raised eyebrow can elevate you or destroy you in society.

ROB: He’s amused and attracted but she doesn’t fall for all his tricks.

SARA-MAE: Yes, which kind of makes her more attractive to him.

ROB: Yeah, the old ‘hard to get’ routine.

SARA-MAE: Actually, I don’t think Arabella is playing hard to get here. That implies a calculating factor in her personality which Heyer makes clear she doesn’t have. She is shrewd, in that, she knows not to take Mr Beaumaris’s blandishments seriously, but she’s not a flirt. In fact, this is what disarms Beaumaris and makes him want to get under her skin a little, in spite of himself.

SARA-MAE: Sometimes he’ll be paying her these elaborate flowery compliments and she’ll just cut him off and ask him, “Who is that funny man over there?” [laughs] Pointing to some guy who is really overdressed. I love moments like that where I almost feel like Heyer plays with the typical romance tropes, which you might not be aware of. Instead of this charming guy just sweeping her of her feet and her being this innocent flower, she actually sees through it and doesn’t have patience for it, really.

ROB: Yeah, she’s not following the script of how she’s supposed to be won over by him.

CAL: I feel like she is such a serious person as well, she doesn’t lose her roots, as in being well raised. You know, there is a lot of poverty around them in London, she’s clearly in the upper echelons but she sees all around her that people are not, and she doesn’t lose that thread of herself or her upbringing.

SARA-MAE: She’s not above having a laugh, and enjoying herself, but when it comes to the crunch, and there’s some injustice that she sees, then she will stop at nothing… which is also the source of a lot of the book’s humour. Each of these moments marks a turning point for her and Beaumaris because I think in the beginning, Beaumaris is intrigued by her, but what is great as well, is that she kind of has the measure of him. She’s… it’s not like she’s this innocent girl that gets manipulated by the people around her. She’s been warned off him, because he’s a notorious ladies’ man, who’s never committed to anybody.

CAL: Yes.

SARA-MAE: But she always keeps him at a distance even though she finds him very attractive because she’s aware that he’s probably not interested in her. And of course, this probably makes her more interested.

I’d like to talk about the instances of her social justice warrior…

CAL: [giggles]

SARA-MAE: …Streak coming out, the moment when the chimney sweep falls down [the chimney] into her room, and she takes charge of him. He’s got bruises and burns all over him. I just thought it was so fantastic.

CAL: Well, I mean, she was very compassionate, and captivated by him, the little boy Jemmy, from the word go. And, I think, also quite horrified. I thought it was really well written and convincing… how impassioned she was.

ROB: And there’s an amusing scene where he really doesn’t want to be bathed, and Arabella and one of the other helpers kind of forces this on him.

SARA-MAE: [Quoting the book] “Jemmy fought like a tiger to defend his person from the intended rape, was deaf alike to coaxings and to reassurances. But the two damsels had not helped to bring up their respective brothers for nothing. They stripped Jemmy of his rags, heedless of his sobs and his protests, and they dumped him, wildly kicking, in the bath and ruthlessly washed every inch of his emaciated small person.”

So, she takes this child who is not very well favoured and tries to get Lady Bridlington out of bed. And Lord Bridlington has gone off on a ride and the whole household is in disarray because no one can believe that she’s done what she’s done. And the scene where she’s telling off this abusive chimney sweep master is so funny, “conducted under the open-mouthed stare of a footman in his shirtsleeves, two astonished and giggling maids, and a kitchen boy, was worthy of a better audience.” (So, their confrontation) “…Mr Beaumaris for instance, would have enjoyed immensely.”

CAL: That was brilliant.

SARA-MAE: Yes, Lord Bridlington is the son of Lady Bridlington, who’s her hostess, and he’s such a…ugh, a mansplaining, kind of ponderous… [Quotes from the book] “his understanding was not powerful, but he was bookish and had only formed a habit of acquiring information by the perusal of authoritative tomes. By the time he’d attained his present age his retentive memory was stocked with a quantity of facts that he was too ready to impart to his less well-read contemporaries…”

[they laugh]

CAL: Yes, exactly.

SARA-MAE: And they don’t like each other, which is quite good because everyone suspects him of trying to… when he tries to quash the rumours of her being an heiress, everyone’s like “oh, right, so you can have her all to yourself” but they don’t really like each other and of course, he’s useless when it comes to this chimney sweep when she tries to rouse lady Bridlington, and tell her that something has to be done, we have to save this young chimney sweep, there’s a lovely contrast between her and the people around her and the people of the upper echelons, the way they just don’t want to know. They’re servants; you don’t see them, you don’t hear them, they just move around, do you know what I mean? Whereas, Arabella sees their humanity. And then enters Mr Beaumaris, and his friend Lord Fleetwood.

ROB: Yes, and I think this is one of the many instances where Arabella basically enlists Mr Beaumaris to intervene in one of her missions to improve people’s lives.

SARA-MAE: Just as Arabella is trying to force Lord Bridlington to do something for Jemmy, obviously Lord Bridlington is not having any of it.

CAL: No, he’s not.

SARA-MAE: But that’s where Beaumaris has his epiphany isn’t it? In looking at her, and how unconcerned she is at thinking about what people think, because he knows that she’s aware that he could blight her whole social career just by recounting the story… she doesn’t care at all, and he knows that she doesn’t care, and that’s what really brings it home to him. When it comes to doing the right thing, she’ll do it, no matter what the consequences are/what they’ll be for her. She doesn’t care about the social implications. And it really impresses him.

CAL: It does, and I think this is where you see the strength of her character. [It’s] the influence of her father, because at one point they say “oh we should give Jemmy to the Parish” and she knows full well that they will just put him to work in the same industry because that’s where he’s been working and she just longs for someone to speak on behalf of this child and to take him seriously and to take on his care. I did feel very sorry for Jemmy because they speak about him in very unflattering terms!

SARA-MAE: I think that she’s trying to make the point that it’s not because he’s a sweet little urchin that’s cute, her compassion is roused by his circumstances. Like, she sees his humanity despite the fact that he’s not cute or anything like that. You know, they’re talking, [laughs] when Lord Bridlington [says] “it’s not even as though he’s a prepossessing brat”…

CAL: [laughs]

SARA-MAE: As though that’s… that would make a difference.

SARA-MAE: This extract comes from the Naxos audio book, read by Phyllida Nash.

[AUDIO BOOK EXTRACT READ BY PHYLLIDA NASH]

Lord Fleetwood, who had been regarding Jemmy with frank curiosity, said: ‘Jemmy, eh? Er–friend of yours, Miss Tallant?’ ‘No. He is a climbing-boy who came by mistake down the chimney of my bedchamber,’ Arabella replied. ‘He has been most shamefully used, and he is only a child, as you may see–I daresay not more than seven or eight years old!’ The warmth of her feelings brought a distinct tremor into her voice. Mr Beaumaris looked curiously at her. ‘No, really?’ said Lord Fleetwood, with easy sympathy. ‘Well, that’s a great deal too bad! Shocking brutes, some of these chimney-sweeps! Ought to be sent to gaol!’ She said impulsively: ‘Yes, that is what I have been telling Lord Bridlington, only he seems not to have the least understanding!’ ‘Arabella!’ implored Lady Bridlington. ‘Lord Fleetwood can have no interest in such matters!’ ‘Oh, I assure you, ma’am!’ said his lordship. ‘I am interested in anything that interests Miss Tallant! Rescued the child, did you? Well, upon my soul, I call it a devilish fine thing to do! Not as though he was a taking brat, either!’ ‘What does that signify?’ said Arabella contemptuously. ‘I wonder how taking, my lord, you or I should be had we been brought up from infancy by a drunken foster-mother, sold while still only babies to a brutal master, and forced into a hateful trade!’

CAL: I mean it’s quite a powerful political statement for its time, anyway, because the trade was still around, wasn’t it?

SARA-MAE: It’s something that Jane Austen didn’t tackle, although we’re not looking for Jane Austen to tackle such instances for social justice as she’s a master of talking about these several families in a small village or whatever… It’s interesting how, maybe with the insulation of writing in the 20th century, Heyer is able to bring these things up, and use them as a kind of tool to show the different facets of her characters. She’s really good fun with Jemmy, because she has brothers, she really knows how to handle him when she baths him…

CAL: Yes. [laughs]

SARA-MAE: …With the maid: “Jemmy fought like a tiger to defend his person from the intended rape”. [laughs]

CAL: [laughs] I know, when he wants to well… basically “box” Mr Grimsby, she’s like, “well yes, you could do that, but what are you going to do for a living?” And they realise that she’s obviously used to boys and how they speak.

[AUDIOBOOK EXTRACT CONT.]

 Mr Beaumaris moved quietly to a chair a little removed from the group in the centre of the room, and stood leaning his hands on the back of it, his eyes still fixed on Arabella’s face. ‘No, no! Exactly so!’ hastily said Lord Fleetwood. Lord Bridlington chose, unwisely, to intervene at this point. ‘No doubt it is just as you say, ma’am, but this is hardly a topic for my mother’s sitting-room! Let me beg of you–’ Arabella turned on him like a flash, her eyes bright with tears, her voice unsteady with indignation. ‘I will not be silenced! It is a topic that should be discussed in every Christian lady’s sitting-room! Oh, I mean no disrespect, ma’am! You have not thought–you cannot have thought! Had you seen the wounds on this child’s body you could not refuse to help him! I wish I had made you come into my room when I had him naked in the bath! Your heart must have been touched!’ ‘Yes, but, Arabella, my heart is touched!’ protested her afflicted godmother. ‘Only I don’t want a page, and he is much too young, and such an ugly little thing! Besides, the sweep will very likely claim him, because, whatever you may think, if the boy is apprenticed to him, which he must be–’ ‘You may make your mind easy on that score, ma’am! His master will never dare to lay claim to him. He knows very well that he is in danger of being taken before a magistrate, for I told him so, and he did not doubt me! Why, he cringed at the very word, and backed himself out of the house as fast as he could!’ Mr Beaumaris spoke at last. ‘Did you confront the sweep, Miss Tallant?’ he asked, an odd little smile flickering on his lips. ‘Certainly I did!’ she replied, her glance resting on him for an indifferent moment. Lady Bridlington was suddenly inspired. ‘He must go to the Parish, of course! Frederick, you will know how to set about it!’ ‘No, no, he must not!’ Arabella declared. ‘That would be worse than anything, for what will they do with him, do you suppose, but set him to the only trade he knows? And he is afraid of those dreadful chimneys! If it were not so far away, I would send him to Papa, but how could such a little boy go all that way alone?’ ‘No, certainly not!’ said Lord Fleetwood. ‘Not to be thought of!’ ‘Lord Bridlington, surely, surely you would not condemn a child to such a life as he has endured?’ Arabella begged, her hands going out in a pleading gesture. ‘You have so much!’ ‘Of course he wouldn’t!’ declared Fleetwood rashly. ‘Now, come, Bridlington!’ ‘But why should I?’ demanded Frederick. ‘Besides, what could I do with the brat? It is the greatest piece of nonsense I ever had to listen to!’ ‘Lord Fleetwood, will you take Jemmy?’ asked Arabella, turning to him beseechingly. His lordship was thrown into disorder. ‘Well, I don’t think–You see, ma’am–Fact of the matter is–Dash it, Lady Bridlington’s right! The Parish! That’s the thing!’ ‘Unworthy, Charles!’ said Mr Beaumaris. The much goaded Lord Bridlington rounded on him. ‘Then, if that is what you think, Beaumaris, perhaps you will take the wretched brat!’ Then it was that Mr Beaumaris, looking across the room at Arabella, all flushed cheeks and heaving bosom, astonished the company, and himself as well. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I will.’

ROB: He takes this kid on as a way of perhaps winning Arabella’s heart. It’s the start of Mr Beaumaris changing his life for Arabella. He’s starting to take on some of these underdog causes. You kind of debate whether he’s doing this for Arabella or because he’s becoming a kinder person. It’s the beginning of him moving out of the superficial layer of his life to taking on these causes that Arabella keeps bringing his way.  

SARA-MAE: Rob brings up an interesting point here, as to whether or not Mr Beaumaris’ character really evolves through his encounters with Arabella, or if he’s merely faking it to win the girl. Personally, my reading of it was that he does change, that she reveals to him what a shallow, rather frivolous life he’s been leading…she’s so vivid in her passion for helping others that it makes everything and everyone else he knows suddenly seem pallid by comparison. To me, from this point on, the change in him is genuine. But what does Rob think?

ROB: To me it’s a little unclear what’s going on here. I mean she definitely has this pure heart and good intentions… for me Robert Beaumaris is a little more ambiguous.

She’s attractive to him because she’s different, which he’s attracted to, but it’s because she’s so different from everyone else. In a sense it’s quite an achievement for him to get this girl who is not obviously fawning over him. I think you can read him either way.

SARA-MAE: I mention to Rob about how Heyer uses hunting metaphors when talking about how Mr Beaumaris begins to pursue Arabella in earnest.  Once he’s agreed to take Jemmy into his service, he waits several days until he allows himself to bump into her, so as to build up her interest. This shows his experience in flirtation, yet she holds her own.

CAL: When Mr Beaumaris uses him as an excuse to bump into her and update her… How they describe how Jemmy’s unsettling the whole household with his behaviour…!

SARA-MAE: Yes, I thought that was hilarious.

[SARA-MAE Quotes from book…]

SARA-MAE: ‘As far as I have been able to ascertain,’ replied Mr Beaumaris carefully, ‘he is not only fast recovering the enjoyment of excellent health, but is achieving no common degree of felicity by conduct likely to deprive me of the services of most of my existent staff.’

‘But this is quite absurd, Mr Beaumaris!’ said Arabella severely. ‘You must have been indulging Jemmy beyond what is right! I daresay he is excessively ill-behaved: it is always so, unless their spirits are utterly broken, and we must be thankful that his are not!’ ‘Very true!’ agreed Mr Beaumaris, entranced by this wisdom. ‘I will at once present this view of the matter to Alphonse.’

SARA-MAE: I think this is something that makes you fall in love with Beaumaris, his sense of humour. That’s a very strong thread throughout all Heyer’s books. The sense of humour bringing all these characters together as opposed to just physical attraction. I think that a lot of the copycat books rely heavily on how muscly and how gorgeous [the heroes are], or conversely how beautiful the heroines are.

CAL: Yes.

SARA-MAE: Whereas, with Heyer, it’s very much about the special connection that they have. And then of course, it doesn’t end there, with his enforced good works.

CAL: He realises early on how tiresome this ‘life of philanthropy’ is going to be.

SARA-MAE: He can’t seem to turn Arabella down, you know, and that’s how he realises that he feels much more for her than just a fling or a means of punishing her in some way. He wants her to confide in him, but of course he hasn’t made it easy for her to confide in him. Everything she’s been told… “don’t trust him, don’t lose your heart to him”.

CAL: Yes.

SARA-MAE: She believes he has kind of maliciously allowed the word to get out. So, it’s understandable that she can’t fully trust him, despite feeling in her heart that she can, her brain is like “no”. But that doesn’t stop her from foisting a small dog on him!

SARA-MAE: Robert is a dog lover, so I definitely thought if anything could help convert him to Heyer’s work, it would be the description of Ulysses the dog, so named by Mr Beaumaris, because he looked well-travelled…

ROB: There’s an incident where they’re out for a drive when a really sad-looking dog is obviously having a tough time out there on the streets of London and there’s a repeated refrain where Arabella convinces Robert to take the dog in and Robert pretends to not really like this dog. But this lovable dog is really the hero of the story in some senses. Ulysses himself has a positive effect on Beaumaris himself and brings out the kinder nature in him. But it’s also an example of how Arabella is able to change Robert Beaumaris by throwing these things in his way. Yes, I know the descriptions of Ulysses… this heart-warming dog he’s obviously one of those types of dog that if you don’t fall in love with this dog then there’s something wrong with you. I think it’s the beginning of them really connecting.

SARA-MAE: He’s being forced to engage. He’s being forced to [get his hands] dirty; he’s being muddied up a bit. [Real] life is impinging on his perfect existence.

ROB: Yeah, and this is the quality of real life rather than parties and… what outfit you’re wearing and how impressive are your heirs. It’s sort of [about] can you take care of someone or something?

Then Bertram arrives in town with £100 of winnings.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

ROB: And he’s off to live it large in London.

SARA-MAE: Yes, he won a lottery, didn’t he?

ROB: Yes, and he thinks he’s on a hot streak.

SARA-MAE: I found him a little bit annoying, and I know that this whole thing is central to the plot because it puts Arabella in a position where she becomes desperate to save him…

ROB: Before you know it, he ends up in a gambling establishment that is, I think, owned by Mr Beaumaris?

SARA-MAE: Not owned, all the top figures in society have set up their own little establishments where they all will take turns in being the bank and on this particular night it’s Mr Beaumaris’ turn. He recognises Bertram because, even though Arabella and Bertram have been pretending to be distant acquaintances, as opposed to brother and sister, he’s put two and two together.

ROB: Yes, and he wants to see how this all plays out. What’s really going to happen here? How far will this go? Bertram starts to gamble here and before you know it Bertram is down a lot of money to Beaumaris.

SARA-MAE: And there’s all this honour stuff going on…

ROB: Yes, I think that what happens here is that Robert Beaumaris is half-amused by the situation here and thinks that it’s an opportunity to teach Bertram a lesson. Of course, he’s going to forgive Bertram once Bertram has had a night or two of anxiety about how the heck he’s going to pay this money back.

SARA-MAE: Because Mr Beaumaris says to him, “Right, come and see me next week and pay me back then.” He decides to go on a trip. He dashes off a letter to Bertram to say, “Listen, here’s some money,” but Bertram doesn’t get it because he gets totally pissed.

ROB: Bertram kind of just drinks himself into oblivion thinking how the heck is he going to get out of this situation and what is his family going to do.

SARA-MAE: I just want to take a moment here to appreciate some of Heyer’s marvellously researched Regency colloquialisms for alcohol and drunkenness. Most of the them spouted by Bertram’s wonderfully well-meaning but dim-witted friend, Felix Scunthorpe: flashes of lightning, noggins of blue ruin, bumpers of heavy wet. If you’re drunk, you’d been in the sun a trifle, shot the cat, swallowed balls of fire, or you’d look as queer as Dick’s hatband. I ask Rob if he enjoyed the language.

ROB: Yeah, it was definitely one of the immersive parts of the book where you felt that part of… ok, I’m learning about the culture and what it was like in that time. It was quite a rich part of the book.

SARA-MAE: Back to Felix Scunthorpe. I wonder if Cal found him as amusing as I did? I remind her of the exchange between Mr Beaumaris and Felix have when B is searching for Bertram in order to sort out his debt. [Quotes from the book]

“Have you any brothers?” demanded Mr B.

“No,” said Mr Scunthorpe, blinking at him. “Only child.”

“You relieve my mind. Offer my congratulations to your parents.”

Mr Scunthorpe thought this over with a knit brow, but could make nothing of it.  He put Mr B right on one point. “Only one parent,” he said, “father died 3 months after I was born.”

“Very understandable,” said Mr B, “I’m astonished that he lingered on for so long.”

[laughing]

SARA-MAE: So harsh!

CAL: Yes, and goes completely over his head!

SARA-MAE: He speaks in very dense Regency cant in some cases… it’s almost completely unintelligible, even to people of that time. He tries to help his friend, so he is a good friend but is, unfortunately, a bit of a dim bulb.

 [laughter]

After some persuasion and translation on Arabella’s part, Felix takes Arabella to the seamier side of London, where Bertram has ended up.

SARA-MAE: [laughing] “Leaky Peg” saves him, and takes him home to her boarding house. Of course, Arabella is really grateful to her. Bertram has like, pawned his clothes, his watch, next thing they’re all desperately trying to rack their brains about how to get him out of trouble. They can’t bear to tell Mr Tallant again (which I think is quite sad).

SARA-MAE: Here’s where Cal rises to the vicar’s defence. Them holy folk need to stick together!

CAL: I think it’s more that, because they know he will give them help and forgive them and be so disappointed, they can’t bear the burden of that shame.

ROB: This is where Arabella hatches a plan that if she marries Mr Beaumaris this is going to make the problem of Bertram’s debt disappear, even though it’s obvious that she hasn’t thought this through. What’s the moment where you bring up the fact that your brother owes your husband-to-be a load of money? I think they pretend to elope, but actually he takes her to his grandmother’s house.

SARA-MAE: He’s already proposed to her, but she turned him down. She thinks, that he thinks she’s an heiress. Because he hasn’t told her that he knows, hoping that she will confide in him. So, it’s kind of like this comedy of errors where he wants her to confide in him, because that will prove that she cares for him. And she feels that she can’t.

SARA-MAE: During a day trip to the British Museum, Arabella allows Mr Beaumaris to take her aside, and it’s here that she tells him she’s reconsidered his proposal.

ROB: He seems to be aware of the fact that she’s doing this for two reasons. For one thing, what’s caused her to change her mind is somehow money-related, but he also seems to believe that she genuinely does actually love him.

CAL: I felt very sorry for the whole engagement plot-line because he proposed and she is all a-fluster because she says no, but simultaneously realises that he’s the only person she’d like to marry, and now she’s in a state of conscience, where, she realises he’s the only one that she loves.

SARA-MAE: But she can’t trust him.

CAL: She also feels burdened by a family expectation that she ought to have accepted someone’s proposal by the end of the season in order to pave the way for her family and in some ways, [she’s] made it worse.

SARA-MAE: The gamble…

CAL: Yep, and then trapped by the fact that she’s lied and therefore, she doesn’t know whether she can actually come clean with Mr Beaumaris and whether he would love her because she’s lied. Then, of course, burdened by her brother’s debts, which she could see her way to fixing everything by marrying a very wealthy man. I felt very sorry that it couldn’t happen in a very straight-forward manner, but I mean that is the whole premise of the book. I felt for her when she got out of the carriage, saying “please take me back, I can’t do this”. Ultimately, she would always go with her conscience and her feeling of what is right.

The thing that didn’t really hang for me in the conversation that they had, which was generally, yeah, I liked it, but in the conversation, she’s sort of forced into a position where she has to tell him that it’s not quite like the other opportunities where they were in the museum, or talking in other circumstances where it was actually an act of trust.

SARA-MAE: Right.

CAL: For her to reveal the truth I felt like in that conversation everyone was coming clean and being frank with one another, so it wasn’t, necessarily that she sort of trusted him with it, but actually that she was in a kind of confession mode and it was all tumbling out.

He said I wanted you to tell me and you have, I thought well, I didn’t see it as an act of trust but more as an act of desperation!

SARA-MAE: So, Cal doesn’t seem to think Arabella’s confession was based on trust. At this point she’s said to Mr B he can’t possibly love her when he finds out she’s accepted his proposal only to save Bertram from a debtor’s prison. But he completely disarms her by telling her that that’s inconvenient as he’s already got her father’s consent. It turns out he’s known everything for a while. And he’s even visited her family, hobnobbing with the children and Reverend Tallant.

SARA-MAE: He was a bit high-handed, but I still get the feeling that she’s going to give him a run for his money.

CAL: I do too! [laughs] And maybe she’s changed a bit as well. She brings up Leaky Peg…

SARA-MAE: She backs down when he says no [to rescuing her]!

CAL: And she confines herself to the far more agreeable task of convincing Mr Beaumaris that his very obliging sentiments are entirely reciprocated. So, she’s able to pick the battles to be fought.

SARA-MAE: Did you get the sense there that they’re going to be a good match?

SARA-MAE: Now we come to Rob’s mysterious hatred of the final page of the book. Remember back in the beginning when he said he had a major beef with Heyer about the ending? Well, he’s about to let us know what exactly got up his nose about our seemingly perfect romantic ending…

ROB: So, the part for me that like, (I won’t say ruined the book) but it was like a real weird ending, and for me this is almost like the point of the whole book. And I feel like I have a totally different take on it from you. So, the Leaky Peg woman, right? [Beaumaris] says, I’ve known everything all along, all good, I spoke to your family, and she starts on about this Leaky Peg.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

ROB: And she’s saying, don’t you think she might learn to become a housemaid? In other words, here’s another charity case for you, and he says [quotes book]: “I only know two things, the first is she’s not going to make the attempt in any house of mine, and the second and by far the most important is that I adore you, Arabella”.

SARA-MAE: Yeah…

ROB: “She was so much interested by this disclosure that she lost interest in Leaky Peg and confined herself to the far more agreeable task of convincing Mr Beaumaris that his very obliging sentiments were entirely reciprocated.” So, I thought, all right. Now that she’s married, her struggle is over?

SARA-MAE: They’re not married yet.

ROB: Now that she’s got him.

SARA-MAE: It was that she was enjoying the kiss.

ROB: No, for me, that’s like a punch in the gut! It’s like Arabella’s like, betrayed everything.

SARA-MAE: I think that she’s just biding her time. It’s one of those things where she’s enjoying being kissed by him, she’s overcome with this happiness of being with him.

ROB: Naah, all of her fighting spirit is like, now she’s a housewife, done.

SARA-MAE: I don’t know, I think she’s got too much fire and spunk in her…Also, that’s the reason he fell in love with her. It’s the way she is and her kindness. There’s no evidence to suggest that he would try and squash that out of her.

ROB: He does, it says there like, kinda, “all right woman, enough of this”!

SARA-MAE: Obviously, you can choose to see that there, but it would seem to be quite strange, to have a light-hearted farce ending in a death-knell of drudgery because her spirit is crushed!

ROB: This is the part of the author that I don’t understand; is she being ironic here or not? Because if I read it literally, it IS like a punch in the gut.  It’s described in this way where I’m sort of puzzled and… is it saying, look how amazing these people are, wouldn’t it be so great to be part of this scene? Or is it “look how ridiculous these people are, [they’re] totally blind to the stuff that’s happening around them.

SARA-MAE: The discussion goes on a bit more like this, with me trying to convince Rob that if this were the case, Mr Beaumaris’ sinister intentions to crush her spirit would have shown themselves throughout the book, as opposed to it being very clear that he falls in love because of her generosity and empathy and not in spite of it…anyway.

ROB:  This might be part of why the books are struggling to break out of their community where they are a hit because when I read this it’s unclear to me whether it’s a critique or not. And I could just as easily…in fact, my interpretation of the way that Mr Beaumaris is courting her was that it’s like a wild stallion that you’re going to tame. It’s not that he celebrates her rebelliousness, but that it’s an achievement to tame her. And once he tames her, then she’s part of the hive mind.

SARA-MAE: The whole book and his journey is lovely because he gets broken out of this (what one suspects is actually quite a lonely) existence of being this social butterfly/whatever, but not having anybody who really knows him, or isn’t sycophantic towards him. And he sees her as well. He sees who she is and he doesn’t distain her. And the other thing about seeing her family, as opposed to how he was in the beginning about how he might have been snobby about people like the Tallants, his love for Arabella has softened him. So, he can be amongst them and really enjoy playing cards with her brothers and sisters. She, on her side, she learns her lessons. She has so much shame, even while she is enjoying herself going to parties and stuff you know, she does feel shame, she does feel that she’s going to let down her whole family.

CAL: Yes, it really weighs on her towards the end, doesn’t it? And when they keep saying that she wasn’t in her fullest bloom of health. But I think also another way it shows that he’s met his match in her, is that, he can see that she switches on and off from actual connection with him and then, when he says something that might be considered a bit more flirty or…

SARA-MAE: Frivolous yeah, like he’s trying to seduce her.

CAL: …she immediately switches and distances herself and returns to society conversation.

SARA-MAE: She’s a match for him in terms of being able to fend him off when she needs to protect herself. there isn’t a sense of an imbalance there.

CAL: Yes, exactly, for the time.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, she’s got a lot of agency, she’s strong, and decisive, she knows what she wants to do and she’ll do it in the teeth of other people’s disapproval. It’s a lovely quality.

SARA-MAE: So, Rob and Cal have very different perspectives on the book’s ending. But is there a chance that, in spite of his hesitations, Rob is a convert? Eh, doubtful. Still, I think his perspective is rather an extreme one for what seemed to be one of the most romantic bits of the book. Maybe you have to have read loads of romance to buy into it?

ROB: It’s sort of interesting, the idea of the hero of the story, or the heroine of the story. Normally when you look at say, other genres, the hero is a hero because of an action. Like, they’d slay a monster or win a battle, and here it’s sort of more psychological. It’s more, he didn’t know what was going on inside people’s heads. It wouldn’t be clear to you who’s obviously the hero or villain… it’s kind of [about] motives, and [how] the person is subtly changed, from… they were like this and now they’re like that, nobody’s like killed somebody.

SARA-MAE: I think Heyer does a wonderful job of putting us in Mr Beaumaris’ point of view, which for me makes it clear that he’s the hero we’re meant to be rooting for. And as for not killing someone, I feel like I should have recommended Devil’s Cub or The Tollgate to Rob as a first read, if he’s looking for more obvious… er, killing. Still, I’m not sure out and out murder is a prerequisite for a hero.

ROB: There’s a masculine tendency to want to be inspired by some character in the book and to say, I want to be like this person and this person is usually someone who has done something that is brave or does something heroic, it’s not necessarily that you want violence, but that you want some action, the person couldn’t do and now they could. Where you’re sort of saying all this stuff that is inside a person’s head, they’re changing their view on something or they’ve changing their opinion about something and to present that as a movie is challenging.

SARA-MAE: I mean that’s the same with the Austen books.

ROB: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: It’s more about the dialogue, the unspoken things that cause the tension. It seems you’re not so familiar with this whole oeuvre? I feel like I’m explaining why this stuff is romantic! That’s interesting to me, because it’s a hard thing to nail down.

ROB: This is the comment about, just how accessible are these books for men.

SARA-MAE: There are men who really enjoy it.

ROB: Yeah, no, exactly.

SARA-MAE: Well, I think Rob was pretty heroic to read this book, not only his very first Heyer, but also his first regency romance. He brought up some really interesting points and made me think about certain things in the book that usually just flow over me. Still, I’m in favour of keeping that last page. Now it’s time for the moment of truth…have Cal and Rob been converted?

SARA-MAE: Are you a convert then?

ROB: No, I’m not a convert. I think it was a good experience, reading something that wouldn’t ordinarily be in my reading list. But yeah, I’m kind of happy to have experienced it, but I’m not sure that it’s converted me.

SARA-MAE: Aaargh! Bummer. Fair enough.

ROB: Good effort.

SARA-MAE: Would you say that you are a Georgette Heyer convert?

CAL: Absolutely!

SARA-MAE: Yaaaasssss!!

CAL: And I can also tell you that I’ve already gone to the library and asked for other books in then catalogue so I’m really looking forward to reading them.

SARA-MAE: Thanks so much for doing it.

ROB: It’s a pleasure to do it

[Outtro]

SARA-MAE: Well, that was an interesting discussion. My goal was to try and pick people who genuinely hadn’t been exposed to Heyer or even regency romance so that the podcast would have as much scientific integrity as possible…lol. And although I’m disappointed that the book wasn’t Rob’s cup of tea, I’m really glad that at least with Cal I was preaching to the choir, so to speak. 

If you’re keeping score, we’ve currently got 3 convertees out of 6, so neck and neck. Not too bad considering the converts will probably be fans for life.

In the meantime, it always does one good to take a more critical look at a much-loved book. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

Next week, we’ll be talking to Andy Paterson, producer of Girl with A Pearl Earring and The Railwayman. He’ll be chatting about his work on Heyer’s book, The Grand Sophy. We’ll also be checking in with Peter Buckman, Heyer’s literary agent, who’s been enormously helpful and generous with his time. Both gentlemen will be talking about the difficulties of trying to get a book adapted for the screen – it’s a fascinating episode for film and literary buffs alike.

And remember, if you want to join the book club, we’ll be reading The Quiet Gentleman in two weeks’ time, so devour it now.

Don’t be a tallow-faced twiddle poop, rate and subscribe!

Till next time! Bye!

[Credits]

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott for laundry and production assistance. Michael Mandalis edited and recorded Beth’s bits and he did a marvellous job.

Our fantastic voice talent includes Cathy Tuson, Helen Davidge, Beth Crane, Hedley Knight and the delightful Holly Golding as young Richard – I’ll be putting info about them in the show notes.

Thanks also to Geraldine Elliot, Talitha Gamaroff and everyone who supported me in creating this work. Suzy Buttress in particular, but the podcast community at large for so much inspiration and encouragement.

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, Chapter I as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast, by myself and Tom Chadd.

Special thanks to the Naxos team for allowing us use an extract from the book. Do go out and buy it, it’s a marvellous listen.

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media, we’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

Heyer Today is a Fable Gazers production.

HEYER TODAY EPISODE 7: PRIMO GEORGETTE WITH HARRIET EVANS

Listen to this episode here.

Also available on any good podplayer, iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music.

SARA-MAE: Previously in Heyer Today…

YOUNG GEORGETTE: My latest work of genius? Naturally, it’s a very fine work and immensely entertaining, absorbing, scintillating and erudite. Well, what I mean is, it will be when I get around to writing it.

GERALDINE: So, he’s finally free. And then he’s kind of surprised because Deb wants to bandage him up and she does that. And then they kind of sneak him back in the front door. And then there’s another scene with Wantage, where he basically punches Wantage’s lights out and Wantage is all respectful of that. It’s fun, it’s a bit challenging in terms of just the themes… so overall, I would say I’m a convert for sure.

SARA-MAE: Welcome to Heyer Today, the podcast in which we analyse the life and work of underrated author Georgette Heyer. Now, if you haven’t listened before, this is a series in which we tell Heyer’s story by contextualising a selection of her Regency romance books, so do start at episode 1 so you don’t miss anything out. Also, episode 1 happens to feature Stephen Fry, who might make an appearance in this episode as well.

This week, we’re interviewing Sunday Times best-selling author Harriet Evans, and she’ll be sharing her top 10 favourite Heyers.

With 12 books under her belt, Evans’ work has been described as ‘utterly gorgeous’ and ‘compelling’.

At home in the publishing world, she followed in her father’s footsteps working as an editor for authors like Penny Vincenzi, Emily Barr, and Louise Bagshawe.

Her newest novel, ‘The Garden of Lost and Found’, is ‘filled with flowers and paintings, secrets and heartbreak’ according to one reviewer.

I can’t wait to pick her brains about her favourite Heyers, and boy, do we get through a lot of them. Do be aware that there will be a few spoilers in the course of our discussion – I’ve put the list of books we cover in the show notes.

SARA-MAE: Tell us who you are?

HARRIET: Hello, I am Harriet Evans, I am an author and I used to work in publishing before I became a full-time writer, I edited what is rather rubbishly known as women’s fiction, as if men can’t read it. I’m sure they would anyway. I just did that for years, and had many happy years in publishing, and then I left to write full-time about nine years ago. I have been a top ten best-seller, and I live in London, I have two children, I’m very tired [giggle] and I’m a massive GH fan, and that’s the most important thing of all.

SARA-MAE: Ah, that’s good. Yes, and how did you first become a Heyerite?

HARRIET: I’m always interested in the way that people come to Heyer, because it’s either that they read them because they pick them up on a shelf at home, or a friend presses them on them, but she is such a sort of ‘recommendation’ person I think, you don’t sort of come across her any other way. I was a massive reader as a child, I just read everything I could get my hands on. My mum just had a shelf full of old Agatha Christies and books like that; and there were always loads of Georgette Heyers on them, and she said “I think you’d like these”. So, I started them, and of course the great thing about them is they are so well written, you will come back to them year after year so that I think that the first time I started reading her I would have been in my early teens. Then you read them again and you find them super romantic, there are so many layers to them, and they just keep on giving. I’m smiling as I’m talking to you because it’s just so joyful to talk about her because of all authors she’s the one who I and my friends re-read the most. There is no pleasure greater I would say than to knowing that you’re going to re-read her.

SARA-MAE: Oh, yeah.

HARRIET: Whereas, there are other books when you think, “I really enjoyed that book, I’m going to re-read it,” but you sort of almost feel guilty about it. Whereas, with Heyer, the whole point of her is the re-read. It’s a comfort every single time you are just struck anew at the brilliance of her structure, and her ability in her dialogue and the way she tells the same story essentially over and over again but in incredibly fresh ways.

SARA-MAE: That’s partly because of her timeless heroes, which we’ll talk about in a moment, but also, I think it’s her humour. There’s something about how she constructs these characters. I mean, some people would say that she’s formulaic, but I actually think she always finds some new angle and I mean you’ll know about this being a romance novelist because it’s hard, isn’t it, to find a fresh take…

HARRIET: Absolutely, and I wouldn’t call myself a romance novelist. I used to write much more chick-litty books when I was younger but they are more sort of family sagas now and while a lot of romance was not up my street when I was an editor, I used to be really struck by how often romance was much better than you’d expect it to be and how little attention was paid to it. And I’m telling you as someone who has just finished my tenth novel, there is something so incredible about the way the woman just wrote, not what she knew about, she wasn’t writing about her own life, and she did it over and over again and made it fresh every time.

I would submit that it’s as hard, if not harder to take a very narrow world like she did and the fact that she made them massively enjoyable and different and opened up this hugely fresh new world for the reader each time is extraordinary to me because if I want to make my own novel interesting to me to write, I have to make it quite different to the one before. It‘s the attention to detail about the characters, they’re all often quite similar. There are lots of similarities between the querulous lady dowager who’s got to get rid of a daughter, who is the aunt of the saturnine hero, there’s about three or four of those female characters.

SARA-MAE: Mmm.

HARRIET: They all seem to be different in different ways. I just admire her skills so much. That’s one of her greatest strengths, to be honest, keep[ing] it fresh. And she had huge, huge, huge resources. She had something like a thousand reference books. She had umpteen different divergent sources like books on snuffboxes. Yet incredibly intricate detail about Beau Brummell, you know. She knew everything and this I’m sure we can get onto, but one of my big bugbears with the way a lot of women’s fiction is denigrated… she is the female Patrick O’Brien. And I’ve tried to read Patrick O’Brien umpteen times. I find him really dull; I just can’t get on with them. it’s an exclusively male world – they just don’t appeal to me. And I could admire what he did and I can see what he does. Patrick O’Brien is acclaimed as one of the great 20th century novelists, you know, he gets huge sort of acclaim where there are dinners held for him at Greenwich Naval College and government ministers attend. GH does not get that and to me she’s as accomplished a novelist, but because she’s writing books for women she is just not acclaimed in the same way and that really drives me up the wall. It’s easy to say, “Oh they’re just romances you know.” That is the stuff of life and you read what is at stake for some of these women if they didn’t make a good marriage and how totally terrifying it must be to have, like Mrs Bennet – everyone was so rude about that woman. She had to get rid of five daughters, they had no money! I always think of the realities of everyday life for the middle class upwards for women, they often were kind of scary. Of course, there’s nothing like being poor, they are drawing of that world which needs huge respect.

SARA-MAE: I’ve discovered that people aren’t as crazy about Heyer as I am. [laughs]

HARRIET: Yes. Yes.

SARA-MAE: And a lot of people have never heard of her, or if they have, they have no idea of the complexity, the humour, the depth of her understanding of the time. I don’t know if you’ve experienced that as well?

HARRIET: I did this list called Primo Georgette, because I wrote a book about a girl who was obsessed with books who goes into publishing called ‘Happily Ever After’. and I put in the back of this book, “I’ve got this list” and all these people got in contact with me and were like “Can I have this list?” and it’s still one of the things I get asked for most, like it’s my Heyers that I would order because you know, Sara-Mae, there are ten, fifteen that are just perfect. There’s a next layer for me which are still better than most books, and then there’s your ‘Powder and Patch’, a bit weird, some quite odd ones. A bit strange. It’s really interesting how if you just say to these people, “Now, here’s a list of the good ones, go and read them.” I’ve converted so many people, and not through me, just by saying, “Look, trust me on this” and they have always been snooty to start with and then they are like “I am with you, people on the barricade!”

But to your point about Barbara Cartland and her being lumped in with other romance novelists, this is again another bugbear of mine because why can’t women novelists be all things to all people? Just as there are some terrible thrillers written by men and some amazing thrillers written by men and women and they’re not all lumped together. You don’t say “Oh wow this incredibly textured, multi-layered incredible crime novel by whoever that might be short-listed for the Booker Prize sometimes because they get loads and loads more attention is the same as some really shunky knocked-out by – I don’t want to say his name but by one of the world’s biggest novelists – which get discussed on their merits because a) women’s fiction gets all lumped together and b) if you attach the word romance to a thing people get really narky about it. You know, in Waterstone’s in Piccadilly the biggest bookshop in the country you walk in and there’s a fiction section in front of you, OK, then if you look for any women’s fiction novelists they probably might not be there because even though David Nicholls is in that section, even though his books are very romantic, all the women are off to the side under romance. So, if you look for, Sally Beaumont one of the best novelists in the past 30 years, she’s in Romance because she’s a woman. The idea that you have got to lump everyone together just absolutely drives me crazy because that is why people just “Oh, but she’s just romance. Well, they are romantic yeah, but as I said before, that’s just the stuff of life. If you didn’t have romance then there would be no procreation of the human race.

SARA-MAE: [laughs] There would be no procreation of male writers!

HARRIET: [laughs] Exactly! If people can’t get on with her that’s one thing but because I genuinely think that she’s such a great novelist it always seems such a shame, you know.

SARA-MAE: I have to admit that I always judge people harshly – it’s very hard for me in the conversion thing because some of the people just haven’t got it and I have to admit that it makes me feel like I’ve failed [hollow laugh] and also, can I ever speak to them again?

HARRIET: [laughs] I don’t worry about it as much as I used to because I now think that there’s been a lot of attention about her and I do think when people find her, if they love her, they will read them all. And if they don’t get on with her then that’s absolutely fine. I think it’s a shame that she is not as widely acclaimed as, to go back to him again, Patrick O’Brien or other 20th century novelists but I also think that’s also a function of being so prolific. People talk about this with Joyce Carol Oates. She writes a novel every year or every other year and she’s a wonderful novelist and people often say, “Well, if she wrote less like every three years like our Catherine Tyler, would there be more of a hoopla about it?”

Being prolific is seen as a bad thing, you know, like just bursting out words whereas that’s not the case with her, she’s so forensically detailed and organised.

SARA-MAE: Well, how about you would you describe yourself as prolific?

HARRIET: But I can touch type. I was a secretary – my boss said, “You have to learn to touch type before I’ll give you this job.” That’s literally the only transferrable skill that I have. When I have no career, when people stop buying my books, I will be able to get a job touch typing. I’m good when I’m slightly panicked and the wind is at my back and I’m like “C’mon, c’mon,” like a horse galloping through the finish. I achieve clarity of thought then.

SARA-MAE: The first book you probably spent longer on. With your first one did it take longer than all the others or…

HARRIET: Well, it’s a funny story really that I was working in publishing. I was an editor, I was being sent lots of novels and I kept thinking, “This is rubbish, I could do better than this.” And I kept thinking that more and more and more while it was sort of getting in the way of my ability to do my job well and one book came in and it was so bad and I turned it down and it sold for vast amounts of money and it was written by a kind of society girl and it was one of the worst books that I’ve ever read and I’m not saying what it was. And my friends said to me, “Well, why don’t you go and do that yourself” and I thought “I have to”… like, I can’t not because you’re going to turn into a cross person. Because my Dad was a writer and my Mum is in publishing. It’s not like I have a big triumphant crawl to the end of the trenches story. I’ve always grown up with books and books in my house and people who work with books and that’s just second nature to me. So, I thought “Well, I’ll give it a go,” but that made it more terrifying in a way because I had quite a lot to lose because everyone I know works in publishing and I started getting up at 6 o’clock and I had a very old laptop and I wrote for about 6 months, not telling anyone, Sara-Mae. One morning I turned on the computer and the whole thing had gone.

SARA-MAE: Oh my gosh…

HARRIET: Thirty thousand words.

SARA-MAE: I still feel like you must have a tombstone in your heart with that book [chuckles]

HARRIET: Oh my goodness, that’s such a good way of putting it. Yes, it was. I also… You know when you are doing something for yourself, and you just need a sign and then you just massively get kicked back and mud splashed in your face and you just think, “Of course I’m worthless. Of course, how could you be so stupid to think that you were good at anything?” And it was strangely the best thing that’s ever happened to me because it made me much stronger. I sat there, I was, well, obviously devastated. I took it into the IT department and I told a porky and said it was another author’s book. They tried to get it back, they couldn’t and then I thought “Hang on, I do really want to write, I’m not going to let this get me down. It was really good, that book, and I was really enjoying it; and I went and bought a computer on ‘buy now, pay a year later’. This is 15 years ago, yeah that’s a lot of money now, that was a lot of money then. I was an editor at Penguin, living in London and I had a year to try and make some money out of it. And that’s what gave me, again, the exam-like fear. I just thought “Right, I’ve got to get on with this” and when I’d rewritten it, it was miles better than the first draft was, because I cut out all the rubbish. So, I am really gung-ho now, I really am super (sort of) chilled about cutting out loads of things, because I know that’s often the way to get a clear start and rewrite something from the beginning, you’ll leave out lots of waffle that needed to go in the first place.

SARA-MAE: That’s an amazing story because that’s – I’m sure that’s happened in some measure to lots of people, and makes me think of people like Austen. I just wonder how hard it must have been?

HARRIET: Yep.

SARA-MAE: [Laughs] If you’d written it out with a quill, well you would have had it, you know!

HARRIET: I’ve never tried to write using a pen and paper, and I know that there are some people like Jill Mansell who do. Jill writes all her books by hand on a lined notepaper. I’m sure if you’re writing with a pen, there’s just a bigger connection between the brain and the line that the words go on. [smile in voice]

SARA-MAE: Harriet reflects further on Austen’s situation.

HARRIET: Yeah, she’s there in that back parlour in the house in Chawton and the door two doors away creaked. I don’t know if you know this or not, but it creaked and it was set to creak especially so that she had enough time between the sound of that door creaking and a visitor being announced into their back parlour to put the book she was working on away and hide it in this very small desk that she had, and I often think she’d be writing away and she’d hear the door ‘errk’ and she’d just “Oh, OK” and you’d often think of the number of really boring conversations that interrupted this woman writing ‘Emma’, one of the best books in the English language, like some boring squire or some annoying brother of hers. She would dutifully fold this book away, put it in the thing and maybe sitting there politely, ready to welcome this visitor with no sign that she was writing this book. I love that idea. I’d just say “Go away, I’m writing!”

[both laugh]

SARA-MAE: She didn’t have the luxury of telling her brothers to… bugger off with all their children. [laughs] And let her write. “Excuse me, I’m writing one of the greatest novels ever, um, can we talk about the ball another time?”

HARRIET: Yes, yeah exactly and they were her lifeline, they were the ones who paid for her and her mother and her sister to live so she had to be nice to them. Though to be fair to them, they did seem to really love her, and they were a really close family and her nephews and nieces all adored her and speak so fondly of her. I’m sure that it was no chore for her at all. But of course, you had to sit there and listen politely when a boring farmer turns up to pay his respects or vicar. I often think when you’re reading say, ‘Emma’ what bit – how many drafts, how much re-writing did she do and how often had she just finished a sentence? You know, we’re reading it and we don’t see the natural breaks that were part of her life and that’s what I find fascinating. She must have stopped and started so many times and, you know…

SARA-MAE: So, you’re getting into the Austen frame of mind now because you’ve got a little girl?

HARRIET: [interrupts] No, I have a baby who is at nursery. Well, she’s a year, and I have a daughter who is at school. I think it’s my generation as well, that I know that I’m entitled to a job, and my job is writing and just because it’s a more family-friendly job doesn’t mean that it’s less important than my partner’s job which is in an office being a programmer, you know, my job is more important [guffaws]. She says blithely!

SARA-MAE: [laughs]

HARRIET: I think it is and just because I’m the primary care-giver and although my boyfriend is a super-helpful, hands-on incredible man, it’s my job. So I either write at home infrequently or I go to the library, I go to the London Library in St James’ Square, ironically where Faro’s Daughter is set, and it’s a private members’ library. Thomas Carlyle founded it, I go there, I put ear plugs in, I squirrel myself away in one of the stacks right at the back of the building, it’s a bit like Hogwarts’ Library, you know, and woe betide anyone who comes near me because I have to be able to concentrate.

SARA-MAE: If we’re thinking about Heyer and Austen, you see because I’m trying to draw the parallel between them and I’ve had lots of support from the Austen Societies around the world especially the Australian Austen Society. They had a convention on Georgette Heyer recently. People are finally acknowledging her. She’s in a class of her own and obviously not at the same level as Austen, obviously she is numero uno basically.

HARRIET: Yes.

SARA-MAE: In my mind, certainly one of the greatest authors who ever lived. But she only wrote six novels and for those of us who are desperate for more, Heyer steps into the breach magnificently. Would you compare them?

HARRIET: I would not use that language. I do slightly disagree only because it comes back to me to that idea of don’t lump women writers together even when there are similarities because to me, they are quite different. Jane Austen was writing about the world she knew, and she was writing about her own class and caste of people. And she was, I think, exploring some ideas that were close to her heart. And the way that Heyer was writing was – it’s almost like a display of brilliance. It’s so perfect, like butterfly wings. It just – it all knits together really well and they feel quite different to me. But again, I do think people go, “Oh well, the setting’s the same and the language is the same and the people, you know, and the concerns are the same.” But I’ve never thought this out loud before but actually they are a bit different to me and I don’t think that I’m explaining it very well but do you know what I mean?

SARA-MAE: There is a certain heft and gravitas. It’s defining what is a classic author, and when does one get into that sort of bracket of people. And plus, she was very subtle and nuanced and she dealt in irony a lot more than Heyer.

HARRIET: No, but it’s so subtle, it’s so – both of them, it’s so subtle. I opened the page today to remind myself… There’s a whole – Convenient Marriage, Friday’s Child, Corinthian, Cotillion – there’s about five which are slightly interchangeable even though they’re very different plots. And I open one of them and there’s this description of why this incomparable beauty who’s the childhood friend of the hero has been taken away from London because she has chickenpox and she has to recover out in the wilds of the countryside.

In case you were wondering, Harriet’s talking about ‘Friday’s Child’.

[EXCERPT FROM EPISODE 1: HOOKED ON HEYER WITH STEPHEN FRY]

SARA-MAE: What’s your favourite?

STEPHEN FRY: I think, I would say ‘Friday’s Child’ and again, it’s probably because it’s one of the early ones I read and it just meant it had a great effect on me. It surprised me, so I’ll go with that one.

HARRIET: And it is so amazingly, sharply, humorously, deliciously written! That thing of how … she knows she’s good. You can feel her neck prickling as she’s typing away on this typewriter. There’s this sort of delicious wickedness with her. I find this fascinating about her, that she was quite contemptuous of her readers, especially the ones who wanted to be very gaga about the romance element of it. She was always super rude to them and about them. You know, “God, these stupid readers, you write in about me, you bother me, why can’t they…” You know, and she did have that quite sharp biting edge to her, which Austen also had, that sort of, you know, realistic contempt for some people. [laughs]

SARA-MAE: You would picture an author whose main thing is writing romances to be soft and gushy and kind of sweet but actually they were acerbic as anything and this kind of skewering eye in their real lives to people’s foibles and everything and that translated somehow. Especially for Heyer. Because we don’t really know – because Austen, a lot of her letters were censored. I mean I like to think that there would have been some juicy descriptions if we’d got them but…

HARRIET: She’s very catty in some letters, Austen.

SARA-MAE: Oh yeah.

HARRIET: Much more so in the letters than in the books. There’s a real sharpness to her tongue that isn’t in the books.

SARA-MAE: There’s a feeling in the books – and this is one of the things why I love going back to them – of this elevated person, this narrator, this all-seeing eye who is just so smart and wry, aacchh, I just love being held in the arms of that kind of person. [laughs]

HARRIET: Yeah, and you are,though, that’s such a great way of putting it, that you just know it will be a good experience to re-read this book. And you know, comfort reads aren’t just ‘bleurgh’, you know, if they’re just totally soppy with no spine, they don’t give you what you want, those sort of ultimate hot water bottle novels, I think it’s that the world you’re in, is so delicious, and it’s not my world, and it’s a world I like returning to and that’s what they all have in common. And that, for me, is what I’m always trying to get to in my books. I want to create a world that I’ve fallen in love with that I’m exploring and that I’m really enjoying. So, my last book was about a crumbling secret stately home in a forgotten creek in Cornwall. I mean, that’s why I was mentioning butterflies earlier. I’m still completely obsessed with butterflies because the book was called ‘The Butterfly Summer’ and they’re obsessed with butterflies and I learned all there is to know about butterflies. I still do know loads and I’m a member of Butterfly Conservation and I got really into it! I can identify something like 40 out of 49 native UK butterfly species.

Wow, we’ve gone way off topic; but, I think it’s one of those things she gives you as a writer, Heyer, is she knew her research and it just became part of her, because she liked it and if you wear your research lightly, then you can get it across really well. If you go on too much about butterflies, and how the silver bordered pearl fritillary only likes to eat violet plants, then you will lose your audience. And quite often you read books where you think, “Oh God, so this person has done quite a bit of research and they’re just trying to let us know”…  Phillipa Gregory’s there, you never see the research, you just totally believe that you are in the world of Henry VIII’s court and that’s for me why Heyer is the best. You’re just in the world; you totally believe it.

SARA-MAE: Completely, and so many people have copied it unsuccessfully and not done the research but grabbed a few tropes here and there. Looking at your ‘Rules For Dating A Romantic Hero’, in particular, I find this very interesting. I know that it was a smaller novel and it’s a sequel to ‘Hopeless Romantic’. The idea was a really fantastic idea, particularly chiming with Heyer, and the way that she talked about her heroes as being like Mark 1 and Mark 2. And Mark 1 was the sort of really dangerous and dissolute, with scandalous reputation sort of a person. Heyer herself was influenced by Bronte’s Rochester. And then the Mark 2 ones were the ones that were often wealthy, well dressed, they had a similar sort of arrogance but they were more genial, more even tempered. How do you craft your romantic heroes? It must be difficult when you’ve got these kinds of graven images of Rochester and all the best Heyer heroes…

HARRIET: ‘Rules for Dating a Romantic Hero’ is a quick read book but in the meantime, in the however many years between the first book ‘A Hopeless Romantic’ which I tried to make almost a satire on all those romance novels that I’ve loved through my life and this girl being totally in that world and coming bump up against it that she really does meet and fall in love with a guy who lives in this huge stately home.  And I was wandering around a house and garden one day with my mum and dad and it’s slightly based on a terrible holiday when I was 22 when all my friends were off doing fun things and I bumped into this Marquis in his own stately home. Nothing happened like, we did just say hello but that was the idea of the book. I thought, what would happen if I actually did end up getting together with him? And so to revisit that and actually realise when you’re older what you really want is not a wild dark-eyed hero. You just want someone kind who’s a good person and who’s going to be a partner not a sulky boy and this is my – like when I was younger my favourite, favourite Heyer of all was ‘Devil’s Cub’. I was just mad about Vidal and Mary Challoner is still my favourite heroine, but now I’m older my favourite book I would say, but by far my favourite hero, is Venetia.

SARA-MAE: Yes

HARRIET: And Lord Damerel. Because he has been through pain; he has had a sad time, he is wise, he knows what he is about, but he also needs some sorting out and she’s level-headed and will help him. I’m more attracted now to the older, they’ve been bruised, they are fairly grumpy but they’re not spoilt boys because jeez-louise, who needs that?

MUSIC

HARRIET: So if I look at (she says getting her list out) if I look at Regency Buck, classic – Lord Worth is like – I mean he does try to kiss her and she doesn’t want him to, sexual assault I think we’d frown about that bit now. And he sort of nearly lets her be murdered to try and prove a point, he’s a bit duff about that but Frederica – what’s he called? – Alverstoke. I love the guy in Bath Tangle, he’s fantastic (Bath Tangle is one of my favourites), and Max Ravenscar from Faro’s Daughter; yeah, I love him to bits.

SARA-MAE: What a fantastic name that is.

SARA-MAE: I tell Harriet about my love of Venetia.

SARA-MAE: For some reason – and I don’t know, since doing all the research – I’ve had this little theory that I saw echoes – and this is just me putting my own perspective on it between Heyer and her real-life husband.

HARRIET: Wow, how interesting.

SARA-MAE: They were such good friends throughout their lives and they didn’t have a massive sexual connection.

HARRIET: Yes, yeah.

SARA-MAE: They were the dearest of friends. I have a big soft spot for Freddie Standen, though, from ‘Cotillion’.

HARRIET: Yes, yeah.

SARA-MAE: You know, in every other book of hers he would be like the best friend of the hero who’s kind of just very silly. But I loved – and it’s like what you were talking about, he wins through in the end because he’s so practical and helpful and he actually helps his heroine in useful ways and he has such funny – so many funny lines in the book about how when she really thinks about it, being carried off by the hero on his horse would actually be quite inconvenient and annoying [laughs]

HARRIET: I’d forgotten that she does sometimes, she inverts her own heroes doesn’t she, she sort of…

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

HARRIET: She takes the stereotype of them. And what’s that really depressing one, about the Cit with the daughter? ‘A Civil Contract’.

SARA-MAE: Yes, that’s it. That’s always been my least favourite, but I’m coming round to it a bit more now because there’s some really interesting things that she does in her book. It was kind of like the bald reality of it that always put me off.

HARRIET: Yes.

SARA-MAE: I want a bit of sparkle!

HARRIET: Nope, completely. I thought, “Oh God, this is too depressing.” Elizabeth Buchan, the author, it used to be her favourite one, and the one – can I ask you about, because I just absolutely can take it or leave it – is the ‘Grand Sophy’. I just don’t like that guy, Charles, he’s a complete arrogant…

SARA-MAE: I know what you mean, he’s pompous, isn’t he?

HARRIET: And her husband! And she’s great and he spends the whole time doing her down and being like super-boring about… You know, he’d be the kind of person that if you went round to his house today, he’d stand by the door and say “Sorry but please can you make sure you take your shoes off? “

SARA-MAE: [laughs] And also you get the feeling that she’s decided right from page one…

HARRIET: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: She’s going to have him. But then again, by the end you sort of start to see him through a different light?

HARRIET: True.

SARA-MAE: But he does come over as very, very pompous.

HARRIET: It doesn’t make my heart sing at the end to think, “Oh wow”. I always think with a lot of the others like Damerel or Ravenscar or Vidal even, that they have a sense of humour and that you’d have some laughs whereas Darcy – controversial Darcy, gorgeous as he is, I often think her life would not have been much fun married to him, he’s so dour.

SARA-MAE: He’s a bit po-faced.

HARRIET: Yeah! Emma Tennant wrote a brilliant sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Pemberley. And it is a lot about how being married to him would be a bit of a bind if I remember rightly, whereas the thing that characterises a lot of the other ones that I really love is that they are quite sardonic and funny and sarcastic and the older, slightly more eccentric ones – those ones in Bath with interchangeable plots of like ‘Lady of Quality’ and ‘Black Sheep’ are virtually the same book I think and… So, they’re very scruffy, they’re not interested in pleasing anyone. It is ‘Black Sheep’! Miles Calverley, and what’s the one in…?

SARA-MAE: Oliver Carleton.

HARRIET: Yes.

SARA-MAE: What I think would be quite interesting to sort of parallel with your book ‘Rules for Dating a Romantic Hero’ – I thought it would be fun if we could just ad-lib a few.

SARA-MAE: ‘Rules for Dating a Romantic Hero’ is the sequel to Harriet’s wonderful book, ‘A Hopeless Romantic’, in which heroine Laura Foster meets Nick Marquis, on the grounds of his estate. In ‘Rules’, she’s coming to terms with what it means to actually live with Prince Charming – it’s not quite as picture perfect as it might appear. All the chapters have ‘rules’ which relate to Laura’s predicament. I thought it might be fun to see what rules we could cook up regarding regency romance novels.

SARA-MAE: Number One: Have your carriage break down near his house.

HARRIET: Good idea. Basically, it’s easier when it’s before mobile phones. If you talk to any author, writing today, they will say, everything is easier before mobile phones. Being abandoned in a small town, ‘ker-ching’, this happens all the time. Being slightly short sighted. Isn’t Hester in ‘Sprig Muslin’ quite short sighted? She quite often can’t see things; she’d just have contact lenses now.

SARA-MAE: Be ready for adventure at a moment’s notice.

SARA-MAE: I was thinking of Mary Challoner in Devil’s Cub here. Listen to episode 4 to hear me trying to convert bass player and teacher Khalid Ham to Heyer’s work. Mary disguises herself and meets the Marquis in her sister’s stead, to save her from ravishment at the hands of the handsome, though rather volatile Marquis. Damn, it’s a fun book.

HARRIET: The bravery of that!

SARA-MAE: Yes.

HARRIET: The plot of Devil’s Cub is really extraordinary.

SARA-MAE: It’s disturbing.

HARRIET: Yeah [laughs], it is disturbing! She is very strait-laced, although she’s kind of not, she’s got a spark about her. But her mother is effectively trying to prostitute the younger daughter out and Mary, at a moment’s notice, to save her own sister’s honour because she thinks she’s worth it, chucks herself in the carriage where she probably will be raped. Anything could happen to her, it’s the Wild West!

SARA-MAE: He actually tells her he’s going to take her to France –

HARRIET: Yes.

SARA-MAE: And make her his prostitute basically.

HARRIET: And what stops him, Sara-Mae? When he finds out who her grandfather is – because it turns out she’s related to a respectable old man so he won’t sexually assault her. Wooh! Well, isn’t that lucky! There’s still this kind of romance to it but also, and I think this chimes absolutely with who she Heyer was – I could be completely wrong about this but this is my reading of it – but she was ‘no nonsense’ about it. She was telling it like it was.

SARA-MAE: Hmm.

HARRIET: You know that the situation, if you were a penniless young woman, was that your mother had to try and auction you off to the highest bidder. And there’s a really dark sub-plot in ‘Faro’s Daughter’ where there’s that terrified little girl, Laleham, who is being forced to marry this disgusting old man.

SARA-MAE: If you’ve been listening to the podcast, you’ll have heard last week’s episode on Faro’s Daughter in which my lovely friend and crack copy developer Geraldine and I discussed the book. Do go and check out our discussion to learn more about it. Harriet reveals that Deb, the heroine, might be her favourite female Heyer character. Ooh!

HARRIET: I think I might like her a bit more than Venetia because I adore Venetia but Venetia’s a bit green. I think a lot of the stronger heroines – because there are two or three different types of heroines as well. The stronger ones, their job is to educate the male hero to make them see they’ve been a dong, basically. And then there’s a set, they’re my favourite kind of Heyer heroine. The heroine that I get on less well with is the Arabella type who are big-eyed and guileless.

SARA-MAE: Ingenues.

HARRIET: Yeah. They’re a bit more – I can take them or leave them a little bit.

SARA-MAE: We’ll be reading ‘Arabella’ next week with two willing dupes, Cal, vicar and Robert, VP of Finance at a tech company. I can’t wait to hear what they think about this brilliant book. Don’t forget to read it before you listen. You can download the audio book from Naxos to enjoy while you’re on the tube or doing the dishes… or you can even borrow it from your local library.

HARRIET: I think that’s why I like the slightly stroppier ones like ‘Bath Tangle’, Serena; she definitely needs taking down a peg or two. Oh God, this is just my idea of heaven, Sara-Mae; can we just do this all day?

SARA-MAE: [laughs] Me too

HARRIET: Yeah. Bath Tangle is the one where you do think she really wishes she’d been a man. She doesn’t inherit the house, she’s very angry at her father, who she loved very much, for dying, basically, and her father has abandoned her with this well-meaning mother-in-law who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. And actually, all the characters in that one change. And they all start off – you think that they are one way and they’re not. When she bumps into her old fiancé Hector, you totally think “Oh yes this is it, this is it!” Then you start thinking, “No, it can’t be, she shouldn’t be with him, he’s no good for her, she should be with Ivo Rotherham who understands her, and he sees the hurt in her eyes!”

SARA-MAE: [laughs]

HARRIET: “Oh she’s made it happen!” That’s the great thing about her. Until the last page, you’re not entirely sure it’s going to happen. And how she manages to do that, that’s a key writing thing, that you’ve got to make the reader believe that it’s not going to happen and you can’t do it by expressly telling them it’s not going to happen and lying to them, because that’s cheating.

SARA-MAE: Exactly. She’s so clever at kind of manipulating the outcome and you know, but it’s this trick that you do with the reader. I think that this is something that you do well very beautifully.

HARRIET: Thank you. When I was an editor at Penguin, a book was published at the same time, at the height of the ‘chick lit’ craze, and it was by a quite well-established author who thought that they were too good for such romancy things.  And it’s about this mother living in a house a single mother living in a house with a flatmate and at the beginning of the book she says in brackets, “Oh by the way if you think that this is one of these books where the love of my life was under my nose all along and I ended up with him the end, well it’s not, so get over it”. So, you go through the entire book thinking, “Well, she’s expressly told me that’s not going to happen then she damn well gets together with him at the end. And I remember getting to the end and thinking –

SARA-MAE: [laughs]

HARRIET: But I am so angry with you because you should have, as a writer, made us care about them as a couple. You can’t just expressly say it like that, it’s just cheating and it also, by the way, made me think of, “Ooh, they’re not going to get together because you totally told me that it’s not going to happen. You have to do it in subtle ways.”

SARA-MAE: Hmm.

HARRIET: It has to be done through the actions, by the way the characters behave. That’s the one thing that I try really hard to never do. I get very cross with other books when people just sort of can’t be bothered with working out of it. So I’m just going to tell you, and she never does that, you really are like “This will never happen, oh my goodness, how did she know that I really wanted poor Ancilla the amazing governess to get together with the Nonesuch because they’re perfect with each other, Ooh it’s happened!!” I don’t know why I have to speak in this weird spinstery voice, sometimes that happens.

SARA-MAE: [laughs]

HARRIET: Yeah, it’s just so well done.

SARA-MAE: And I don’t know how she does it again and again. As you say, there’s some where she’s more successful than others. Frederica, I love that one as well, where she’s kind of this totally capable, eminently practical person and she just doesn’t think about romance at all. And almost kind of piques his interest because of her lack of…

HARRIET: She’s not throwing her –

SARA-MAE: Lures

HARRIET: Thank you.

SARA-MAE: [laughs]

HARRIET: And also, that’s the ultimate one, I think, where someone needs looking after and the other person sees that and falls in love with them because they need looking after, and that’s incredibly attractive to women, I think.

SARA-MAE: Oh yeah.

HARRIET: That idea that here he is, and he will just take care of things for you. That’s not giving up your own identity, but this ‘lean all your cares on and to lean against’, which is really the most attractive thing when you are weary and tired and life is tough sometimes. That’s also a really interesting one because you really get a sense of London at the time, there’s all the business of the cows in Green Park and the hot air balloon and stuff and that’s the one I’ve selected to re-read.

SARA-MAE: I remind Harriet of the rules we’d been making, so we had ‘have your carriage breakdown in front of the hero’s house’, ‘be ready for adventure at a moment’s notice’ and…?

HARRIET: I think you have to be able to identify Lady Jersey; because I had no idea who she was in history apart from the fact that she’s always, always in Heyers. Lady Jersey and Lady Sefton because they give out the vouchers for Almacks. So you have to be able to curtsey to them and identify them, that’s super important.

SARA-MAE: I’d say, don’t be a dowd.

HARRIET: Don’t be a dowd. You need to be like observers. They’re all sort of noticers of things, I think. You need to be witty and wise, because some of them are governesses and some of them are a bit down on their luck, and what gets them out is just being able to have a conversation with someone and not being so terrified.  There are not so many Georgette Heyer heroines where they literally can’t tie two words together because they’re so terrified.

SARA-MAE: I mention ‘The Quiet Gentleman’, as it’s one of the other books we’ll be covering in the series (episode 10). One of the great joys of that book is how much the heroine, Drusilla, deeply regrets how sensible she is. In fact, when the hero first sees her, he thinks her plain! What she sees as a surfeit of boring sense, you the reader soon see as courage and intelligence. And that makes her far more useful to the hero, who is often in mortal danger, than a swooning miss would be.

SARA-MAE: When she marries the darker side of the things with the light romance it sometimes doesn’t work quite as well. She’s at her most brilliant when she’s just doing romantic comedy.

HARRIET: I mean, even when there are darker bits in some of them like in ‘Regency Buck’ or in ‘Devils Cub’, there’s still a lightness about it.  I mean some like ‘Cousin Kate’ – do you remember in ‘Cousin Kate’ when there’s some guy who is basically just super disturbed. And I think that it’s interesting because today, we’d try to put a label on him, and say, “Well, he was autistic, or he was psychotic, or he was schizophrenic or…”

SARA-MAE: Bipolar…

HARRIET: There’s something very dark about him and it’s interesting that a) in the time that she is writing but b) in the time about which she was writing (which are two different things as well), you fling that in and make it part of the plot. But I don’t think it fully works. And, of course, if you have been writing for many years, the books are going to have become better honed but you’d hope that there’s a progression and that you are getting more polished about it. But it’s not it’s just an upward trajectory. And if you wrote as many books as she did, they’re not always going to be great.

SARA-MAE: I ask Harriet to reveal her famous list of top tier Heyers.

HARRIET: The ‘Primo Georgette’, it’s called, and this first lot is Primo Georgette.

For me, Venetia; These Old Shades; Devil’s Cub; An Infamous Army; Sprig Muslin; Faro’s Daughter; The Nonesuch; Lady of Quality; Regency Buck; The Reluctant Widow (controversial but I do quite like it); The Grand Sophy; Frederica; Bath Tangle; Black Sheep; Sylvester.

Every one of these is G Heyer writing at her best.

These are the second tier: The Foundling; Friday’s Child (but you see, actually I’m kind of loving the Friday’s Child and maybe it should be bumped up to the top); The Talisman Ring; Charity Girl; The Convenient Marriage; A Civil Contract; False Colours; April Lady (the world’s most depressing book); The Toll Gate; Cotillion (but yeah, you’re right about that); The Quiet Gentleman (but maybe I need to reread that); The Corinthinan; The Spanish Bride; and the Black Moth.

SARA-MAE: I’m glad we’ve got a mix of Heyer’s best mixed in with the second and third tier Heyer’s – we wanted to cover certain periods in her life, and so we picked books which slotted into those times. I’d love to know what you think of Harriet’s list – do you agree? Personally, I might put ‘Cotillion’ into the top tier, myself. Now for Harriet’s third tier…

HARRIET: Now the third one is kind of the weird ones. Beauvallet, Powder and Patch, Masqueraders, Cousin Kate, Royal Escape.

SARA-MAE: Yes, I agree. I would stand by the fact that even the worst Georgette Heyer is better than 90% of some of the other stuff that’s out there as sort of best-selling things.

SARA-MAE: Another thing that’s unique to Heyer, for me, is the way I change my mind about her novels. In re-reading some of the books I’d consigned to the third tier myself, I’ve seen them in a new light, realising just how fantastically good she is at writing a cracking yarn. I know so few writers whose books I read multiple times and yet they can still seem so fresh to me. I ask Harriet about the book she put as her least favourite.

HARRIET: ‘Royal Escape’. Just because it’s not super-easy to get through.

SARA-MAE: You know what, I have to admit I didn’t finish that. Because you always kind of think, you know, it reminds me of how good ‘Faro’s Daughter’ is. Let me just read that again [laughs]

HARRIET: Yes, no, completely and my last book, ‘The Butterfly Summer’, there’s a whole section about King Charles II and he’s visited this house and the serious house in Cornwall. And so I did a lot of research into Charles II and where he went when he was on the run and the Civil War was raging across the country and I thought that this would be perfect because I thought that this was what ‘Royal Escape’ would be all about. I think that she’s slightly better in the realms of High Society. The times when she’s particularly wearing is when she decides that someone speaks in a specific way and she goes on for ages. But in general, her characters are so enjoyably spot on and in that world – she’s so confident in the Regency world, she seems to have more sort of facility to let things sing. I think that the Royal Escape one – that possibly it’s that the idea of writing about a historical figure possibly weighed her down a bit more. Because that’s what’s great about ‘Infamous Army’.

SARA-MAE: Yeah

HARRIET: It’s about Waterloo and it’s about the eve of Waterloo. There’s historical figures dotted the whole way through it but it’s essentially about these characters we know and we love. God, that’s a good book. And the thing that I always smile about, you know, that people say that it was given out in Sandhurst, as if, ”Oh well, some men in the Army have said this book’s good so it must be!”

SARA-MAE: [laughs]

HARRIET: I’m telling you it’s a good book, I don’t need some guy from Sandhurst to tell me that it’s an extremely well written work of literature.

SARA-MAE: And it is the encapsulation of exactly what she was so good at which was brilliant research and seeing through the research to the characters behind them. And I think that the reason why perhaps the Regency romances are the best is that’s the world in which she is most deeply embedded. So it was second nature for her to create such characters within that world.

I have a question for you. So which of her books do you think would make the best film?

HARRIET: Well, this is why I always think, “Why haven’t ITV done it?” People always ask and people over the years tried to see if there was any traction but I never understand why it hasn’t come to anything.

SARA-MAE: Well, they’re making ‘The Grand Sophy’. I’ll just say that it’s certainly in production but the scary thing is, I mean I interviewed Andy Patterson the producer last year and at that stage it was definitely going ahead, and then I interviewed Peter Buckman at Ampersand Agency who are the ones who sort of control the rights. And he seemed to be slightly doubtful. But I think it’s because he’s just had so many things fall through over the years.

HARRIET: I think it’s because people still categorise them as romance. Because it comes back full circle at the end of the conversation which we started talking about, which is kind of, “If it’s a romance, then it’s not going to do so well” and it does make me sort of want to hold my head in my hands because whenever you do something that’s going to appeal slightly more to women, people are always astonished that it’s going to do so well. Look at ‘Mama Mia’, well, people are like, “Well, can’t really explain the success of Mama Mia,” because you have three middle-aged women having loads of fun on a Greek island singing ABBA songs, that is why. There was a film for the first time in years catering to the above age of fifty and you’re surprised that all of them went to see that one film over and over again, bought the soundtrack, bought the DVD! If you just do that a few times, you will make loads of money, people, instead of churning out these endless, incredibly tedious, Marvel comic book hero things which is a diminishing return, they are less good, or these very boring TV dramas. If you just for once gave it a try and said, something like ‘Regency Buck’, would be my lead-in one because you have – and I think you might need to tweak it a bit – and you may not open with Lord Worth snogging what turns out to be his own ward, when she doesn’t want him to – but the setting of Brighton, and the idea that Brighton was the most bang-on so-trendy place, the fact that the Prince Regent tried to kiss her and assault her. That whole setting, that whole world, the detail of it, the fact that there’s that dramatic dark plot going on at the side as well; I can’t see how it would fail. 

SARA-MAE: I understand why they chose ‘The Grand Sophy’ because there’s a lot of incidents and she’s a very, very plucky heroine.

HARRIET: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: I think that something like ‘Frederica’, because there’s the whole hot air balloon, like you said, there’s a lot of going around London, showcasing London but you know, then again that might be a bit expensive.

Thank you so much, you have spent ages talking to me.

HARRIET: Well please do feel free to look at any of my books. You should be able to get them in any bookshop order them on Amazon or the library – support your local libraries; and yeah, my last one was ‘The Butterfly Summer’, and the one before that was ‘A Place For Us’ and my next book is called ‘Wildflower House’ and that’s the one that I’m just finishing off at the moment or I’m not, I’m chatting to you and I’d rather chat to you all day about Georgette Heyer! But [giggles] I should go and do some work.

SARA-MAE: Yes, thank you so, so much. I’ve absolutely loved it.

HARRIET: I feel it’s a bit sad that some people only find ways of success through “Has a film been made of it?” and you and I, because we are total devotees, know that it’s just wrong for the TV-watching public to be denied the chance to watch Georgette Heyer of an evening. But I would also flip it round the other way and say, much like why isn’t she more widely read, she is so much more widely read than she used to be. The last ten, fifteen years has been so extraordinary for her with the reissuing, and the covers and what they’ve done with them. There are lots of other novelists, mid-20th century female commercial novelists, who don’t get the same coverage she does and there are so many people fighting on her behalf. But I sort of think with her, we should be trying to push her on new people, and we should be saying, “Why haven’t they been made into different films and everything?” But we all should be rejoicing in how wonderful she is and you can get new people switched on to her more easily and that she has had an increasing recognition in the last ten or fifteen years. Because I feel really joyful about that. It makes me super-happy that we live in a world where her sales are better than they have ever been for years. It’s a bit Pollyanna-ish but I do think that is really important that she’s so well loved and that more and more people are finding her and everything. Yay.

SARA-MAE: Brilliant. Thank you so much. Have a great day.

[OUTTRO]

SARA-MAE: It was such a delight to talk to Harriet, and boy did we cover a lot of ground. As I mentioned earlier, her latest book is ‘The Garden of Lost and Found’. Liddy Horner discovers her husband, the world-famous artist Sir Edward Horner, burning his best-known painting, The Garden of Lost and Found, days before his sudden death. Is that a gripping description or what? It’s had fabulous reviews, so do go and pick up a copy.

Next week, in our book club episode, I’ll be reading ‘Arabella’ with my friends Rob and vicar Caroline Risdon (or the Rev Riz as I like to call her). They have very different views on the book, so do grab a copy or download the audio book from Naxos – it’s a lovely one to listen to in the bath or on the bus.

You’d have to be loose in the haft to miss out. Until next time, this has been Heyer Today.

Credits

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott for production assistance and making a mean spag bol. Stephen Fry for general awesomeness.

Thanks also to Geraldine Elliot, Talitha Gamaroff and everyone who supported me in creating this work.

Suzy Buttress in particular, but the podcast community at large for so much inspiration and encouragement.

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, Chapter I as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast, by myself and Tom Chadd.

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media, we’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

Remember to rate, review and subscribe…I can’t tell you how much it helps small indie companies like us to thrive.

Heyer Today is a Fable Gazers production.

HEYER TODAY EPISODE 6: FARO’S DAUGHTER

Listen to this episode here.

Also available on any good podplayer, iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music.

SARA-MAE: Previously on Heyer Today.

ALISON: I know everyone else says that Heyer is greatly influenced by Austen, but I think she’s more influenced by Shakespeare. And, I mean, if you just think of ‘Much Ado’, there is a strong female character, right there aren’t they?

JANE: I don’t know that I’m that influenced by Heyer overtly, but probably at a subliminal level, I’m influenced as a reader. You know, I’m always looking for that experience, I suppose. Probably the Mark I’s [are] my preferred experience.

ALISON: There’s only one person who could have played Avon. He’s not with us any more. So, you see him walking along; he’s got high red heels and silk and lace… jewels. There’s only one person and that person is David Bowie.

SARA-MAE: Welcome to our third Heyer Today book club session. This week we’ll be exploring one of my favourite Heyer novels and I’m so excited about it.

Yes, darlings, it’s ‘Faro’s Daughter’. And my dear friend Geraldine Minuk-Elliot will be chatting to me all the way from Vancouver, Canada.

She, like all our converts, is a Heyer virgin, people! She’s also a teacher and copywriter, as well as a published poet who’s very active on social media. She has her own company, Meerkat Communications, but she’s currently working full time as an Instructional Designer. We’ve known each other since we both went to the University of Cape Town, which was many, many moons ago now and she’s still one of my favourite people. I’m so excited to hear what she thinks about ‘Faro’s Daughter’.

Remember, if you haven’t read the book there will be spoilers so I beg you to go and pour over our reading list on Fablegazers.com. This journey will be so much more fun if you know what we’re talking about. Plus, I want to know if you’re a convert too – tweet us at @fable_gazers to let us know what you think of the book.

But first, in Heyer’s life, war was on the horizon. Money was still tight. Richard had just gone back to boarding school, but let’s hear more from Beth.

BETH: In February 1932 Adolf Hitler is just an Austrian immigrant who has been awarded German citizenship. Amelia Earhart is making waves with her solo flights, and by September, Gandhi is on his famous hunger strike. In London, Piccadilly Circus is lit up by electricity for the very first time. And the BBC begins experimental TV broadcasts. For Georgette Heyer, the years between the publication of ‘Devil’s Cub’ in 1932 and ‘Faro’s Daughter’ in 1941 are shaded by two historic clouds: the Great Depression and the Second World War. Georgette is just in her 30s, and the period begins with a more personal life-changing event – the birth of their son Richard.

On the very same day – 12 February 1932 – she also marks the birth of her parallel career – as a writer of detective fiction – with the publication of ‘Footsteps in the

Dark’, her first thriller.

She is perhaps encouraged by the commercial success of the genre at that time, especially works by master trio Allingham, Sayers, and Christie. In her usual business-like fashion, Georgette decides that she will henceforth produce one romance and one thriller each year. This will be no mean feat, as allegedly, until the late 1940s, she continues to write all her novels in by hand, sometimes using an 18th century quill!

Georgette, Ronald and Richard are living in the Sussex countryside. As befitting their station, they have live-in maids. This may be in line with the times, but it could be a contributing factor to the financial difficulties that continued to haunt Georgette – alongside paying for renovations to their Blackthorns residence, servants, a nanny for Richard, and a typist to deal with her manuscripts. There were also medical bills when she or other family members, including her Mother-in-law, became unwell. Nevertheless, it seems to have been a happy time for the couple, and it was very productive for Georgette. In their 5 years in Sussex, from mid to end of 1930s, she would write 12 books.

Between the two world wars, Georgette also reaches fans worldwide through serialisation of her novels in Women’s Journal and other popular magazines. While Georgette has a prickly relationship with Women’s Journal editor, Dorothy Sutherland, there is no doubt that the wide circulation helps Georgette reach more readers, and Sutherland’s serialisation of Regency Buck did revitalise an old title. Georgette was in good company too. Other magazine-published women in the mid-1930s include Edna Ferber, Daphne du Maurier, Vera Brittain, Rebecca West, Agatha Christie, and Georgette’s good friends, Carola Oman and Joanna Cannan.

Ronald and Georgette start to work more closely together; while Ronald has

swapped a gruelling career in mining to run a sporting goods shop, at home he also contributes plot ideas for the thrillers. He checks facts and proofreads for errors. Her work in detective fiction is favourably reviewed, even garnering praise from Dorothy L Sayers, the Thriller Queen herself.

While working in the country, Georgette commutes regularly to London to see her agent LP Moore. They sometimes meet at the Empress Club in the heart of posh Mayfair for lunch, where she also gets to know a number of London-based writers [or her ‘fellow inkies’ as she called them]. They include Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. Always on the lookout for financial betterment, Georgette sets up a limited company to administer rights to her novels. In 1935, she severs ties with Longman and signs with Hodder & Stoughton for four new ‘modern’ novels. She also signed a new contract with Heinemann for her historical romances. This guaranteed publication of her next seven works. It must have felt like a comfortable safety net, at the same time, it increased the pressure to deliver. There were constant financial stresses, scrabbling to sell short stories, and gain advances to release securities provided by her mother-in-law for loans and overdrafts to pay for living expenses.

Georgette was also frustrated by Heinemann; she hated their compositors changing her idiosyncratic spelling, and especially their habit of sending her a bill for excessive proof changes to ‘correct’ their mistakes. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before she succumbed to a nervous breakdown. Her doctor helpfully ordering her not to write anything until she was better!

Georgette decides it is time she curb her usual habit of writing all through the night; she sets her limit at 5.30am. Death in the Stocks is published in America by Doubleday Doran, her first US publisher in a decade. Two years later, the detective story is also dramatised for the stage but it runs for only 3 nights in New York.

At this time, Alexander Frere-Reeves, Director at Heinemann, becomes an ally and mentor. Disrupted temporarily when their offices are evacuated in September 1938, at the outset of what Georgette called ‘this ghastly European situation’.

Frere-Reeves is right up Georgette’s street. Fatherly connections are rife. He was

smart, Cambridge-educated, he liked golf and cricket, he had even been an editor at Granta. He also lived in the exclusive Albany apartments on Piccadilly in London. They often lunch together at the Heinemann offices or exclusive London restaurants, like Escargot.

[AUDIO DRAMA]

NARRATOR: Georgette and Frere have met at the Savoy, and they’re discussing Faro’s Daughter.

GEORGETTE: Faro’s Daughter? My latest work of genius? Naturally, it’s a very fine work, and immensely entertaining, absorbing, witty, scintillating and erudite. Well, what I mean is, it will be when I get around to writing it.

FRERE: Have you even started it?

GEORGETTE [LAUGHS]: No, I haven’t, since you must know. Though what it’s got to do with you –

FRERE: Oh not much at all…just the small matter of binding the book, selling it, and all with an author who refuses to do any publicity, though the hordes are begging for a cosy tea for two, or a photographic spread of the great novelist at work.

GEORGETTE: Heaven forfend.

FRERE: More champagne?

[Sounds of wine being poured]

GEORGETTE: Don’t let’s argue about that! Let me SPEAK! Badgering me like this. Pestering me for the thing. Not giving me a moment’s peace. And just look at that set of somnambulists down at Kingswood! Do I ever get a letter from any one of them, asking me about my new book, and wanting to know when they can start advertising it? Oh, dear me, no! And why on earth should you instantly assume that you won’t get the book in time to publish it this autumn, I entirely fail to understand.

FRERE [chuckling]: I merely said if you needed a bit of extra time, what with all this war upset and Ronald away every night with the Home Guard, you might very well take some time off.

GEORGETTE: Nothing I have said could possibly have given you the impression I need more time, so why you must needs get in such a temper about it. Do calm yourself!

FRERE [SMILINGLY]: I’m terribly sorry, I’ve the devil of a temper, Pat’s forever fleeing before me because of my notorious rages. But do continue.

GEORGETTE: All I ever said was that from one cause or another…

FRERE: More wine?

GEORGETTE: No! Shut up! I am not going to explain what the causes were. Don’t be such a fool! Can’t you realise that if I were feeling inventive, I should be writing the book, instead of sitting here in this lovely restaurant, talking to you?’

FRERE:  Yes, dear. Do have another duck wing, it’s frightfully good. No, be serious for a moment. How’s ‘Faro’s Daughter’ coming along?

GEORGETTE:  Well, the schoolgirls won’t like Max Ravenscar being a mere commoner, but I’m so fed up with writing a lot of wash about improbable Dukes and Earls. He’s fabulously rich, however, but he dresses all anyhow, and hasn’t got a quizzing glass, or any graceful habits.

FRERE: Sounds like another hit to me!

[Glasses clink]]

BETH: Georgette starts to spend more time in London. Ronald has decided to sell the lease on the sports shop and become a barrister. While he studies in London’s Inner Temple for the next four years, it once again falls to Georgette to be the main breadwinner.

The events of September 1939 will, of course, take their toll on Georgette and her family. Both her brothers enlist in the Army. And, just like Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband, Ronald is an active member of the Home Guard [his eyesight problems saved him from being called up and prevented his attempts to join the Navy]. Unfortunately, Ronald’s brother Leslie, is not so lucky and he is killed on the battle fields in Belgium.

Georgette suffers from a string of health problems, no doubt stress induced, as the realities of war-time rationing set in, including the very real work-related worry about paper rationing. To add to the chaos, Frere-Reeves cuts back his time at Heinemann to take up a part-time post in Public Relations for the war effort.

Desperate for funds, in July 1940, Georgette sells outright the copyright for 3 of

her biggest selling novels, ‘These Old Shades’, ‘Devil’s Cub’ and ‘Regency Buck’,  outright to Heinemann for a mere £750. The contract includes a hefty percentage in film rights for all 3 novels as well.To make extra cash Georgette also starts to take work for Frere-Reeves as a manuscript reader. To economise, Georgette decides to give up the Blackthorns residence and move to central London. But the 57 consecutive nights of bombing during the Blitz puts paid to that plan. They move instead to Brighton where they have a lovely view of the ocean, but there will be no walks on the beach: it has been mined and covered in barbed wire to stop an enemy invasion.

In May 1941 the Blitz finally ends: 43,000 civilians are dead, 20 million books burned, and 1 million homes destroyed, including the home of Virginia Woolf, who just two months earlier had moved to the country and decided to end her life.

LP Moore’s office is also damaged. His move to Buckinghamshire marks a rift in their relationship. Georgette depends more and more on Frere-Reeves for professional support, she prefers his office location in central London where the publishing action is. She would even go so far as to rent chambers in his longstanding residence; finally relocating, close to London’s publishing heart, in the prestigious Albany apartments. It helped that the location on Piccadilly had a historic literary pedigree and was walking distance to her beloved Fortnum’s and the London Library.

You can find out more about this fascinating London address in our blog!

And so, like many of her readers, Georgette survives the Blitz, the bombing, and the bleakness by escaping into her safe world of Regency romance.

SARA-MAE: Now on to our interview with Geraldine. As I mentioned, she’s never read a Heyer. This sad state of affairs had to be remedied tout de suite.

SARA-MAE: This is your very first taste of Georgette Heyer, and what were your preconceptions about about her? If you had any.

GERALDINE: You know, I didn’t actually have any, really, in terms of knowing much about her or anything like that. And you know, I’d always sort of thought of it as a Regency period but didn’t really realise it was post-Regency, so I hadn’t read writing in this in the setting but not the actual time. And yeah, I really enjoyed it. When I started reading it, the first few pages, I initially thought of kind of bad historical kind of Mills and Boon, Harlequin romance novel but as soon as you start noticing the details in the setting and, obviously, the quality of the writing and when you get more into the the wit of it within the first few pages, I sort of realised that, you know, there’s definitely a rich story. Definitely kept me reading; I went through it in a day. So, yeah, I really enjoyed it. Like, it definitely made me want to grab some of the other ones and read them as well.

SARA-MAE:  This is what I like to hear. Looks like it might be leading to a three out of four ratio for my converts list. Yes! But I mustn’t get ahead of myself.

GERALDINE: So I’m actually staying in a place called Galiano Island, which is about an hour’s ferry away from the mainland, close to Vancouver, in Canada. And so they have this fantastic bookstore on the island and it’s a tiny island…its like 1000 people. So, I went there and I thought, well, you know, I don’t think the chances are great that they’re going to have a collection. And I asked the woman who owns it, and she was like, “that’s so weird! A few weeks ago, someone literally came in with an entire collection of [Heyer] books and I have them somewhere,” and she went off… and we went investigating in the second hand room, and there was pretty much the entire book list there on the shelf. They’re all signed by someone called E. Gordon for the princely sum of $2. I did actually buy another one. And then I think I’m gonna go and make them an offer they can’t refuse.

SARA-MAE: You’re gonna murder them. You’re gonna murder them and their whole family. Right? Yeah, of course. I mean, that makes sense. Yes.

GERALDINE:  Yep. I’m only gonna remove the Georgette Heyer books.

SARA-MAE: Which will confuse the police. It will be the perfect crime because they’ll be like, “they didn’t take money from the cash register! There is nothing missing except this like a space where there was obviously once a pile of books.”

GERALDINE: Well, I mean, there’s one police officer on the island. So, you know, we can stump him like he’s never been stumped before.

SARA-MAE: The next 30 years until he retires, it’ll be the case that haunted him. [The one] he could never solve. He’ll be like, “there is no MOTIVE!”

[GERALDINE laughing]

SARA-MAE:  But you know what the worst part will be? He’ll suspect every person, all the people that he’s grown up with, that he’s formed relationships with. I’m sure everyone on the island are close… his best friends. He’ll look them in the eye and he’ll be like, was it you?

GERALDINE: Every time he goes around to someone’s house for dinner, he’ll be scouring the bookshelves.

SARA-MAE: One day, he’ll go to the house of E. Gordon and they’ll be like, “You know, it was so weird. A week after I gave my collection of Georgette Heyers the book shop owner was brutally murdered. I mean, I don’t know if that’s a coincidence?” And he’ll just be like, “Nooooo!!”

GERALDINE: This would actually be a very good plot for a GH novel, I think.

SARA-MAE:  No, well, she did actually do thrillers as well. Set in the 20s and 30s.

SARA-MAE:  We get back on track. I asked Geraldine to tell us about the book.

GERALDINE: So, it’s Faro’s Daughter. And essentially the plot is, there’s a cash-strapped lady of ill-repute [Deb], who runs a gaming house.

SARA-MAE:  She isn’t like a ‘prosi’ or anything like that. Although the whole crux of the plot kind of hinges on the hero believing that she’s this woman of loose morals.

GERALDINE: Exactly. She and her aunt run gaming tables, and it’s almost like a gentlemen’s club, but out of their house, which is part of the issue around the ill-repute. She’s essentially falsely accused of being a gold digger when she’s courted by young Lord Mablethorpe, Adrian. And so the the novel starts with Adrian’s mother freaking out about this impending potential match. Enter Max Ravenscar, which is probably one of the best names ever. As soon as you introduce that, that was like “Yes! This is gonna be good!” So, Max Ravenscar is Lord Mablethorpe’s cousin. And so then the rest of the book is about his attempts to break up this possible match. And there’s attempted bribery and gambling and kidnap and misunderstandings and… it’s a slim volume and yet, there’s actually a lot of action and there’s a lot of cinematic quality.

SARA-MAE:  The classic Jane Austen movie is always predicated on the tension between the hero and the heroine. And often it’s a character flaw in either one of them that prevents them from being together like in Pride and Prejudice, you know, she’s prejudiced against him. And in this case, Ravensclaw, [laughs] is… what’s his name?

GERALDINE: Ravenscar (laughs). The Harry Potter version of the book.

SARA-MAE:  Fan fiction, yeah, I think he’d be a bit of a Slytherin.

And then [Heyer] calls him pretty much ‘Mr. Ravenscar’ throughout the novel, which is interesting, whereas, you know, she calls the female heroine, Deb. He’s very prejudiced against her and, on her part, as soon as she discovers that he basically insults her by trying to bribe her to not marry his young cousin. He sees her as this paltry, loose morals kind of a person who’s going to just jump at the chance to take this money. And instead of (as one would think the logical thing would be) just to say to him, “Listen, you’ve got the wrong idea, I don’t intend to marry him,” because she doesn’t intend to marry the young guy, does she?

GERALDINE:  No, not at all.

SARA-MAE:  It’s a very interesting thing throughout the whole book, she’s actually very strapped for cash, her aunt is; they have these hilarious conversations with loads of detail, listing all the things and how much they cost, you know, to run this gaming house. The bloody green peas!

GERALDINE: I made a note of the £70 for green peas. And that is a recurring theme with the aunt. That’s something I really enjoyed about the plot. I think that perhaps this is some of that advantage of writing in a different era. She takes the plot in a direction that you just wouldn’t assume. But yeah, definitely shades of Pride and Prejudice. Max is even described as being a proud, disagreeable man, which is pretty much Darcy.

SARA-MAE:  Yes. [He] doesn’t come off well to begin with.

GERALDINE: Not at all.

SARA-MAE: I mean, she actually describes him as quite a skinflint. He is very rich, but yet he wears these quite plain clothes, never throws parties. It’s like a matter of disgruntlement to his sister-in-law that…he refuses to hold these big parties and be a bit more ostentatious. And she resents having to ask him to help but feels like he’s the only one who can extricate her son from this arrangement. But it is interesting… in that first encounter where he takes Deb with him on a ride to basically bribe her, and he in his very arrogant way is like, “she’s definitely going to take the money”. He’s decided, “It’s £10,000, no more. That’s it.” It’s a great scene, because instead of saying the logical thing: “Listen, I don’t have any intention of marrying this young guy. He’s too young, it’s calf love,” she makes the choice to pretend to be the harlot and the doxy that he believes she is. And she’s actually incredibly proud. She decides, if he thinks she’s this kind of person she’s gonna be even worse than that.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: Just to punish him. There’s a big theme about her wanting to teach him a lesson.

GERALDINE: You know, I think he likes her despite his objections to her marrying Adrian. He starts to like her because she isn’t what he’s used to. And, you know, there’s that element of — in a similar way to Pride and Prejudice — where you realise that Darcy likes Elizabeth partly because she does refuse him when he offers. Despite every fibre of his being [being against it], he makes an offer. There’s the same interesting tension between Deb and Max because she isn’t what he is assumed. And I think that’s a big underlying theme too, assumptions and pre- judgements and that prejudice. And then on the flip side, she’s so surprised, because she’s so used to having men fawning over her because she’s so beautiful.

SARA-MAE:  And also quite gross kind of men, because she’s always in the context of this gaming house where she’s used to men sort of leering at her, and so I think she sees something in him that isn’t the same. He doesn’t look at her the same way as these other guys do. So that intrigues her initially, but then of course, he messes that up by insulting her to her core.

GERALDINE: Yeah [laughs]

SARA-MAE: And I think it’s true what you’re saying. He, on his part, is intrigued because she doesn’t ever do what he expects her to do. And that appeals to him. But, having said that, unlike Darcy, he isn’t gradually and very steadily warming to her. It’s like he really doesn’t Iike her in the beginning, he really thinks that she is this completely unscrupulous person. Because she’s been around these gaming houses and these people, she knows exactly how to play the role of this… the type of person he thinks she is.

GERALDINE: My favourite scene is at the Ridotto. So basically, once Max has attempted to pay her off so that she doesn’t marry Adrian, and she’s done the opposite of what he assumed… he accuses her basically of being a vulgar woman and all of this. So she rises to the challenge and decides that she’s going to go…

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

GERALDINE: …Full on. Give them what they expect.

SARA-MAE:  How does she do it?

GERALDINE: She finally accepted an invitation from Adrian to go out in public with him to the Ridotto, which I assume is some form of show.

SARA-MAE:  Because previously, she’d refused because she didn’t want to mess up his reputation. She’s constantly being very protective of this Adrian guy who’s like this young, very sweet but quite weak character. You know from the start she would just crush him if they ever had a real relationship.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE:  But he’s so infatuated. He doesn’t see that in the beginning.

GERALDINE: And then again, it’s a very interesting part of her character that she could very easily, essentially have slept with him and got stuff out of him; she hasn’t done that. She’s very protective of people as well. She’s been fobbing Adrian off. She finally actually says to him that she will agree to marry him. So he’s now told his family and this is their first public outing together. And so she decides, well, if Max has accused her of being a jade…

SARA-MAE:  A wench.

GERALDINE: …And they all assume she’s this vulgar woman, and they’ve all got these preconceived ideas of what she’s going to be like, she decides to go fully outrageous. She has a grass green and white striped gown that she puts on. Then she goes and buys huge amounts of red ribbons and puts those on the dress. And then she find a hats with ribbons and three enormous ostrich feathers, which is hilarious in itself because it’s like, this is the height of vulgarity.

SARA-MAE: She powders her hair as well, which is a very old-fashioned practice. And it ages her. It makes her…and she puts makeup on, doesn’t she? And like a patch on her cheek?

GERALDINE:  Yeah. And all these things that she never wears, you know, basically she’s like, well, if they’re pigeon-holing me, then I’m going to play up to the stereotype. So, “What is the most vulgar thing I could possibly do?” And then on top of that, she asked Lucius Kennett… who’s another very interesting character, and I want to talk about him as well… her sort of right hand man/friend, that’s known her since she was a kid, best friend of her father, etc.

SARA-MAE: Who was a gambler.

GERALDINE:  She says to Lucius, “Well, you know, my aunt is always saying that you hang out with vulgar widows.”  Which is fabulous! Basically she’s like, “Do you know any vulgar widows that you could rustle up for an event?” He very willingly obliges [both laugh] and brings this vulgar widow who is loud…

SARA-MAE:  Strident.

[Background noises of indistinct conversational buzz and loud laughing]

GERALDINE:  It’s such a great scene, you know, they arrive and Adrian’s mortified.

SARA-MAE:  I felt so bad for him.

GERALDINE: She writes her characters very well, because she gives you a little bit of Adrian’s point of view. I mean, you don’t really get that much…but, then at this point, you sort of hear him and he’s kind of wishing that she had worn her hair in, you know, the normal way.

SARA-MAE: I like the way she differentiates between the men and the women. Adrian doesn’t know anything about women’s fashion, and so he doesn’t really notice that she’s dressed vulgarly, but he kind of notices that she’s dressed differently to usual and he’s a bit confused by [it].

GERALDINE: Like, “What the hell is happening to you?!” [laughs]

SARA-MAE: But [Deb and Lucius] have planned it to the last detail. Lucius is sort of like the devil on Deb’s shoulder.

GERALDINE: Yeah, yeah.

SARA-MAE: ‘Cos he just enables her in all her quite crazy schemes. When you think about how much she stands to lose in society by enraging Max! And one of the things he’s organised is that their table is just opposite where Max and his family are coming to hang out at this ridotto. And sure enough, they arrive and they see them.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: And she goes over to meet Adrian’s mother and it… doesn’t go well. I mean, again, she plays it’s so perfectly, like this horrible, simpering classless person.

GERALDINE: Mmmm hmm.

SARA-MAE: Everything that she says is just so calculated to make a very aristocratic woman…

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: …Cringe and just think, “What is my son getting into?” You know?

GERALDINE: So Max is sort of around, he’s seen what’s going on a little bit and it says, “When she made her entrance, in the correct manner, Mr. Ravenscar left the booth. He would try a fall with her himself before very long and enjoy doing it, but it was no part of his plan to join his aunt in whatever schemes she might have in mind for the discomfiture of the minx. He returned to the box a few minutes before Adrian led Arabella back to it.”

Arabella is Max’s youngest sister. “One glance at the two ladies was enough to assure him that it was not Miss Grantham,” (Deb), “who had suffered discomfiture. Lady Mablethorpe was looking crushed, and the glance she cast up at her nephew was one of pathetic entreaty.

She had sustained the most shattering half hour of her life. She had subjected Miss Grantham to a catechism which had been intended to show that young woman how very far she stood from Adrian, and how very uncomfortable she would feel in Polite Society. It had apparently failed in this laudable object. Miss Grantham had replied with the greatest readiness and the most appalling frankness to all the searching questions put to her. She had remained throughout wholly oblivious of the most patent disapproval. She had been voluble, expansive and shockingly vulgar, had confessed to a passion for all forms of gaming, described in quite imaginary detail the events of several horse races she said she had attended and expressed a desire to set up a select Faro bank in Brook Street. She had also ogled several bucks who had strolled past the box, and had claimed intimate acquaintance with three of the most notorious rakes in town. Her Ladyship felt herself to be passing through a nightmare and hailed the return of her nephew with heartfelt relief. Miss Grantham assured him that she and Lady Mablethorpe were now the greatest of friends.”

[Both laughing]

GERALDINE:  It is just so wonderful. I mean, it’s just all those things, that by this stage, we’ve learned that Deb is [not]. She’s nothing like this.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

GERALDINE: And so it’s even better. Lady Mabletherpe thinks she’s going to cut down this pretentious, vulgar woman.

SARA-MAE:  What is Deb like? She’s actually the total opposite of what they think she is. Her upbringing was having a father who was in the army, she and her brother (he’s a very weak, lily-livered type of a guy), until their mother died and then the father palmed them off to their lovely, but somewhat silly, aunt. Again, it reminds you of a lot of those mothers like Mrs. Bennett and…

GERALDINE: Hmm, she’s very Mrs. Bennett, yeah.

SARA-MAE:  …But she’s very lovable and sweet and she’s done her best. Even though her best is fairly misguided, you know, starting a gambling house and then letting her niece become involved in it, you know. Deb has got this incredible spirit from somewhere. She’s got her very own honour code, which if you think about it in that time, and considering what she was up against [is amazing]; her reputation being tarnished… she will always be seen as this girl [who’s] been working at these gaming tables, which in that time would have been completely infra dig.

GERALDINE:  She is described as a female elbow shaker, which I thought was great.

[Both laugh]

SARA-MAE:  That must have been really unusual, particularly for someone who, actually she’s quite innocent in some ways. I mean, she’s experienced in the sense of knowing what goes on but she’s never been loose with her morals and in fact, she actually has these really strong ideas about what she can and can’t do. And it’s totally beyond her to ever think of taking advantage. And it would have been considered, in those days, a smart move by her to grab this young guy and marry him. Instead of which, she sees it as taking total advantage of his sweetness.

GERALDINE: There’s these different men… like there’s Ormskirk, who’s sort of this disgusting man who has been married three times and clearly is just hanging around with the hopes, that…I mean, he outright says to Max pretty much that he has no interest in marrying her.

SARA-MAE:  Yeah, he wants to inveigle her into a clandestine affair, and he’s actually bought some of her own debts and the mortgage to their house [to blackmail her with]. He’s like one of the most evil characters that Heyer has. But yet actually, he doesn’t end up really being a big player.

GERALDINE: No.

SARA-MAE:  Which I actually thought might have been a bit wasted because he was such a good baddie.

GERALDINE: Yeah, there was potential to expand on that. Deb’s playing this whole character for Max, playing what he thinks she is. And then she accidentally lets out that she detests Ormskirk, and Max is totally surprised, which again shows he just doesn’t get her. And it’s just his prejudice, in the way because he’s ready enough to believe all these terrible things about her.

SARA-MAE:  The first time he sees her she’s in the gaming house and she’s got Adrian on one side and Ormskirk, this horrible roue [on the other], and he notes that she’s handling deftly these two very different lovers and managing not to offend either one of them. And kind of every time Ormskirk makes a barb at Adrian she deflects it with a laugh. She neutralises the situation. He admires the fact that she’s obviously smart. And I think that’s the kind of thing that engages him from the beginning. The reason why the tension and the chemistry crackles between them the whole way through. I think it. would be great in a film; despite the fact that he thinks she’s a terrible person, she’s kind of got him on his metal. You get the impression, for the first time in years, someone is standing up to him and actually proving to be a challenge.

SARA-MAE: She’s weirdly feminist in the sense of she’s doing a man’s job. She’s doing it to help her Aunt out. She’s fiercely independent as well. I mean, she could have married Adrian and her whole life would have been sorted out.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: She would have been able to be comfortable and live the life that many people would have considered to be like, ideal in those days, but she doesn’t. She never considers it for a second.

GERALDINE:  Yeah. And there’s definitely some really interesting themes throughout, because it shows how, there’s very much a huge theme of class and socio-economic difference, but it really shows how class affects the different views of women of the time. I mean, there’s a great quote; we found that we find out kind of through the story that Ravenscar’s youngest sister, she’s actually a bit of a slut…

SARA-MAE:  We’re not slut shaming Arabella, but she’s certainly a minx who loves to flirt. Here’s the quote Geraldine was referring to: “To be sure, it was unfortunate that Arabella should be such a flirt. But what in another damsel would have been a shocking fault was, in such a notable heiress, a mere whimsicality of youth.”

GERALDINE: …And I think that just completely lays out the difference between Deb, who is not of a higher class, and who is essentially doing this gaming stuff because of financial concerns, versus Arabella, who carries on and sneaks out of the house and has all these assignations. And later on in the book there’s a very interesting plot turn with her and Lucius. It plays up how even though Deb is seen as a gold-digger, after title and money, the wealthier families are looking to solve their financial issues, or get better standing in society, by marrying off their daughters to whoever they can. [Yet] it’s a problem if Deb’s trying to do that with Adrian.

SARA-MAE:  Geraldine’s pointing out the hypocrisy the book poses. The rules are different for Deb, than for Arabella.

GERALDINE: Another plot thread is she essentially rescues a young girl.

SARA-MAE:  Yeah, she doesn’t even think about it. She’s instantly determined to save this this young girl from the clutches of another roue who her mother is trying to force her to marry. They meet her at the ridotto we were talking about. And she’s in tears and Deb decides she’s going to take her in hand. And not only that, she almost instantly decides that she’s going to put Adrian and this young thing together. Because she sums them up and sees that they would be a good match. She brings out the protectiveness in Adrian that he couldn’t really have with Deb because she’s such a strong character. It’s so selfless if you think about it.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: I mean, she’s really…they keep joking about having to go to the debtor’s prison, because the aunt’s got all these debts for all the green peas. Don’t know how many bloody green peas they seem to eat but…? [both laugh] And candlestick stubs and….

SARA-MAE:  Phoebe Laxton, who is the girl that they rescue, is a typical romantic heroine of those times. She’s very soft and a little bit silly and a bit dim, but she’s kind of…she just looks at Adrian like he’s her saviour. Whereas, Deb is the opposite. She’s strong, she’s kind, but she [has] short shrift [for] people who aren’t smart. And then you have Arabella who is Max’s sister. We were talking about her being a minx… she actually manages to outmanoeuvre Lucius Kennet! Who is, by all accounts, a very savvy man of the world, who manages to help Deb engineer all manner of ill-conceived plans. His redeeming characteristic is that he is loyal to Deb. You have the sense that he does love her/was very fond of her. Arabella totally runs rings around him. They described this interaction where she’s behaving demurely. But then she sort of intimates to him that yes, she will be walking in the park. And he’s going, “Oh, well, it’ll be incredible. If I happen to see you.” Then she’s like, “Oh, yes. And I have a very discreet maid.” And you sort of think to yourself, “Is Heyer kind of implying that…?” How much is she messing around with these guys?? Because she also has Deb’s brother on her string. He doesn’t really help Deb, but is part of quite a funny scene where Ravenscar decides that he’s going to get hold of the mortgage too and the bill of debt that Ormskirk has, so he engineers a meeting with Ormskirk, and he uses Ormskirk’s ego against him and he manages to beat him and defeat him at cards. He defeats a few people in the book at cards, but Ormskirk in particular, and says, “Well, instead of paying me you can give me the debt and the mortgage”, which he then uses to threaten Deb and he basically says, “I’ve got these now and if you want them back, give up your claim to Adrian’s hand.” So she hatches this ridiculous plan.

GERALDINE: There is a lot of gambling that goes on, in a metaphorical sense, I guess, and a literal sense. But the man the innocent Phoebe Laxton is going to be married off to, that Deb rescues her from, has been in carriage races with Max before and lost, and so at a certain point they set up an astronomical bet on another race and so what Deb decides to do is kidnap Ravenscar the night before the race, so that he can’t participate and he’ll lose £25,000 on the race because the odds are so high against them, etc.

SARA-MAE: And that’s probably like £250,000 in today’s money.

GERALDINE: Even though Ravenscar is described as basically the richest man in England, you know, it would be a significant chunk of money, which then puts in perspective, the fact that he offers Deb £20,000 to leave Adrian alone at a certain point.

SARA-MAE: I never thought about this before but Geraldine’s right. Clearly he considers £20,000 a fairly paltry amount to pay for Deb’s acquiescence. Less than he’s willing to risk on a carriage race.

GERALDINE: Deb arranges between Lucius and Wantage—Silas Wantage is essentially the bouncer at the gaming house —to kidnap Max the night before. So her plan is to hold him so that he misses the race and he’s forced to hand over the debts and the bills and the mortgage so that she can extricate herself from his claws. And so…

SARA-MAE: Her ‘Ravensclaws’ [laughs]

GERALDINE: Her Ravensclaws [laughs]. So there’s another hilarious scene that I really enjoyed. Silas Wantage is an ex-boxer, as soon as he first meets Ravenscar, he’s praising him for his potential fighting skills. And we find out that Max has actually trained with some famous boxer. There’s a scene where basically, Lucius writes a note on behalf of Deb, which she is actually quite reluctant to…

SARA-MAE: He writes several notes on her behalf and she only knows about one. But in the other notes, [written by Lucius] she’s like, begging Max to come and meet him and being very…Deb would never be so underhand in the way that she approaches things. But then again, she does look away. She just says “Get on with it, Lucius.”

GERALDINE: Yes.

SARA-MAE: And, you know, what was she expecting him to do?

GERALDINE: You know, there’s a funny part…

So Lucius Kennet is essentially saying, “Well you know, how on earth did you expect me to kidnap him without luring him somewhere under false pretences?” You know, it’s like…!

SARA-MAE: There’s a lot of funny discrepancies in her honour code. She thinks it’s totally disgusting that he lured him to the park, but she reckons there’s nothing wrong at all with her kidnapping Max because of the way he’s been treating her and her family. It kind of endears you to her because she’s so passionate.

GERALDINE: So you know, they lure him to a park, bop him on the head and then bundle him back to the house. But what’s really funny is that Wantage is very excited that he’ll get a chance to match himself against Max because he feels that he would be a worthy boxing opponent. He’s totally outraged because Lucius just bops Max on the head with a cudgel.

SARA-MAE:  While Max is busy [with Wantage].

GERALDINE: He feels that’s very unsportsmanlike. But again, you know, it’s probably ok later on to kidnap him.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, he moans about that incessantly and this is one of the things she does so brilliantly: All of these characters, even the small ones, they completely come to life. They lock [Max] in the cellar of the house. And you know, there’s so many funny things that happen just in the sense of, she arrives and she can’t help herself from being like, “Oh, are you comfortable there?” And he’s kind of like, “No.” He still think she’s a baggage, but this is when he starts to see that she’s actually an honourable person, because instead of being totally disgusted, even more angry with her, in a weird way, he admires her for what she’s done. And the way that she’s determined to get one over on him to the point where her whey-faced brother, he discovers that she’s done this thing and his first instinct is to wrestle the key away from his sister, Deb. And he goes downstairs and he’s saying to Max, “I’m so sorry”, because he wants to marry [Max’s] sister. Which he has absolutely no chance of doing because Arabella is a complete little minx who has just been toying with him. So basically, instead of allowing Kit to set him free, Ravenscar’s like…

GERALDINE: Yeah, there’s a great line where he’s like “Your sister’s worth a dozen of you and she’s a jade!”

[Both laugh]

SARA-MAE: And then he even tells him to go out and lock the door. Poor Kit! You get the feeling you are supposed to think he is a lily-livered ponce for doing this, you know, for not being loyal to his sister, or supporting her. Not only that, Ravenscar keeps saying, like, “I would have respected you more if you came down here and punched me in the face.” He says, “You know I insulted your sister, right?” Then, of course, it’s all these encounters that he has with her which I think would make great cinema.

[Extract from audiobook]

She lost very little time in making her way down to the basement again, carrying this time one of the bedroom candles set out on a table at the foot of the backstairs, and guarding its frail flame from the draughts in the passage with her cupped hand. Mr Ravenscar looked at her with a flickering smile as she entered his prison, and rose from his chair. ‘Well, Miss Grantham? What now?’ She shut the door, and stood with her back to it. ‘Why did you refuse to let my brother release you?’ ‘Because I would not be so beholden to him! He has not an ounce of spirit in him.’ She sighed, but shook her head. ‘I know, but the poor boy found himself in a sad quandary. He is a little spoilt.’ ‘He wants kicking,’ said Mr Ravenscar, ‘and he will get it if he comes serenading my sister!’ ‘I don’t think she has the least idea of marrying him,’ said Miss Grantham reflectively. ‘What do you know of the matter?’ ‘Nothing!’ she said hastily. ‘Adrian has told me a little about her, that is all. But I am not here to talk of your sister or of Kit either. Have you thought better of your rash words, sir?’ ‘If you mean, do I intend to give you back those bills, no!’ ‘You need not think I shall let you go, just because you would not permit Kit to set you free!’ she said in a scolding voice. ‘I thought you were not here to talk of your brother? You may forget that incident.’ She looked at him rather helplessly. ‘You were to have dined with Mr Crewe to-night. It will be all over town by tomorrow that you have disappeared. Already Sir James Filey is letting fall the most odious hints! He is upstairs now.’ ‘Let him hint!’ said Ravenscar indifferently. ‘If you do not race to-morrow, what excuse can you make that will not make you appear ridiculous?’ ‘I have no idea. Have you any suggestion to offer me?’ ‘No, I have not,’ she said crossly. ‘You think I do not mean to keep my word, but I do!’ ‘I hope you mean to bring me a pillow for the night.’ ‘I don’t. I hope you will be excessively uncomfortable!’ snapped Miss Grantham. ‘If I dared, I would let you starve to death here!’ ‘Oh, don’t you dare?’ he asked. ‘I had thought there was no limit to your daring–or your effrontery!’ ‘I have a very good mind to let Silas come down and bring you to reason!’ she threatened. ‘By all means, if you imagine it would answer.’ ‘I will allow you half an hour to make up your mind once and for all,’ she said, steeling herself. ‘If you are still obstinate, you will be sorry!’ ‘That remains to be seen. I may be sorry, but you will not get your bills, my girl, I promise you.’ ‘It will be quite your own fault if you catch a cold down here,’ she said. ‘And I daresay you will, for it may be damp for anything I know!’ ‘I have an excellent constitution. If you mean to leave me now, do me the favour of allowing me to keep the candle!’ ‘Why should you want a candle!’ she asked suspiciously. ‘To frighten away the rats,’ he replied. She cast an involuntary glance round the cellar. ‘Good God, are there rats here?’ she said nervously. ‘Of course there are–dozens of ’em!’ ‘How horrible!’ she shuddered. ‘I will leave you the candle, but do not think by that that I shall relent!’

GERALDINE: The whole kidnapping sequence once he’s in the basement is just hilarious because in the meantime…

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

GERALDINE: …Upstairs you’ve got Filey, who is supposed to be… Max is supposed to be racing against him – he shows up at the gaming house.

SARA-MAE:  And coincidently he’s the guy that they’ve rescued the young Phoebe Laxton from. He’s basically a horrible old roue as well.

GERALDINE: You’ve got Filey, he shows up. Kind of everybody’s going ‘what’s happened to Ravenscar?’ ‘he’s disappeared the night before the race’ and you know ‘has he backed out?’ So this is going on and then Lady Bellingham, Deb’s aunt, has discovered that Ravenscar’s in the basement so she’s freaking out. It’s a very farcical scene where you know, you’re upstairs, you know, you’ve got the gaming and Lady Bellingham is trying to keep it together. And then Kit’s storming around.

SARA-MAE:  It is just funny how Ravenscar’s completely prepared to play by Deb’s rules.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: In fact, he respects that and then of course, he burns himself doesn’t he, like to escape? Yeah, her good nature actually allows him to do that because she feels sorry for him. He claims that he’s scared of the rats and says, “Can you leave the candle down here.” And she’s untied his legs, which, you know, she’s not very good at being a jailer.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: But it’s kind of endearing.

GERALDINE: Yeah, there’s some great descriptions of her character where her aunt sees her flashing eyes and goes, “Oh, god, you’re in one of your moods again.” And you kind of see that she’s quite an impetuous person as well, because then Ravenscar manages to basically burn his way out of his ropes.

SARA-MAE: And he actually hurts his hands quite badly. I love all their interactions. They just crackle. The way she’s just fed up with him, he’s freed himself so she kind of has to let him go. But she sort of says, “Okay, well, let me bandage you up.” But you know, she’s just so stroppy with him and he keeps calling her ‘baggage’ and all this kind of thing and but you can tell that the tide has turned instead of him kind of genuinely hating her something is changing for him, and he respects her now.

GERALDINE: She keeps overturning his expectations. And every time she does that he kind of falls a bit more in love with her, you know, so there’s all these great things… but she sets up Max’s character well, and that we see right from the beginning, there’s a lot of comments on how he’s dressed.

SARA-MAE: ‘Heyeroes’ always represent the creme de la creme, but they’re bored with that. So when this unconventional woman comes along, she actually brings a bit of a fresh air into their lives, it kind of makes their pulses quicken.

GERALDINE: Well, I think more in the sense that he kind of goes against his familial expectations. He doesn’t play the part of the rich man, you know, the ‘Lord of the Manor’ idea. So he’s finally free and then he’s kind of surprised because Deb wants to bandage him up and she does that. And then they sneak him back in the front door. Then there’s another scene with Wantage, where basically [Max] punches Wantage’s lights out and Wantage is all respectful of that.

SARA-MAE: (Laughs) The reason she helps him is because when it comes right down to it she can’t go through with messing up his race. It’s like she’s too much of a gambler. In the end, she just can’t bear the thought that he might not make this race. And so that’s one of the reasons why she helps him.

GERALDINE: And then of course, Lady Bellingham is…

SARA-MAE: [Laughs] I mean, you feel for this poor woman because Deb’s plans… they literally make no sense. This poor aunt. She’s supposed to be quite silly and frivolous, and she’s not really sure where all the money’s going, but she just knows it’s slipping through her fingers, you do feel sorry for her because all she keeps hearing are these crazy plans.

GERALDINE: There’s a scene where Deb’s kind of relating the conversation that she had with Ravenscar in the carriage ride, where he offers her money to drop the relationship with Adrian. And there’s sort of this funny interplay where, initially she’s horrified that he only first offered £5000 and then by the time Deb’s told her that he rose his bribe offer to £20,000…

SARA-MAE:  After she’d goaded him and goaded him by pretending to be a harpy.

GERALDINE: Yeah, and Lady Bellingham was just totally confused. And she’s like, “I don’t understand because you said you’re not going to marry Adrian, but then you told him you are.” And then she’s kind of getting all hopeful because she wants the £20,000 pounds because they’re in debt. And so there’s this interesting tension in that Lady Bellingham is totally ridiculous but then at the same time, she is very sweet and very caring… but there’s a little bit of a mercenary edge again.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, well, you don’t intend to marry the guy anyway, so why don’t

you take the 20 grand and get us out of our problems? But Deb is far too proud for that. And you wonder if it’s like, because she’s attracted to him? Like, if she didn’t care about him, would she really be so inclined to play these games? They really challenge each other that way.

GERALDINE: There’s one scene, nearer the end, you know, where Max is furious, and then he keeps checking the post and there’s a comment from the observations of one of the valets or servants or something that, “If he didn’t know better, he’d think that Max was in love.” And then at another point, Lucius accuses Deb of being in love with Max and she’s like, “I can’t stand the guy!” Yeah, there’s hints being dropped from some of the other characters.

SARA-MAE:  They clearly feel more for each other. She’s really is masterful in this book and constantly making sure that both of them completely misunderstand the other’s point of view. Like in the end, she convinces Adrian to elope with Phoebe Laxton because Lord Filey… they think [he’s] seen this girl they’re hiding in her aunt’s house, and this poor aunt just has to put up with all this shit. Basically, she’s just like, “oh, by the way, aunt, I’m hiding this young girl ‘soz’ ‘lol.

GERALDINE: “Don’t mind her”.

SARA-MAE: The girl is, like, looking out the window longingly waiting for Adrian, who… they’ve both fallen head over heels in love with each other. By the way, there’s a hilarious scene where Deb just cannot help herself…

GERALDINE: Oh, that is such a great scene.

SARA-MAE:  …When they finally nerve themselves up… because they both feel terrible about betraying Deb by falling in love… And she just cannot help herself. She has to pretend that her heart is broken and the dialogue in that scene…!

GERALDINE: Again, you know, sort of playing up to what people assume the quote unquote ‘right reaction’ would be to something.

SARA-MAE: She says, [quoting from book] “You promised me marriage and now you mean to cast me off for Another.” [Both laugh] “I never thought I should live to be so slighted. How was ever any defenceless female, so deceived?” And of course these two young people are just like destroyed. And then he notices that she’s laughing through it and they’re all relieved and then she helps them to escape to Wales, where they’re going to like meet up with Phoebe’s aunt who is going to give permission for the wedding and all that kind of thing. But of course, there’s a misunderstanding.

SARA-MAE:  Just to explain, Ravenscar sent her bills, which he won from Ormskirk, to Deb with no explanation as to why. This, of course, infuriates her and she sends them straight back, which understandably gives her aunt palpitations. He then returns them torn into pieces, checkmating her. So, in a sense, things are sorted between them, although not to Deb’s satisfaction, as her pride is still smarting from the numerous insults Max has levelled at her. Helping Adrian and Phoebe is a welcome distraction as she plays chaperone and rides along with the rather wet young girl in the carriage. Back to the misunderstanding…

SARA-MAE: Ravenscar hears that his cousin [Adrian] has eloped with Miss Grantham.

SARA-MAE: That’s Deb.

SARA-MAE: And then there’s this classic scene where they meet up immediately after she’s returned. All he’s heard is his cousin telling him “I’ve got married.” Yeah. And he’s like, actually distraught, at this point. He’s fallen in love with her and he’s so angry with himself because he’s like, “This doxy and she’s been playing me.” And he’s so mad at her again. This is another time when her pride stands in the way ‘cos at first, she doesn’t get it. Why so angry? She’s like, well, “I knew you’d be a bit upset” because she thinks he’s talking about Phoebe.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: “But you know, you’ll see it’ll work out, it’s all for the best.”

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: And then he just comes out with, “You’re worse than I thought you were” and all of this abuse that he’s hurling at her again. She realises that he’s got the wrong end of the stick and instead of going “No, no, dude…”

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: “…It’s all good. It was Phoebe. Not me.” She again plays the role that he’s assigned her to punish him. She just says, “Well, what of it? I told you I was gonna marry him” because she’s too proud. She’s like, well, if you’re gonna think about me in this way, then you don’t deserve to know the truth.

GERALDINE:  And then he says, “You know, I thought I had learned to love you, ma’am.”

SARA-MAE:  He’s saying you could have had so much more if you just played your cards a bit more cleverly, you were clever but you weren’t clever enough to catch an even bigger fish, which was ME. I was gonna offer for you, and now…

GERALDINE: He’s just, “I count myself fortunate to have escaped so narrowly from the toils of a harpy.” I mean, she’s just in an absolute rage, and she just says, “Marry you? I would rather die in the worst agony you can conceive. Don’t dare dare to enter this house again. I wish I may never see you again as long as I live!” And then he sort of storms off and she’s totally astounded.

SARA-MAE:  Her whole thing with him is that he’s always willing to believe the worst of her. And I think that for her this is what hurts and that’s why she gets so upset and refuses to resolve the situation.

GERALDINE: She realises that at certain points, even though she’s kind of playing this part, there are moments where she does accidentally let her real intentions slip. And then that that’s where Max gets confused, she’s sort of so hurt and so upset that he could even believe this to be true. You’re kind of thinking, “Well, what else is he going to expect? You know, the whole time you’ve been playing this line that you’re gonna marry…?”

SARA-MAE:  There’s been a slight miscommunication, you could clear that very easily but instead… did you find that satisfying, the way that they resolve it?

GERALDINE: You know, I think it has shades of Sense and Sensibility where the Dashwoods get the, right near the end, the message that Mrs. Ferrers sends her regards, basically, and they think Edward’s married, but he’s not and he shows up and then everything’s resolved. You sort of expect that to be what happens and then it’s kind of like, “Okay, well, she tells him she doesn’t want to ever see him again and he storms off.” So then you’re kind of like, well, “How is this gonna get resolved because there’s only a few more pages left?” Basically, Arabella, who he’s kind of realised has been having some form of…

SARA-MAE: Dalliance, yeah, with Lucius. We find this out because [Lucius] sends Deb a message and he sends it to her largely to put her fears to rest about him essentially messing with this young girl. It’s kind of saying, “No harm will come to her. You can get your revenge on Ravenscar and we can get some money out of blackmailing the family”, [as in, they’ll give him money] to go away.

GERALDINE: So ostensibly, he’s trying something with Arabella to sort of essentially… I guess he would then maybe take her away and so at the end, Lucius… his plans are foiled.

SARA-MAE:  By the little minx herself.

GERALDINE:  So what it does though, is it’s a plot device…

SARA-MAE: Deb immediately rushes over to Max even though she’s just had this catastrophic meeting with him.

GERALDINE: As soon as she gets this letter from Lucius saying that he’s going to mess with Arabella and get their money she freaks out and and races to Max who’s totally confused because he assumes she’s just going to come and scream at him again. And then she sort of realises that, you know, in her rage she’s basically said to Lucius, “I hate Max. So much that I don’t care what happens to him.” So Lucius has kind of taken this to heart and is gonna go and destroy the guy. Obviously, Deb, even though she’s filled with rage against him…

SARA-MAE: Actually all along she’s been in love with him and she can’t bear for him to be hurt or for Arabella to [be hurt] through her own doing.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: So she’d rather actually swallow her pride. It just kind of resolves itself because he just basically takes her in his arms and he’s like, “Arabella is fine. My darling.” And he’s just suddenly instead of calling a doxie and harpy is now calling her ‘My darling’.

GERALDINE:  Yeah, exactly.

SARA-MAE: Kissing her roughly. But she’s not putting up much of a fight, which is quite amusing.

GERALDINE:  Yes.

SARA-MAE:  And I think in the aftermath of so much passion, it’s quite a sweet way for them to get together. He sees that she’s been willing to come and and help him save the sister. And she on her part sees the error of her ways in the sense of her actions led to something that could have been potentially quite dangerous.

GERALDINE: Yeah, there’s these kind of constant battles between proprietary behaviour and the loose morals versus doing things properly. And so, even you know, when she helps Adrian and Phoebe get married, they don’t elope. Adrian gets a special licence. They go to Phoebe’s aunt’s house to do it properly, you know, so there’s all these, sort of…

SARA-MAE: By the book rules. Yeah.

GERALDINE:  Then we’ve got Arabella being a little bit minxy herself and then realising that maybe her behaviour is a little bit dangerous, and she should act a little bit more properly. And I found it interesting that the younger men are fairly useless. Adrian only really comes into his own once he had to protect Phoebe. There’s a part where you really see him growing up.

SARA-MAE:  Yeah, she’s actually really engineered that by putting these two people together. It is interesting how they do talk very explicitly about that. And it does speak to her being a really good judge of character. Heyer actually talks about how she actually bullies him a bit on purpose.

GERALDINE: Yeah, yeah.

SARA-MAE: Shows Deb to be kind of manipulating a certain male stereotype and man’s need to be seen as the ‘protector’ and the strong one.

GERALDINE: Which clearly Deb doesn’t need.

SARA-MAE: Although there’s a moment when her brother’s saying: “Miss Laxton could do with a good protector” and she sort of says silently to herself, well, all women kind of long for a protector.

GERALDINE: True.

SARA-MAE: I don’t think Ravenscar ever masters her though. You know, they talked all the way through… they kind of tot up when she’s won a point and he’s won a point.

I think it’s pretty even between them.

GERALDINE: The book is ‘Faro’s Daughter’; there’s the element of gambling. There is that one-upmanship and upping the ante. At the end she says, [quotes book] “Do but consider what your relatives would say.” “I have not the slightest interest in anything they may say.”

“You cannot marry a wench out of a gaming house.” (That’s something that he’s called her) and he says, “I shall marry a wench out of gaming house with as much pomp and ceremony as I can contrive.”

SARA-MAE: Which is amazing when you consider that he’s come around full circle from saying at the beginning of the book, where he was absolutely disgusted…

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: …By the idea of his cousin marrying this girl from a gaming house. And now he’s saying he wants to shout it from the rooftops.

GERALDINE: Yeah, again, you know, just when you think that she’s losing a bit of her fire, she says, and “Of course you have to let me set up a Faro Bank of my own.”

SARA-MAE: She can’t help herself. In this instance, in this book, particularly because of her fire… the way she just constantly challenges him and constantly has so much agency and power in the book… I feel like they definitely are on equal footing. There’s no sense that it’s this powerful guy kind of sweeping in to save a poor defenceless female.

GERALDINE:  There’s a sense that she’s still feisty enough to keep him on his toes, and she’s raised all possible objections against herself, which is also interesting.

SARA-MAE: You do feel that she does need someone on a par with her to curb her more crazy excesses.

To sum up, do you think that this would make a good film and who do you think would be good to star?

GERALDINE: I mean, there’s certainly a hell of a lot of action. Much of the shenanigans would be fairly unrealistic, but at the same time, I think that the characters are so rich, it does have a very cinematic quality, much like Austen, you know, there are universal themes.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

GERALDINE: Greed, marriage, sex, intrigue, pride. I was really mulling over who I would have play Max and Deb. I was actually thinking of someone like Oscar Isaac as Max.

SARA-MAE: You don’t think Cumberbatch or someone like that? Because it’s so British.

GERALDINE:  You know, I was thinking about him… he was another choice. I think he could do the imperious thing quite well.

SARA-MAE: Tom Hiddleston?

GERALDINE: He was another option as well. You know, you need someone quite physically imposing, not in necessarily an overt way. I pictured him as quite swarthy. For Deb. I mean, she’s quite a tough one because she’s not super young.

SARA-MAE: Well, that was quite funny because she’s like 25, which I consider to be very young. Talking of ‘Star Wars’ what about Daisy Ridley?

GERALDINE: Daisy Ridley reminds me of Kiera Knightley, which to me didn’t really wash, you know, for example, in the adaptation of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. But I was thinking actually of someone like Christina Hendricks; she’s got that kind of good comedic streak. And I was really struggling to think about someone to play Adrian because he sort of needs to be somewhat foppish. Funnily enough, I kept thinking of either Jack Whitehall, or Thomas Sangster, who plays the younger boy in ‘Love Actually’. In terms of the cinematic possibilities, I think he could do a lot with that setting of the gaming house. Most of the action takes place in the house, and I think you could have some fun casting some of the villainous characters and somebody like Lucius Kennet. You know, when I first was starting to read it, like in my mind, I sort of pictured him as like the gay best friend, but…

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

GERALDINE: It’s surprising because in his letter near the end there, I mean, he sort of says to her that there’s only one woman he’d marry and thats Deb. He’s described as being very good looking and then Arabella kind of finds him intriguing. You know, when you sometimes read a book, and there’s characters that you’d really love to read their book, he was definitely…

SARA-MAE:  One of those.

GERALDINE: There’s those things that you kind of wish Austen was able to say, which she couldn’t because the period she was writing in. And so just a little bit of distance in terms of era when [Heyer] was writing these, I feel like it gives her a little bit more leeway. Overall, at the beginning, when I read the first page, I was like, “Mmmm,” interesting sort of historical romance kind of thing. And then as soon as the wit kicks in, and you get that it’s a lot more layered than you first realise. You can see that Heyer has some of her own obsessions, I guess. Like she does spend quite a lot of time describing the clothing. And it’s a big way that she kind of sets up the different characters. And obviously, I mean, the pivotal…

SARA-MAE: She uses it as a tool to kind of make you understand something about the characters.

GERALDINE:  It also creates an interesting counterpoint to some of Austen’s works, because thinking about it, I could definitely feel shades of some of the different characters and I mean, it touches on a lot of the different sort of themes of of that writing, but it does it in a very fresh, enjoyable way. I’ve read all of Austen’s books so many times… you know that feeling when you love an author and you just wish they were still alive to be able to write more books that you could read?

SARA-MAE: Yeah, exactly.

GERALDINE: You know, it felt like with reading Heyer, it’s kind of a continuation of that.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, she’s definitely her spiritual… heir?

GERALDINE: Heyer.

[Both laugh]

GERALDINE: You know, I think it speaks to the fact that we’re still able to identify with some of those themes today. Even someone who’s as strong and feisty as Deb. Do they still need a man to rescue them? I think it’s an interesting question to ask. Is that still what we’ve come to expect? Well…

SARA-MAE:  I definitely think that the classic western, romantic narrative structure that’s been ingrained in us is definitely along those lines, and that’s a very patriarchy-heavy perspective, the whole fairy tale thing. Kind of ‘the prince rescuing the maiden’, but I do think that she subtly turns that on its head a number of times in his book, and even at the end, it’s not like a big climactic love scene where he’s saved her from something.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: She’s actually been trying to save him from something.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: But yeah, even in the 1940s, when this was published, I think Deb is still quite an an anarchic character, because she has so much agency and she’s independent and a little bit wild, but in a very conscientious way, she has her own way of dealing with things and ideas about what’s right. It doesn’t matter what anyone says to, her male or female, she will have her head she will go and try and get things done.

GERALDINE:  And it’s interesting because it’s a wildness that everybody outside assumes is of a sexual nature. But it’s not it’s purely that as a woman showing independence, and I think this is something that is still relevant, sadly, today, is that a woman showing independence is the immediate assumption is that she’s a jade and a cyprian, and a painted hussy

SARA-MAE: Harlot.

GERALDINE: Impudent strumpet.

SARA-MAE: A harpy.

GERALDINE: A scheming Hussy.

[Both laugh]

GERALDINE:  In ‘Pride and Prejudice’, you have a same as sort of a situation where there’s a potential elopement and if you look at the difference with Darcy it’s a very similar age gap because I think Arabella is supposed to be about 18. And Max is supposed to be 35.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

GERALDINE: Similar sort of way. There’s a bit of a more of a guardian relationship rather than just straight up brother sister. And it’s a very interesting difference and Max is kind of basically saying exactly like you mentioned, you know, like, I know this is going on,

SARA-MAE:  But the difference is he trusts her better to have the judgement to not do something stupid.

SARA-MAE:  I’m drawing the parallel between Darcy’s relationship with his sister Georgiana. Obviously, it’s more in keeping with the actual time period in which Austen was writing. But still, it’s one of Max’s high points as a character. He gives Arabella some solid, non judgmental advice, which ultimately helps her avoid getting caught up in Lucius Kennet’s toils. Darcy would never have been able to have such an honest conversation with his sister.

SARA-MAE:  And I think that this is with Austen and Heyer writing two different time periods and that really comes into play because Darcy does rescue them.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: He steps in Elizabeth can’t really do anything She doesn’t really have that much agency, she can’t really do that much to grab ahold of her future other than saying no, the only power she seems to have is the ability to refuse Darcy or Mr. Collins. Whereas Deborah is getting up to all sorts of high jinks and getting people to do what she thinks needs to be done and also refusing you know, very advantageous marriages, whereas you get the sense of Elizabeth, her situation would have been a hell of a lot more bleak if she didn’t end up being able to reconcile with Darcy.

GERALDINE: I think what I liked, and what makes it potential to adapt to it cinematically, is that each of the characters has more depth to them so that they’re not a total stereotype. Yeah, I think that’s a really valuable part of her writing. Lord Ormskirk is an interesting villain.

SARA-MAE: He’s very deeply sinister and there was a part of me that’s like, why didn’t she just conflate the two bad guys Sir James Filey and him because yeah, I was almost disappointed when Ormskirk exits the action.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: Because the way she describes him as so dark to kind of imply that his three wives died at his hand in some mysterious way. And he’s killed three people in duels which is another reason why Max is concerned about Adrian getting mixed up with the love triangle with Deb and Ormskirk he is worried that he’ll goad Adrian into a duel and then murder him essentially. Which you get the sense is very real danger yeah then in the end is bested by Ravenscar quite a anticlimactically way.

GERALDINE: Yeah, it sort of fades away.

SARA-MAE:  But then I suppose they needed to introduce Phoebe and so they couldn’t have Ormskirk be interested in Phoebe because he’s only interested in Deb but I think they could get around that in the movie. A lot of times they conflate characters together. I think you could still do it.

GERALDINE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: They could, maybe bring his defeat by Ravenscar earlier into in the book and then have him pick up where he left off and decide that he’s gonna marry this fresh young thing. And then they could kind of oust him I actually think that might be more satisfying. That’s the one thing that I would have liked that thread pulled through a bit more.

GERALDINE: I mean, there’s a couple of things in the book where, plot- wise, doesn’t really make sense or it’s a little bit too convenient or it sort of fizzles away a bit because some of these things that felt like a little bit like she was building up and then kind of didn’t really go anywhere. But you know, not enough that it made you think, “Oh, well, that was ridiculous” or “That didn’t really work.” You know, even Kit just sort of vanishes.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah.

GERALDINE: Like there’s no real conclusion with him.

SARA-MAE:  Okay, so to wrap up, are you now a Georgette Heyer convert?

GERALDINE: I would say that, especially as I’m plotting to return to the bookstore and take over the collection, that was left behind. It’s fun. It’s a bit challenging in terms of just the themes. So overall, I would say I’m a convert for sure.

SARA-MAE:  Whoo!

SARA-MAE:  You can thank me later. Once you’ve read all the books. I’m so jealous of you that you get to read all the books again.

GERALDINE: Thank God for this mysterious E. Gordon.

SARA-MAE: Thank you so much for chatting to me about this.

GERALDINE: It’s been absolutely fabulous. And yeah, I just really enjoyed delving into it. And, you know, it’s also nice sometimes to having come from, you know, a literary analysis background to do it again, is fun.

SARA-MAE:  Yeah. And I’m just using it as an excuse to talk about one of my favourite authors, also bathed in the sort of sense of achievement of having introduced you and changed your life. You know, I feel good about that.

GERALDINE: Excellent.

[Both laugh]

GERALDINE: I think we should end with “If I had my way woman of your stamp would be whipped at the cart’s tail.”

SARA-MAE: I’ll try and find a cart. I’ll get on that.

GERALDINE MINUK-ELLIOT: Excellent.

SARA-MAE:  Next week, we’ll be interviewing Sunday Times best-selling author, Harriet Evans – she’ll be revealing her top 10 Heyers, so look out for that. The week after we’ll be exploring Arabella for our book club episode. Why not buy the audio version from Naxos audio books.com and join in the conversation?

You’d have to be cork-brained to miss out on the next instalment of Heyer Today.

[Credits]

Thanks for tuning in this week, we hope you enjoyed it.

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn, and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. For more visit: facebook.com/auralitysounds

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, ‘Chapter I’, as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears’ tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast by myself and Tom Chadd.

You can find Message to Bears here: messagetobears.com

Tom’s music here: tomchadd.bandcamp.com

And Emma’s website is: emmagatrill.com

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media. We’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

Remember to rate, review and subscribe. I can’t tell you how much it helps small indie companies like us to thrive.

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott gave excellent foot rubs and production assistance. Michael Mandalis edited and recorded Beth’s bits and he did a marvellous job.

Thanks also to Geraldine Elliot, Talitha Gamaroff and everyone who supported me in creating this work. Suzy Buttress in particular, but the podcast community at large for so much inspiration and encouragement.

Naxos audiobooks kindly allowed us to use an extract from the book, beautifully read by Laura Paton.

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, Chapter I as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast, by me and Tom Chadd.

Our fantastic voice talent includes Sarah Golding and John Grayson – I’ll be

putting info about them in the show notes.

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media, we’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

Remember to rate, review and subscribe…I can’t tell you how much it helps small indie companies like us to thrive.

Heyer Today is a Fable Gazers production.

HEYER TODAY EPISODE 5: HEYEROES AND HEYERINES WITH JANE HOLLAND AND ALISON BONOMI

Transcribed by Maham Aziz and Jacqueline Garton Hudson.

Listen to this episode here.

Also available on any good podplayer, iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music.

Don’t forget to rate, review and recommend us!

SARA-MAE: Previously on Heyer today.

RONALD: Fetch me my rifle, Georgette there’s a blasted rhino in the camp.

KHALID: And like, why do people deserve to be abducted if they’re less respectable? That’s really stupid too. But he’s got some very strange morals this man, I think, but I did like her style, and I liked how it was written. I did actually enjoy the book. So, I know I’m trying to be like a bit of a sourpuss, but eh..

SARA-MAE: Yay, I’m gonna count you as a convert. Whoop whoop!

KHALID: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: Hello, and welcome to Heyer Today, the podcast in which we celebrate the work of Regency Romance queen Georgette Heyer, and unpick why this best-selling author has been dismissed and ignored by the literati. This week we have two people who could definitely fall into that category. With Charlotte Lamb as her mum, Jane Holland knows all about the impact of a literary legacy. Like her mother, who used to write up to 12 novels a year for Mills and Boon, Jane is a prolific novelist. She has more than 31 books published under a variety of different pseudonyms, including Victoria Lamb, Elisabeth Moss, Beth Good and Hannah Coates. She’s also an award-winning poet, who’s edited print and online poetry magazines. I met her when I published her work in Trespass magazine.

Alison Bonomi trained as a Mills and Boon copy editor, and now oversees some of the LBA Literary Agency’s most successful titles. She too keeps it in the family, working alongside her husband, Luigi Bonomi.

Unlike Jane, Richard Rougier (Georgette’s son) never explored his own literary ambitions. I’m fascinated to hear from these two ladies and talk to them about Heyer’s literary legacy, as well as what it’s like to live in the shadow of a famous author. The day before Alison joined us, Jane and I chatted about Heyer’s writing process and the way she churned them out when she had to.

JANE: The only issues I have with the ‘churn them out’ thing is because my mother was a romantic novelist and she wrote a 170 books.

SARA-MAE: Wow.

JANE: I personally find the longer you spend writing them the worst they are, because you have too much time to think.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

JANE: That’s my experience anyway, I write very quickly. And also, it’s a bit like the fourth bridge, you know, you start re-writing at leisure and by the time you get to the end, you’ve forgotten what you did at the beginning. Whereas if it’s a very short, you’ve written in a short space of time, you could keep the whole thing in your head and not make mistakes like that.

SARA-MAE: The next day, after having some scrumptious gluten-free pancakes, one of the few things I make really well, Allison joined Jane and I for a full discussion. It was really hard not to chat about Heyer before the conversation, but we did our best to save ourselves for the recording. Jane kicked off the conversation by telling us about some rather excitable edits she’d been given by a well-meaning editor.

JANE: 102.

ALISON: No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

JANE: 102 exclamation marks.

ALISON: Oh, come on!

JANE: And I emailed the overall editor and said, “It’s not my style. I don’t use exclamation marks.” He said, “Oh, no, we think you should use them.” [laughs] It’s the kind of thing that just stops you in your tracks. [laughs]

ALISON: Oh, my goodness. What would your mother have said about that?

JANE: I’m trying not to be my mother.

[SARA-MAE and ALISON laugh]

SARA-MAE: We actually were talking about Alison’s days as a copy editor for Mills and Boon, which sounded like an amazing place to work. I don’t know if it’s still like that.

ALISON: Well, it’s part of Harper Collins now, but it’s still I mean, amazingly cool women, mostly women, but it was a fantastic place to work. Absolutely fantastic.

SARA-MAE: Do you know that they used to tell them, like encourage them to go and have a cup of tea and read loads of romance novels, as part of their job? [laughs]

ALISON: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, might have been a glass of champagne actually. But yeah, we’d go into the library. We had to do seminars on authors. I did one on Betty Neels once. I remember someone did one on your mum on the themes in the novels and all that kind of thing. It was great it was a real proper training process.

SARA-MAE: And then we discussed your mum [Charlotte Lamb] and how kind she was to them in the early days; to [Alison and Luigi].

ALISON: She was incredibly kind. I still remember her coming around to our tiny little house in North Finchley with lots and lots of clothes for Jamie, who was a little baby, I remember her holding him. She was very, very kind.

JANE: Now I was telling Sara yesterday, Alison, about how my mother used to ring waitressing jobs in the paper and say you should contact them, you should get a proper job. She wasn’t quite as kind to me as she was to you.

SARA-MAE: It’s always like that though, isn’t it?

JANE: That’s why I encourage my daughter to write because, you know, I wasn’t encouraged.

ALISON: But that’s because she knew how hard it was, I mean she had that point of view.

SARA-MAE: You were saying Alison, that most of the women writers that you know, are often supporting loads of people with their work, and having to juggle family and all sorts of things. Writing in the middle of the night or using the old gin and Benzedeen? Gin and Benzedrine, to assist their writing process; what’s your gin and Benzedrine?

ALISON: I used to think when I was at Mills and Boon that I used to copyedit better drunk, but this was not correct. In fact, it was old school publishing. [The] late 80s right at the end of it, and Friday lunchtime, everybody would go out. Everybody in the office would go out. They’d be out for hours and hours, and when they got back, they’d still be editing the manuscripts and they were off their faces! Let’s be honest, it’s really good that the publishing world has changed. But on the other hand, it was amazing to be there just for the last gasp of old school publishing.

JANE: I’m actually all but tee-total, so Diet Coke. I’ve not always been like that. I was a bad Jane once. Probably my husband’s influence. My second husband doesn’t drink. It’s very boring to drink alone, so I just got out of the habit now I just don’t.

ALISON: Very impressive.

SARA-MAE: I asked Jane how she fits her writing around family and other distractions.

JANE: Well, much better now that they’re not homeschooled anymore.

When they were homeschooled, I had to stay up to silly-o’clock in the morning to get work done, but now I can go to bed at one or two if I want. I tend to do most of my writing in bursts, and usually out at a cafe because home is washing and housework and stuff like that, and I can’t get my brain to focus. So, I tend to go out, and do other stuff when I’m at home, planning or social media, networking, all that kind of thing. So yeah, no, I would normally write a 1000 words, while out at a cafe or somewhere and then I might write another 1000 late in the evening when everyone’s gone to bed and it’s very quiet.

SARA-MAE: I hope that Heyer was an important part of your homeschooling schedule.

JANE: Well, it wasn’t actually. Indigo, my youngest is now reading ‘The Grand Sophy’ and seems taken with it. It’s her first Heyer so…

SARA-MAE: That’s a good one to start with I think.

JANE: Absolutely yeah, and in fact it’s very much in her style as regards her personality. I think she is that kind of…

ALISON: Bossy.

JANE: Yes, yeah, she’s a capable girl but at the same time wants to be in the limelight. So, the combination of that is… I thought it would be her kind of book.

SARA-MAE: She’s a proto-feminist icon. I think we can…? We can say that.

ALISON: Yeah.

JANE: Yeah, Sophy? Yes absolutely.

SARA-MAE: When did you first become a Heyerite?

ALISON: When I was 11, I had read all the books in the children’s library and so the librarian said to me “oh, just go away for heaven’s sake”. And then I was given special permission to go to the adult library. So, I went to the adult library and because I’m a very fast reader I looked for authors who had written a lot of books. And so, there was Georgette Heyer. Remember those wonderful green covers? And I think my mum had actually bought one of them home, which was, I think, A Lady of Quality. And I read that and I thought “This is incredible. This is so far removed from my life in Salford as a working-class girl.” And I just love the wit, the humour. And that was me – been reading them ever since. And I got my job at Mills and Boon, I think because I referenced her in the application letter. So Heyer has changed my life.

SARA-MAE: And yourself, Jane?

JANE: Well, I wish I had an exciting story like that. Um, I think I just grew up with Heyer she was one of those authors that was always on the shelves and so she you know, for as long as I can remember she’s been part of my internal library if you like, and I can’t actually pinpoint when I would have read her first. I was a terribly dour child and I didn’t learn to read until I was about eight or nine unbelievably, but when I hit nine, I started reading immediately adult books so I read a lot of Victorian novelists first. I read a lot of adventure and Zane Grey and H. Rider Haggard. And I think I didn’t come to romance until I was a lot older, say 10 or 11. I think I remember reading her… some historicals first.

SARA-MAE: Simon the Coldheart and…

ALISON: And then there’s The Conqueror, and there’s My Lord John, which is actually a really underrated book, it’s actually a pretty good book.

JANE: I started with those and then moved on, because I’d read some Pleiades as well as…

ALISON: Yes, absolutely.

JANE: And it was around that time I was also reading Mary Renault, and Mary Stewart, and then I came to Heyer and I read These Old Shades first. I remember that and I remember thinking, “Wow!” I don’t think sexy was a word that was in my vocabulary, but it was like, “Wow! Avon is so sexy!”

SARA-MAE: I want to focus on Heyer’s heroes. And this seems like an opportune moment to discuss her impact on romantic archetypes, sorting her heroes into categories: Mark I, Mark II and Mark III. Some people insist that most romance writers are simply re-treading ground that Heyer’s walked before. The Mark I hero is the “brusque, savage sort with a foul temper”, according to Heyer biographer Jane Aiken Hodge, and the Mark II hero is “suave, well dressed, rich and a famous whip”. Laurel Ann Nattress, for website austenprose.com, suggests there might even be a third and fourth category, which include her gentler heroes like the Earl of Sale from The Foundling or Gervase from The Quiet Gentlemen. The fourth one for her military men, who often behave in unconventional ways.

SARA-MAE: Avon is definitely a Mark I; a very supercilious, very sure of himself, powerful, overbearing person. And in the Mark II are those slightly more genial, very good at sports and ‘top of the trees’, type of guy, who’s a prominent member of society. I would like to also add Mark III, and Mark IV because she’s got her military guys who I feel do deserve their own little…

ALISON: Absolutely, Hugo for instance.

JANE: The Tollgate, Captain Staple?

ALISON: Yes. The Quiet Gentlemen – [Gervase is] one of my favourites. I love that book.

SARA-MAE: And then you also have your Freddy’s from Cotillion, people like that, who are more sort of silly and have less gravitas, I think you’d say…

ALISON: Freddie’s dad is a type two hero.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

ALISON: Freddie’s dad is very much like Richard Wyndham or one of those characters. There’s a great scene where Freddie says, “I’m not as stupid as you thought I was,” and his dad says, “You really couldn’t have been, could you?”

SARA-MAE: [Laughs] I know, all the interchanges between those two are fantastic. It’s also interesting because the Duke of Avon from These Old Shades…

JANE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: He begat another Mark I, Vidal in Devil’s Cub, which I suppose, with two parents like Leonie and Justin, you’d expect.

SARA-MAE: Jane is predominantly a thriller writer, but she writes romance too. I asked her to weigh in on Heyer’s influence.

JANE: At the moment, I’m writing thrillers but I have written romance. I’ve written… gosh! I suppose nine Tudor romances, though three of them were more strictly historical fiction. I don’t know that I’m that influenced by Heyer, overtly, but probably at a subliminal level; I’m influenced as a reader. You know, I’m always looking for that experience for that, I suppose, probably the Mark ones [are] my preferred experience [laughs]. I wrote a book as Elisabeth Moss called ‘Wolf Bride’. The hero Wolf was pretty much like Vidal in Devil’s Cub, I would say. So there, I suppose, yes. But I don’t set about to do it deliberately. It just comes out you know you can’t repress it.

ALISON: But maybe you’re more influenced in the way you write your heroines by her because your heroines are… (a very, very, horrible word) feisty, aren’t they? In a sort of ‘Sophy’ kind of a way, maybe.

JANE: Yes, I try to make them feisty, but it’s very hard because often a heroine tends to be the straight man, if you see what I mean, in in a romance; it’s the character with whom the reader normally identifies. And you have to be very careful with the character with whom the reader identifies, that you don’t make them do anything sort of wacky or out of left field or outrageous, Because people will then feel unable to identify with her. And so, I find heroines quite difficult to write with any real degree of, I suppose realism, you know, because if it was me, I would do, you know, in the book, I would be somebody very, very different.

[All laugh]

 JANE: You can’t go there, so I have to rein them in. Although there are…I have some reviewers who say, “Oooh, she’s a bit tame, this one.” And I worry about that because I think I should be making them feistier, but I’m not sure I know how to without, you know, going outside the box, I suppose, that romantic fiction puts us in as writers.

SARA-MAE: I find it interesting that Jane seems to struggle with heroines in particular. On reflection though, nowadays, there’s a lot being demanded from the modern heroine. People want them to be kick-ass warriors, who overcome all the obstacles in the path of love with agency and aplomb, yet still have a relatable vulnerability that we regular people can warm to. Heyer had such a blithe assurance with her characters, both heroes and heroines, who spar and laugh with each other, obeying Heyer’s supremely confident guiding hand. Heyer knew her own tropes inside and out, and wasn’t afraid to invert or play with them either.

SARA-MAE: Like with ‘Cotillion’ for example, she completely inverts the typical hero structure. We all love the Mark ones but she actually sets up another character –

ALISON: Jack.

SARA-MAE: Who is a typical Mark I for you. You kind of love to love [them], but he’s very selfish as well. And the heroine gradually realises that Freddy, who’s agreed to pretend to be engaged to her to make Jack jealous, is much more suited to her. They even talk about how it sounds nice to have the hero sweep in on his horse and sweep you out of a ball. But it would actually be incredibly impractical and inconvenient, and probably uncomfortable [laughs]. And that sort of awareness permeates all the things she does, and she somehow manages to pull new angles out in every Regency work that she did.

ALISON: That’s absolutely right. If you read Bath Tangle, which a lot of people don’t like, but I reread it recently. It’s actually a very clever book about how you think you know someone, you think you want what you wanted when you were 18, but actually, you don’t. You want something completely different. If you remember, the heroine has been engaged, well not even engaged, briefly had this relationship with a guy who her father thought was not good enough for her, and she meets him again many years later and they fall straight back into a relationship. And quite soon she starts to realise it’s a huge, huge, huge mistake, because she’s just not the person that he thinks she is. He idolises her, he thinks that she’s a goddess, but actually she’s a very normal, flawed person. And she doesn’t want someone to put her on a pedestal like that; it’s really sophisticated.

SARA-MAE: She loved Austen. It’s like taking Persuasion isn’t it? And kind of inverting… [and saying] well, that’s all very well, this kind of sadness of this nostalgic love. And she really shows how well she knows Austen, and how much she venerates her, but she also brings, a slightly more modern sensibility (from when she was writing in the 50s or 60s or 70s), to bear on this idea of first love and people changing and things like that. I think that’s really lovely, as someone who loves Heyer and Austen, to be able to see those links and that kind of cross-pollination of what they were doing.

JANE: I think one of the places where there is that cross-pollination is in her heroines, Heyer’s heroines. I was re-reading Devil’s Cub this morning and I was just thinking that “she is a very pragmatic woman, Mary Challoner”. She is pragmatic and I think that’s the one thing that qualifies her as a character. And that’s something that Austen also has in her in her heroines, you know, they are very pragmatic about the ways in which society works and what is acceptable and what isn’t and better not to know too much about your husband before you marry him! That idea, you know, because you’ll be stuck with him and you know, all men are the same, that kind of idea. I think that Heyer plays with those ideas of ‘Is love worth it?’ Is it better to be pragmatic, can love matches work in a society where there isn’t really much divorce? But then you have a book like Venetia where you see what happens when a couple divorce in high society. The daughter of the divorced couple is kept unaware, she thinks her mother has died, when in fact her mother just went off with another man. And her entire life is sort of blighted by it and her entire romance with Damerel is, to her eyes, tainted by that. So, there is that idea that marriage is for life, and you’ve got to be really careful who you get into bed with, basically. So, in that way, I think there are lots of crosses between her and Austen.

SARA-MAE: Definitely. And I think that pragmatism, I don’t know if you agree with this, Alison, shows itself as well in someone like Venetia. The message often seems to be (like with Freddy in Cotillion), Venetia and Damerel, being friends with a person…

ALISON: Absolutely.

SARA-MAE: …and being able to be with them and be comfortable with them and really know them for all their flaws, is much more important than this kind of heady romance. Also, Devil’s Cub actually, because he gets a very sharp reawakening as to who Mary Challoner is, when she shoots him in the shoulder, for basically attempting to rape her.

JANE: Do you think that may be the thing that separates the Mark I and Mark II heroes?

ALISON: Yes, Mark II heroes would never force a woman to do anything against…Yeah, I don’t care greatly for the Mark I heroes, I’m more a Mark II kind of girl. My favourite hero is Sir Richard Wyndham in the ‘Corinthian’ and he would just… he would never do that. He would cut off his own leg rather than do that.

JANE: Isn’t there something a little bit bloodless about that? I prefer the ones that are full of raging passion!

ALISON: Ah, but you see, there is raging passion in The Corinthian. I read a review of The Corinthian that said that it was sexless. This is a book that, more or less, opens with her dropping out of the window into his arms, and him realising that she’s a girl, she’s dressed as a boy, because he feels her body in his arms. This is 1940!

JANE: Yeah.

ALISON: You go through that book very carefully. It’s very sexy. There’s a moment where they’re on the stagecoach together and she falls asleep and wakes up and speaks to him and she says, “I’m glad you came. Are you glad you came?” And it’s as though they’re in bed together, it’s incredibly intimate.

JANE: Isn’t that the bit where she drools on his shoulder?

ALISON: She does not drool on his shoulder. You put that in.

[All laugh]

ALISON: She did not drool in the slightest, Heyer heroines never drool!

JANE: It’s another gender-bender, she’s dressed as a boy throughout.

ALISON: The whole book, and we haven’t even mentioned Masqueraders have we?

SARA-MAE: Here, I go on a bit of a ramble-y tangent about Arabella, in which the jaded hero falls for a feisty do-gooder. I think I’m trying to make the point that many of Heyer’s heroes are schooled by the heroine, who crashes into their ordered worlds and causes chaos, of the best possible kind. Alison agrees.

ALISON: A lot of them are about the hero being educated. We were talking the other day, weren’t we, Jane, about These Old Shades, and you were saying that he’s absolutely, in a way, abject at the end that he doesn’t know if she will accept him. How incredibly important that is that his whole facade of confidence is gone because he realised that he loves her, and he also realises that she doesn’t need him really as much as he needs her. It’s a whole reversal of the relationship which is so fantastic.

SARA-MAE: The shift in power.

JANE: I actually take exception to the idea that Avon is a Mark I.

ALISON: Yeah, I think you’re right.

JANE: I’m not sure he’s that savage. Isn’t he quite urbane? Really? It’s in him but it’s kept reined in.

ALISON: He does force someone to kill himself at a party just by talking to him doesn’t he?

JANE: Yeah, but just by… he’s an intellectual, you know, it’s an intellectual savagery not a physical thing. He’s not the sort of guy who would jump on a horse, you know, like Rupert, for instance and go riding off, though he does race, though it’s not I think… I’m not sure that it’s referred to in These Old Shades. It’s referred to in at the end of Devil’s Cub, where Vidal has broken his record driving to New Market or something like that racing. So obviously, he did do that kind of thing, but it’s not dwelt upon much in the book. And in fact, it’s Rupert in These Old Shades who is the derring-do young hero really. Avon sweeps in to save the day and he does it in an intellectual fashion. He doesn’t do it by taking a bullet, you know.

ALISON: I was thinking about this. The other day, this is a weird idea, so you have to go with me… There’s only one person who could have played Avon if you’re going to make a film. He’s not with us anymore. So, you see him walking along. He’s got high red heels. He’s wearing silks and lace and jewels. He’s very handsome. He’s got a thin white face. He’s wearing loads of makeup. And there’s only one person isn’t there and that person was David Bowie. He is the only person that could have played him.

SARA-MAE: Oh, you’ve just blown my mind because I adore Bowie and seeing him in Labyrinth… You know the clothes that he wears, and that really made me think to myself: These Old Shades. He was just perfect and…

ALISON: Just perfect. And you’re right and he wasn’t the kind of person as he said himself in the song, he’s not the kind of person who goes around thumping people. He would destroy them with his intellect.

SARA-MAE: With his quips, his rapier wit.

ALISON: Exactly.

ALISON: Heyer heroines normally rescue themselves.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, they do. I think it was a wonderful message for me when I was growing up. Reading them, it kind of put this different slant on things because having read people like Barbara Cartland, oddly enough, before I read the Heyers, there was an insipid quality to them and a kind of… a milkiness.

ALISON: Sitting around waiting for things to happen.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, and having the man come along and sort it all out for you. Whereas Heyer’s characters are, like with Austen, so sharp and funny. Just having a heroine who is genuinely funny is making these rejoinders and giving as good as she gets, is actually reasonably rare. I mean, I don’t know if that goes back to what you were saying, Jane, about you finding it difficult to kind of give heroines that agency.

JANE: Well also, in historical terms, that it will feel unrealistic, because women didn’t have much agency unless they were very, very wealthy, or powerful in some other way. So, I sometimes wonder whether we’re being pushed into viewing heroines with this 21st century lens when in fact it’s completely anachronistic to do so.

ALISON: I sometimes think, ahh, maybe we overthink these things too much. And I know everyone else says that Heyer is greatly influenced by Austen, but I think she’s more influenced by Shakespeare. And I mean if you just think of Much Ado, which I watched recently because my daughter was studying it for GCSE, those are strong female characters right there, aren’t they? And again played by boys, but they’re strong female characters. We are in an enchanted wood sometimes, and boys are dressed as girls and girls are dressed as boys and people swap partners. I think it’s this separate space away from the real world and I don’t think you do anybody any favours trying to drag it back into the real world.

SARA-MAE: But it’s like The Merchant of Venice as well. Portia is…

ALISON: Yes Absolutely.

SARA-MAE: …an incredible lawyer, where she takes complete control, saves the day. Does everything that the hero can’t, really.

JANE: What I was gonna say was Beatrix and Benedict: that is straight out of a Heyer…

ALISON: Yes absolutely.

JANE: Sparring wit, you know.

ALISON: I love the idea they both are told they have to fall in love with each other and they do. They are tricked into it because everyone can somehow see that they are actually perfect for each other. That is very, very Heyer, isn’t it?

JANE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: [Laughs] And they only realise that by the end. The quality of her dialogue is so good. She doesn’t have to give you the kind of romance payoffs. And you’ll know more about these kind of structural elements that you have to put in, where there’s enough going on that just having the final… she always has like a…they clasp in an embrace or something but it’s very short and sort of glossed over, yet you get that satisfaction.

ALISON: Of the payoff, pulling together.

ALISON: Absolutely. I mean, she was so far… this is what I think people don’t realise if you want to take something away: Heyer is really, really funny. There are lines that just make you stop in your tracks. The Quiet Gentlemen, that horrible dowager Duchess says, “Over my dead body will that woman host a party,” and Gervase, the hero, says, “That would be something quite out of the normal way.” I mean boom, you know, hysterically funny. The Unknown Ajax is a very, very funny book.

SARA-MAE: Isn’t that Hugo Darracott though?

ALISON: Yes.

SARA-MAE: When he pretends to be a Yorkshire hayseed kind of a person, because that’s what all of his relatives expect him to be…

ALISON: But there’s that whole setup at the end whether they have to pretend that the wrong person has been shot.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

ALISON: And it’s just perfectly put, that the guy knows he’s been fooled, the Customs Officer, and it’s just so, so amazingly well done.

SARA-MAE: The fact that she could get away with it and pull it off, and she’s laughing at them all. You’re invited into the joke. It works so well. Would’ve fallen flat in anyone else’s hands.

ALISON: Because it’s complicated plotting.

SARA-MAE: Exactly.

ALISON: It shouldn’t work, but it does.

JANE: I wanted to go back before I forget to what you were saying earlier about it being a possible mis-step on Heyer’s part to have had…

SARA-MAE: Oh, yeah, yeah.

JANE: …Rupert sweeping in in These Old Shades, but I think actually, he’s one of her sort of ‘beta’ types who is more like a brother.

ALISON: Yeah.

JANE: And you get that in ‘Sylvester’ as well with Tom and Phoebe. Phoebe of course is the heroine and Tom is her best friend who everyone thinks they’re going to marry or something, but in fact, he’s just a best friend, really. And I wonder if that was a kind of a second male lead idea, that she always had this other guy who was just a bit nice and a brotherly type. And in fact, you get that in the Corinthian too, don’t you do?

ALISON: You do, Cedric.

JANE: Yes.

ALISON: Richard’s friend Cedric is…

JANE: He is actually just a friend.

ALISON: But the sort of apogee of that is Friday’s Child when she’s got all these fantastic boys. There’s a whole group of them… Sherry, and George, Ferdy and Gil, and they’re so realistic. If you know any boys in their late teens or early 20s, these are absolutely, they’re inter-railing, they’re throwing up in their rucksack; they are just perfect, perfectly created boys. I just re-read that recently. That’s a greatly underestimated book as well, it’s great fun.

SARA-MAE: I mean, I re-read them all the time and it’s like, I’m discovering new elements every single time. She is one of the few people that I can genuinely say that about. That I anticipate being able to continue rereading them and having almost the same enjoyment each time. But yeah, if we call them the Mark IVs, I guess they would be… of which Freddy would probably be the pinnacle, Freddy Standen. Who would you say was your favourite Mark II? Remember, we’ve got Faro’s Daughter as well, which we’ve done. You know, that had kind of fallen behind in the pack for me, but rereading it again I really enjoyed it, because he isn’t that likeable.

ALISON: No, he isn’t.

SARA-MAE: Max Ravenscar, the hero that you…

JANE: I think he’s great. See, now! [laughs]

SARA-MAE: No, but I love the book. And I think that you grow to like him more, especially the bit where he’s been tied up in her basement [laughs].

ALISON: Yeah, absolutely.

SARA-MAE: We’re taking an in depth look at Faro’s Daughter in next week’s episode, so be sure to nab the audio book from Nexus or pop down to the library. I mentioned how the heroine, Deborah, has landed in some hot water because of her very silly aunt (Heyer does a great line in silly aunts),  who has money issues. This leads her to open a faro bank in her house, over which Deb presides, much to the detriment of her social standing. Max Ravenscar, the hero, makes a snap judgement about her character when he goes to ‘rescue’ his nephew from what he sees as Deb’s ‘Jezebel toils’.

SARA-MAE: Max kind of comes into his own. Again, he’s forged in the fire of the passion of the woman…

ALISON: …[He] changes completely, he’s going around saying, “She’s a dreadful woman, he can’t possibly marry… Oh, I’m going to marry her myself.”

SARA-MAE: Quite Darcy-esque, isn’t it? The whole Pride and Prejudice

ALISON: Education of the hero, I think it’s a theme. I was thinking though, about Sophy, because it’s one of everyone’s favourite books, isn’t it? But you’ll never have anyone saying that Charles is their favourite hero because he’s okay. When you read it. You don’t mind him. But it’s all about Sophy and her machinations, isn’t it? So, it’s not always about the heroes, in Heyer.

JANE: Yes. Do you think that’s what marks those books out that when the heroine is is a very strong character in some way, then the hero has to be weaker if you like?

ALISON: Otherwise, they are like in Bath Tangle. I mean, these are people who are going to get married and throw plates at each other, aren’t they? I mean, it’s realistic. We all know people like that. But it’s not necessarily what you would want to aspire to.

SARA-MAE: So yeah, that one is slightly different because Serena, she and he are very well matched in terms of…

ALISON: Very similar.

SARA-MAE: …the levels of passion and everything. He’s quite a strong character, he is quite attractive, I would say he’s a Mark I.

ALISON: Definitely, definitely.

SARA-MAE: Whereas, these other ones, where the character, where the heroine is a little bit stronger, maybe are definite Mark twos.

ALISON: Charles in Sophy is kind of muted Mark I. He is not a Mark II because he’s not suave. He’s very, very frustrated by this horrific situation that he’s found himself in. He’s got all these dozens of younger brothers and sisters. He’s got that mother, the useless father, and he’s financially trying to cope with them all. So, he doesn’t… he’s a different kind of a hero.

JANE: I would agree with that. Yeah, his awful girlfriend!

SARA-MAE: Eugenia.

ALISON: Is it Eugenia? Something like that.

JANE: With a face like a horse?

[All laugh]

JANE: Heyer does a great line in disparaging comments about women.

SARA-MAE: Oh, yeah. But the way that she manages convey that she is an attractive girl and she’s very well bred, yet she still has a certain horsiness about her. You know, it’s so fantastic, one imagines her as having resting bitchface because she [laughs] she is so passive aggressive in the way that she tries to handle Sophy. And Sophy is just not having any of it.

ALISON: It’s wonderful, absolutely wonderful.

SARA-MAE: And I love the fact that Sophy, I think out of all of Heyer’s heroines, right from the word go is like he’s mine, I’ll have that, I’ll have him; it’s the best thing for everyone if we just get married and get with it [laughs], and he has no idea what has hit him.

ALISON: She doesn’t do herself justice when she just says she has two types of heroes, she doesn’t even talk about the heroines. As though they’re all the same, even if they’re very young ones. You’ve got Hero in Friday’s Child who’s 16 at the start of the book, and then you’ve got Pen in Corinthian who’s 17, who’s a completely different kettle of fish altogether; much, much stronger personality. I mean there’s a huge variation in types of heroines that she’s got as well.

SARA-MAE: And she’s got the older ones as well.

SARA-MAE: We all three abruptly realised that the older heroines I’m referring to are mostly in their late 20s or early 30s and burst out laughing at the idea that they would have been considered practically over the hill. I mean, just think of the idea of these ancient old bags having the temerity to take centre place in a romance novel.

ALISON: One of my favourites is Lady Hester in Sprig Muslin, she’s fantastic.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

ALISON: Fantastic character, isn’t she? So scatter-brained. And another one is Sarah in Talisman Ring. She’s a fantastic character; very, very laid back, cool kind of a person.

JANE: I was reading her biography, Heyer’s biography, and I came across a bit where she was complaining that a magazine had serialised one of her stories and made it raunchy and that she was utterly shocked and horrified by this. I was interested in that because it’s obvious that (not in a prudish way), and in fact, I think she said in a letter to someone that it’s not because I’m prudish or something. But because it isn’t the way I wrote it, and it’s… they tried to make it out to be something it’s not; some torrid romance and in fact it’s not. For someone who writes romances, that she didn’t want them to be seen as romances…

ALISON: We were saying just before we were talking to you that she actually wasn’t, herself, that romantic a person.

SARA-MAE: I think you did get a very different sense of the kind of person she was from how she actually was to the people in her life. But she did have a wonderfully close relationship with her husband, and I was saying to Alison, that my little pet theory (and you know I don’t know if you will agree with this) is, that she modelled Venetia and Damerel’s relationship a bit on her relationship with Ronald.

JANE: Oh, now that’s fascinating.

SARA-MAE: Just because of the way that everyone speaks of them, and the story is all about how incredibly close they were as friends first, and they shared this humour. I don’t think that the sexual side of things by all accounts was particularly good. I think they had separate beds and things like that and maybe even separate rooms.

JANE: There’s a great photo of her with him in a mud hut or something. Isn’t there?

ALISON: In Africa, very early in their relationship.

JANE: That’s amazing.

ALISON: She’s got some strange views. One of the things that she doesn’t approve of: having lots of children. So, there are people who have lots of children, like in Arabella, but her heroines never go on and have lots and lots of children. If you see them in later life, they’ve got one son, because all you need is just one boy. Just whip out a boy and then you don’t have to bother with any of that nonsense anymore. And it’s not realistic, if you think about it. I mean, you read books at the time, you know that there are people who have 12 children.

JANE: Yeah, yeah.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

ALISON: Yes, the Uxbridges have what? Twelve to fourteen children? And yet her vision of her heroine, I think I’m right in saying, is always the case if you see them in later life, they just have one boy.

JANE: Ah, but in The Toll Gate she does have one of the characters, the grandfather, moaning the fact that he didn’t realise his first son would die and that the estate is entailed away, and that means his daughter’s life is gonna be ruined because of that. And, of course, there are the twins in Sylvester you know, Sylvester is actually a twin at the start of the story. The heir has died and he had been brought up as a Mark II, carefree, and now has to take on these responsibilities

SARA-MAE: And False Colours as well, with the twins. They’re great.

ALISON: I love that.

SARA-MAE: But having said that, when she does write family, Arabella is a very good example. The whole book opens with this family and the sisters and the talking and that there’s the younger sister who is such a drag everyone hates her because she’s got like an onion in her ear. She was always having ailments at inconvenient moments, and things like that, and pointing out things that people rather she didn’t, and all this kind of stuff. And the little boys… they actually have a mill in the middle of the girl’s room and just as a matter of course the girls all grab that belonging that’s most precious to them. You know, things like that, she really revealed a knowledge of how families are.

ALISON: She was close to her brothers wasn’t she? When she was young?

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

ALISON: Wrote the Black Moth for a sick brother.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, yeah, having read her biography, I almost don’t want to apply anything too much to her books. It’s one of those things when you meet your hero, you’re a bit wary that if the more you learn, it could, kind of colour [your reading]… I think one of the things I adore about her books is the voice that’s behind it all. It was inviting me into this world, it was saying ‘have a laugh’.

ALISON: It’s a world that values clever women, doesn’t it? And I don’t mean necessarily intellectual women, because most of her heroines aren’t. But they’re all clever, which isn’t really… Heyer doesn’t really do stupid heroines, does she?

SARA-MAE: For me humour denotes intelligence.

ALISON: Absolutely.

SARA-MAE: I think that’s one of the things that female comics get a lot of stick for.

SARA-MAE: I think what I mean here is that there’s a misogynist idea that you still encounter in conversations about female comics, that they’re not as funny as men. And I’ve often wondered if it’s because a hilarious woman is threatening somehow, especially if humour denotes intelligence. But as Alison points out, Heyer heroes are never threatened by an intelligent woman.

ALISON: Frederica, as well, just disrupts his entire life with her family.

SARA-MAE: Oh, yeah.

ALISON: He likes it, doesn’t he?

SARA-MAE: He’s brought into her world. She just assumes that he’s gonna go along with all her schemes and things because it’s what’s best, clearly. And [these heroes are] brought along with them, and they find themselves changing along the way.

ALISON: Heroes change more than heroines do.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

JANE: Do you think that that’s a reassurance for clever women everywhere?

ALISON: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely true. I think that’s one of the basic reasons why everyone reads Heyer.

SARA-MAE: Having said that, as well, I don’t think men should be excluded. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had for them. I mean the heroes are so swashbuckling at times, and always terribly good at sport.

ALISON: But it’s only now that we have this idea that men don’t read romantic novels because when she was writing, she was getting fan letters from people in the temple, from lawyers, and barristers, doctors and all kinds of people who read her books and were not ashamed of reading them. I hate this thing that we have now that there’s girls’ books and boys’ books; it’s just books, you know.

SARA-MAE: Woman’s fiction.

ALISON: Argh.

SARA-MAE: It’s awful, isn’t it? There’s a quote from one of the people who’s publishing a woman’s magazine to say that husbands would snatch it out of their wives’ hands because one of the Heyer books was serialised in there, but I am finding that the men that I’ve approached to convert, there has been this barrier.

ALISON: That’s a really interesting point, because I’ve never tried. There’s my husband, who, as Jane will confirm, he’s an editor of romantic fiction and has been since he was in his 20s and he’s read more romantic fiction than possibly any other man in the country. He’s never read Georgette Heyer and I’ve never tried to make him. Maybe I should?

SARA-MAE: You definitely should.

ALISON: What do you think Jane?

JANE: Because I like to treat all my children equally, when I gave Indigo (my youngest), a copy of The Grand Sophy, I gave a Heyer to each of the boys as well.

ALISON: That’s good. Go, Jane!

JANE: I gave Dylan The Masqueraders and I gave Morris The Corinthian.

SARA-MAE: And did their heads explode?

ALISON: The crossdressing ones, why? [laughs] I mean why not, but why?

JANE: They went off and all were very quiet for a long time. Oh, someone at the door sorry…

SARA-MAE: As Jane goes off to answer the door, Allison and I get talking about Stephen Fry.

ALISON: We went to see Stephen Fry, he was in Twelfth Night, he played Malvolio and he was amazing. Just by chance Luigi bumped into him in a shop the day that we were going to see him, and he told him we were going to see him and Stephen Fry said, “Oh, I hope you enjoy it,” and they had a little bonding moment. And Luigi was so busy talking to him that he didn’t notice that the pie that he was buying was actually off and he brought it home, and we all ate it and then we were all sitting there at the end of Twelfth Night feeling very, very ill indeed. And we said, “You made us eat that pie, Stephen Fry, and we got food poisoning!” [laughs]

SARA-MAE: And what about her Military men, if we call them the Mark IIIs for their little corner of her universe?

JANE: We could sit here all day and no one is going to bring up The Spanish Bride, are they? I know it’s fantastic and I know that Infamous Army was taught at Sandhurst… but we are not going to go there really, are we?

SARA-MAE: I have to admit I have started Infamous Army and I haven’t managed to finish it, I’m much more in love with her Regency works than her specifically historical pieces.

ALISON: Yeah, and I don’t like Regency Buck that much. When she tries to ladle in too much of the history it doesn’t necessarily always work.

SARA-MAE: She saw those works as serious pieces and I know that she was incredibly proud of the fact that they were said to teach it at Sandhurst and she often got, like you were saying, messages from people, literary people, saying that it was a fantastic evocation of that battle. But in terms of her heroes in the Regency world I often find that the military guys are the ones who are the most genial in a weird sort of way.

ALISON: Hmm, yeah.

SARA-MAE: Maybe it’s because you expect them to be a bit more bloodthirsty because they are coming from this military background, but they will often be quite laid back.

ALISON: They don’t have anything to prove, do they?

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

ALISON: Because they are very competent, and they have been in charge of people, and they are very confident in their own skills at life. So, they don’t have to sort of stomp around like George in Fridays Child threatening to shoot everyone that they argue with. They are much more… Gervase in Quiet Gentleman is a lovely character.

SARA-MAE: He is wonderful. One of my favourite things in that book is how Drusilla, her family are these kind of libertarian, anti-establishment…

ALISON: Radical!

SARA-MAE: …radicals. She herself is so disappointed in herself for not being able to be romantic and more like the typical sort of heroine. She is kind of going, “I would love to be romantic, I just can’t do it,” you know.

ALISON: She is a great heroine.

SARA-MAE: She is just practical. She saves his life a couple of times because she is so level-headed, but it is absolutely genius in the way that, in that book, she contrasts the aristocratic horrible aunt, who wished he died in the war, with, when there is that confrontation at the end with Drusilla’s parents, and they are comparing their lineage. And this libertarian guy is kind of saying “Well, you know, not that I care anything about this nonsense, but…”

ALISON: “[My ancestor] came over with the conqueror.

SARA-MAE: [laughs] Any kind of pretension is held up to her magnifying glass, if she can find something amusing.

ALISON: Why haven’t they been made into films and TV, Sara, why?

SARA-MAE: I don’t know. Well, look, I am trying to find out, I am on the case.

SARA-MAE: You will be able to hear my interview with the literary agent for Heyer’s estate Peter Buckman in Episode 9. I will also be chatting to Andy Patterson, producer of ‘Girl with A Pearl Earring’ and ‘The Railwayman’, about his efforts to make ‘The Grand Sophy’. We will dig deep into the difficulties both men have experienced when it comes to adapting period drama. It’s a really fascinating set of interviews especially if you are a cinephile as well as a book lover, like me.

SARA-MAE: But Stephen Fry wasn’t even aware of The Grand Sophy being made and I was like why would you not be in it? You’d be the first person I’d call. Who would you make him play in The Grand Sophy?

ALISON: He would play her father.

SARA-MAE: Her father, that’s what I thought as well, yeah.

ALISON: Yeah, he would be wonderful.

JANE: Do you not think, coming back round to the military question, that The Grand Sophy is actually a military book in disguise?

ALISON: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

JANE: It’s Sophy who is the military man.

ALISON: That’s right.

SARA-MAE: She’s the General.

ALISON: She has experience as well, she’s been on campaign.

JANE: Absolutely, but she has this military strategy to her planning, doesn’t she? She rides, she shoots and she’s brave, and she’s always referring to “the Duke”. I always think of her as a sort of Wellington’s right hand man.

SARA-MAE: Yes, she is. She’s actually the hero in that case.

ALISON: She really is.

JANE: And that might be why Charles is a lot weaker because he’s playing the feminine, the one whose being courted [laughs].

ALISON: He’s the one with the domestic worries. She hasn’t got any domestic worries. She has got loads of money, but he’s got not very much money and all of these siblings that he’s got to deal with, so he’s Frederica in a way and she is Alverstoke.

SARA-MAE: I have never thought of it that way, but that’s true and perhaps that’s one of the reasons why that that’s been the film that’s come the closest so far to potentially being made. And she lightly talks about hobnobbing with Wellington and kind of touches on these hair-raising escapades she has had.

JANE: When all her military guys turn up, they spot immediately what she’s up to, but she’s very chummy with them there are no, sort of, sexual overtones. It’s like she is one of the men. There’s a very telling moment in The Grand Sophy to do with that where the brother, Hugo… he has not told Charles about his money worries and it’s Sophy he goes to and Sophy sorts it out. And he is talking to his girlfriend Eugenia afterwards and, Charles says, “Would you have come to me immediately and told me?”’ because she thinks that Sophy should have told the man and the man should have sorted it out, not gone and done it herself. And he says, “Well, you know, Hugo told her in confidence,” and she says, “Oh that’s not important is it?” And he then realises that Sophy shares his honour code.

ALISON: Yeah, that’s right.

JANE: Which is very much a manly, military thing. She thinks it’s a personal matter and you would immediately break your word in that situation. But for him, and for Sophy, your word is sacrosanct.

SARA-MAE: Exactly.

ALISON: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: I mean Heyer was really doing something that was quite edgy in that sense and taking…

ALISON: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: …a risk by placing her in the ‘male’ role and yet you still find her completely charming and all the men still find her completely charming, but there is that really unusual level of respect and camaraderie.

JANE: That’s right.

SARA-MAE: I can’t think of any other example. Certainly not in Austen books.

ALISON: No, no, the male spheres and female spheres are very very separate in Austen, aren’t they? And they just touch in places, but they don’t really. I’m not a massive fan of Jane Austen, but something that really always winds me up is that everyone says, “Mrs Bennett, she’s so stupid she’s…” The poor woman! She is the only one person in the book who has any idea of the horrific situation…

JANE: Yeah.

ALISON: Of course, she has to get those girls married off! They will be, like Sense and Sensibility, they will be out on their ear. They will be lucky to find a cottage to live in.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

ALISON: She absolutely knows what she needs to do.

SARA-MAE: At the mercy of that horrible obsequious vicar.

ALISON: Mr Collins.

ALISON: Indeed. He would have thrown them out. It would have been exactly like Sense and Sensibility. That fantastic scene at the start of the film with the brother saying, “Oh yes we will give her five thousand pounds,” and by the end of the conversation they will be lucky if they get five pounds at Christmas.

SARA-MAE: Yes exactly.

ALISON: This is exactly what would have happened to them.

JANE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: She often touches on these role reversals and she very cleverly interweaves them with themes that are quite challenging that Austen wouldn’t have been able to do because she was always writing about one village, one family, that kind of thing.

JANE: That’s right, yes, and there’s a really strong political sense behind her work as well isn’t there? For instance, in The Masqueraders there’s that whole idea of the rebellion behind there and so that she is always touching on things that are really happening at that point in time, but the romance is always at the forefront.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, and she never looses sight of what it she is… the product that she is producing. She definitely saw her works as these kind of crafted…

ALISON: Well, I recently read The Reluctant Widow, have you read that recently?

SARA-MAE: Not recently.

ALISON: It’s a dreadful book. There is no relationship between the hero and heroine. The heroine is incredibly irritating, and the hero is quite a nice guy. I mean everyone is allowed an off day, maybe she was ill, maybe she was under hideous pressure from her family, but that’s one of the romance books…

JANE: You know, Alison, I think that’s the one she was complaining about when it was serialised and saying that they had turned it into something?

SARA-MAE: And is it The Convenient Marriage which is the one where they are not in love, but they get married?

ALISON: It’s wonderful.

JANE: I thought that was a lovely, sweet novel.

ALISON: Yes.

JANE: I really enjoy that.

ALISON: Yes, it is. It is lovely.

SARA-MAE: See that’s my least favourite. I think it’s because I read it when I was quite young, and you know when you are young, you just want the heroine to be pretty, and for them to be madly in love and you know, that’s the whole thing. You kind of want that payoff… emotional payoff. I think, as you get older you start seeing nuances and this thing that we were talking about where Heyer is saying, “What is the most important in a marriage?” Is it the passion and the headiness that you get with that? Or is it being able to be with someone and able to enjoy their company and support them?

ALISON: One of the interesting things about that book is that when you read it carefully, and I think that Jennifer says this in the biography, you see that they have actually had sex but it hasn’t fixed anything. If you read it really carefully; he’s married her, he’s, you know, wooed her with his incredible skills or whatever, but it’s not solved anything because they haven’t sorted out their basic relationship. They are meant to be together, but they need to overcome all the obstacles in their way so it’s not as though they can just fall into bed on page 192 and that will fix everything because it is more complicated than that.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, and that is such a sophisticated and tricky message to get across because in almost every single romance book the big payoff is when they finally come together and the idea is that they are essentially going to have sex and that’s going to make everything happily ever after.

JANE: As a writer that’s obviously what you are going to need because the big payoff is that they get married. If you have a book where they are already married during the course of the book there has to be some other obstacle for them to overcome, so it couldn’t possibly have been happy ever after because then there wouldn’t have been a story.

ALISON: Yeah, but it has to be a plausible obstacle.

JANE: Yeah, I guess.

SARA-MAE: And that one is that he’s still in love with another woman, isn’t it?

ALISON: Well, he’s had that relationship with that other woman and she finds out about it and the other woman is a horrible Heyer-bitch and gives her to think that they are still together and it’s very well done. It’s fantastically done, I think.

JANE: Yes, that’s a very nice novel. I do return to it occasionally, but not as often as I do my big faves.

ALISON: What are your favourites?

JANE: Venetia and Sylvester are my favourites. I would say Venetia because I think Damerel is just the most superb hero, he’s a Mark II, but he has all the instincts of a Mark I. Sort of smouldering under the surface there. And I do love my Mark ones. And Sylvester of course because the heroine, Phoebe, is a writer. She’s essentially Georgette, isn’t she?

JANE: Yes.

SARA-MAE: Can I just say that I think Damerel is a Mark II masquerading as a Mark I?

JANE: Yes, he likes to pretend.

SARA-MAE: Yes, he kind of affects the Mark one-ishness that he feels the world expects from him.

ALISON: Yes, that’s the thing.

JANE: One woman done him wrong, so he decided to be mean to all women afterwards. [Laughs]

SARA-MAE: He isn’t mean, he strews rose petals… there are very funny bits where she talks about how, “I don’t want you strewing any rose petals for some wanton…”

JANE: Yes, right, yes.

SARA-MAE: And the way she talks so lightly about his orgies!

ALISON: Ah, that scene, I’m sorry, I hate it.

JANE: That’s why they are perfect for each other…

SARA-MAE: Yes.

JANE: Because she isn’t shocked by his orgies.

SARA-MAE: What was it that you weren’t so keen on?

ALISON: I just felt that he wouldn’t be faithful to her.

JANE: I don’t agree. He was done.

ALISON: You see, I agree with you about These Old Shades. He was never going to look at another woman, I think you were absolutely right about that, but I didn’t feel that about Venetia. Maybe I need to read that again I haven’t read it for ages.

JANE: I think if he was ever unfaithful it would be a three-in-a-bed situation and you know, she’d join in.

SARA-MAE: [laughs] Oh my gosh, why is that fan fiction not being written?

ALISON: It probably has been. Have you ever searched Georgette Heyer fan fiction sites?

SARA-MAE: No.

ALISON: It’s all out there.

SARA-MAE: I don’t know if I could bear to read my characters in a less deft hand.

ALISON: This is the thing. Some of it is really good. I was looking for this recently and I couldn’t find it, but years and years ago, I read some slash about The Unknown Ajax about Hugo and Vincent. And you don’t ever actually read the book in the same way again because it is so well written. There are all kinds of things. There are things that rewrite The Corinthian as space operas and things. You need to do a bit of digging, ladies, I am telling you, it’s out there.

JANE: I would be sucked in.

SARA-MAE: Do you think in a sort of publishing sense… there’s ever going to be an…

ALISON: An E L James?

SARA-MAE: Like there was Twilight fan fiction before, do you think there would ever be something like that for Heyer? Where the sort of medium by which… the fan fiction could become legitimised?

ALISON: I don’t think it’s a big enough thing, is it? I mean the fact that you are both really keen Heyerites and you hadn’t come across it… Maybe I have too much time on my hands, who knows? But I think it’s not enough of a cultural phenomenon that you would ever persuade anybody. I mean, I think if someone had written something that was based on Heyer and then changed it in the way that E L James did, you just wouldn’t know. You’d just… you know what? It’s out there: it’s called the genre of Regency romance. The whole genre of Regency romance, is, in fact, Heyer fan fiction.

SARA-MAE: Yes, that’s true.

ALISON: Isn’t it?

JANE: Yes, and some of those homages, if you like, are really good and very enjoyable and some are not.

SARA-MAE: [laughs] We were saying this yesterday, Jane, about would you be offended if someone you know… and you were saying, “Well, if they made more money than [me]…”

JANE: What, if someone plagiarised me?

SARA-MAE: Yes, if they plagiarised your work.

JANE: No, only if they made more money. I really I am not that worried. And I would be flattered, I think. I had a reviewer, of my self-published Regencies I write when I have time, and I had a reviewer say, “This person has tried to do a copy of Heyer and its really very third rate and you know blah, blah.” And I thought, well at least she spotted that. I was quite flattered even though it was a horrible review.

SARA-MAE: You sort of want to be friends with her.

JANE: Well at least you are a Heyer fan as well [laughs.] I felt quite good, really.

SARA-MAE: Well, I mean I could honestly go on talking about Heyer for the next five hours, but I know that some of you have lives. [laughs]

ALISON: Not as such, no.

SARA-MAE: Two of us in this conversation probably have better things to do.

ALISON: I have got manuscripts to read, that’s what I could do.

SARA-MAE: Well, I thank you so much both of you for joining me today.

JANE: It’s a pleasure.

ALISON: I really look forward to listening to the podcast.

JANE: I can’t wait either. Thank you very much.

SARA-MAE: Thanks Jane and Alison

All: Bye

SARA-MAE : It was great to get a chance to talk about Heyer’s heroes and heroines in this episode. Once again, talking to other Heyer fans is instantly comfortable and easy, as we waft from one book to another re-living bits we particularly love. Jane is a woman of many talents, not just writing incredibly gripping thrillers. She has also been a champion snooker player. I can’t wait for her to write the screenplay about her adventures with green baize. She often writes under pseudonyms, so tying her down to one genre is nigh on impossible. Her latest book The Hive is a terrifying thriller available on Amazon.

I can’t imagine where Alison finds the time to read Heyer fan fiction when she has probably got to tackle a massive pile of ever-replenishing manuscripts in her job as editor for the LBA Literary Agency, but I am delighted that she does. I am also intrigued by the idea of a Hugo/Vincent spinoff in which I infer that they are lovers. Note to self: ask Alison for a link.

Next week, it’s another book club episode jam packed with audio drama, the next instalment of Heyer’s life story, and we will be reading Faro’s Daughter. As ever, you can join our discussion by listening to the audio book available from Naxos or you can support you local library.

Till next time, you would have to be a ‘shockingly loose screw’ to miss out.

This has been Heyer Today.

[Credits]

This episode was recorded and produced by me Sara-Mae Tuson, with production writing and research help from Beth Keehn, and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott for making me get out into the sunlight every once in a while, and production assistance. Thanks also to Geraldine Elliott, to Talitha Gammaroff and everyone who has supported me in creating this work. Suzie Buttress in particular, and the podcast community at large, for invaluable support and advice.

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, Chapter I, as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears’ tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast by myself and Tom Chadd.

You can find Message to Bears here: messagetobears.com

Tom’s music here: tomchadd.bandcamp.com

And Emma’s website is: emmagatrill.com

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media. We’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

Remember to rate, review and subscribe. I can’t tell you how much it helps small indie companies like us to thrive.

HEYER TODAY EPISODE 4: DEVIL’S CUB WITH KHALID HAM

Listen to this episode here

Also available on any good podplayer, iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music. 

SARA-MAE: Previously on Heyer Today…

EMMA DARWIN: Basically, I love her because I just love being in that world. But I do think that technically she is extraordinarily good. And she’s really worth studying from that point of view as well. And we can all learn a lot from what she does those of us who write historical fiction, if there’s a fluffy cloud somewhere with the world’s great writers on it, it unquestionably has Austen on it. I don’t think it has hair on it. Though there is always at the heart of a hair. You know, the question is, can a man and a woman work it out so that they can make a partnership?

SARA-MAE: Hello, and welcome to our fourth episode of Heyer Today, the podcast in which we try to solve the mystery of why writer Georgette Heyer’s books haven’t been adapted for the screen. We also try to convert new readers to her work along the way. This week’s victim, I mean, recipient of our benevolence, is Khalid Ham.  He’s the bassist in my band, Scarlet Starlings and he has never read a Heyer novel. Khalid will be reading ‘Devil’s Cub’ and I can’t wait to discuss it with him. As ever, there will be spoilers, so bear that in mind. Oh, and this week… we have the most special of special guests. I told myself I wouldn’t embarrass Beth by being unprofessional so, without any gushing whatsoever, and the minimum of fanfare…Mr Stephen Fry will return briefly. Yes, that happens. Because we love him so much, we’ll be sprinkling a bit of Fry throughout the series, so do download our other episodes to get your dose. 

But first, here’s Beth to tell us a little bit about what Heyer was up to at the time she was writing this week’s book: Devil’s Cub. 

[HISTORICAL SEGMENT] 

(published 1932 – so, covering 1926/27 to 1932) 

BETH KEANE: In 1926, Georgette Heyer is only 24 years old, newlywed and still reeling from the death of her beloved father. Between the publication of These Old Shades, Georgette’s first real blockbuster, and its sequel, Devil’s Cub in 1932, we are looking at a period of just 6 years. 

It’s a time of great change. While British women older than 30 had the vote since 1918, it was not until 1928 that women aged 21 also gained that right. Georgette was 26 at the time and, whether she liked it or not, she was leading her own charge for equality – she had taken on financial responsibility for her Mother and two brothers. And it was going to continue to be a difficult time financially – for everyone. While the 10 years of the Great Depression were looming [1929 to 1939] Georgette’s family, for the moment, seemed unaffected.  

Georgette’s work ethic set a solid foundation for her future longevity as a best-selling author. This included her ever-expanding audience in the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada – and just as well. However, she was still grappling with her role as the main breadwinner in the family. Adding to the financial uncertainty, Ronald is about to embark on an assortment of contrasting careers – trying everything from mining to sports retailing.   

While they knew each other for 5 years before their marriage, Ronald actually spent most of that time abroad, working in Russia and Africa long before their engagement. In 1926, just over a year after their marriage, he was about to leave England to go back to Africa, this time as an independent prospector, seeking his fortune in the tin mines in Tanganyika.  

These Old Shades was published in October 1926, six months after the General Strike, which had caused disruption to transport and industry – including paper supplies, publishing and newspaper advertising. Yet Georgette’s book sales are unaffected, and Georgette was rewarded with her first best-seller. It is thought that this is one reason she was absolutely adamant throughout her career that personal publicity was an unnecessary evil.  

Also, during this period, a handful of talented women were ‘making detective fiction respectable’ (that’s according to Heyer biographer, Jane Aiken Hodge). These writers included Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margaret Allingham (another young author – also published in 1923 at only 19 years of age). It was Allingham who said that ‘Mystery writers in the late 1920s/early 1930s were refugees from a world in emotional chaos’. As if to make manifest this theme, in December 1926, their superstar Agatha Christie disappears for 11 days – instigating a search involving more than a thousand policemen and hundreds of civilians. I wonder what Georgette made of this peculiar event? In any case, it’s doubtful if she even heard the news. She spent that Christmas and New Year on board a passenger ship bound for East Africa to reunite with Ronald, travelling alone – with just her Sealyham terrier, Roddy, for company. 

For the next year, Georgette and Ronald live in a mining compound in Tanganyika – a colony under British control since the end of the First World War. This is their opportunity for adventure! But you do wonder how Georgette is going to keep her composure, her clothes pressed and her marcel waves intact, living in a hut made out of bamboo with a roof of elephant grass, and with lions, leopards and rhinos roaming freely outside. There was only one other European, and Georgette is the only white woman. She had her tiny dog, Roddy, for company while Ronald is away at work. Despite the isolation and basic living conditions, it’s probably Georgette’s most relaxed time. This is pure freedom, away from the cares that dogged her in England. In this totally alien landscape, she writes 4 novels, pen in hand, paper balanced precariously on her knee. Dressed in khaki shorts and shirt, she revels in the African heat. And there were safaris to attend, walks…as well as the occasional rather hair-raising encounter with local wildlife.  

[AUDIO DRAMA SEGMENT] 

INTERIOR KITCHEN – 6am. 

(A kettle whistles, cups and saucers clack.) 

GEORGETTE 

What time did you say you’ll be returning to our darling ‘Manor House’? 

RONALD 

In time for tea, dear. Right. Time I was off.  

(Ronald sips tea – clatter of crockery as he puts the teacup on the table.)  

(TO GEORGETTE) Tell the driver to start the car for me, will you? 

GEORGETTE: Anzisha gari tafadhali! 

(SFX: Walking, bamboo door opens, rustling of leaves. Old, noisy car starts up.) 

RONALD: Goodbye, darling.  

GEORGETTE: Goodbye.  

(They kiss. Ronald leaves the hut. And then … barking … horn tooting, yelling and screaming…ronald races back to the house

GEORGETTE 

Ronald, darling, did you forget something? 

RONALD 

Fetch me my rifle, Georgette! There’s a blasted RHINO in the camp! 

GEORGETTE:  

How terribly… exciting!  

NARRATOR: 

Tossing on her coat over her pajamas, she rushes after her husband. There, not 20 yards from a house to the left, is a large black rhino, moving slowly through the camp. Mr JV Oates follows it warily, his gun raised above his head. 

[Gun shot. Dog barks.] 

GEORGETTE:  

Roddy! Look at him sniffing the rhino, as if to say: ‘Dead I see, nothing for me to do here.’ 

[They laugh nervously, the tension of the moment relieved.] 

RONALD:  

It could have been worse, I’ve seen those creatures moving like a tank, crashing through the undergrowth like paper. No more marching through the rhino tracks by yourself, alright, Dordette? 

We now have very different ideas about rhino hunting today. Coming from South Africa myself, I feel very strongly about the poaching and hunting of endangered wildlife. However, to Georgette and Ronald at this time, and fearing for their lives, it would have seemed like a thrilling adventure, which she wrote about in her article ‘The Horned Beast of Africa’ for The Sphere. 

BETH: Despite these unusual animal-based distractions, this is a period of abundant output.  

For Ronald, it was a time of great promise – a new career ahead and a fortune to be made. For Georgette, it was a welcome escape from the overwhelming grief of her father’s death. She writes ‘Helen’ – a modern novel – its outpouring of grief suggesting a close autobiographical element.  

But Ronald was not to strike it lucky in Tanganyika. After just a year in Africa, the couple travel back to London and arrive one week after the publication of Helen. It’s not long before Ronald secures a new position, this time in the lead mines of Macedonia. Georgette joins him there and once again they are living in spartan conditions, albeit with a larger ex-pat British community than in Africa. Much less beautiful, at least here there are cocktail parties and dinners to divert her.  

And, with her London Library membership reinstated, she has a ready supply of books posted out for her to pour over as research. In 1930, they will be back, briefly, in London before moving to the countryside of Sussex. 

The period that started with the death of Georgette’s father sadly also ends with another death – Ronald’s father falls under a tube train in London. It is ruled a suicide by the coroner, but that verdict is fiercely rejected by Georgette and Ronald. 

In the 6 years between 1926 and 1932, Georgette and Ronald have lived in properties in Africa, Macedonia, London and Sussex. Ronald has had 4 jobs. Georgette has published 8 novels – mainly histories, and romances – as well as her first murder mystery, Footsteps in the Dark. Three of her four contemporary novels were written in this time – Helen (1928), Pastel (1929), and Barren Corn (1930). Georgette will eventually have all of them suppressed from future publication. 

[GEORGETTE QUOTE [to Louisa Callender of Heinemann]: 

 ‘Forget all about INSTEAD OF THE THORN, PASTEL, HELEN, BARREN CORN. They aren’t thrillers, and they stink, and I want them to be buried in decent oblivion.’] 

Georgette and Ronald return to London in 1930. It’s time to start the next phase of their adventure together. In 1932, their son, Richard George Rougier is born, on exactly the same day as Footsteps in the Dark is released – yet another novel that Georgette tried to suppress later in her life. Ever her harshest critic, she couldn’t suffer the idea of a sub-standard book being out there. 

There were, as always with Georgette, financial pressures. She and Ronald were paying the rent on properties for themselves and also for Georgette’s mother. Added to this, neither of them liked to stint on clothes, food from Fortnum’s and other creature comforts. Soon, Georgette was forced to sell the film rights for Simon the Coldheart to the Fox-Film Co. but, alas, it was a deal that would never transpire. 

The personal turmoil Georgette and her family have survived is about to be put to the test by world events. The Great Depression is upon them and the Second World War is looming – what will the future hold for Georgette and her family? 

SARA-MAE: Devil’s Cub – sequel to These Old Shades – was published in 1932 and has never been out of print since. It is one of Georgette Heyer’s most popular books, a Georgian romance set in 1780. 

[EXCERPT FROM PREVIOUS INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN FRY] 

Most people’s favourite kind of great ones are ‘These Old Shades” and then ‘Devil’s Cub’.

[INTERVIEW]

And now here’s Khalid Ham discussing Devil’s Cub with me. Remember, I’m trying to convert people who’ve never read Heyer’s work, or even, in Khalid’s case, any romance at all. This could backfire horribly.

SARA-MAE: Hi, Khalid. How are you doing?

KHALID HAM: I’m good, thanks. Here in cold, cold London. It’s great.

SARA-MAE: Can you tell me who you are and what you do?

KHALID: I’m Khalid. I’m a kind of a tutor at school at the moment, and currently getting ready to do a teacher training course.

SARA-MAE: Were you aware of Georgette Heyer’s work before I approached you for this podcast?

KHALID: No, not at all. We had a nice conversation about why she hadn’t been selected for TV. I was a bit like, “Who the hell is she talking about?” So then you told me to read a book, and I did.

SARA-MAE: You obeyed my decree. [laughs]

KHALID [laughs].

SARA-MAE: Good. And have you read any Jane Austen who she’s often compared to?

KHALID: No, I haven’t actually. I need to. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that I think but yeah.

SARA-MAE: And you’re in charge of moulding young minds?

KHALID: I mean, towards science, not towards expressing their feelings, that kind of rubbish.

SARA-MAE: Well, I personally think that this is science, that your life will be 25% improved If you read Jane Austen and all of her works immediately.

KHALID: Okay, I feel there we’re just kind of making up statistics off the top of our heads and not really basing them on any fact. So yeah, it probably will be better if everyone reads Jane Austen [laughs].

SARA-MAE: [laughs] I must say the science is a bit shaky. I will admit that.

KHALID: Yes, based on one person, that’s yourself. And that’s it.

SARA-MAE: Science to follow. I’m kind of conducting my own experiment in terms of Georgette Heyer’s work and trying to get people to come around to the idea that she’s almost as good as Jane Austen. What were your preconceptions about the book?

KHALID: I was expecting a kind of sweeping romance kind of book where the man is very much a gentleman the entire way through. And the woman is kind of a bit fawning, kind of standard for what was written in literature at that time about kind of how women behave. And I guess I was kind of treated to that to some extent with some of the characters, but then the main characters were very different.

SARA-MAE: I mean, have you seen Jane Austen film adaptations?

KHALID: No. We had Pride and Prejudice or video, I think when I was younger, but I always kind of avoid it because I would rather watch people with guns and that kind of thing. So no, I haven’t really seen the adaptations.

SARA-MAE [laughs]: So we can fairly say that this is very much the opposite of what you’d normally pick up to read.

SARA-MAE: This isn’t looking good for my conversion scorecard.

KHALID: Yeah, definitely. Okay.

SARA-MAE: So I just want to interject here to describe Khalid a bit. He’s about the same age as the hero in our book, the Marquis of Vidal. This is going to embarrass him, but he’s quite swoony too, a bit of a modern version of a classic Heyer hero. The Marquis, however, is one of Heyer’s wildest characters. So I thought it would be amusing to see if there were any other parallels between Khalid and his literary equivalent.

KHALID: I mean, I wouldn’t say many, but the one thing we did have in common was, he likes to duel and kill people on the regs I guess.

SARA-MAE: He’s very fond of killing people.

KHALID: Yeah, I mean, I’ve been known to get a gun out and shoot someone in a bar.

SARA-MAE: Right, at the least provocation. I’ve noticed that about you.

KHALID: Yeah, very, very hot-tempered. My father was exactly the same as well, you know, they shot a lot of people too.

SARA-MAE: Right, so that’s why they call you Khalid Hot Fists Ham? Is that where that name comes from? [laughs].

KHALID: Yeah. Hot-fisted, and I also drive really fast. I’m Hot Wheels too.

SARA-MAE: First difference between Videl the hero and Khalid: Khalid rides a bike, not a carriage or a horse.

SARA-MAE: Do you ever have any races on your bike amongst your friends? Do you place bets on who can get to, say, Stoke Newington quicker?

KHALID: Not really amongst my friends. I’ll see strangers on my bike and I’ll give them a knowing look. And then they’ll know it’s time to get ready to race. It’s illegal street racing scene of London with the push bikes. They’re pretty dangerous guys, living on the edge.

SARA-MAE: Something tells me Khalid is using a tiny bit of creative license.

SARA-MAE: What about any kind of gambling? Are you an aficionado of poker or anything like that?

KHALID: I used to gamble on some sports but then I was so bad at it that I just gave up immediately. You kind of feel like you have some insight, you’re like, “Oh, I know what’s gonna happen here.” And then that person loses or gets knocked out really badly or something like that and you’re like, “Ooh, why did I waste money on this?” So no, I don’t gamble at all.

SARA-MAE: Second difference: Khalid does not gamble.

SARA-MAE: Well that’s a big difference, I think, ‘cos that seems like it’s quite a big part of their lives, the young men of that time.

SARA-MAE: So John Sinclair said in his 1818 book, ‘The Code of Health and longevity”, that games of chance were “attended with much mischief both to the gamesters themselves and to society”. Passing laws to discourage gambling didn’t seem to help much. Sinclair thought games of chance caused “idleness, theft, and debauchery” amongst what he calls the lower orders, and “among the higher have occasioned the sudden desolation and ruin of ancient and respectable families, and an abandoned prostitution of every principle of honour and virtue.” Something tells me this guy wasn’t very popular at parties. Both sexes could take pride in games like baccarat, whist and hazzard. Heyer’s heroes will often be found indulging in these vices at gentlemen’s clubs such as Boodles, Brooks and Whites [?].

SARA-MAE And it seems to be very tied up with honour, doesn’t it? Do you have a sense of honour amongst your mates?

KHALID: No, not at all. There is no honour amongst us at all. Well, it seems like a very weird kind of concept that is already kind of old now.

SARA-MAE: I mention a moment in the first chapter in which Vidal shoots a highwayman and leaves him on the side of the road. As introductions go, it’s pretty spectacular. But how does the concept of honour fit into this?

KHALID: I feel like that would never happen amongst my friends. If someone accused someone of cheating or something like that, it’d be like, “Okay, that’s your opinion. That’s your opinion.” And then we would just kind of leave it at that. We wouldn’t ever throw down or anything stupid like that. So I guess it has happened in many other circles. I think my circle of friends are less aggressive than that.

SARA-MAE: Have you ever had a fight with anybody? Any kind of fights?

KHALID: Oh, have I had fights. There was a guy called Alex when I was in year seven, I had a throw down with him, a bit of a scrap.

SARA-MAE: What was it about?

KHALID: I think he called my mom a bitch,

SARA-MAE: A similarity. Vidal is also very close to his mother, Leonie, feisty orphan from ‘These Old Shades’.

KHALID: That’s grounds for a beating. So we had a little fight nest to the sandpits at our school.

SARA-MAE [laughs]: How old were you?

KHALID: I was about 11, 12.

SARA-MAE: Right. Would you say you were evenly matched or …?

KHALID: I was much bigger than him. So no, we weren’t evenly matched at all. It wasn’t my proudest moment to be honest. And I have not fought since then, really.

SARA-MAE: But I bet you he never insulted anyone else’s mother after that.

KHALID: I think he insulted my mother after that as well. I was like, come on. We’ve done this already. Why are you doing this?

SARA-MAE [laughs]: In that earlier time, there wasn’t really like a really coherent police force. I guess the honour code was the only sort of way that they could get justice. So I suppose when someone is accusing you of something like cheating it would be quite a big deal. If you were to have a duel, who would you ask to be your second to come along with you in the early morning hours and check that the weapons that you’ve chosen … And also, what weapon would use?

KHALID: I mean, am I limited to what kind of weapon I can choose, by era? Do I have to choose one from …

SARA-MAE: No, anything. It can even be a fantasy. You can have a lightsaber if you want.

KHALID: But how many paces do you have to take?

SARA-MAE: I thought 10 was probably the standard but I don’t know. I suppose it depends.

KHALID: I don’t know, probably just like a shotgun. I think that’d be pretty good at that range [makes shooting sound]. Yeah, they’d be dead. I’d be the winner.

SARA-MAE: Do you know how to use a shotgun?

KHALID: No.

SARA-MAE: And in what ways, personality wise, do you think that you are similar to Vidal, the main character?

KHALID: Very little… Yeah, he’s just so perfect in every way apart from his personality, so I don’t really see how anyone… I guess I’m kind of tall like him. Other than that, I mean, he’s pretty terrible towards women, he’s a bit of an asshole to his family. He kind of like loves his mother as well to like a really creepy extent. So I don’t think we relate to each other very much.

SARA-MAE: this podcast is all about me trying to win people around to the pleasures of Heyer. So we won’t be delving too deeply into the murkier aspects of Vidal’s psychology. No right now anyway. Instead we crack on with the book. Once again, there will be spoilers, so look away now if you don’t want to hear all about the plot of Devil’s Cub. First, we discuss the opening scene in which Vidal is on his way to a ball, rushing along at his usual breakneck speed. A couple of high women stop the carriage, one of whom Vidal sort of shoots in the head at point blank range. But what was Khalid’s reaction to this unsettling event?

KHALID: It was good. It was a good opening. I was like, “Whoa, this guy means business.” And he did mean business over the whole course of the book. So that was good. I was like, Whoa, this is completely blowing my expectations out of the water.

SARA-MAE: Unlike a typical romance, where you feel that the narrator is going along with everybody and … she’s always got this sly sort of humour going on or this sly sort of commentary. And in this case, she has these the two coachmen … one of them’s new… first he’s complaining about how fast they’re going, he’s like “We’re gonna die. He’s going so fast.” And the other coachman’s like “This is nuts.” And then when he shoots the highwayman, and they’re kind of going, “His brains are in the road, my Lord, do we leave him like that?” And he’s like, “Of course, do you think I’m going to take him to the ball with me?” But there was a part of me, I must admit, where I was – I mean, I love her stuff. And I kind of enjoy a lot of things about the book, but I must admit, this was something where I was like, “His brains are on the road. She’s mentioned brains on the road in this romance.” What did you think about that?

KHALID: Yeah, that’s kind of like one of like two or three instances in the book where I was a bit like, “What did you just write that? Yeah, I wasn’t expecting brains, the road that kind of thing. But then I guess like, once he’s already blown his head off, then it follows that there would be brains somewhere. So I’m just glad she told us where they are exactly.

SARA-MAE So what happens then?

KHALID: He gets to the ball, I’m assuming. And then they find out he’s left some brains on the road and the old matronly people are like, “But the young ladies going to our ball, they will see brains in the road and they won’t be able to deal with it.”

SARA-MAE: That’s where you get a bit of exposition, don’t you? Once he gets to the ball, he stops being mysterious because we get his name. He’s the Marquis of Vidal. And he’s the son of a guy who’s also been very notorious, the Duke of Avon, who we later find out has this quite significant role and kind of the only person that seems to exert any fear over Vidal in terms of what his opinion is on his actions. Otherwise, he doesn’t seem to care what anybody thinks. So that’s where you get all the back story. You meet his aunt Fanny and you meet his cousin Juliana. What do you think about Juliana, because she sometimes does this where she’ll put two contrasting feminine types in the same book. And Juliana sort of represents what you would think of as the typical romantic heroine and Heyer actually is subtly commenting on that throughout the book. It’s a big theme on what is real romance and what is what people like to think of as romance? A lot of times she comes to the conclusion that real romance is this kind of understanding and humour that people have between each other. What do you think about the two feminine examples, Juliana and Mary Challoner?

KHALID: What she wants is to be whisked off her feet and for a man to be really mean to her and to mistreat her essentially which I thought was a bit of a questionable kind of thing. And then I guess Miss Challoner, she’s really good, but she kind of just does apologise for a lot of what Vidal does to her towards the end, so I thought she was a really strong character for most of it, and she is pretty good. But then she does kind of like, “Oh, it was, it was my fault he kidnapped me and slapped me in the face. Because I was being bad…” is like, “What the fuck you talking about? I’m sorry…”

SARA-MAE: But it’s interesting because I think she does have a very realistic idea of who he is, but she still loves him. Basically, she’s in love with him before this happens. So she kind of makes a lot of excuses for him. However, she loves him in spite of what she knows are his flaws. She doesn’t romanticise him in a weird way.

SARA-MAE: Believe it or not, we’re still at the ball in the beginning of the book.

SARA-MAE: One funny thing as well was when aunt Fanny is complaining to a friend of his father’s, Hugh Davenor –

SARA-MAE: Do you remember him from These Old Shades? Devil’s Cub is seen as a sort of sequel to that book.

She talks about the orgies that he’s always having you know, because he’s got every form of vice, this Vidal guy, according to her. He’s always getting into duels – whatever mischief a young man in those days could get up to, he could. And she says, “Orgies” and Hugh Davenor is like, “Orgies, Fanny?” And she goes, “Orgies! Pray, do not ask more.” Did they mean real orgies? Because sometimes in these books, they talk about people making love, like they went off into a corner and made love. I think making love is like full on sex, but it obviously it’s not that … I think it’s like kissing and canoodling.

KHALID: This is what I wanted to ask you about because this is like Juliana and someone else – I’m gonna pronounce this pretty badly – so the Vicount de ___  was her partner for the first two dances and when they came to an end, he took her off to a convenient alcove and made intoxicating love to her.

SARA-MAE: That’s what I was referring to.

KHALID: Does that mean sex? Or …

SARA-MAE: This is the thing. I don’t think it is. I think it’s like maybe making out. I don’t know, maybe this makes me a real innocent or something because they’re talking about orgies so early on, so maybe…

SARA-MAE: Okay, so next we meet his mother, Leonie. And they’re concerned because there’s a rumour going around that he’s become mixed up with – they seem to be totally okay with him messing around with, you know, loose women sort of prostitute type people, but the fact that he’s started going around with someone who they refer to as bourgeoisie, that really upsets them because that will be scandalous. So anyway, then you get introduced to Mary, the heroine.

[EXCERPT FROM INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN FRY, EP 1]: and then there’s the straight-laced tight type like, which is Mary Challoner, do you remember her? She wins that ghastly – not ghastly, but he’s one of the sort of toughest heroes, Vidal I think he’s called, isn’t he?

KHALID: So she’s very straight laced and intelligent and she enjoys intellectual pursuits as opposed to her sister who is very much into just, guys and that kind of thing.

SARA-MAE: Sophia. So, Sophia is this gorgeous but quite dim girl.

KHALID: Yeah, I would agree with that.

SARA-MAE: She had a posh father, didn’t she? So the mother was from the sort of lower class and he was a disgrace to his family by marrying her mum. Her uncle is Sir Giles Challoner. Yeah, he’s a big general and he paid for her to go to –

KHALID: He’s a big deal, isn’t he?

SARA-MAE:- And her mOm despairs of her because all she is concerned with is getting them married off. And it seems to her that this she wasted her opportunity because she could have met important families and things like that. And she’s chosen to come and live with her mom and her sister, which I think kind of speaks to her character. She didn’t just decide to go and live in a posh world that she could have.

KHALID: Yeah, I know. Could she have that, though? Because she doesn’t really have the money herself.

SARA-MAE: Well, I think that the implication is if she’d made an effort, she could have ingratiated herself with her uncle and gone and lived with him, maybe. There’s definitely a sense in which she feels like it’s duty to look after their household. The mother is quite frivolous and is always overspending. She’s always having to borrow money from her brother. And they’re always spending money on Sofia, Sofia’s gowns so that she can try and attract this person. She mentions Marie and Elizabeth Gunning who are this famous pair of Irish twins from the Georgian era, who rose from being quite poor to marrying very, very well. She’s not as beautiful as her sisters, but if she made a bit of effort she could she could really do make something out of the opportunities that she’s had.

KHALID: Sure.

SARA-MAE: They kind of make a lot of fun of the mother and Sophia, but it was a very real concern. Women just had to marry well. It was this predominant concern in those days.

KHALID: Yeah, I guess that’s like a thing I didn’t really consider that much because I just hated them the entire time. I was like, well, these guys are horrible. I despise them.

SARA-MAE [laughs].

KHALID: But I guess if that is like a real concern, getting everyone married off, then maybe Mary is the selfish one by pursuing her intellect then.

SARA-MAE: Well, she says she wants to marry for love. You know, the love thing seems to be important for her. But that does seem to be something that the mother considers to be an extravagance. Mary had common sense too, and what man wanted the plainly matter of fact when he could enjoy Sofia’s delicious folly?

SARA-MAE: So to recap, the son of the Duke and Duchess of Avon, the Marquis of Vidal is known as Devil’s Cub not only for the excesses of his father, but for his own wild habits. As he is paying court to a middle-class girl, Sophia Challoner, he also participates in a rather impromptu duel, the outcome of which forces him to leave the country. He intends to bring Sophia with him as his mistress, but her straitlaced Sister Mary has no intention of allowing her sister to be ruined.

SARA-MAE: Okay, so let’s move on to the scene where Vidal is drinking and gambling and he’s the bank. So what did you think of that scene?

KHALID: He’s drinking, gambling, then he shoots the guy?

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

KHALID: I thought it was really good actually. I liked Mr. Comyn quite a lot. He’s in that scene isn’t he?

SARA-MAE: Mr Comyn is Juliana Marling’s squeeze. She’s Vidal’s cousin and a right little will minx. One of the fun things about this novel is the contrast between her and Mary, our sensible heroine, and Vidal and Frederick Common. Vidal is impetuous and passionate, and Mr. Comyn is stolid and conservative. Though Frederick is well born and genteel, he’s not of the ___, and so Juliana is having trouble convincing her mother, Vidal’s Aunt Fanny, to let them become engaged. Naturally, she’s hatched a plan to get Frederick invited to Paris, and she wants Vidal to help.

KHALID: Is it Mr. Co-man? Is that how you pronounce it?

SARA-MAE: I don’t know… Com-yn? 

KHALID: I’ve been calling him Mr. Common, because I thought that was a really good name because he’s kind of common born, so it’s like, “Oh, Mr. Common, excellently named again”, but if it’s Mr Comyn, that probably makes more sense.

SARA-MAE: I don’t think he is common. I think he does come from a good family. They’re just not that well off, I think, or influential. Yeah, he comes out as a kind of an interesting character, because initially, I just thought he was a bit of a cipher. You’d read it when you first meet him and just think he’s a bit of a cipher. And he’s very serious as well.

KHHALID: As well, he serves as a counterpoint to it Vidal’s character that Juliana does to Mary’s, I think, because he’s very, very, very moral to the point of boringness. In a sense. I don’t know. I think he’s a good character.

SARA-MAE: Yeah. You actually touched on a very, very important theme that she brings up by the end, which is that on paper, Mr. Comyn and Mary should be perfect for each other who, just like Juliana and Vidal, because they’re both these kind of romantic characters, but in actual fact, Vidal detests the female that’s always coquetting and being flirty and manipulative. He’s drawn to marry straightforward honesty and common sense.

KHALID: It’s kind of a classic opposites attract thing almost … Woah, just saw that one!

SARA-MAE: [laughs]. Yeah. I like it when he goes, you know, he’s getting really drunk, but he’s really in command of himself. They make almost a virtue of the fact that he gets plastered, but he’s still totally in control.

KHALID: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: They find out that he’s supposed to be doing this race that he’s been talking about and they are just like “What! You’ve been drinking all night.” “Be calm, my loved one,” remarked Vidal, “I drive best when I’m drunk.” And I was thinking, can’t believe people were using that excuse even back then.

KHALID: But he does drive pretty well when he’s pissed, I think. He probably has the evidence of that. I mean, if I drive drunk on my bike, I’m normally not that good.

SARA-MAE: So, what’s the outcome of this shooting? ____ this guy pisses him off, accuses him of cheating …

KHALID: Yeah, he’s like, “You cheat! You definitely cheated.” And then he’s like, “On my honour, I’ll shoot you with my gun if you accuse me again. He goes on to cheat again, and they have a duel. Is it Mr. Comyn who selects the pistols? I’m not sure.

SARA-MAE: No one wants to be the second of this [?] guy because they both tried to talk them out of it. I think that they both think that he’s a fool to do it because the Marquis obviously has recently slain someone and he’s got a reputation of being really good with this pistol and also he proves that he’s good, even in his drunken state. He shoots and it looks like he’s just shot the mirror. But then they notice that one of the three candles that’s lit has been unlit so he’s basically shot the flame of the candle [laughs].

[sound effect of the shot and glass breaking]

KHALID: This guy’s good.

SARA-MAE: And that’s kind of their way of measuring whether he’s up to the task. So they have the duel, he gets shot, and…

Khalid: So he goes home…

Sara-Mae: He goes to do his race

KHALID: Oh, he does his race. Yes, the father finds out in the meantime and when he gets back, he’s really really pissed off. He’s like, “Come on, dude. You’re supposed to be keeping it straight-laced!”

SARA-MAE: The interesting thing is that he has an even worse reputation… He used to, before he met Vidal’s mother, be known as this Satanus guy, because he had this terrible reputation. But it’s more that he’s annoyed with the manner that he’s doing things. He just thinks like messing around with the bourgeois girl – it’s like one too many things that’s kind of causing him annoyance and so he tells him to exile himself, to France for a while. But what’s the worst parental rebuke you’ve had?

KHALID: I think I asked my friend’s mom to buy me a yo-yo. This is like when there was a big craze of yo-yos back in the 90s. And that was pretty poor form I think, by my own parents’ standards, so they were like, That’s ridiculous. And I was grounded for a long time for that.

SARA-MAE: Oh, that doesn’t seem so bad.

KHALID: I think I was a bit of a spoiled brat about it at the time, being like, “I want the yo-yo” and my friend’s mom was like, to my parents, “What was your child doing? He’s a monster.”

SARA-MAE: They didn’t exile you to another country though for that.

KHALID: No, I mean, my mom’s from Egypt, obviously. So like parental rebukes when I was very young were like, you got the slipper on the back of the thigh kind of thing, which I guess is worse than exile. Other than that, yeah, nothing too bad. I was quite a good child, I think.

SARA-MAE: So it is interesting how much power he sort of exerts over people by not doing very much. It’s just his reputation that makes – I mean, his son just seems to be like, he obeys him, he’s the only person that he’s sort of, “Okay, fine, I’ve got to go,” but he plans on doing one last thing before he goes, right?

KHALID: Yeah, he wants to take Sophia with him, so they can elope, and basically disgrace her.

SARA-MAE: Well, not elope, isn’t it? Because he doesn’t intend to marry her at all.

KHALID: Okay, yeah, he just wants to take her and –

SARA-MAE: Set her up as mistress basically in in Paris –

KHALID: Bit of an arsehole, this guy.

SARA-MAE: Well, I don’t know if they would have considered it that in those days. It seems to have been a common practice for young men at that time.

KHALID: Yeah. But then he has a genius idea of leaving her a note in her house and hoping it gets to her and just waiting outside her house like 11 and then obviously, “Oh, it’s gone to someone else. What the hell?”

SARA-MAE: Yes, it falls into Mary’s hands instead of Sophia’s hands because it just says ‘Miss Challoner’.

KHALID: She decides to take  Sophie’s place and mimic her for a bit and then say that they had planned the whole thing, her and her sister, in order to make Vidal to stop loving Sophie, and to kind of feel a bit hurt. I think that was the main thing, wasn’t it?

SARA-MAE: Yeah. She wanted to appear so vulgar that he’s completely put off and he never has anything to do with her sister again, ‘cos she wants to try and protect her in that way. She feels very bad about it in terms of like hurting her sister. She sort of asks her, “Are you in love with him?” And she says, “I like him very well. I do not mean to love anyone very much. Well, I’m sure it is more comfortable if one doesn’t.” So that sort of sets her mind at risk, but she’s not because she herself has realised she’s attracted to him. And so she’s kind of questioning her own motives for doing this and it sort of sets her mind at rest when her sister’s clearly – she doesn’t care who he is. She just wants to kind of bag a Marquis.

SARA-MAE: Mary dons a disguise and goes with Vidal, intending to reveal herself once they’re at the harbour. It’s a brave thing to do, considering she anticipates being left stranded when Vidal realises he’s been duped. However, when they end up in a New Haven inn and she attempts to bamboozle Vidal into thinking she and her sister cooked up a plan to punish him for intending to make Sophia his mistress instead of making an honest woman of her, it doesn’t go to plan. Vidal, in fact, abducts Mary in a fit of pique, telling her she can just as well take Sophia’s place.

SARA-MAE: And so what do you think about the scene in Newhaven in the pub where she kind of reveals herself to him?

KHALID: Oh, that’s pretty horrible, I thought, actually. I kind of liked Vidal before that. He was a bit of an asshole. But at the same time, he killed the guy in the caravan because he was trying to rob him. He killed the guy at the pub, because he’s like calling him a cheat, but then this time, he was like, “I want to get you drunk and then put you on a boat. And then I’m going to smuggle you to France because I don’t like you.” And I was a bit like, “Well, come on Vidal, you’re better than that.”

SARA-MAE: It’s this whole thing about how ungoverned his temper is. And he gets so angry that she’s done this that he decides he’s going to punish her by dragging her and sort of almost forcing her – not almost, forcing her to be his kind of mistress.

KHALID: Yeah, and destroying her reputation in England and everything like that, making sure she can’t marry anyone.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, I think the most disturbing bit was where he sort of puts his hand around his throat and he kind of squeezes just to let her know how strong he is.

KHALID: Yeah, “I’m a man and do what I want.”

SARA-MAE: Yeah, I think there is a lot of undercurrent in a lot of these romances where it’s very popular to have this kind of dominant male thing.

KHALID: I had to accept that in the book to enjoy the rest of it. I was like, “Well, you know, it’s that kind of book. So…

SARA—MAE: That is the thing. I think you have to kind of appreciate these somewhat dated elements in order to enjoy. But I still like the fact that she was very much in command of herself. Once she dropped the vulgar thing, very soon, she can’t help herself. She just falls back into her normal character. There’s a moment where everything changes, though. She’s nicked a gun while they’ve been driving along. This is when they reach France. And that’s where everything changes, because up until that point, he still believes she’s vulgar and doesn’t believe that she was really trying to save her sister, because he thinks that she’s sort of playing at being coy when in actual fact, she knows the score and she wanted this to happen all along. I think that’s kind of the thing that’s supposed to mitigate the fact that he essentially abducted her because in his mind, this is what she wanted. She wanted to oust her sister and sort of get in bed with the Marqus. I mean, it doesn’t make it any better way. But that’s his kind of thinking.

[AUDIO EXCERPT]

He was advancing towards her. She brought her right hand from behind her and levelled the pistol. “Stand where you are,” she said. “If you come one step nearer, I shall shoot you down.” He stopped short. “Where did you get that thing?” he demanded.

“Out of your coach,” she answered.

“Is it loaded?”

“I don’t know,” said Miss Challoner, incurably truthful.

He began to laugh again and walked forward. “Shoot, then,” he invited, “and we will shall know, for I’m coming several steps nearer, my lady.”

Miss Challoner saw that he meant it, shut her eyes and resolutely pulled the trigger. There was a deafening report and the Marquis went staggering back. He recovered in a moment. “It was loaded,” he said coolly.

Miss Challoner’s eyes flew open. She saw that Vidal was feeling his left arm above the elbow and to her dismay she watched a red stain grow up on his sleeve. She dropped the pistol, and her hand went up to her cheek. “What have I done?” she cried. “Have I hurt you very badly?”

He was laughing again, but quite differently now, as though he were really amused. “You’ve hurt old Glancon’s wall more than you’ve hurt me,” he answered.

Miss Challoner said guiltily, “Oh dear, I am sorry. I did not know it would make such a stir.”

Vidal’s eyes began to twinkle. “You’ve spoiled his beautiful style. And you’ve spoiled my no less beautiful coat.”

“I know, said Miss Challoner, hanging her head. “But after all, it was your fault,” she said with spirit. “You told me to do it.”

“I may have told you to do it. But I can’t say I thought that you would,” replied his Lordship.

“You shouldn’t have come any nearer,” she said severely.

“Obviously,” he agreed. He began to strip off his coat. “I make you my compliments. I know of only one other woman who would have had the courage to pull that trigger.”

“Who is she?” inquired Miss Challoner.

“My mother. Come and bind up your handiwork. I’m spoiling old Glancon’s carpet.”

Miss Challoner came promptly and took the handkerchief he held out. “Are you sure it’s not serious?” she asked anxiously. “It bleeds dreadfully.”

“Quite sure. I observe that the sight of blood don’t turn you queasy.”

“I am not such a fool, sir.” Miss Challoner began to roll up his sleeve. “I fear the lace is ruined, my Lord. Am I hurting you?”

“Not at all,” said Vidal politely.

Miss Challoner made a pad of her own handkerchief and bound the wound up tightly with my Lord’s.

“Thank you,” he said when this operation was over. “Now if you will help me to put my coat on again, we will talk.”

“Do you think you had better put it on?” asked Miss Challoner doubtfully. “Perhaps it may start to bleed again.”

“My good girl. It’s the very-est scratch,” said Vidal.

“I was afraid I had killed you,” confided Miss Challoner.

He grinned. “You’re not a good enough shot, my dear.” He struggled into his coat and then pulled a chair to the fire. “Sit down,” he said. She hesitated, and he drew one of his own pistols from his pocket and gave it to her. “Shoot me with that next time,” he recommended, “you’ll find it easier.

She sat down, but though she smiled, her voice was serious when she answered. “If I shoot again, it had better be myself,” she said.

He leaned forward and took the pistol away from her. “In that case, I’ll keep it.”

SARA-MAE: And that’s what makes him like her, he sees this bravery that she has, and also it proves to him that that’s how far she doesn’t want to have his attentions forced on her. And from that moment on, he’s like, “Oh, bugger,” and he even says:

“Then I shall take leave to inform you, Ma’am, that the manners of your parent and sister are neither those of persons of quality nor those of virtuous females. You, upon the other hand, are apparently both virtuous and gently bred and,” continued his Lordship with a flash of anger, “it is not my custom to abduct respectable young females.”

“I did not want you to abduct me,” Miss Challoner pointed out. “I am very sorry for your mistake, and I fear that my own conduct may have been partially to blame.”

“Your conduct,” said the Marquis crushingly, “was damnable. The manners you assumed at Newhaven were those of the veriest trollop. Your whole escapade was rash, wanton and ill- judged. If I had used my riding whip to school you as I promised, you would have had no more than your just desserts.”

Miss Challoner sat very straight in her chair and looked steadfastly down into her lap. “I could not think of any other way to keep Sophia safe from you,” she said in a small voice. “Of course, I see now that it was madness.” She swallowed something in her throat. “But I never thought that you will take me instead.”

“You are a little fool,” replied the Marquis irritably.

“I may be a little fool,” retorted Miss Challoner, plucking up spirit, “but at least I meant it for the best. While as for you, my Lord, you meant nothing but wicked mischief right from the start. You tried to ruin Sophia, and when I would not let you, you ruined me instead.”

“Acquit me,” said his Lordship coldly, “I don’t ruin persons of your quality.”

“If you call me a respectable young female again, my Lord, you will induce a fit of the vapours in me,” interrupted Miss Challoner with asperity. “If you were to have discovered my respectability earlier, it would have been the better for both of us.”

“It would indeed,” he agreed.

Miss Challoner hunted for her handkerchief and blew her little nose defiantly. It was a prosaic action. In her place, Sophia would have made play with wet eyelashes. Further, Sophia would never have permitted herself to sniff. Miss Challoner undoubtedly sniffed. Lord Vidal, whom feminine tears would have left unmoved, was touched.

KHALID: And why do people deserve to be adopted if they’re less respectable? That’s really stupid, too. He’s got some very strange models this man, I think.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, and I don’t know how much of this is – she really, really used to research her stuff. So she was very, very, keyed into the time and the customs and the way people thought about these types of things. So it’s interesting because we’re looking at it through a double lens. We’re looking at through the lens of someone who’s writing in the sort of 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and then she’s looking at it through Regency eyes.

Writer Mari Ness in an article for Tor.com talks about the difficulties of reconciling Vidal’s terrible behaviour with his romantic hero status:

“Murderer. Alcoholic. Drunken curricle driver. Abductor and rapist of women.

And yet… I find myself liking him, even as I know I really, really, really shouldn’t.

Mari continues: “Vidal is undoubtedly the worst of her bad boys that turn out to be heroes, and is even worse than some of her bad boys who would turn out to be, well, bad boys…But his real redemption begins when he recognizes the qualities of Mary Challoner.”

Sarah Wendell, author of Everything I Know About Love, I Learned from Romance Novels, expands on this point, addressing the issue of class in her review of Devil’s Cub for the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website:

“The questions of what is nobility, and who has it (and why) create the underpinnings of this novel. Nobility, to Heyer, is a quality not determined by birth status, but by character. In the beginning, Mary has more nobility than the Marquis, and while he is of much higher social status, he has to become worthy of her. Moreover, Mary’s nobility is a product of her own generosity and bravery as well as her intellect, and transcends her own status, as well as the negative influences of her very shallow sister and her ambitious, selfish mother.”

So Vidal now faces a quandary, with Mary refusing to marry him, because she knows he’s only offering to save their reputations, and a gunshot wound to contend with. What now?

KHALID: He falls into fever, I think, through not properly treating the wound, because he’s like, “Oh, ‘tis but a scratch,” and then it festers, obviously, and then she has to treat him, so at the start, when they’re on the boat, she’s seasick and he’s kind of looking after her. But now it’s kind of turned around and she’s looking after him. And then he’s like, “Send the doctor away.” And then she’s just saying, “No, let the doctor come in”, and everyone seems very kind of amazed that she’s actually commanding Vidal in that way. It’s kind of like a you’re seeing him –

SARA-MAE: In a softer light.

KHALID: Yeah, exactly.

SARA-MAE: What is quite lovely that she does, and it’s all part of her thing about what is real romance – I mean, to Mary, one of the most romantic things that he does for her is to give her a bucket for puking in when she’s really sick on the way over. Yeah, she’s so grateful for that bucket. And for him sort of looking after her and forcing her to drink some brandy when she’s really out of it. And that sort of kindness or consideration is the thing that really deepens her affection for him. And also, and he for her when it comes to how she takes charge of him, there’s a slightly maternal edge to it, because she’s looking after him, and she’s almost sort of tricking him into doing stuff, because she’ll make him some gruel and send it up with a servant. He’ll tell them to get away with that gruel, but then she comes in and she’ll be like, “Oh, well, I did make it by hand for you. But I guess if you don’t even want to try it. That’s fine.” And she’d walk towards the door and then he’d be like …

KHALID: Cease with your incessant rattling and give me the spoon. Okay, I’ll eat it

SARA-MAE: Yeah, yeah.

KHALID: The whole maternal thing is quite a strong theme that runs through, like the only people he seems to respect are his parents. And it can only be through being like his parents can you really get into and have a relationship with this person, so …

SARA-MAE: Did you like the humour of the book?

KHALID: Yeah, I did.

SARA-MAE: There’s some really funny moments between him and her. And also when the doctor’s there, “My Lord said, amongst other things, that he did not propose to burden the doctor with the details of his genealogy. He consigned the doctor and all his work severally and and comprehensively described to hell and finished up his epic speech by a pungent and Rabbleisian criticism of the whole race of leeches.” She’s really good with that kind of humour, portraying these characters and how they interact, and some of the joys of the book are between him and Mary. Were there any in particular that you liked?

KHALID: Not between so much him and Mary so much but I think the funniest part of the book is when I think his butler is talking to him about all the previous masters he’s had. And he’s saying, “This person is perfect but he has abominably large hands” –

SARA-MAE: Red hands!

KHALID: And this is great so I was actually laughing out loud to that part –

SARA-MAE: That part was hilarious because it’s not got anything to do with the plot. It’s just there for enjoyment purposes.

KHALID: [laughs] Yeah, it’s just a random bit.

SARA-MAE: And his valet Tim literally runs through all his previous masters and their physical imperfections. He had to put sawdust in the stockings of one guy to make his calf muscles look good. I mean imagine having to put sawdust in your pants to give yourself some calf muscles!

KHALID: And the idea is he gets Vidal, who’s perfect in every way and has no need for any of this – which just makes his job a lot easier, which I think is really nice and sweet.

SARA-MAE: I do like the exchanges between him and Mary though as well. And I think that they start showing – it’s in those exchanges that you start seeing that she brings out a totally different side in him. He goes, “You are not in the least afraid of what I may do to you, are you?” “Not at the moment, Sir,” she admitted, “but when you have broached your second bottle I own to some qualms.” And he says, “Let me inform you, Ma’am, that I am not considered dangerous until the third bottle.”

KHALID: Their problem is that now that she’s run off, it will seem like she’s his mistress, and they kind of have some things going on. So if she returns to England now, she’ll be disgraced, I guess she won’t be able to marry anyone, that kind of thing. His solution is to marry her I think –

SARA-MAE: ‘Cos he feels he’s honour-bound to marry her.

KHALID: Yeah. Because he likes her now as well.

SARA-MAE: So why does she object to that, seeing as how she’s acknowledged herself that she’s actually in love with him?

KHALID: She feels a) that her father will disapprove, b) that his mother would disapprove, I think and then c) that she doesn’t want to do that to him and he feels he doesn’t love her.

SARA-MAE: But also because she feels like she’s not worthy of him. Their social status is not equal.

KHALID: They journey on to Paris.

SARA-MAE: He realises that she is actually a school friend of his cousin Juliana, isn’t it?

KHALID: Yeah, that’s right.

SARA-MAE: And so he decides that he’s going to take her to Juliana and then they’re going to pretend that she’s been with Juliana this whole time.

KHALID: Yeah, and Juliana’s, she’s also kind of gone to Paris to meet Mr. Comyn and kind of get married with him, I think.

SARA-MAE: She’s been told she’s not to see him. She’s been exiled to France by her mother. And unbeknownst to Aunt Fanny, Mr. Comyn’s followed her to France and they are pursuing their relationship there. So Vidal goes off to the ball. He meets Juliana and brings her back to see Mary and Juliana agrees to do this. You’d think that that would be like plain sailing from there – Vidal’s going to find a Protestant pastor somewhere because in that time, it was very difficult.

SARA-MAE: But there’s a spoke in the wheel. Mary doesn’t want to marry Vidal because she thinks he’s proposing out of guilt. And because she’s fallen in love with him, this idea is intolerable.

KHALID: Also, Comyn and Juliana are having a bit of a problem too when they get there. So Comyn and Juliana, she’s kind of worried that he’s not being forceful enough and not just like going and getting it and treating her like a damsel – he should be a strong-headed man, he should be able to slap her around the face every now and then. And he’s a bit like, “You know, I don’t really would want to do any of that. So, don’t make me,” and she’s not not happy with that at all.

SARA-MAE: Let’s face it. Juliana is a bit of an idiot.

KHALID: This kind of made me think they’re not really a good match for each other. But –

SARA-MAE: I know, I have to admit I was a bit worried about it, until you realise that actually what he secretly wants is someone who’s going to be the sort of typical what are considered feminine stereotypes of being weak and kind of cling into him, which Mary isn’t, you know, she doesn’t do that. She’s strong and kind of quite commonsensical.

SARA-MAE: Later, Mary learns the truth about Mr. Comyn which is that, as Heyer puts it, for all his prosaic bearing, he cherished a love for the romantic, which Lord Vidal, a very figure of romance, quite lacked.

SARA-MAE: Juliana, this is why she’s quite a problematical character. I mean they portray her as very charming and quite bubbly and frivolous. She’s very strong-willed in the sense that she wants what she wants. She doesn’t realise that by flirting with other people – she wants him to come and be dominant, to kind of start a fight with the other guy. She thinks she wants someone like Vidal, but actually she wants someone more like Mr. Comyn. There’s something in her that recognises that he’s a good honourable guy. And I suppose that speaks to something much better at her character than perhaps she exhibits. But it’s very difficult because she is such a flirt. And she’s such a brat, I think.

KHALID: And she maybe – she could or could not have made love with someone at a party she goes to, when they’re having a – we’ll never know. I guess we’ll never know. She wants him to accompany her to a party.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, he doesn’t want her to go. He’s very jealous of her cousin the Duke De___ And he says, “I don’t want you to go there because he’s going to be there and I’m tired of you flirting with him. So just to please me, do me this solid and don’t go.” That is like a red rag to a bull. And she’s just like, “He can’t tell me what to do!” Even though she wants him to, which I find really confusing. It must be really exhausting.

KHALID: Yeah, kind of sends this comic ridiculousness right now, doesn’t it?

SARA-MAE: He goes to the house [Mr. Comyn, that is, not Vidal], and Mary’s there reading a book by the fire. And he’s kind of like, “Where’s Juliana?”

KHALID: Yeah, and she’s like, “Ooh, she went to the party with you, didn’t she?” And then he’s like, “Well, clearly not.” And then they have a big thing. Yeah. Then they talk more about her situation. And then he’s sorry for her because he knows that Vidal can be very dickish, shall we say.

SARA-MAE: I think that’s an accurate term.

KHALID: Then, so Vidal’s gone to the party with Juliana and they’re talking and then he tells Juliana that if she doesn’t cease what she’s doing, she’s going to lose Comyn, which I think is pretty fair.

SARA-MAE: He catches her in the alcove being made love to, as you mentioned, intoxicating love to, by the other guy. I like the fact that he says to her, “Have you ever being to a ball where you don’t know of a small room where you can be quite alone?” And she’s like, “No, never.” So she’s obviously a girl who, you know, gets up to lots of high jinks. So then Comyn rocks up, and he sees her – not, luckily, making love to the Duke de ___ but canoodling and flirting with him. And he’s kind of pissed off, understandably, but they have this massive bust up where it really goes, it escalated very quickly, doesn’t it?

KHALID: Yeah, it does seem strange that they’ve gone all the way to France. And then in about like, two seconds, they decide they don’t really want to be together anymore. And they break up.

SARA-MAE: Not only that, they insult each other so much. He’s like, “You know, I never realised you’re such a shallow person.” And she’s kind of like, “Well, my family thinks you’re a nobody so, you know …

KHALID: Rather be a nobody with a brain than a body with a … I don’t  know, something like that.

SARA-MAE: They really scorch the earth, don’t they?

KHALID: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: For someone who’s supposed to be so logical, he makes this really drastic decision immediately after that.

KHALID: He decides to ask Mary to marry him and for them both to run away. So he’s like, “Oh, this is the only way you can get out your predicament. I’m a nice man, I’ll be a nice husband.” He doesn’t really want to do it. But he knows – maybe he just feels it’s his only option.

SARA-MAE: He’s being chivalrous as well. Like he sees that she’s in this predicament with – in his mind, she’s terrified of Vidal, and she wants to escape his clutches and doesn’t really want to marry him. And so he feels like he’ll be doing the noble thing by saving this young woman from a lifetime of abuse. Which is understandable and under the circumstances, at the same time, he’s so angry and hurt. I think it’s an act of desperation. And it’s really cheeky as well, because Vidal has told him that he has located a pastor in Dijon [?]. Yes. And so he’s kind of like, well, Vidal already told me he knows of a pastor, then we might as well use that. She says, “Give me a night to think about it,” and then they meet up the next day, don’t they?

KHALID: Yeah, and I think like while parallels are happening in London, this is when Leonie and his uncle – this is Vidal’s Uncle?

SARA-MAE: Yes, Rupert.

KHALID: They’re kind of going off to [?] kind of gets Ruper in a bit, “But what’s in Dijon”? I thought it was really good.

SARA-MAE: He was really funny. I kind of wish that he’d been in more of it because he’s such a good character. I love that whole riff, it’s just a genius comedy thing because basically his mother and Rupert set off to France to try and avoid the scandal and help Vidal cover it up before his father finds out. They’re all terrified of this father of his, so they go off to France. All they can find out from the lady – Juliana and Vidal have gone in pursuit of the two renegades. They’ve gone into Dijon and Rupert’s like, “Why Dijon?” And Leonie’s like, “What? Stop harping! It doesn’t matter why they’ve gone to Dijon, that’s where we’re going. It’s a town, people go there.” [laughs].

KHALID: Yeah, that was a really good bit that he just gets hung up on. Yeah, he’s quite a ridiculous character.

SARA-MAE: And he’s obsessed with the wine and stuff. He’s not really, it’s just quite funny how he doesn’t really care about any of the other stuff that’s going on.

SARA-MAE: But how does the climax go down? We’ve got two carriages pursuing the reluctant betrotheds, and they’re all heading to Dijon.

KHALID: So Juliana and _ discover that those two have kind of run away together, I think, and then they set off to chase for them. But they’ve already got a head start. But then Vidal is like, “I’m the fastest man alive”. So he heads off after them as well. But then, this is another big thing about how you realise that Vidal and Mary are supposed to be together and Comyn and Juliana and are supposed to be together so Comyn is riding one carriage and he’s going really slowly and Mary’s like “Speed up, speed up,” because she’s gotten used to the pace that Vidal rides at, whereas Vidal is going really, really fast. And then Juliana is trying to get him to slow down because she can’t deal with it. And yeah, that was quite a nice one as well.

SARA-MAE: Yeah. And also Mary kind of takes control a lot of the times because she can speak better French than Comyn can. And he actually finds the fact that she’s not falling into a fit of vapours, he finds that a bit annoying. He wants to be able to be the sort of the big man who can comfort her. He wants to be able to enjoy the chivalric action of saving her, but she doesn’t give him this enjoyment. She’s a very commonsensical person, it would seem silly to her to waste his time by and exhausting to be in a fit of vapours, whereas, Fanny’s being jolted around in the coach of Vidal’s and is just like, “God, You’re awful, you know? I mean, can’t we just stop for five minutes? So I’m rattling around,” you know, she has a huge tantrum on the side of the road. And I thought that was quite amusing as well.

KHALID: Yeah, you can almost kind of say that Mr. Comyn’s less progressive than Vidal in a way, I thought Vidal falls in love with a very strong woman who isn’t afraid to tell him what to do. Whereas Comyn is very, as you said, he just wants to be with someone who will –

SARA-MAE: Look to him to be –

KHALID: The man, this mythical man creature. [laughs].

SARA-MAE: So they get to this pub where they’re going to wait for the pastor to come and visit them.

KHALID: To catch up to them, don’t they, and they all kind of converge. So Leonie and Rupert 

SARA-MAE: But before Leonie and Rupert arrive

KHALID: They have a dual, don’t they? Swords –

SARA-MAE: because they’ve decided to pretend that they’ve already been married. So that then obviously he won’t have any reason to carry on pursuing her. But of course that backfires because of his legendary temper.

KHALID: [laughs] Yeah, it’s like he said, “We’re gonna fight to the death now.” He’s, “Oh, okay.” And Mr. Comyn doesn’t back down because he’s supposed to be the kind of equal of Vidal in terms of, I guess, not ability, but in terms of kind of headstrong. He’s like, “I’m not gonna take this.” They’re fighting over nothing, basically, but they’re still fighting anyway.

SARA-MAE: Well, I think it’s the point where you as a reader realise that actually Vidal has moved from being something that he feels honour-bound to do, marrying Mary, to being something that – actually he’s in love with her now, he’s realised. Yeah, now that she’s the one for him. And the fact that she is now married to this guy who basically stole her out from under his nose is just maddening to him. And the two women in the room act very differently.

KHALID: So Juliana is very much kind of like cowering, like, “Oh, the men are fighting again, let’s go over there and cower behind the table.” Mary’s very much trying to break it up.  So she runs in the middle with a –

SARA-MAE: A coat – jumper [laughs]

KHALID:  Gets the woolly jumper and just runs in, like, “Stop!”

SARA-MAE: Well first she pours a jug of water over them – that doesn’t help! I thought that was quite funny.

KHALID: That’s like riling them up even more, that’s what makes it look even sexier, they’re like, “Ooh, yeah. Now we’re wet and moist while we’re fighting.” It spurs them on. And then she runs in with a coat and then she gets stabbed.

SARA-MAE: Very brave of her though. I think she sees that they’re so angry that one of them, most likely Mr Comyn, is gonna die.

KHALID: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: And so she decides to risk her own life by just running in, trying to throw a coat over their swords. But in doing so, she gets stabbed by Vidal in the shoulder – not badly.

KHALID: Yeah, I feel like any other book, she would have died at this point, and that would have been like, a really tragic story.

SARA-MAE: [laughs]. A cautionary tale.

KHALID: Yeah. But that doesn’t happen. It gets better, I think.

SARA-MAE: I must say I thought that was quite cool. Like I thought of her as a character. It did slightly annoy me though, when after they’ve kind of resolved the issue because they admit at that point that they’re not married – and Vidal, he grabs her in his arms, because she’s kind of swooned a bit because of being stabbed.

KHALID: Losing loads of blood.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, well, I don’t think it was a terrible wound but he’s kind of like basically saying, “Oh, my love, my love,” kind of thing. And I would have thought at that point, she’d be like, “Okay, he does love me. It’s okay for me to kind of let go of all these hesitations that I have.” But instead of doing that once, Leonie and Rupert arrive, who she overhears talking about, “Oh, we’ve got to rescue him from this bourgeoisie.” She once again buggers off and runs away and you kind of think to yourself, “Isn’t –“

KHALID: She definitely could have given him the benefit of the doubt at that point. I mean, just at least let him explain some things, if she had overheard something like that. I guess they have to work in the actual devil, don’t they?

SARA-MAE: The Duke? Yeah. I did think it was an amazing coincidence that he happened to be at the pub that she ends up at and she hops on this kind of Stagecoach or something. She’s only got a little bit of money. And she just says, “How far does this go? I’ll go that far.” And then she’s trying to get a room in this inn, and they basically see her bedraggled state and they’re kind of like [?] you hussy!

KHALID: We don’t take kindly to your type around here, that kind of thing [Northern English accent].

SARA-MAE: Except it would be in a French accent because they would be there in France.

KHALID: Yeah, sorry.

SARA-MAE: “What is this? |Get out of here!” [French accent] That was terrible.

KHALID: See, that’s the kind of embarrassment I was trying to avoid if I can [laughs].

SARA-MAE: [laughs]

KHALID: So, the – what’s his name? The Duke of – ?

SARA-MAE: Avon.

KHALID: Yeah, yep.  So she meets the Duke of Avon, she doesn’t know who it is.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, he helps her to get a room he invites her to dinner.

KHALID: Yeah, she’s a bit hesitant. She’s like, “I just want to get this.” And then they get to talking. And then she tells him the whole story in which he’s also very critical of the type of character the Duke of Avon is, and it’s quite a nice scene, I think. I did kind of guess who it was, at the very beginning. So I’m like, “Aah, it’s gonna be him.”

SARA-MAE: I think that’s part of the enjoyment of the scene, though, because I think you as the reader know that he’s actually kind of skillfully eliciting the information from her and she doesn’t realise. She just knows that he’s a friend of her uncle’s. That’s what his excuse is to get her to confide in him.

KHALID: Yeah. And you can kind of see his expectations of what’s happening. He obviously has an opinion on what’s happened, or he’s heard some things about what his son has done. And then when she kind of goes against some of that, he’s very surprised. So I think one bit where he’s saying, Yeah, she shot him, that kind of thing. And he’s like, “Oh, wow, you’re a very strong character.” And I think at that point he kind of, through hearing the story, accepts their love, and kind of almost be happy for it as well.

SARA-MAE: There’s one point where she says, “If you know how to manage him, you can do it and he’s just a sulky boy basically.” Essentially, he kind of perceives that she’s the one who will help a son to grow up a bit, which again, a little bit troubling in terms of those maternal overtones. But anyway.

KHALID: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: I like the moment she says, “Lord Vidal forced me to go onboard his yacht and carried me too deep. The gentleman felt his quivering glass and raised it. Through it, he surveyed Miss Challoner. “May I ask, what were his Lordship’s tactics?” he inquired. “I feel an almost overwhelming interest in the methods of daylight abduction employed by the modern youth.”

KHALID: [laughs] That was good. So then she tells him that like, he wants to drug me, basically.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, no, she tells him the whole story.

KHALID: [?] So he’s like, oh, then “Oh, my God, Dad!”, that kind of thing. Then they have like a whole – he’s like, Oh, my God, what have I done, I’ve told this guy the whole story and it’s his dad.” So it’s all very kind of like hilarious and it all resolves itself pretty well, I think.

SARA-MAE: Basically she’s expecting him to be like, “Get out of my sight, you disgusting bourgeoise thief,” but he actually says, “You know, I think that you’re going to be good for him again.” I like the fact that he says, “I have no doubt I shall be weak enough to command your return when you get back from Italy.” Yeah, he’s talking about the honeymoon, basically allowing him back to England. His eyes rested for an instant on Miss Challoner. “I comfort myself with the reflection that your wife will possibly be able to curb your desire, I admit a natural one for the most part, to exterminate your fellows.” Yeah, that’s quite amusing. Like, that’s how lax they about that kind of thing. But yeah, so did you find that it was a satisfying ending?

KHALID: The ending, I thought was, I guess, quite standard. It is like quite a satisfactory ending, a happy ending.

SARA-MAE: Because Comyn and Juliana resolve their issues.

KHALID: Yes, they do, they’re like, “I’ll be more of a damsel in distress and you can be more of a man, that’s fine.” And I feel like they probably could add a bit more resolution towards Sophia and her mother. She’s just abandoning them now, which is weird because at the start of the book, she kind of looks after them a bit to some extent.

SARA-MAE: I’m not that troubled by that in the sense that I feel like she’s the kind of person – you can take it as read that she will look after them. But you don’t imagine that they’ll spend much time hanging out with them.

KHALID: Yeah, yeah, sure.

SARA-MAE: And because they’ve been such, like you said, sort of quite horrible characters, you don’t really mind that they’re not really a part of the action. But yeah, I know what you mean. You wonder what’s happened to them, maybe. So what was your opinion? Like a general overview? Did you enjoy the experience of being introduced to Georgette Heyer? And would you look out for any of her other books?

KHALID: I did enjoy the experience. It wasn’t a particularly meaningful, slash, “makes me think about much things afterwards” kind of book. But it was an enjoyable read for like, a couple of weeks. I mean, I kind of have a desire to read the one about Leonie and the other one now. I thought it was good. I enjoyed it.

SARA-MAE: Could I call you a convert to Georgia Heyer?

KHALID: I mean, I probably have to read more than one book, but I did like her style, I liked how it was written. I didn’t like kind of like a lot of the message throughout the book, which is like very much kind of anti-woman.

SARA-MAE: I suppose it depends what you think the message is because it’s kind of conflicting in some ways. I think in some ways it is, “be a strong woman and stand up”, you know, but on the other hand, the guy that she falls for has some really deep flaws in his character, which are quite difficult for a modern reader to overcome.

KHALID: Yeah, but then she’s also just making excuses for him. And she does that when she’s explaining it to his dad. She’s like saying, “Well, it wasn’t his fault he like abducted me and tried to make me drink alcohol and get on a boat. I was actually being really bad as well.” I guess that’s her trying to be fair, but then she doesn’t really have an ability to equate actions with kind of legitimate reactions. Yeah. I don’t think kind of pretending to be someone is the same kind of thing as like drugging someone and abducting them.

SARA-MAE: I mean, he was wrong. He does acknowledge that he is wrong to have tried to abduct her. He himself talks about, you know, “The things I did to her were really terrible for a respectable young female.” But then again, you were right in saying, if she wasn’t a required respectable female …

KHALID: Then he would have just destroyed her life and discarded her. But yeah, so that’s the kind of thing I didn’t really like. But then at the same time, it wasn’t that big a thing.

SARA-MAE: I think the humour throughout cutting through kind of helps to mitigate some of those more problematic elements, because she is always commenting and laughing at those traits and people and the social stratification.

KHALID: Yeah, I think so. And I did actually enjoy the book. So I know, I’m trying to be like a sourpuss.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, I’m gonna count you as well.

[CREDITS]

I hope you enjoyed hearing our discussion of Devil’s Cub, I had so much fun chatting to Khalid about his alter ego, Vidal. So far, it’s 2 converts out of 3. What are your thoughts on the book? Get in touch via our Twitter and Facebook accounts and let us know.

Next week, we’ll be speaking to author Jane Holland and literary agent Alison Bonami about their lifelong love of Heyer – it’s a fab chat, so don’t be a goshswoggled jobbernoll, subscribe so you don’t miss it.

You’ve been listening to Heyer Today.

Thanks for tuning in this week, we hope you enjoyed it.

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott gave tons of emotional and editing assistance. Michael Mandalis edited and recorded Beth’s bits and he did a marvellous job.

Thanks also to Geraldine Elliot, Talitha Gamaroff and everyone who supported me in creating this work. Suzy Buttress in particular, but the podcast community at large for so much inspiration and encouragement.

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, Chapter I as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast, by Sara-Mae and Tom Chadd.

Our fantastic voice talent includes Sarah Golding, Helen Davidge and Karim Kronfli – I’ll be putting contact info about them in the show notes.

Thanks to Audible for the extract from their audio version of Devil’s Cub read by Michael Drew – it’s available at audible.com to buy.

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media, we’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

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Heyer Today is a Fable Gazers production.

HEYER TODAY EPISODE 2: THESE OLD SHADES

Listen to this episode here.

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SARA-MAE: Previously on Heyer Today…

STEPHEN FRY: People just assume there’s a genre now of Regency romance and that she’s one of them and that she’s like the others. And she isn’t, as we who venerate her know, and it’s annoying. And maybe the publishers haven’t had the courage of their convictions to sell them as more intelligent, sprightly, funny, rewarding books than they are assumed to be… She was probably not the easiest person in the world to get on with, Georgette Heyer. She was formidable and she not only didn’t suffer fools, she didn’t suffer anybody who got in her way, I think.

SARA-MAE: Welcome back to Heyer Today, the podcast where we’re as mad as Dick’s hatband. Yes, we’re exploring the life and work of Regency romance queen, Georgette Heyer. If you’re saying to yourself, ‘Who the hell is she?’, then stay tuned, my friend! But also, go back and listen to episode 1 in which we chat to Stephen Fry – yes, that Stephen Fry – not only did we talk about why he loves Heyer, we touched on a hundred other fascinating topics like the Napoleonic wars, Greek mythology, which Heyer characters he’d play in a film…and so much more.

I’ve been looking at pictures of Georgette from around the time she wrote Black Moth, her very first book. There’s one where she and her two brothers are posing with a small dog. As in all the pictures I see of her as a young girl, she’s got this enchantingly cheeky half-smile. Boris and Frank look a lot younger, one in a very proper little suit (Boris, who struggled with depression and mood swings all his life), and the littlest is Frank, in a white sailor’s costume, his legs too short for his feet to touch the floor entirely. Georgette is only nineteen, but to my modern eyes she could be anything from twenty-five to thirty, in a long dress, her hair either short or pinned back, a string of dark beads around her neck.

I look at the young Boris in his stiff black suit and imagine him ill, bored. The family have come to Hastings to help his convalescence. Poor Boris is fractious and whiny. Sylvia, Georgette’s mother, is at her wit’s end. Georgette comes in to read to him, but the boy throws his books on the floor.

[AUDIO DRAMA SEGMENT]

BORIS: They’re all boring and stupid. Besides, I’ve read them all and my eyes hurt, and I feel hot.

GEORGETTE: There’s a story I know you haven’t read.

BORIS: I have and they’re really silly. I’m not a baby. I want a proper story.

GEORGETTE: I know for a fact you don’t know this one.

BORIS: How?

GEORGETTE: Because I’ve just made it up.

SARA-MAE: She called the story Black Moth. Once published it would sell thousands of copies. The book we’re discussing today, These Old Shades, came later, in 1926, and although it has no direct relationship to Black Moth, Georgette did take the villain and several minor characters and recast them with new names and backgrounds – which is why the title, These Old Shades, is an ironic acknowledgement to eagle-eyed fans – apart from also being based on a poem by Austin Dobson.

Jennifer Kloester says in her book that ‘Georgette’s childhood was replete with stories in which the consistent moral and message was that class will cling to class and breeding will always tell. These were themes that she would use repeatedly throughout her writing life. The ideas and attitudes in the novels she read reflected those of a highly structured, class-orientated society, proud of its empire and sure of its place at the centre of the civilised world.’

The book was also influenced by Shakespeare’s gender-swapping plays like ‘Twelfth Night’ and ‘As You Like It’. She, like thousands of other young women of her age, was also a big fan of Ethel M. Dell’s rather overwrought romances and took inspiration from Charles Rex.

If you haven’t read These Old Shades, I recommend you go and borrow it from a local library or download it to your Kindle. The reading list is available on fablegazers.com. Be warned: there will be spoilers, so you’ll enjoy this book club episode more if you’ve read the book. Otherwise skip ahead to next week’s episode in which we talk to novelist Emma Darwin on why Heyer is a consummate craftswoman.

This week, I’ll be discussing the book with Sonali Bhattacharya, an old friend of mine and a brilliant playwright. I also asked my cousin, Genna, what she thought of it. We’re going to find out if I managed to convert either of them. But first, here’s Beth to talk about what was happening in Georgette’s life around this time:

BETH KEANE: The time leading up to the publication of Georgette Heyer’s sixth best-selling novel is a defining time in Georgette’s personal and professional life. This long-awaited sequel to The Black Moth should have been a time of flourishing and celebration. Instead, it is a time of tragedy, uncertainty and great grief. But first, let’s go back a few years to put this time in Georgette’s life in place.

Georgette’s father, George Heyer, was a great supporter and mentor in her life. They seemed to be creative conspirators and collaborators, sharing a special bond, forged from a love of literature. Georgette was much closer to her father than she was to her mother, Sylvia. While Sylvia was also creative – she was a cellist and graduate of the Royal Academy of Music – unfortunately Georgette showed no musical aptitude at all. Perhaps unusual for the times, George showed affection and humour towards his children. His delightful poem about toddler, Boris, was published by ‘Punch’.

[MIKE SCOTT READS:]

You are surely a wizard, Secundus, my lad,

And have bound with a spell your susceptible Dad.

He allowed Georgette to pick the books she wanted from his extensive library. Nothing was off limits.  Although, of course, he occasionally ‘advised against’ certain material, and steered her toward the classics and poetry. He also encouraged her interest in writing, sparked by his own work – he had pieces published in ‘Granta’, ‘Punch’ and other reviews and gazettes, and regular recitals at the Wimbledon Literary and Scientific Society. When she was a teenager, Georgette joined her father to perform short Shakespearean scenes.

George had studied at Cambridge and was encouraged by his Russian father and grandfather to become an English gentleman. He excelled in his classics degree and was popular with the literary set. His ambition was to be an archaeologist, but his family’s financial situation forced him to leave university to become a teacher. As Secretary to the Dean of the Medical School, he organized fundraising events, including gala charity theatre matinees in London. Through this role, he made enough contacts in Theatreland to become Organizing Secretary of the Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee – supporting their plans to build a theatre dedicated to the works of the nation’s favourite playwright. Their plans were scuppered by the First World War, which of course also had an impact on the Heyer family.

As well as educating his daughter at home, George passed on to Georgette his love of historical fiction, desire for worldly ways, and – unfortunately – a propensity for being beleaguered by waxing and waning financial fortunes. In 1914, he took the family to Paris (where he had accepted a job as manager of Cox’s Bank). Georgette was able to experience all the cultural treats that Paris had to offer. While her mother, Sylvia, delighted in concerts and ballets, Georgette honed her sharp skills of observation at the art galleries and museums, parks, gardens and private salons that her father’s fluent French and personal charm gave them entrée to.

But war was declared just days before Georgette’s twelfth birthday. She was able to celebrate in Paris, but the family was soon back in Wimbledon, where Georgette exchanged the comfort of home schooling for attendance at the Oakhill Academy.  And her father took up a post at the War Office to do his bit.

Financial difficulties seem to be an ever-present backdrop in Georgette’s life. Her father had been affected by his own family’s changing fortunes. Now, he was facing that reality again, losing money in a post-war stock market dive in 1920. According to family friends, to help out Georgette gave her father the advance of £100 she had received for her first book, The Black Moth.

After the war, George struggled to find a suitable post. He retained his rank of Captain, but his piece for ‘Punch’ magazine, ‘Getting Fixed’, hints at the difficulties war heroes had finding work after demobilisation. By 1925, George has returned to King’s College Hospital and bought a Victorian terrace house at no. 5 Ridgway Place in Wimbledon. It will be Georgette’s home for the next two years until her marriage to Ronald.

So, 1925 is a good time for Georgette: she has had five novels published in four years, with positive reviews in all the papers. Her stature as a rising literary star is cemented when she has her official portrait taken by the world’s most famous photographer at the time, Emil Otto Hoppé. Her literary agent, LP Moore gets her a deal with Heinemann in the UK for Simon the Coldheart, with an option on her next book, These Old Shades. To cap it all off, her handsome fiancée, Ronald, has returned to the UK after working in Africa for eighteen months. You could say that Georgette is on top of the world, elated at her success, happy about planning her wedding – everything is perfect. That is, until Tuesday, 16th of June 1925. Just the day before, Georgette had signed her new contract for with Heinemann. Despite her loathing of all exercise and ball games, Ronald regularly came over to the Heyer family home in Wimbledon to play tennis. It was like a perfect, summery scene from an Ealing film…

[AUDIO DRAMA SEGMENT]

[Two men are playing tennis, one middle-aged, the other in his early twenties. Georgette is sitting beside her mother on a lawn chair, each is sipping a gin and tonic. Her mother tugs her hat down rather fretfully.]

SYLVIA: Those two get along well, don’t they? Your father likes him, I can tell. Speaks Russian, like your grandad.

GEORGETTE: Mmm hmm. [She nods, engrossed in the game.]

[Sylvia huffs, impatient that there’s no response. The two men approach. Ronald grabs Georgette’s drink and takes a cheeky slurp.]

GEORGETTE: Oi! Hands off my G&T!

RONALD: Thirsty work, this! George really made me work for…George? George!

[George stumbles forward, clutching his chest.]

GEORGETTE: Daddy!

SYLVIA: George! George! Are you alright? Help him! Help him, someone, please! Ronald, do something!

RONALD: George! George!

SARA-MAE: There’s no warning for this disaster. Georgette watches as her best friend and confidant’s eyes glaze over, then close, as he loses consciousness and collapses. 

BETH KEANE: Georgette never fully recovered from the sudden loss of her beloved father. Two years later, in her contemporary book, Helen, she writes of‘a grief so huge, so devastating, and so terribly dumb.’ Roughly two months after her father’s death, on 18th August, Georgette marries Ronald at St. Mary’s Church in Wimbledon. How did she cope, walking down the aisle without her beloved mentor and supporter? Her brother Boris, now only eighteen, has become the ‘man of the house’, and younger sibling, Frank, is not even thirteen. From this time on, Georgette would feel the pressure to earn money. She supported her mother, who’d moved from a large, comfortable home into an apartment and would spend the rest of her life in hotels and rented rooms.

Georgette and Ronald moved away from Wimbledon too, into a flat in south Kensington. This is the first time Georgette has lived away from the comforts of the family home, and it’s a steep learning curve for her. For the first time, she’s dealing with living in a cramped flat, managing household accounts and being ‘domestic’ – all of which she finds difficult, at first. The sale to Fox film company of the option on film rights for Simon the Coldheart relieves the financial tension. She and Ronald are paying rent for themselves as well as for Sylvia. Georgette will also support her brothers, particularly Boris, for much of his life.

Georgette was twenty-one when she started writing These Old Shades, and twenty-four when it was published in 1926, just a year after her father’s sudden death. It’s a terrible blow for her to realise but this will be the first book her father won’t read. These Old Shades remains one of her most popular books and has never been out of print.

SARA-MAE: And now for our interviews. I can’t wait to hear what Sonali and Genna think of These Old Shades, a favourite with many Heyer fans.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: My name is Sonali. I’m a playwright, mother and political activist. I’m afraid when you said, ‘Hey, Sonali, I’m doing a series of podcasts about Georgette Heyer,’ I said ‘Who?’ And then I had to go and google her.

GENNA TUSON: Hi, I’m Genna Louise Tuson and…

SARA-MAE: You’re my cousin. [laughs] I’ve bamboozled you into reading this book.

GENNA TUSON: I’m fifteen years old. So, I’ve always been an extremely avid reader. Fantasy has always been my genre – I read to get away from reality. So, I have not read many autobiographies and things like that. But I’m very much there for like the thrill, for the romance… I’m there for all of it.

SARA-MAE: Have you read any Jane Austen, who she’s often compared to?

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I mean, I’ve seen some adaptations. And I know now I sound like a Philistine. I’m not particularly into period drama. I can’t say I’ve read very much Jane Austen, no. I know the stories, but I know…it’s not usually what I’m drawn to.

GENNA: The Jane Austen books and also the movies made from her books were very much a part of my childhood. They can sometimes be, quite honestly, sticky, but it can be a little difficult if you’re looking for something light. But I really got a sense of satisfaction from reading them. And it was really interesting to see how it translates from all those years ago to now and how I can still empathise with the story and the characters.

SARA-MAE: So, did you feel that this book kind of reminded you of a Jane Austen or were you “no, this is quite different”? And if so, then in what ways?

GENNA: It was similar in some ways. Jane Austen, with her female characters, I think they were written a bit differently. It had a similar sort of style vibe to it.

SARA-MAE: What were you expecting?

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Well, I knew that she was quite a focused historical writer, I knew that her historical detail would be quite a big element. So, I was prepared for that. I had an idea, I guess, that it would be sort of a romance novel. I was wrong. It is so much more insane than that. In lots of ways, it’s quite good I didn’t have many preconceptions, I think, possibly. I came to it with, with open arms.  

SARA-MAE: Well, this was one of her first big successes. She started writing it when she was only twenty-one. But she was already sort of a quite a reasonably well-known writer, but she hadn’t hit the big time, and this was the start. It’s not a Regency ‘cos it’s set sort of slightly before the Regency period, when she really hit her stride with these really light, funny, historically accurate books that everyone adores. Well, when I say everyone – people like me, who were gagging for more Jane Austen, had read all of Jane Austen six books a thousand times. I was actually introduced to it by my Mum. And I think a lot of people have that kind of connection with Georgette Heyer where some family member or a mother gives it to you.

SARA-MAE: Not sure we’ve gotten off to the greatest start with Sonali. Already I’m sensing this book wasn’t quite her cup of tea. Still, I know she’s open-minded and has a fabulous sense of humour. So, I’m hoping I can still change her mind.

SARA-MAE: If you could give me a sort of breakdown of the plot.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: The plot! So, the protagonist is His Grace of Avon. Now, what’s his proper name? Is he called…

SARA-MAE: Duke. The Duke of Avon. It’s…

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I found that difficult. I kept on having to work out who…who she was talking about. I understand that you have to do that. And he’s quite an intriguing character because you genuinely, for much of the book, have no idea what his motives are. He has this dark reputation, he’s got this nifty nickname, Satanas.

SARA-MAE: So, it’s like a Antonio Banderas character.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Or a 70s rock band that is maybe more evil, that’s more evil than she was intending. A lot of characters in this believe him to be genuinely evil. So, we meet him, and he does seem quite evil at the beginning because he’s haunting the streets of downtown Paris. He’s very well-to-do. There’s a lot about how beautifully he’s always dressed: jewels, velvet, ruffles. For me, you can definitely see it would be a lavish or period drama – there’s so much sumptuous attire. And he comes across a young boy being mistreated by his older brother, and he makes what seems like a very strange and impulsive decision to offer the older boy money to take the younger child on as his footman.

SARA-MAE: Valet.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Valet, thank you. And the younger child really wants to go because he’s been treated very badly. There’s no resistance there, so the Duke goes home with this kid! Which is a, for me, a very dark opening to a book. You have this sort of overly ambiguous character – just picks up a child off the street and takes him home. And then you don’t feel any more reassurance when he gets home, because when he goes home he’s got a friend there who’s, like, ‘What the hell are you doing? What are your intentions with this child?’ And it’s like, wow, this is one of his mates.

SARA-MAE: The Duke’s friend is called Hugh Davenant.

SARA-MAE: He doesn’t make you feel better about this child because he’s kind of, “You know what you’re like. Why are you taking in a child?”

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Exactly. Exactly. “You’re the last person who should have a child in their care.” And obviously, I’m reading it from my modern perspective, and I’m thinking “Oh my God! Yeah, this is potentially going to get very dark.”

SARA-MAE: But we’re saying ‘child’. I think, I think it might be a little bit misleading because Léon is nineteen, it turns out, but looks a lot younger.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Well that’s the thing, though! I don’t think at this stage, I don’t think we’re supposed to think he’s nineteen, but later on we find out that he looks younger than he is – for good reason.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: But yes, he takes this child into his care. We slowly learn that there might be an ulterior motive to this, based on a long-standing grudge he has with another man.

SARA-MAE: De Saint-Vire.  

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: So, a Count then, I guess. And what seems like quite a petty grudge as well, I have to say – this does not endear me to the Duke either. It’s like wow, you’ve had this really longstanding grudge with this man for ten years and you start to get the impression that there’s something to do with his motivation for taking this child in, that it’s connected to this grudge. Because the child, it is mentioned quite a few times, has very characteristic, very striking red hair and dark eyes.

SARA-MAE: Black eyebrows with red hair.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: But, for the sake of the book, it seems quite useful that that’s a family trait, quite noticeable. And this is something that, it runs in his rival’s family. So, once again, you’re feeling, if anything, it’s looking worse and worse for this kid. It’s starting to seem like the child has been brought into this incredibly rich and powerful man’s home to be used as a pawn in a longstanding feud between him and his rival. And you really don’t think anything good is gonna come of this. This continues for some time. Like, I genuinely did not know what his motivations were. He was going investigating…

SARA-MAE: He was taking Léon with him, wasn’t he, to all sorts of dodgy places. But sort of displaying him on purpose, as his valet at these fancy parties.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Yes.

SARA-MAE: Where all the hoity-toity nobs were hanging out and playing cards. He even took him to a sort of fancy brothel. So, Léon is kind of looking around with big eyes, but completely unfazed as well, because he’s kind of been hardened by his life on the streets.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: He’s also very cool. Like, he, he parades the child around in order to start the gossipmongers to talk about him so that it will get back to his family, essentially – his real family. And there’s a horrible scene where he parades Léon in front of the woman he believes to be his biological mother. So, really sadistic.

SARA-MAE: Just to clarify, he’s trying to generate the gossip that this is one of the Count’s by-blows, one of his bastards that he has managed to unearth just purely to kind of dig at him.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: But there’s a point…I can’t remember which comes first, I can’t really find out… I think he finds out first that Léon is actually a girl.

SARA-MAE: [gasp]

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: That’s the big…Léonie, apparently. That’s why she looks so young. She’s not a young boy, she’s a nineteen-year-old woman. So, don’t worry – this isn’t weird at all.

SARA-MAE: Genna is fifteen, only four years younger than Léonie. I’m really interested to get her perspective on this book. I ask her whether the twist that Léon is, in fact, a girl caught her by surprise.

SARA-MAE: What did you think of the book, basically? Did you enjoy it?

GENNA TUSON: So, I did. I did enjoy it. There were some points where I felt that because of the periodical difference, it was quite hard to relate because I’ve never had to have a fan made out of chicken bones. That was weird.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, I know.

GENNA TUSON: So, I did find that a little difficult. And in that sense, it was a bit like reading a more historical…was more education in that sense, which isn’t my usual type because I’m a bit of a skiver, but I really enjoyed the relationships that were formed. I really enjoyed the thrill.

SARA-MAE: What did you think about the whole cross-dressing element?

GENNA USON: I caught on when they started dropping the subtler hints, but in the beginning, when I started reading, I was very much “Okay, nice, next”. But when they started dropping the hints, I was like, oh, “Okay” – it very much sparked my interest. But with the cross-dressing element – I’m not sure this is what you’re asking – but I found it very interesting…her behaviour and how she didn’t want to change her behaviour and the way she was looked at by society, and the way that she was allowed to present herself. And that was one of the reasons she didn’t want to become a girl again. She didn’t want to give up the freedom she had of being a boy, and that she was expected to change her behaviour, the words she used, the way she spoke, as soon as she took off the pants, basically. I was quite interested in that, actually.

SARA-MAE: Yeah. No, I thought that was a really cool bit of it, because it’s also sort of making a commentary on the difference between men’s and women’s lives.

GENNA TUSON: Yeah, especially in that time.

SARA-MAE: You know, she has so much fun as Léon. She gets to go to the gambling den with him, when she’s pretending to be his page and…

GENNA TUSON: She’s just allowed to do stuff.

SARA-MAE: I sympathise with her when she’s having to put on her skirts.

GENNA TUSON: And really upset with all of that.

SARA-MAE: Once he officially knows, then it’s kind of “Oh, I’ve got to take you to England and put you into the care of my sisters because you’re a girl”. But you know, for someone who’s supposed to be so acute in terms of guessing things, you kind of think he’s known all along. But at this point, he’s still, I guess, maintaining this charade that he doesn’t know. And he presents his valet, Léon, to the Countess de Sainte-Vire. And what was her reaction?

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: She is…I think this must be when he first starts to realise there’s something more to it because she responds with a lot of high emotion. She responds with great distress.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: He continues his investigations and he finds out that actually, the truth is much murkier than he thought. So, this is where the class elements start to feel very old-fashioned. So, the Saint-Vires have a son who, it is expressed in great detail that he’s this clunking oaf of a son. He’s described as being crass, fat-fingered, literally…I think it’s quite literally described as “he looks like a farmer’s son”.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, yeah.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: And he even wants to farm!

SARA-MAE: Because of course, if you’re born on a farm, you want to farm!

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: But it’s in his blood, you see?

SARA-MAE: Yeah, yeah.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: So, there’s a really, there’s a very old-fashioned class element to it that I found really uncomfortable. Whereas Léonie is beautiful and refined, and even her time on the streets has not coarsened her because her true heritage is noble.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: So, it becomes very pointed and you start reading and you’re like, “Oh right, I see what’s happening”.

SARA-MAE: I’m a misbegotten pleb.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I should be covered in cow manure! Were you born on a farm?

SARA-MAE: No, but I’m a pleb, so I suppose I should be…

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: If you were born on a farm, there’s no reason why you would want to farm. I don’t know where you’re getting that from.

SARA-MAE: [laughs]

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I think, I mean, it’s still sort of quite ingrained really. We still haven’t got that much further away from this, unfortunately. We still have an idea of a class that is pretty effed up, isn’t it? It’s very striking in this book. That is a real…that could actually be used as a plot device.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: It goes without saying that I adore Heyer, but she was, as Stephen Fry said in episode 1, a bit of a snob and this sometimes bleeds into her work. Having said that, these attitudes were in keeping with the time in which the book is set, as well as Heyer’s own era. I hope this won’t ruin Sonali’s enjoyment of the book, as I think there is so much to love in it, if you can overlook some of these problematic strands.

Apart from the sharp humour and the intrigue of the plot, there are plenty of glorious scenes set in the Georgian era. Paris high society at this time is depicted as a glittering, glamorous place. Georgette takes great pleasure in describing the sumptuous clothing which, I admit, I love. Avon himself, in contrast to Heyer’s later heroes, is magnificent, dazzling Léon when he takes him to a ball at Versailles at which the king is to be present. There’s a sensuousness to him, yet a masculinity in spite of the frills and furbelows which you can well imagine to have enhanced his god-like status in his young charge’s eyes.

Here’s an extract from the Audible audio book, narrated by Cornelius Garrett:

[AUDIO BOOK EXTRACT]

Avon came slowly down the stairs, and seeing him, Léon drew in a quick breath of wonderment. The Duke was always magnificent, but tonight he had surpassed himself. His coat was made of cloth-of-gold, and on it the blue ribbon of the Garter lay, and three orders blazed in the light of the candles. Diamonds nestled in the lace of his cravat and formed a solid bar above the riband that tied back his powdered hair. His shoes had jewelled heels and buckles, and below his knee he wore the Garter. Over his arm he carried a long black cloak, lined with gold, which he handed to Léon; and in his hand was his snuffbox, and scented handkerchief.

SARA-MAE:She loved Shakespeare. Her favourite Shakespearean plays were ‘As You Like It’ and ‘Merchant of Venice’, and in both of those there’s women masquerading as men. So, it’s also kind of interesting from a feminist point of view, because I think we have to say here, for people who are thinking, ‘oh god, it’s about a child molester!’, she is not in any way ever portrayed as a victim.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: She is a very feisty character. She’s very spirited. There’s lots of period detail about how she has picked up this coarse language from her time living…

SARA-MAE: As a boy.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Amongst the rough streets, and also as a boy, but as a working-class boy. It feels very old fashioned, but it feels like if you were to update this for a modern audience, it would be, like, I don’t know, having, like, a Royal, like, burping at the table or whatever and saying…swearing. The Duke of Avon loves this about her, like, he finds her very refreshing.

SARA-MAE: There’s this thing about this brutality in him that a lot of times is almost played as a card of like, “Oh, this makes him really sexy”, but he wins his fortune by picking someone who is very green and a rich young man who didn’t really know what he’s doing, and he won all his fortune from him. And the guy ended up killing himself.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: And you sort of think to yourself, wow, yeah, okay.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I don’t think I grew to like him. I think I was supposed to grow to like him, because the story is essentially about this man finding his soul and he finds his soul through falling in love with Léonie. As you say, once he…once it becomes apparent that she is a girl, he does what is correct and proper at the time. He sends her off to live with his sister who will act as – so she’ll be his sister’s ward, which is proper. And his sister is horribly drawn. [laughs]

SARA-MAE: Lady Fanny is annoying, but Heyer’s created her to be the opposite of Léonie – she’s the product of a wealthy, upper class family, spoilt and empty-headed. Whereas, Léonie has dynamism, freshness, and a devastating insight into the dark side of life. Not only does this help Heyer make a subtle critique of the upper class which has bored Avon into bad behaviour, it’s a clever juxtaposition to have two such different women placed alongside each other. Here’s Genna on why Léonie is such a great character.

SARA MAE: Did you feel like she was a good heroine in the sense of, did you feel like she had dynamism and agency?

GENNA TUSON: Yeah, definitely, definitely. And what I also found pretty cool about her was even with all that pressure from the time period that she was in, on women and the way they behaved, she was still sort of acceptable, like she still acted politely and stuff. But she still kept that streak of defiance in her, even though that was the opposite to what she was meant to be now, now that she was this lady. And near the end also, he was like, “Duchesses don’t do something and something and something” and she was, like, “Well, I do!” and I found that very cool. And then also, like, the whole time she was basically just like, “I’ll go and do this for myself”. Like, she’d very much seen the ugliness in life and she knew that sometimes you have to get your hands dirty – so, willingness to engage violently with a lot of the people and the situations in the book was a big surprise to me that she was so energetic when it came to that – not, like, squeamish at all.

SARA-MAE: If you mess with someone that she loves….

GENNA TUSON: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: …she’ll really, go for them.

GENNA TUSON: She’s not stupid, yeah.

SARA-MAE: There’s a lot of stuff about how bored these nobles are. Another reason why Léonie is – this whole thing of being refreshed by her, yet she says what she thinks, she challenges him. I agree with you in the sense that he is very hard to like, and there’s a lot of reasons why, but you can sort of see him opening up.

SARA-MAE: So, I think it’s time to clarify what’s been happening plot-wise. The Duke of Avon and his friend, Hugh Davenant, have realised that Léon is actually a girl, Léonie. Léonie is wildly devoted to Avon, seeing him as her saviour from a life of abuse, despite the fact that even his friends consider him to be a dissolute rogue. The Duke starts investigating Léonie’s background – which takes him to Champagne, where Léonie grew up. There, he meets the village priest who educated her. He confirms what Avon had suspected: Léonie is the legitimate child of the Comte and his wife, and was switched at birth with the Bonnard’s new-born son, who has been raised as the Comte’s heir ever since, as the Comte feared his wife would not bear any other children and he was eager to stop his younger brother, Armand, from becoming his heir. 

In spite of himself, Avon has come to care for Léonie, so while he continues his scheme of revenge on the Comte, he takes Léonie to England with him where he announces his intention to make her his ward. There, he teaches her to be a lady, while letting her be known as Léonie de Bonnard. 

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I guess it’s like that storytelling function of having the character we really love – Léon, Léonie loves him. So that’s sort of the function, isn’t it? That we see him through her eyes – she absolutely adores him because she sees him as her saviour. And also, she identifies a goodness in him that literally no one has ever seen. And it’s something almost about that act of adoration, starts to make him behave better. He starts to be a good person. So, there’s something fundamental there about the impact of her upon his life and his actions and his morality. So, he sends her away to be with his sister, and his sister teaches her how to be a woman because she’s never had to wear dresses and all these tight corsets. And there is quite a lot of stuff about how constraining that is, how much more comfortable she was actually being a boy, which does feel quite, sort of proto feminist. The clothes become like an extension of the social reality – so she had more freedom, not just as a boy, but I guess as a working-class boy as well, because it doesn’t go into, I guess, the poverty and the hardship she would have faced. But there’s a level of honesty and freedom that she would have had, that as a middle…as an upper-class woman has all been taken away from her. But he sends her off to live with his sister, with good intentions, because he wants to do the right thing, and you become aware that his plan is sort of to debut her, to reintroduce her back into the high society that actually is her right, as his ward. So, it’s all very proper, and so you start to feel that she’s had an impact upon him. That’s certainly not what you were guessing he was going to do at the beginning of the book.

SARA-MAE: Then he sends her off to the countryside, doesn’t he, with his, his cousin to look after her, as chaperone. Harriet Field, her name is.

SARA-MAE: Once Avon has Léonie trained as a girl, he sends her to his country house with a chaperone in the form of an indigent cousin. That’s where she meets his neighbours, characters from Heyer’s previous book The Black Moth, Lord and Lady Merivale. It turns out that Avon, as the villain in Black Moth, tried to kidnap and force Lady Merivale into marrying him, so understandably neighbourly relations have been a bit strained since then. Léonie innocently unaware, strikes up a friendship with them while the Duke is away putting his mysterious plans into place. But not before he teaches her sword fighting, which she insists on learning. It’s a real joy when Léonie bargains with him for masculine skills in exchange for acting and dressing like a lady. Then Avon’s brother Rupert turns up…

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: If this was a film, Rupert would have a much bigger part than he has in the book. You can imagine it would be quite an important sub-plot because he’s closer to Léonie’s age, it feels like there might be some chemistry between them. He certainly is quite taken with her. Crucially, they have a more equal relationship than she has with the Duke. They have a friendship. She can be quite feisty with the Duke, but with Rupert, it feels genuinely equal. She has arguments with him, she threatens him with a sword, at one point, when he says something negative about her beloved Duke. And he’s also really crucial because… I mean, this is quite unusual – so, this would not happen in a film because he’s almost like a potential love rival – when the worst thing happens to her, which is when the Count de Saint-Vire finally takes action and has almost been goaded to the point where he arrives to kidnap her, she happens to be in her boy’s clothes because she was about to go out and wind up Rupert, and that’s when Saint-Vire comes to kidnap her. So, when Saint-Vire kidnaps her…

SARA-MAE: Obviously she’s not been presented to society, so I think he thinks he can get away with kidnapping her. I’m not sure what he would have ultimately done with her if he’d succeeded. Because of Rupert being quite heroic, I thought. In fact, I don’t understand why Rupert gets to do the most heroic bit.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: So, if this was a film that would in no way happen. Rupert would not be given the most…because Rupert steals a horse, he steals a gun, he rides all the way after them to the port. He sells everything he has in order to be able to get on [a ship]. So, he follows them all the way to Calais, I believe. That would not work in a film. In the film, he would be with Léonie at the end.

SARA-MAE: One of the joys of the book is seeing Avon learning to love Léonie. What’s interesting is that, as we’ve discussed, Heyer places an alternative potential suitor in the form of Avon’s younger brother, Lord Rupert, in Léonie’s way. On paper – lol, it’s a novel, so everything is on paper – on paper Rupert is better suited to Léonie: he’s young, adventurous, good humoured and much more virtuous and kind than Avon. He even gets to gallop across the country to try and rescue Léonie from the evil Comte’s clutches, riding ventre à terre to her side…only to find the intrepid girl has rescued herself. Avon then sweeps in and together the three thwart the Comte as he tries to make off with his daughter again.

It’s really fascinating to me how Heyer manages to make you start to love Avon, as Sonali said earlier, because Léonie does. Rupert is one of Heyer’s adorable idiots, and one imagines that if he and Léonie had got together, she’d eat him alive. To see a glimpse into their future, listen to episode 4 in which we discuss Devil’s Cub, featuring older versions of these characters.

SARA-MAE: This kind of character becomes a bit of… the character that reoccurs in her other books in various incarnations, most notably Freddy Standen in Cotillion. And I think in a film as well, if it was my choice, his friend, Hugh Davenant – I would have just cut him out and replaced him with Rupert, you know, maybe modulated his character a bit more so he has a bit more gravitas. So, I feel like there’s a lot of characters and also it’s either this character, who’s such an integral part, comes in only three quarters of the way through, and then he has a really major role, saving Léonie. What I liked about it was she’s not without her own agency.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Absolutely. She tricks the Count de Saint-Vire, she punches him in the face, pours hot coffee on him.

SARA-MAE: The Comte has kidnapped her from Avon’s country home in England and taken Léonie back to France. Needless to say, Léonie does not take captivity well, constantly calling him a ‘pig person’.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: When the carriage overturns, she doesn’t think twice – she just bolts and legs it. And then it’s because Rupert has been riding after them, she’s able to mount his horse and able to escape. But certainly, the escape is not entirely due to Rupert – it just helps her escape. And then, it’s also her idea to, where to hide and…

SARA-MAE: He gets shot in the arm and he starts bleeding heavily, so she is the one who has to then take control and get them to this inn that they find. And also, you do get the feeling, if she hadn’t managed to bolt and she does it but she’s very clever – she pretends to be asleep, and so when the carriage overturns, he just leaves her alone. If she hadn’t managed to extricate herself from the Count’s clutches, I don’t think Rupert necessarily would have been able to save her because he had his men with him, he had guns. So, it’s really important that she manages to get herself away, and then Rupert can help her. But yes, yeah. And they end up in an inn together, as Rupert recovers. And that’s when the Duke turns up.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: So, that’s really weird…for a modern audience, that would just not work. Because he turns up and they’re very glad to see him, obviously. But he basically turns up in order to complete his plan. If this were a film, he would absolutely have to take Rupert’s place in saving Léonie, and that would have to mean a lot. Because he’s a bit older as well, so I think there would have to be great weight attached to the fact that he steals a horse and goes and saves her. And that would have to be something he does just because it’s the right thing to do. Not because he’s trying to win anything from her. But at this point it’s still really important that he’s either not aware, or certainly not admitting that he loves her – that would absolutely have to be the case in a film, because it would be really disappointing for a modern audience otherwise, I think, that he turns up after the big action sequence has happened. It really undermines him. It undermines their relationship, in fact, because if you imagine if it was exactly the sort of same but with him, if he was injured, and then Léonie had to help him and then nurse him, there’s such intimacy in that, growing in that relationship.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, I’m not sure why she made that decision, really. I don’t know if it was just to get Rupert there so that they have this jolly cast of characters.

SARA-MAE: This is a really interesting point in relation to our overarching investigation into why Heyer’s books haven’t been made into films. As we go along, you’ll hear me asking book club participants if they feel the book in hand would make a good film. As to this point about Avon, I think Sonali is probably right: film makers might well give Avon the more heroic action to do, but in a way, having thought it over, I know why she wanted him acting more like a deux ex machina; Avon uses his brain as a weapon, whereas Rupert is all about the brawn. Léonie needs Avon’s guile more than she needs brute strength.

SARA-MAE: I think what she was trying to do was develop this idea that not only is Léonie changing him as a person towards herself, she’s also changing him towards his family and friends, because he’s very, very grateful to Rupert. In the past, it’s kind of Rupert’s been a bit overawed by him, because he’s his big brother that is always kind of supercilious and sort of ripping him to shreds because he’s a bit silly. But this is the first time that he feels he gets a bit of respect from him. And as Rupert says – I thought it was quite funny:

[AUDIO BOOK EXTRACT]

‘Gad,’ said Rupert irrepressibly, ‘I thought we’d not bask much longer in the sunshine of your approval.’

SARA-MAE: Once they are safely at a local inn, Avon arrives and the three wait for the Comte.

[AUDIO BOOK EXTRACT]

‘That’s it, Léonie. Stand up to him and hit out from the shoulder. It’s more than I ever did in my life!’

I am not afraid of Monseigneur,’ said Léonie, elevating her small nose. ‘You are just a coward, Rupert.’

‘My child,’ the Duke turned his head, ‘you forget yourself. You owe some gratitude to Rupert.’ ‘Hey, up I go, and down you go!’ said Rupert. ‘Ecod, it’s a seesaw we’re on!’

Monseigneur, I have been grateful to Rupert all the morning, and now I am not going to be grateful any longer. It makes me cross.’

‘So I observe. Your manners leave much to be desired.’

‘I think that you are very cross too,’ Léonie ventured. ‘Voyons, what does it matter that Gaston does not come? He is silly, and fat, and Madame Field is like a hen. We do not want them.’

‘Here’s a fine philosophic spirit!’ cried Rupert. ‘You used to be much the same yourself, Justin. What’s come over you?’

Léonie turned to him in triumph. ‘I told you he was different, Rupert, and you would only laugh! I never saw him so disagreeable before.’

‘Lud, it’s easy to see you’ve not lived with him long!’ said Rupert, audaciously.

His Grace came away from the window. ‘You are an unseemly pair,’ he said. ‘Léonie, you were wont to respect me more.’

She saw the smile in his eyes and twinkled responsively. ‘Monseigneur, I was a page then, and you would have punished me. Now I am a lady.’

SARA-MAE: This bickering like small children. Then I guess, again, I think she’s trying to make the point that maybe Rupert isn’t right for Léonie because they’re like children together, whereas the Duke understands her on a deeper level.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Yeah, I mean, it might be our modern perspective as well, of what we consider to be a healthy and happy relationship.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: I asked my cousin, Genna, whether she thought Rupert would be a better love interest for Léonie.

GENNA TUSON: So, for the Duke, with her, what he needed was just this blind trust and pure love, and just this, this young girl and her complete and utter giving over of herself to him. She just completely, just loved him, head-to-toe kind of thing. So, I think that’s what he needed in her. And I think with her, because so much of her life, she’d had to be self-sufficient and she’d had to look out for herself and be like this brave, forward-thinking caretaker of herself, and to have this older guy who just – she was his priority and her safety meant so much to him, and her happiness meant so much to him, and he would provide her with whatever she needed. And I think combine that with the hero thing she had with him for rescuing her, she found what she was looking for. She found what she was missing, and he did too. And I think they very much completed each other. And with Rupert, it was a very, very platonic sibling relationship – they bicker, they fought – and he was in a way too young for her, I think? I think that’s why she and the Duke also got along so well, because as you said, she was like this young girl, but she’d also been through a lot and she knew things that maybe a girl her age shouldn’t or wouldn’t usually know. And she’d learned about vice and sorrow and grief and all that. And I think Rupert – while their relationship is wonderful, and probably very beneficial – he wasn’t really quite grown-up enough to see that and take it into account. Whereas the Duke, I think, was very, very much aware of that. And it was like a lot of his love for her and his anger on her behalf was because he saw so much of that in her.

SARA-MAE: He recognised that in her, whereas Rupert probably wouldn’t have been able to appreciate what she’d gone through.

GENNA TUSON: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: And how brave she was.

SARA-MAE: I think Genna has hit the nail on the head here in terms of why, ultimately, Avon is better for Léonie, in spite of his flaws.

SARA-MAE: His sister also turns up and I’m like, “Oh God, she’s the worst. I hate her”. [laughs]

She’s got this fake coyness…

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Very mannered.

SARA-MAE: …which really, really profoundly annoys you. She’s turned up to come and see them because she’s heard from the chaperone lady who’s fainted dead away through all the excitement, and she wants to kind of nose out what’s going on, because it sounds really exciting. She’s come to France, against her husband’s wishes, and you get this feeling, it’s just like part of this weird foreplay that they have where she does something naughty, and he comes in and shouts at her and he sort of wins her over. I just find it tedious to be honest with you. Again, a well-drawn character because she is a very stark contrast to Léonie.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Yeah, yeah. Now that Léonie is ready and is now well-versed in how to be an aristocratic female, he is going to present her as his ward to society. We start to get an inkling of how his plan is shaping up. And Léonie is in enormous success because she’s absolutely ravishingly beautiful, but also has this sort of feisty, straight-talking edge. So every young eligible bachelor at these balls, that are arranged at great expense and widely publicised all across Paris – anyone who’s anyone has been invited to these balls by the Duke and been introduced to Léonie. Everyone wants to dance with her, she’s getting invitations, and so this is where Lady Fanny is like, “we’ve never been so popular”. Like, there’s a prince who clearly wants to marry her. But all in all, you understand that actually, the main reason for this is to rub Saint-Vire’s nose in the fact that the Duke has Léonie as his ward and that he knows what they did.

SARA-MAE: Just a reminder, Saint-Vire swapped his baby daughter with a neighbouring farmer’s son so that he could ensure his cousin was cut out of succession. Pretty cold-blooded.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: And you’d have to say, as you said before, that maybe this is a comment upon the nature of aristocracy and lineage and this sort of inherited wealth.

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: And you start to understand that actually, the Duke of Avon is genuinely angry that this was done to Léonie, who he has grown to love. His main motivation now and he’s wanting to seek revenge – but upon the Count de Saint-Vire, because it wasn’t really his wife’s fault, his wife was sort of pressurised into doing this…

SARA-MAE: And also re-establish her as in her rightful place. At the moment, it’s a bit worrying because it’s almost like it might backfire because people are looking at her and whispering, they’re saying, “Oh, she’s a bastard” or…I don’t know if they’re also kind of going, well, now people are looking at the clod-hopping farmer’s son, Armand, and going “Wait a minute, I always thought he stank of manure!”

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: He’s always cuddling that baby sow! So, that’s very important, that there’s whispers that she might be illegitimate, because that is the final and crucial plot point. So, there’s a string of women’s hearts, basically, that the Duke has broken over the years because he’s an incredibly attractive Fassbender-type bad boy. And it’s at one of these parties, one of these women very cruelly corners Léonie…

SARA-MAE: His ex-mistress.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: …clearly believes that Léonie and the Duke are in a relationship, a secret relationship, and is very jealous, and she is the first person to put it to Léonie that she is an illegitimate offspring of Saint-Vire. So, then there’s a brief period where Léonie tries to adjust to this. She’s now very aware of her feelings for the Duke, that she wants to be with him. And she’s sort of asked him quite boldly, whether he thinks it could ever work between someone like a high-born person and someone of what she believes her status now to be, which is sort of the illegitimate offspring of a high-born person and, I don’t know, some oik somewhere. And he doesn’t sort of answer in a way that reassures her.

SARA-MAE: Which is a bit…it’s a bit strange, that, because actually if he’s so smart, you’d think that he’d pick up what she…And in fact, all the way through up until that point, he’s kind of made it really clear that class will out. So obviously when he then reiterates that it would be disgusting almost to have a relationship like that, you can understand why Léonie’s like, “Oh, okay”’. And I mean she adores him. One of the sweet things in this part of the novel is she’s constantly going to balls – and I mean, I love the descriptions of the balls, just in terms of a very escapist kind of thing. It’s…

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Yeah, they’d be lavish.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, it’s really fun to imagine all the lavish gowns and all that kind of thing. But even if it’s all of that, and it’s not like she hates it, which I also quite liked. I mean, she didn’t do this thing where she was just constantly wanting to sharpen a sword, and she enjoys all that stuff for what it is. But then she’s always kind of creeping off to where the Duke is, and afterwards sitting with him, to imagine him allowing her – and that’s right from the beginning – to encroach, you kind of feel his walls just breaking down. She gets in when no one else has managed to get in. So, she’s obviously destroyed by this news. And in fact, she thinks that once this truth comes out, I don’t think she sees this as his big concoction or anything…that everything has happened because he’s put these things into play. Once he finds out, his reputation will be ruined.

GENNA TUSON: It’s very much a trope of a romance novel, where the guy will leave her for her own good because he’s strong and self-sacrificing. And I feel like to have flipped that and been like, she thought that if she stayed, she would do harm to this dude that she loved. And she was like, “Cool, I’m not gonna do that”, and she left, and I thought that was really refreshing.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: So, she runs off, and there’s a slightly frustrating bit where they all talk about how she’s run off – that would absolutely be edited down in a film. The Duke knows immediately where she’s gone.

SARA-MAE: She goes to speak to her…father, I guess. The guy who kidnapped her. She goes to his house, doesn’t she?

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Oh yes. She goes and confronts him. Yeah, that’s good, that bit. She runs in with a gun and she says that if he ever tries to slur the Duke of Avon…and she says I’ll go – which is what he wants as well – and you’ll never see me again. But this is basically the deal.

SARA-MAE: Just on the whole gun thing and it being convincing – because another theme throughout the book is that redheads are all hot-tempered, obviously. So, Saint-Vire is known for having this terrible temper and, and in fact the Duke uses this to goad him into various overblown reactions and in fact a very catastrophic one at the end.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Oh, just a wild cat.

SARA-MAE: Yeah. So, then she runs off to this kindly curate.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Who we’ve already met. We already know from when the Duke still appeared to have a very dastardly plan and was going and investigating her background. I mean, the curate basically told him what happened.

SARA-MAE: And luckily, she’d been educated by him. The Curé is of noble descent himself, he’s kind of rejected that whole life.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: So, the Duke of Avon knows exactly where she is because she has this sort of father figure in the Curé and goes back to get her. And basically this is where she expresses her love for him and tells him that she wants to be with him.

SARA-MAE: The obstacle is that she feels like she’s not worthy.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: He tells her, “Don’t worry! You’re absolutely pure aristocratic blood, so it’s fine. We can be together.” But also, she does break him down a little bit because he does try to do the right thing. He’s like, “I’m ancient. Why don’t you marry Rupert?” And he tries to be quite selfless because we know at this point that he does actually really adore her. And he tries to say also, not just that he’s old, but also that he’s had a really sketchy past. He doesn’t feel like he actually is worthy of her. But she breaks him down with her, the intensity of her love and devotion. And this is the point where they agree to marry. But there’s just one last thing to do before that happens.

SARA-MAE: Ah no, wait! He’s done that before he goes to collect her, actually.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Oh, no. You’re right!

SARA-MAE: She goes off, but the Duke is kind of, “Oh, it’s all going to my plan”. So, he tells them to all turn up at this literary soirée. They turn up at this thing.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: So, the Duke says, “I have a story to tell”, and really enjoys, in a crass, sadistic way – not naming any names, it’s been trending for months! So, once he starts telling this story about an aristocratic couple, and the fear of losing their inherited wealth and the disappointment of having an infant girl instead of an infant boy, and seeing an opportunity when a farmer they know happens to have an infant son at the same time, to swap the babies and make sure that the wealth is inherited by their son. Everybody starts to put two and two together. You really feel for the Countess here because she clearly would rather just have her daughter with her and has been sort of tortured psychologically and is clearly in a very abusive relationship because her husband made her give up her child. But the Count de Saint-Vire – because he is an evil, selfish man – he only cares about himself and now his reputation is being absolutely destroyed. The highest of society have been invited here to witness this. And as you say, it has been established he has a very hot temper. Once everyone realises this must mean that this is Saint-Vire who has committed this act, the Count de Saint-Vire grabs a gun and shoots himself in the head.

SARA-MAE: I find that so disturbing on so many levels.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Really disturbing!

SARA-MAE: Just totally. I don’t think you could have that in the film – you’d certainly have to have it the next day. They hear

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: In a way, it’s justice.

SARA-MAE: I asked Genna what she thinks about the Marquis’ actions.

GENNA TUSON: Yeah, no, that was hectic. I think it is also very much a thing of the time period, the whole “Now, I have [been] dishonoured”, he’d done some pretty shady stuff. But that drama, that dramatic, like “Now I must die” kind of thing – it’s a product of the time, but also, I think it spoke to how good a storyteller he was, how well he could use his words and how manipulative he could be. How he knew which strings to pull on to make people see it…yeah, I thought that was quite a chilling look into what he’s capable of. He was always the mastermind.

SARA-MAE: I mean, I would have just bluffed it up. I would have been like, “Great story”.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Well, exactly, but I guess she’s trying to avoid having the Duke commit a horrible act of murder.

SARA-MAE: His intention is that the guy will commit suicide. And I just feel like…that’s a big leap to me.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I mean, I think in terms of the story, I’m not sure if it entirely works, but he’s supposed to be brought down by his own vanity and commitment to his…

SARA-MAE: Pride.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: …and his status. And so, if he didn’t have that, then he wouldn’t have killed himself. So, I think in terms of the book, it’s trying to say he’s almost like a victim of his own…

SARA-MAE: His own character.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Certainly. I think the unintentional effect is that the Duke of Avon seems really sadistic and manipulative. And his response is very cold and a little bit, it’s quite chilling, really, and then ends with his wedding. I think we’d have to see real doubts in the Duke about whether this was the right thing to do. We’d have to see further cruelty from Saint-Vire. That and also, we would have to understand more about what Léonie endured because of his actions.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Because that is all entirely hidden. So those two things…I mean, then it almost becomes more like a Dickensian thing where this is the morally complex world we’re in – there are innocents, but innocence can be taken away very quickly.

SARA-MAE: But having said that, one of the things that makes Léonie and the Duke suitable partners is that she is quite bloodthirsty as well. And that’s because she’s had this harsh upbringing. And when in fact he comes in at the end to take her away from the curate, she’s absolutely ecstatic. Not only is the Count dead, but that the Duke engineered it. She’s completely on board with him having done it on purpose.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Yes.

SARA-MAE: So, in that sense, I think she wouldn’t actually be suited to someone like Rupert because they share a sort of darkness.

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Yeah, but then it’s about tone, isn’t it? Because it feels like if this were to be adapted for a modern audience, that tone would have to be much more consistent. Something like ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ has an incredibly dark tone and you sympathise with characters who do terrible things because they are consistent and also because you understand their motivations throughout. And in fact, that is quite a good reference because there is a really morally ambivalent character in that who also falls in love and he finds his humanity. But then it’d be a dark film.

SARA-MAE: If you were going to direct a section of it, or if you were going to adapt it as a play, which bit would be your favourite bit to adapt?

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I guess the bit where she’s learning how to become a woman, that idea that all gender is a construct – we’re all sort of in drag at the end of the day, it’s just that a lot of us can pretend that we’re not because it’s societally normalised. And that’s something quite interesting to do in the modern context there, I think.

SARA-MAE: In terms of the class thing…

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I found it really difficult. That was the most problematic part of the book for me. And if I were to go to see a film like this, which had that, uncritically, it would make me very angry. Because it absolutely fits with an idea that poverty’s inherent, that class is inherent, that we basically all deserve the lot we’re born into, because that’s just the way of the world. So obviously, that’s very problematic. But I have a feeling that if it were ever to be adapted, that element would not survive.

SARA-MAE: Wondering what Genna’s least favourite bits were?

GENNA TUSON: So, in the beginning, it was quite a struggle to get through. But um, once that had been sorted out and I knew who the Comte de Sainte-Vire was, and I knew who the Duke was, and I could distinguish them all from each other, I knew what was going on and I knew what the point was, then it got a lot more interesting.

SARA-MAE: And then what were your favourite bits?

GENNA TUSON: Yeah, I thought she was so funny. I don’t know, just the way she spoke and, the simplicity with which she put forth these complicated ideas. It really tickled me, the way she insisted on calling him…

SARA-MAE: The Comte de Saint-Vire.

GENNA TUSON: …the ‘pig person’ and also with Rupert, I really enjoyed their relationship, the sort of back-and-forth they had and how she was constantly calling him an imbecile, an idiot. And so, I really enjoyed when Rupert came, and the Duke was away, and their relationship grew, and it was really a very refreshing, platonic relationship. I found it very funny and very…I’m using too many adjectives…but very truthful, and I really enjoyed that.

SARA-MAE: The last question is, have you been converted to Georgette Heyer? Would you consider reading another one?

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: I have nothing but respect for you and your tastes, Sara-Mae, but I’m afraid it’s not really my bag. But I have to say the only historical fiction I’ve ever been interested in is more about the untold stories, I guess. So, it was gonna be a hard sell for me anyway. But it was great to read something new. And it was great to be exposed to a new writer I’d never heard of.

SARA-MAE: Are you a convert?

GENNA TUSON: What I tend to do is go through obsessions where I’ll read one book from an author and then that’ll be the only thing I read. And then I start talking like they write, and I start narrating in my head. It’s terrible. It has been noticed by my sister that I’m talking like a complete ponce. The other night, I told her that my other sister, my twin, should be ‘a suitable companion’ for her to go to the shops with. [laughs] I’m very much in that vibe at the moment, that, that period…the drama and the mystery.

SARA-MAE: There’s not a lot of looking at the vast range of humanity here. It’s quite specific to a certain kind of class. Jane Austen’s the same…

SONALI BHATTACHARYA: Yes. I’m not an Austen fan either, though, I’m afraid. [laughs] I’m more interested in the lady in the attic, then, but that’s the place that I feel I’m from, I guess. But it was good to read it, and yeah, thanks for asking me to be involved.

SARA-MAE: Thank you so much for spending this time. I really appreciate it.

SARA-MAE: Austin Dobson’s poem that inspires this book title begins:

What is it that attaches

Your fancy so to fans and masks,

And periwigs and patches?

And ends: 

Whereas with these old shades of mine, 

Their ways and dress delight me; 

And should I trip by word or line,

They cannot well indict me. 

But—should I fail to render clear

Their title, rank or station—

I still may sleep secure, nor fear 

A suit for defamation.

In These Old Shades Georgette was innovating historical romance. Unlike many other literary heroines of the time, Léonie is not weak-willed, without agency or dynamism. Instead, she’s in control of her own destiny. Despite everything life throws at her, she is undaunted and gallant. In this, Léonie is similar to her creator. Georgette wrote much of the book a few months after her father’s death. Writing her period romances was always an escape for her, though she confided to LP Moore that she didn’t have the heart to write at that time. Even then, she instantly curtailed all suggestion of sentiment, describing her feelings as ‘slop’, which he shouldn’t be worried about. Happy endings in romance novels, are, after all, a given.

In 1940, Georgette sold the British and Commonwealth copyrights in These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub and Regency Buck to the publisher Heinemann for £750, and the contract included a clause stating that they got 50% of any film rights to These Old Shades. In 2000, Random House (who now own the Heinemann UK trade publications) voluntarily agreed to cancel the 1940 contract – returning all rights to the Heyer estate. Perhaps they did this in recognition of the fact that the earlier contract was a little unfair – Georgette was notoriously bad about reading through the contracts her old friend and publisher, Frere, wrote up for her. When the rights were later sold for £5,000, she only got half, and Kloester speculates as to whether or not this may have contributed to ‘her eventual estrangement’ from Frere. Still, this was far in the future – we’ll examine Heyer’s life during wartime in future episodes.

Next week, we’ll be speaking to novelist Emma Darwin about her love of Heyer, examining her writing techniques and getting some hot tips from Emma herself.

And remember, you’d have to have been in the sun a trifle not to rate, review and subscribe.

Until next time, as Léonie would say: ‘Adieu!’

[Credits]

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott helped with production and performed as George Heyer.

Michael Mandalis edited and recorded Beth’s bits, and he did a marvellous job. Thanks also to Geraldine Elliot, Talitha Gamaroff and everyone who supported me in creating this work. Suzy Buttress in particular, but the podcast community at large for so much inspiration and encouragement.

Our fabulous voice talent includes Helen Davidge as young Heyer, Thomas Golding as young Boris, Cathy Tuson and Karim Kronfli. I’ll be putting info about them in the show notes.

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, ‘Chapter I’, as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears work. Original music was composed especially for the podcast by myself and Tom Chadd.

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media. We’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

Special thanks to the Audible team for letting us use an extract from the book. Do go out and buy it, it’s a fabulous listen.

Remember to rate, review and subscribe. I can’t tell you how much it helps small indie companies like us to thrive.

‘Heyer Today’ is a Fable Gazers production.

HEYER TODAY EPISODE 3: HEYER’S TECHNIQUE – EMMA DARWIN ON WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION

Listen to this episode here.

Also available on any good podplayer, iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music.

Don’t forget to rate, review and recommend us!

SARA-MAE: Previously, on Heyer Today. [See last week’s episode here – link to previous episode]

BETH: Georgette never fully recovered from the sudden loss of her beloved father. Two years later in her contemporary book, Helen, she writes of a grief so huge, so devastating and so terribly dumb.

GENNA: I caught on when they started dropping the subtler hints, but in the beginning when I started reading it, I was very much like, okay, nice next, but when they started dropping the hints, I was like, oh, okay, that very much sparked my interest.

SARA-MAE: Wait a minute, I always thought he stank of manure…

SARA-MAE: Welcome to Heyer Today! Last week, we converted one new reader to Heyer’s work – if you missed our discussion with playwright, Sonali, and my cousin Genna, about These Old Shades, do go back and listen. That’s one out of two converts so far. Yes, I am adding them up.

This week I’ll be chatting to Emma Darwin, and, apart from being possibly the only author to be simultaneously listed for the Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book, AND the Romantic Novelist’s Association Book of the Year, she has one other small detail about her ancestry that people tend to fixate on. Yes, she is Charles Darwin’s great-great granddaughter. But she’s so much more than that, an accomplished novelist and teacher and yes, a fan of Georgette Heyer. Yet, her past has shaped her life, as she discovered when writing This Is Not A Book About Charles Darwin.

On her website she writes: “Writing the novel became a fierce struggle between my heritage and my identity as a writer – and ultimately a struggle that nearly killed me. When I was better, I realised the only way to write about the creative lives of my family was through the lens of my own creative struggle, telling the story of my journey through my family as I tried – and failed – to write the novel.”

As one reviewer said: “She explores the tricky business of historical novelists walking a tightrope between research and imagination.”

There is a fascinating, and relevant thread here, tying Emma to Georgette: both were attempting to walk this tightrope the reviewer describes – and both managed to do it with grace and humour.

More directly, Emma’s written A Secret Alchemy, which reached the Sunday Times Bestsellers List, and was named as one of The Times’ Best Paperbacks of that year. It’s set in the exhilarating world of the Wars of the Roses.

I’m dying to discover more about Emma’s love of Heyer – with her PHD in creative writing she’ll be able to really dig into Heyer’s novels with me.

EMMA: I find the lives of really professional writers very fascinating. The two biographies of her also as an insight into the professional writer I think, is really, really interesting. With my writing tutor, you know, writing mentor head. Though obviously, the book trade has changed enormously, but actually the business of getting your bum on that chair and writing one or in her case, sometimes two books a year, you know, is fascinating to look at.

SARA-MAE: I’m going to ask you more about the biographical process later. But let’s begin with the basics.

EMMA: I am a novelist and a non-fiction writer. And I also do a lot of mentoring and teaching writing. And in fact, my most recent book was published a couple of years ago, and it’s called Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction, which, hopefully does exactly what it says on the tin. So, I’m also very interested in the process of how books end up looking like a book on the shelves and the process of getting them to that point.

SARA-MAE: Yes, and I’m sure that most writers of historical fiction will be very interested to find out the minutia and the mechanics of it.

EMMA: Basically, I love Heyer because I just love being in that world. But I do think that technically she is extraordinarily good and she’s really worth studying from that point of view as well. We can all learn a lot from what she does, those of us who write historical fiction.

SARA-MAE: Yes, as a technician, I think that was one of her greatest strengths, wasn’t it? I do not know how she churned out two books a year to such a high standard. It took me four years to write my first book, and I’m still working on the eighth draft of my second!

EMMA: Well, she had enormous depth of research. And all in her head. I mean, obviously, she also had it on her bookshelves, but what it meant was a lot of the stuff that we have to go away and find out, she just knew.

SARA-MAE: How does this depth of research help an author?

EMMA: Well, it helps in two ways. One, you don’t have to go away and look it up. But also, it means that on the page, it comes along very, very naturally. And it comes along just as part of her imaginative process, which is partly why, on the whole, she matured as a writer. You never feel that there are these huge lumps of historical information being chucked at you. It comes along as naturally as if she was writing about her own high street, in her own time, and that’s part of it.

She’s writing within a short span of time, she’s writing about a very narrow slice of the world and actually, an artificial one. It bears about the relationship to the real Regency world as PG Wodhouse does to the real 1930s. And I think in lots of ways there are they’re rather parallel those two, because they serve up this very particular world and if you discover it, and you like it, you kind of settle down for life.

SARA-MAE: Yes, exactly. I love PG Wodhouse as well.

EMMA: Yeah, yeah. And it’s consistent. And that is a lot to do with the fact that they’ve found a voice that works. They found their voice. And so, there’s a lot of things that, book by book, she’s not having to work out from scratch each time. That, and an extremely supportive husband and only one child who went to boarding school. I think that helps too.

SARA-MAE: Yes, exactly. And I don’t think he was even allowed to stay in the uh… when they were living in that sort of posh… the Albany or, as Stephen Fry corrected me, it’s just Albany.

EMMA: Yes, yes, Albany. And there was something about… they did manage to get a special dispensation for him to stay in the school holidays, but he was not around day-to-day needing taking to school and picking up and giving having his socks darned. And that would help!

SARA-MAE: What do you think of her use of gin and Dexedrine to… I’m always interested in how writers such as yourself… what’s your process? Would you ever consider gin and Dexedrine to keep you up all night?

EMMA: I’m not sure, can you buy Dexedrine these days? You certainly could then. I wouldn’t use gin. [It’’s] not unknown for a bottle of wine to feature. I would, but I have learnt, on the whole, that if I stay up very late, not just till bedtime, but well beyond normal bedtime, I do get lots written but actually I take out the changes the next day and the next couple of days. And I’m not sure… I mean it can be the right thing to do because if you’re on a roll then you probably want to go with it… But you do then actually find the next couple of days, even if you can write, you don’t write nearly as much. I suspect that one’s average over the week is much the same, whether you do it in one mad go all night, or whether you do it in steady chunks through the week. Also, I used to find when I was doing that with essays at university that I invariably got an outrageously appalling cold shortly afterwards, it’s terribly bad for your immune system, I’m sure Dexedrine is as well!

SARA-MAE: I have a feeling that it probably isn’t the best.

EMMA: But, you know, it gets the books written. And it depends whether you think that’s worth it. One way to make a name for yourself. To make sure there’s a new book every year to, you know, for everybody… they’ve only just finished noticing the last one when the new one comes along. And that sustains that career in a way that it’s quite difficult to do otherwise. It’s still the case for my friends whose writing lives are in that mould: [where] there’s got to be a book a year.

SARA-MAE: I ask Emma whether there is some merit in the idea of training your brain to squeeze out an entire book very quickly… sort of like a mental tube of toothpaste.

EMMA: Yes. Well, I mean, I think it depends a lot on what you want to do. I think it’s only feasible if, as with Heyer or, as with someone who’s writing a detective series with a serious detective, but there has to be a lot of stuff you don’t have to make up from scratch. If you look at the most exciting authors at the cutting edge of literary writing, you know where the art form is going, they will not be doing that because they are… at the beginning of every novel, they go right back to zero, what am I doing? How am I going to do it? You know, Heyer is not thinking, “How do I write this novel?” She’s thinking, who are my people? Where is it set – between 1719 and 1830 or thereabouts? You know… who’s in love with who, who doesn’t want to be in love with who, and so on. And those are all incredibly important questions, but she’s not thinking, shall I tell it backwards? Shall I tell it inside out?

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

EMMA: You know, she’s not thinking about the voices. And that’s the thing. And I think that’s a big difference.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, she wasn’t troubled by post-modernist ideas.

EMMA: Ah, I think not. Though, certainly her comments on other people’s writing that I’ve come across in the biographies are extremely shrewd. I mean, like any writer, she reads much more widely than she writes. I don’t know What she would have thought of some of what’s being written these days. She might just have shrugged and then said “not what I want to write”, which we all have to do. And we all have to make our peace with the kinds of books that we admire, but don’t write.

SARA-MAE: This is a tough thing for any creative person to get to grips with. If your heroes are people like George Elliot and Austen, it’s hard to look at your own work and go, ‘yep, this is pretty good’, or it is for me, anyway. But if you allowed this feeling of inadequacy to stifle you, you’d never write anything. There’s room and readers for many different kinds of books – and they don’t all have to be ‘high art’. The reason Heyer has been so misunderstood by many is because she meets at the intersection between high and low art. But, as I saw someone saying on Instagram recently, there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure, is there?

EMMA: Yes, you do what you do and there will always be someone to despise you for what you do. Whatever you do. You know, everybody has snobbery, some people’s snobberies are the other way up. I write what the book trade… well, the most positive term is ‘Book Group Fiction’, which is on the kind of literary/commercial borders. And that’s just me. When I was trying to write and getting feedback, it was before the rise of the book group. So, it was considered a tricky area to sell into. And I used to think I should try to be more literary, I should try and be more commercial… and my sister looked me in the eye and said, “But Emma, that’s who you are. You like Virginia Woolf, and you like Georgette Heyer.” So, I’ve learned to live with it and decide, well, I’m just gonna have to do what I do, as well as I possibly can and Heyer does what Heyer does. Well, she invented a genre. How many people get to do that?

SARA-MAE: Unfortunately Heyer is often lumped in with her far less talented imitators, or worse, seen as a bodice-ripping fluffy romance author, not that I have anything against romance novelists, I read an awful lot of them. But she’s so good, I feel she deserves to be in a class of her own.

EMMA: Yeah, I think that always happens with an innovator. I mean, I used to grumpily think that I didn’t like Mahler. I still don’t like Mahler because he sounds like film music. Well, actually, that’s because it’s the other way around. [Laughs] Film music sounds like Mahler because Hollywood music was largely written by refugees from Austria and Germany who fled the Nazis. And so, it was written by Mahler’s pupils, as it were. But if you listen backwards, you know, you hear it the wrong way around. And I have to say, I don’t read other Regency stuff. I only read Heyer.

SARA-MAE: It doesn’t surprise me that Emma doesn’t read other Regency romances. People on the Georgette Heyer Facebook fan club often suggest books they think will satisfy the Heyer itch. Since doing this interview I’ve read a few more of these sorts of works and I actually really enjoy many of them – but not for their likeness to Heyer. In fact, the more they try and ‘ape’ her distinctive Heyerisms, the more they annoy me or seem like a very hollow and unsatisfying attempt. With Heyer there’s such a sense of her strong guiding hand, I always feel enveloped in the warmth and elegance of her world.

EMMA: Yes, it is because she invented it, but I think it’s also because when she was finding her voice, when she was working her way towards what Jane Aiken Hodge in her biography calls her ‘golden vein’, she was drawing on the original sources. She was drawing on Austen, she was drawing on Johnson, she was drawing on the fiction written at the time, the ‘silver fork’ novels, as they’re called. And so, in a sense how well it is built of the original sources, when people write Regencies now, what they’re doing is they’re third hand, because they’re drawing on an already digested form, if that makes sense.

SARA-MAE: I’m going to be talking to author Mary Jo Putney in episode 16 all about this, possibly perceived, problem. Mary Jo is a best-selling author who’s written many Regency romances, so it will be fascinating to hear her take on the challenges of writing historical novels through a 21st century lens.

EMMA: But I do occasionally pick them up and think, ‘ooh, that looks fun’, and I read about two pages and think, well, I can’t be doing with this. I mean, I see that because I work with people who write historical fiction a lot, obviously because I do myself and because of Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction is now out there… what I find is that a lot of beginners are channelling their favourite historical novelist. So, you know, a lot of secondhand Bernard Cornwell, a lot of… some secondhand Heyer. And so, of course, it’s important that that’s where they get a lot of their sense of story. But if they want to write something that is really fresh and jumps off the page, they’re going to have to go back to the places that Cornwell drew on, the places that Peter Akroyd drew on. Because that’s the only way you’re going to find something fresh and original. And of course, that’s what Heyer did.

SARA-MAE: Emma’s book The Mathematics of Love is set in Regency England. And I was interested in whether or not Emma struggled, being such a Heyer fan, when it came to slipping in any of Heyer’s famous cant.

EMMA: Not too much, actually. I went back to Austen. Obviously I grew up on on Austen, my mother used to read her to us aloud. And reading aloud is brilliant for getting the sort of cadences… but I did go back and look at her sentences. There are a lot of memoirs from the Napoleonic Wars. I had a lot of that. I did know where I could find the sources that Heyer found for the camp. I mean, it’s all there. Most of it’s on the shelves of the London Library. And I didn’t go and find them because that wasn’t who my character was. He wasn’t an idle young man about town playing with thieves’ cant for the fun of it. I mean, I’m absolutely sure there are Heyerisms in there. If I went and looked, and that’s fine, you know, she’s tuned my ear, just like Peter Akroyd’s tuned it, you know. And I read a lot of Dick Francis as an adolescent, I spent most of my time alternating between, you know, 1970s racecourses, and Almacks in 1815. So, you know, you never quite know where bits come from. I don’t remember having to tell myself not to, I think they just didn’t because of who my character was, who Steven was. And he was a soldier and wasn’t in that world, but maybe I can’t remember to be honest. [Laughs]

But I’m sure that the cadences… in some senses, what I did was what Heyer did and went back to the originals. You know, it’s worth remembering she was born in 1880… [Editor’s note: 1902] Her earliest books are now… I realised this the other day with a bit of a shock… the earliest books are written exactly halfway between us now and the period she’s setting them in. The Black Moth came out in something like 1921.

SARA-MAE: As we mentioned in last week’s episode, Georgette wrote her first book at the age of nineteen – ludicrously young. This is a very lowering thought for those of us still wrestling with manuscripts in our thirties.

EMMA: I think one has to remember that women’s lives and the education of women was an awful lot narrower. You know, we all know an awful lot about biology and physics, than I’m sure she did. You know, and her father had a good library and she just… and there was no telly. So, you know, she just would have spent a heck of a lot of time reading. Mine came out different because I am different.

SARA-MAE: Everything we’ve been talking about comes back to the question of finding your voice as a writer – but in our early work we often lift our skirts and show the er…ankles of our influences? Wow, that metaphor was tripping over itself. Get it? (Sheesh I’m glad I didn’t tell that joke to Emma.)

EMMA: I’m never bothered by a student who’s writing feels like them trying to write like some famous writer, I think that’s completely fine. It’s a very natural process. What you want to do is then encourage them to kind of move on from that with the tools that it’s taught them and then find what their own particular synthesis is of what they’ve read, and who they really are.

SARA-MAE: Emma’s written two books, A Secret Alchemy and The Mathematics of Love, in which she tackles two very different time periods, Mediaeval and Regency. Personally, I wouldn’t attempt it myself, because the thought of all the research involved puts me right off, whereas both Emma and Heyer appear to be drawn to that very academic side of writing, enjoying poring over historical texts. Emma’s resources were a little closer to home. In The Mathematics of Love (a seductive combination of regency romance, gothic novel and Bildungsroman) she drew on the experiences of yet another of her famous ancestors, Thomas Wedgwood, who pioneered advances in early photography. Incidentally, her family tree is littered with talent and genius, with at least ten Fellows of the Royal Society and several artists and poets (including the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams)…

EMMA: There’s kind of two stages to the challenge of researching in order to write historical fiction. And first is finding the star. And you know, frankly, it’s an awful lot easier if you’re researching the stuff of your own country. And it is there and a lot of its online now, though, not all of it. But I think there’s a second process that has to go on, which is what Rose Tremain calls ‘leaving the research behind’. And she says, all the research you do, whether it’s historical or, you know, for other purposes, you know, geographical or factual, she says it must come untethered. It must loose definition until it’s ready to be used by the creative brain.

SARA-MAE: Emma cites this quote in its entirety on her excellent blog: The Itch of Writing. It comes from Rose Tremain’s essay “The First Mystery”:

“…All the research done for a novel – all the studying and reading, all the social fieldwork, all the location visiting, all the garnering of what is or what has been – must be reimagined before it can find a place in the text. It must rise into the orbit of the anarchic, gift-conjuring, unknowing part of the novelist’s mind before it can acquire its own truth for the work in question…

Graham Green, when asked by a journalist how he would make use of an important experience he’d had in South East Asia, replied: “It’s yours to remember and mine to forget.” He was talking about the novelist’s task of reimagining reality. Reimagining implies some measure of forgetting. The actual or factual has to lose definition, become fluid, before the imagination can begin its task of reconstruction. Data transferred straight from the research area to the book will simply remain data. It will be imaginatively inert.”

EMMA: One thing I’ve noticed is that if someone says please write a blog post about your process, a lot of my process is actually about trying to allow that business of letting go of the facts. I never write worse than when I’ve got the textbook in the other hand, because the printed words, they’re terribly powerful, it’s very…they dominate your brain, and they have a source of authority. That means they march straight across from the textbook onto my own pages, and it’s extremely difficult to tell them to bugger off. And so I have to do that by putting the book back on the shelf and going away and doing something else. And then writing the scene when I forgotten it all. And just trusting my memory. Maybe I took notes, but I haven’t got the notes in my hand now… trusting my sense of story to bring up the stuff that the story needs and not bring out the stuff that’s just tasty historical material that I want to put in. You have to let the story control what it needs. And it might need really very little.

When I am working with writers and actually just when I read historical fiction that I don’t think is very good: published stuff, very often it feels as if the research tail is wagging the story dog. I’ve got plenty of history stuff on my shelf, what I want is a story that reads as naturally as if they’d written a story about London in 2017. And I think that’s what Heyer’s good at.

SARA-MAE: A lot of Heyer’s very deep research is undervalued by critics. Her books on the Napoleonic Wars, An Infamous Army and Spanish Bride in particular, were meticulous in their period detail. I have to say, though, these two are not my favourites, but An Infamous Army is still used as a teaching tool at Sandhurst. Georgette was very proud of this.

EMMA: And I think she suffered actually from the fact that the spine of the story was, you know, a man and a woman getting together and failing to get together and all that stuff. And the fact that she was a woman, she suffered…historical fiction in general suffered as well from being dismissed from it being assumed that it was silly lady novelists… that’s actually partly to do with how history developed as a discipline in the 20th century, but she did suffer from it and [was not] taken as seriously.

SARA-MAE: Heyer longed to be able to write more serious novels like Penhallow, but they simply didn’t sell as well as her Regency romances or her detective fiction. And because she always seemed to be strapped for cash, she ended up focussing more on these sorts of works. Personally, I find Penhallow very tough going, possibly a deliberately punishing read about a family in Cornwall with an abusive patriarch. Also, her ‘tec fiction as she called it, isn’t as successful. For me, her Regency work is where her genius really came into its own.

EMMA: I do like Golden Age detective fiction, I adore Sayer and Allingham. And I like Christie. I mean, I don’t find hers particularly… I don’t think she took them terribly seriously, to be honest. They always were, you know, on the whole, they’re a nice break from writing what she really wanted to write and you know, and they made some extra money. I think one problem is that they date because they’re contemporary to then, and therefore they feel very ’30s and ’40s. Whereas historical fiction, actually it dates because you know, she is writing in the ’30s or the ’40s. But it doesn’t…it’s not so obvious that it dates because the slang is Regency slang. Her heart’s clearly in the historical stuff. I think she did, to some extent, in order to keep on publishing and keep on selling… I mean, God, the amount she sold, she must have made choices about what to write and what not to write. I mean, it’s notable that she’s writing a broader spread of, of different kinds of things earlier. I know Jennifer Kloester talks about how you can tell from the some of the jackets and so on, her historical fiction was published as fiction, if you see what I mean… general fiction that happened to be historical.

It’s only as the century goes on, that she starts being slotted into that niche. I mean, I think that would be common…I can’t say I’ve studied it in detail, but I think you’d find that was true with a lot of historical fiction writing that historical fiction in general got shoved off into a ghetto. I mean, it always reminds me a bit of Terry Pratchett saying you can write about, you know, the future of the universe, the depths of the heart, but as soon as you put a dragon in it, it gets put in science-fiction. It’s a bit like that… you can write about absolutely anything under the sun and as soon as you put a corset in it…

I think it’s changed enormously… I was a teenager when people like Peter Ackroyd were writing and then and there’s people like William Golding and John Fowles, and I’m afraid it’s partly because they’re men, they got taken more seriously. But also, it was that history with a capital ‘H’ is the discipline in the 20th century, it went through very sort of scientific stages, it reacted against the Victorian idea of kind of grand stories of great men and got down and dirty with, you know, parliamentary division roles and got very, very technical and was trying – possibly as a reaction to what had happened in the First and the Second World Wars – it was trying to be very emotionless and very much not about great people, or even small people, but not about people, but about social movements. And of course, Marxism had a big influence. Social movements and economic structures… and therefore anything that looked as if it was telling stories about history was deeply suspect, rather vulgar and probably very “girly” –  in quotation marks, I hope you realise!

And so, Heyer, along with people like Mary Renault, who is one of the great 20th century novelists, but because she’s writing about ancient Greece, she for a long time was considered… you know, parked off in that ghetto. And so, I think Heyer has suffered from that too.

SARA-MAE: We talked earlier about Heyer’s imitators, but it suddenly occurs to me that in some ways, you might say that Heyer was imitating Austen, whom she greatly admired. There are some people who wouldn’t want to mention Heyer in the same breath as Austen, such is their disdain for her. What does Emma think?

EMMA: I think Heyer clearly draws enormously on Austen. I think she has different settings. The voice very clearly draws on that, you know, if there’s a fluffy cloud somewhere with the world’s great writers on it, unquestionably has Austen on it. I don’t think it has Heyer on it.

SARA-MAE: This gets to the heart of one of the things I want to explore over the series. What makes a writer canon? What excludes Heyer, for example, from the fluffy cloud? I suppose for one thing, she wasn’t remotely religious, which is one of the reasons some of her Medieval novels didn’t quite ring as true as her Regency era books. She never fully understood the depth of passion for God, which people of those times would have felt. Still, what is it that sets top tier writers apart as classic authors?

EMMA: I’m talking about the hundred greatest writers all the way around the world there. But you know, that’s a bit like saying because we’ve got Beethoven, we don’t need Franz Lehar.

SARA-MAE: I admit, my classical music knowledge is sketchy. I had to look Franz Lehar up – FYI he was an Austro-Hungarian composer known mostly for his operettas… I have to admit, I’d have slotted him and Beethoven into the same category. So, for the sake of the other dummies out there, let’s swap him out for a more low-brow option: Nickelback? The Spice Girls? Bon Ivor?

EMMA: It’s not a particularly useful thing to put them up against each other. It’s apples and oranges to some extent, you know, any more than it’s useful to say, is Wodehouse as good as Dickens? Well, who cares?

SARA-MAE: This is an interesting point, and also, what do you mean by ‘good’ anyway? The reason I’ve been drawing the Austen/Heyer parallel, is because, often when I mention Heyer to people, they look at me blankly. So, it’s been easier for me to say, if you want that Austen fix, why not give Heyer a go?

EMMA: Depending a bit on what you love about Austen, but yes. A friend of mine, called [Heyer] brain chocolate, and I think that’s absolutely perfect. I certainly think if you like a really clever, witty, ironic… I think one thing that Heyer suffers from this is that people don’t see the irony? She’s very sharp. Somebody called Jane Austen sharp-tongued comedies about sex and money. And she’s absolutely right, though there is always at the heart of a Heyer, you know, the question of can a man and a woman work it out so that they can make a partnership.

You know, there’s a lot of irony. There’s some very sharp descriptions. She’s quite cynical in some ways. What it’s not is ever sentimental. And always shrewd, I think, is the word I want.

SARA-MAE: Yes, very shrewd about her characters, particularly the ones she’s kind of…her sort of tropes. Her heroes and…speaking of which, what are your favourite Heyers? And why?

EMMA: My favourite-ist of all Heyer, is Venetia.

SARA-MAE: That’s mine as well.

EMMA: Well, I think also, it’s because Venetia is one of her most proactive heroines. And she, you know, she basically does make her life, you know, with incredibly limited possibilities for a gentlewoman of that date to actually have any agency about shaping her own life. And she really does. It’s difficult not to succumb to that. I never know it’s DAME-erel or DAM-erel… I think partly because one of my personal ‘buttons’ is the bad man who heroically won’t ask you to marry him because he’s a bad man, that kind of thing. Terrible, terrible. But also, because it’s a particularly equal partnership. In how they make friends, what they like about each other. You know, in any world that’s appealing and particularly in a world where the genders are not equal at all. I think it’s a very convincing exploration of how to make a marriage equal, when the world doesn’t think you are, if that makes any sense.

SARA-MAE: And also how the fact that she has, like you’re saying… she has so much agency and dynamism even though she’s surrounded by selfish men in her life, that kind of… the ones who should be seeing to happiness and she has to take it into her own hands. And everybody in her life wants to tell her exactly how to live it and what you should do and she’s determined to bypass that and be happy.

EMMA: Yes, and to do things that are not terribly respectable, and to pull herself free from the selfish people. All the people who don’t care. I think it’s a lovely book. And actually, of course, Damerel is the least selfish of all in the sense that he refuses to ask her to marry him because he knows that she’ll say yes. And he doesn’t think she should say yes.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, he doesn’t think he deserves it.

EMMA: It gets me every time.

SARA-MAE: I know…and just the dialogue and the humour. And also, it’s not like she’s blinded to his faults. She loves him in spite of his faults. And they joke about his peccadilloes and things, which is really fun.

EMMA: His disreputable behavior. I mean, you know, it’s crossed my mind that the real Damerel would have had syphilis.

SARA-MAE: Not a good look.

EMMA: Not a good look. But actually, of course, I mean, that I do think is part of the appeal. One has to admit to it, that it’s not the real world at all. No, and there are lots of ways in which it conforms to an ideal sort of, well, the ‘golden world’ and you know, that’s part of the comfort that’s why one reads her when one’s got flu.

SARA-MAE: Hmm. So just to finish off on a biographical note. In her biographies, Heyer can sometimes… she comes across a little bit caustic, a tiny bit crusty when it comes to dealing with people.

EMMA: Oh, yes. I think she’s very forthright. Yes.

SARA-MAE: As someone who’s had numerous books written about various illustrious family members, I really want to know if Emma thinks a biography can truly get to the truth of a person? I’ll caveat this thought by saying I think both Jennifer Kloester and Aiken Hodge did a great job, especially Kloester, who had access to a treasure trove of letters which Aiken Hodge didn’t.

EMMA: Yes, I agree, I think they did. And actually, I have to say that I don’t think I would have liked her at all. [Laughs] I mean, the caustic side, it can be good fun, and it’s definitely what makes her books not marshmallowey and soppy. It’s because she can be very sharp about people. I think her politics were extremely… not mine. You know, she was an unashamed snob, which is one reason that it works in the historical fiction because you know, the class divisions there, whatever you think of them being wrong, historically, you don’t have to pussyfoot around them, because everybody agreed they were there. Much more problematic in the second half of the 20th century. I don’t think I would have liked her at all.

In terms of biography, I do think they both bring her alive. A biography can bring someone to life in a way to the extent that a photograph can. If you ever see two or three photographs of the same person, they can look remarkably different, and have a very different feel. And part of the biographer’s job is to create a sense of a convincing, whole person. But another biography might create a very convincing person who does seem a bit different. Herbert Butterfield, who was a very interesting early 20th century historian who, interestingly, was not as passionately anti-historical fiction, as most of them and wrote an interesting little book of historical fiction about different periods and how it brings history alive. And he said, just because there are a million views of a mountain, does not mean that all views are true, or no views are true. Which I think is really, really worth… it’s actually very worth hanging on to when you’re thinking about historical writing as a discipline. But I think it applies to biography as well as the sort of… there is the core truth which is the real person. And then good biographies give you a really good sense of that real person, but they cannot be the real person. And then there will be biographies you read and you think, ‘This is not a view of the mountain’! That’s not the mountain, but nothing can be the mountain, except the mountain.

SARA-MAE: I suppose what Emma means here is that, unless you’re talking to the person yourself, Mohamed going to the mountain so to speak, you can’t really get at the pith of someone, only an approximation based on assimilating many different facts. Perhaps biographies always bear the writer’s stamp. Jennifer Kloester talked to me about this in an upcoming episode – and she had many previously undiscovered letters at her disposal. But even letters and diary entries can be misleading. That’s why I don’t keep a diary, I tried it once and it was hopelessly self-indulgent. What I mean is, even these sorts of epistles might be misleading as to the true nature of their subject – though I suppose it depends who we’re writing for.

EMMA: There’s always the question of audience, you know, one’s writing a letter to a particular person. I find that very fascinating in fiction, actually, because you have a more direct sense of ‘audience’ and also when one writes letters to a particular purpose. I mean, even in the days when people wrote  letters instead of phoning up, there was a reason that you spoke to this or that person. I always think it’s a bit hard when someone digs into some famous person’s letters and finds them being a bit of a snob.

We all talk differently to intimates from how we do publicly. But that’s not the whole picture. People’s public-facing – photographers know this – how the person presents themselves is just as interesting.

SARA-MAE: In spite of her real-life crustiness Heyer is one of those authors I can read again and again, a port in a storm where I can rest assured that I’m in safe hands as soon as I open one of her books.

EMMA: Yes, you know what you’re going to get. And of course, that’s one of the ways you make a career writing the same sort of book is that people buy them knowing that they’re going to get something which is both new and interesting because it’s a new story, but also utterly reliable in what sort of pleasures it’s going to deliver. You know what you’re going to get, I mean, statistically the most likely next book for any person to buy, is a book by an author they’ve just read. And that is because you know what you’re going to get! I recently chaired the debut Crown Judges…

SARA-MAE: Emma’s referring to the Historical Novelist Society competitions which they call the ‘Crowns’, much like the Crime Writer’s Association has the Dagger awards.

EMMA: And I was blogging about those books on the shortlist and what a historical fiction writer could learn from any writer really. And I find the word that kept coming up was confidence. And these are new writers, then I was trying to think, okay, it’s all very well telling people to have confidence when they write, but what’s it made of? And I realised, it was about knowing what you’re trying to do and doing it very wholeheartedly. Not pulling back, not having doubts. Well, you might have doubts in the writing, but it comes across as I’m doing it wholeheartedly and wholly, and that gives the writing this coherence and consistency and working in a particular way. With Heyer one sinks into it. You know, it’s going to work. And I’ve made some converts. I usually suggest reading either Venetia or The Grand Sophy.

SARA-MAE: What does Emma say to convince people to read Heyer?

EMMA: Her research is impeccable. But also she’s very sharp and she’s very, very funny. And I say try… if you want something funny, then The Grand Sophy probably is as funny as any of them. And there’s this sort of energy, partly because of who Sophy is, you know, there’s a tremendous energy there. And also in some ways, it’s kind of classic Heyer because there it is in London, it’s the social round, all the balls, you know, all that stuff. But for the really…in some ways, the deeper certainly there is a quite a deep exploration of what makes two people be the right people for each other. I think Venetia maybe because it’s slightly slower paced, and it’s not endless balls. And also because there are obstacles in the way of them getting together. Time for Heyer to explore what it is that makes this sort of deeply satisfying partnership that we really want to work. Certainly, I would always prescribe for anyone writing historical fiction. A) For voice, not to imitate it, but to discover what a consistent voice feels like. And also, for how the research (and particularly the later books), it doesn’t stick out as research.

SARA-MAE: No, she wore it very lightly.

EMMA:  And I’m sure it was because she’d done it so often.

SARA-MAE: Thank you so much for spending time chatting with me today.

EMMA: You’re very welcome. It’s lovely, always very happy to talk Heyer.

SARA-MAE: To finish off, I ask Emma what’s she’s working on at the moment, and where you can find her on the interwebs.

EMMA: Emmadarwin.com, they can find out more about writing on my blog about writing which is This Itch of Writing, which you can Google. And I have just finished the first draft of a big novel, there’s a lot more to do, which is set in the 16th century, which is a great big beast. I mean, my next job is to get out of the machete and have a real hack at it. So, I’ve just finished that. And I also just wrote a rather peculiar memoir, lovely to talk to you.

SARA-MAE: Cheers. Have a great day. Bye.

SARA-MAE: Remember I mentioned her novel This Is Not a Book About Darwin? This is the memoir she’s talking about – you can buy it now at any good book seller. The 16th century book she’s referring to is A Secret Alchemy – which is also available to buy. Go and grab these fabulous reads now.

Next time, we’ll be having our second book club episode, covering Devil’s Cub – be sure and hop over to Audible to listen to the audio book – it’s a fabulous, swashbuckling read, featuring murder in the first chapter (well self-defense), a kidnapping and a hero with what some might call… severe impulse control problems.

I’ll be trying to convert the bassist from my band, Khalid Ham to Heyer’s work, and, as he’s the same age as the hero, trying to establish if the modern youth duels and shoots the flames off candles quite as much as their regency counterparts.

All of that, plus we’ll be looking at what was happening in Georgette’s life at the time – with brilliant voice actors recreating Heyer’s excursion to Tanganyika, Africa…hint, there’s a rhino involved.

Till next time, don’t be a muffin-faced clunch – stream us on Heyer Today.

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. Mike Scott for picking up milk and stellar production assistance.

Thanks also to Geraldine Elliot, Talitha Gamaroff and everyone who supported me in creating this work. Suzy Buttress in particular, but the podcast community at large for so much inspiration and encouragement.

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gattril’s wondrous album, Chapter I, as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast  by Sara-Mae and Tom Chadd.

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media, we’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

Remember to rate, review and subscribe…I can’t tell you how much it helps small indie companies like us to thrive.

Heyer Today is a Fable Gazers production.

HEYER TODAY EPISODE 1: HOOKED ON HEYER WITH STEPHEN FRY

Listen to this episode here.

Also available on any good podplayer, iTunes, Spotify or Amazon Music.

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SARA-MAE: Welcome to Fable Gazers’ Season Two of ‘Heyer Today’, the podcast about criminally underappreciated Regency romance queen, Georgette Heyer. I can’t remember when I first read one of her books, they’ve just always been a part of my literary DNA, novels I go back to again and again, as comforting as home-cooked mac and cheese. Over the past four years, I’ve researched her life and work, interviewing over forty people, including Stephen Fry, authors Joanne Harris, Harriet Evans, Mary Jo Putney, and many more, trying to get to the bottom of why her books have yet to be given the critical recognition I think she deserves. We’ll also be examining the difficulties of getting a book made into a film, unpicking why Heyer’s work has been ignored by the film industry when there are so many of her works that would make cracking Jane Austenesque romcoms. We’ll chat to Andy Patterson, producer of ‘The Railway Man’ and ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ about his attempt to get one of Heyer’s novels from the page to the screen. Plus, we’ll be having fortnightly book club episodes in which I’ll have a spoilerific discussion with a different Heyer virgin about one of her books. Join comedians Emma Moran, Glen Tickle, Dom Patmore, Rhiannon Shaw and Kate Hinksman, as well as assorted victims, ahem, friends by going to fablegazers.com and checking out the reading list.

I want to use fifteen books as stepping stones to explore her life and work, with the help of experts like biographer Jennifer Kloester and knowledgeable fans like Stephen Fry, Joanne Harris, Emma Darwin and more. I’ll warm my hands at the fire of our shared enthusiasm and hopefully bring you, the listener, along with us. It’s a thing we share, we rabid Heyer fans, this need to talk about her. If you’re one of those people who can hear Heyer’s voice: smart, dry, so witty she can make you laugh out loud, it lives with you forever.

[HEYER QUOTE: Heyer addicts just ARE (and some of them are quite sensible people!) and they don’t mind What It’s About.]

That’s Georgette. You’re going to hear from her now and then and, joining us, you’ll visit her Regency world, so intricately recreated through her forensic research, her delicious use of colloquialisms, chunks of which were nicked by authors who tried to replicate her success. She birthed a genre and yet has somehow been lost in the sea of wannabe copycats, none of whom has a molecule of Heyer’s talent or knowledge of human nature. Learning more about her has made me admire her even more. She had to support her family from her early 20s, and her work ethic was impressive as hell. She managed to produce almost two books a year over much of her career, the raggedy clacking of her typewriter shunting back and forth, regular as clockwork. Editors were not allowed to touch a single full stop or errant capital. I remember walking through Wimbledon, imagining her as a child, bright and sharp, performing dramatic readings with her beloved papa, George, at the Wimbledon Literary and Scientific Society. He was a writer too. In 1902 he wrote of baby Georgette:

[GEORGE HEYER:

I’ll sing a song of you, Georgette,

I’ll sing a song of you;

You’ve silky, brownish sorts of locks,

And cheeks of fairest hue;

You wear such pretty light blue frocks;

And joy to kick off both your socks —

I’ll sing a song of you.

And when you are asleep, Georgette, 

Oh when you are asleep,

Above the bordered coverlet

The little fingers peep;

I’d like to venture near, and set 

A kiss upon their tips, Georgette,

Because you are asleep.]

All these things I learned, and the picture in my mind’s eye became clearer.

Her first book was written to focus the fever-bright gleam of her brother’s eyes on her face. Each chapter full of derring-do, the beginnings of her wry humour and, of course, the romance for which she became famous. She was only nineteen. Nineteen! Like her idol, Jane Austen, who wrote her juvenilia for the entertainment of Cassandra and a bevy of boisterous brothers, her saucy irreverence of her ‘full and complete histories’ or Lady Susan’s seductive amorality still pulse with flashes of genius. I could go on about them both for ages, but Austen’s oeuvre, at least, is replete with commentary far more insightful than mine. But it’s Heyer whose work has largely been dismissed, with a few notable exceptions, by critics and moviemakers alike.

Now, vast swathes of people have never heard of Heyer – you may be one of them. Which is nuts because she was a best-selling author almost from the outset, that nineteen year old girl writing to the Society of Authors and her new agent, LP Moore, determined to take her career into her own hands, hiding her fear that it was all frivolous nonsense. I think she deserves better.

Then there’s the mystery of why her works have been ignored by filmmakers. We’ll talk to Peter Buckman, agent for her estate, and Andy Paterson, acclaimed producer of movies like ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and The Railway Man’ as he tries to get a movie made of her novel The Grand Sophy. We’re going to explore the difficulties of transmuting a period novel into celluloid.

I’m trying something new here, so I’m a little nervous. One week we’ll have interviews with Heyer fans like Stephen Fry, then the next we’ll alternate with our Heyer book club, in which I try to convert new readers to her work. You can read along with us by following the book list at fablegazers.com.

Now, actor and national treasure, Stephen Fry, chats to me about his love of Heyer.

SARA-MAE: Can you tell me how you came to be hooked on Heyer?

STEPHEN FRY: Well, I think…I was considering this, knowing I was going to talk to you, and I’m pretty sure the reason was that my mother had three Heyer books as I was growing up: The Foundling, Toll Booth and, I think, Friday’s Child. And I, I read Toll Booth first…

SARA-MAE: It’s actually The Toll Gate, but I’m not about to correct Stephen Fry [laughs].

STEPHEN FRY: …and loved it. I think I was ill actually and my mother had brought in a selection of books ‘cos I’d read all my own books – I was about twelve, thirteen or something – and I just really enjoyed it. Then a couple of years later, I noticed the other two on her shelves and so I read those, and then by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I was absolutely hooked. So whenever I was in a second-hand bookshop or anything like that, I would look for Georgette Heyer as well as looking for my other firm favourites, like PG Woodhouse and Evelyn Waugh and so on, and I suppose probably for the same reason, which we’ll come to, I dare say, which is language.

SARA-MAE: Yes, indeed. Her language is great. Why do you think she isn’t as popular now as she was in her day? Because she certainly sold enough copies, didn’t she?

STEPHEN FRY: She did. And it is a puzzle. I think perhaps the snobbery against that sort of… it’s the way the covers show her as if she’s some kind of awful romantic, soppy, ghastly, bosomy and bodice-ripping – you know all the horrible things that Heyerites get very cross about if the assumption is made. And there are people who cling on to her petticoat-tails, as it were, on to her muslin, who really are…had nothing like her qualities. People just assume there’s a genre now of Regency romance and that she’s one of them and that she’s like the others. And she isn’t, as we who venerate and know, and it’s annoying. And maybe the publishers haven’t had the courage of their convictions to sell them as more intelligent, sprightly, funny, rewarding books than they are assumed to be. They’re taken to be fancy cake Quality Street, and in fact, they are…there’s a lot more to them than that. Which is not to say that they aren’t fantastic fun and escapist and readable and those things too.

SARA-MAE: I mention here that Heyer considered her Regency work to be a combination of Austen and Johnson. So, she’s a lot more similar to literary icons like that than the bodice rippers many associate her with.

SARA-MAE: Well she said of herself that she sort of combines Austen and Samuel Johnson, so she’s a lot more literary than I think a lot of people give her credit for.

STEPHEN FRY: Indeed, she is. And there are frames of reference, you know. She makes reference to writers and figures at the time, like Horace Walpole is a great favourite of hers. She sometimes puts him in the scene in Brooks’s or something, there’ll be Horry in the corner making some acid remark. He was an incredibly important figure who linked his uncle Robert Walpole’s, you know, great beginning of the Whig ascendancy to the later Gothic movements and so on, with Strawberry Hill and everything that made Horace Walpole famous and his novels and so on. And that’s really the point is that she’d so subsumed herself in the age and became such a mistress of its language and its modalities and its architecture and its locations, its locales. The milieu was just hers and nobody came close, I dare…I think probably a lot of historians would be amazed at the detail. It’s now very fashionable, of course, to have these ghettos of history, if you like, which are entirely to do with costume or entirely to do with conveyances and carriages and so on, and so there are many more experts than there were when she was young and writing. So, the work she did in libraries is astonishing. To this day, I’m amazed at how much she must have done and where she must have gone. I don’t know which was…did she go to the London library? I don’t know.

SARA-MAE: She joined the London Library in December 1926, a private subscription library started by Thomas Carlyle in 1841. Its understated Victorian interior exactly suited Georgette, with its comfortable red leather wing chairs, and wooden desks polished by the tweed-clad elbows of many a quiet visitor.

SARA-MAE: Yeah, I think she lived down the road from it, didn’t she, in Albany?

STEPHEN FRY: I live just the other side of it. I can literally throw a cricket ball and break a window of the London Library, so I feel very much part of the St. James’s, Georgette Heyer world, very close to Almack’s.

SARA-MAE: Yes indeed. I tried to use subterfuge to get into the Albany one day, because they wouldn’t let the likes of me in.

STEPHEN FRY: Well, there you see now, there are all kinds, and she would have been fully aware of this because – let’s face it – she was a bit of a snob but, as Alan Bennett once said, there are different kinds of snobbery and the snobbery that looks up is rather harmless and sweet and eccentric, it’s only the snobbery that looks down that’s unpleasant. There are moments in Georgette Heyer where we’re a bit embarrassed by the slightly crude dismissal of city-types – or ‘cits’ as she likes to call them – people who actually earn a living and smell of the shop and have their money from trade. But you accept that her world is one in which there’s a considered…out there. But just to return to that point, you should be aware, of course that it’s not the Albany, it’s Albany.

SARA-MAE: I have an uneasy feeling this is not the first time I’m going to be schooled by Stephen Fry.

SARA-MAE: Ah yes, well there you go. Exactly why…

STEPHEN FRY: That’s one of those traps, in the same way as it’s not St. James, it’s St. James’s, and the club is not Brooks but Brooks’s. You know, there are all these little details and you get very…and she, of course, was very, very fierce on those. She never made a mistake, as far as I know.

SARA-MAE: That’s exactly one of the reasons why they would have booted me out.

STEPHEN FRY: But while we’re reading the books, we’re all members of the beau monde – that’s the, that’s the nice thing. We’ve all been granted vouchers by Lady Sefton or Sally Jersey to Almack’s [laughs].

SARA-MAE: We’ve got a pass, yes.

STEPHEN FRY: Yeah, exactly.

SARA-MAE: Heyer is famous for her use of accurate Regency cant. I wanted to know which expression was Stephen’s favourite.

SARA MAE: Have you ever been ‘dicked in the nob’? Bosky?

STEPHEN FRY: ‘Bosky’ and ‘foxed’ and ‘shot the cat’ and all those wonderful ones…‘a trifle disguised’…the ones for drunk, and for drink! I mean, gin alone has ‘daffy’. Although that’s interesting, ‘daffy’, because daffy was a drink that was given to children. It had senna pod in it and it’s mentioned in Oliver Twist, and the gin is added to it. So, I remember seeing that in Oliver Twist, and thinking did Georgette Heyer get it wrong? Because for Georgette Heyer ‘daffy’ is gin, and for Dickens and his contemporaries, or at least I say his contemporaries because Dickens was as much, almost as much, a historical novelist as Georgette Heyer, and most of his books are set in and around the time of Dickens’s own childhood, and earlier obviously in the case of Tale of Two Cities. So he was probably remembering daffy as this children’s drink for constipation, that had senna pod in it, to which gin was added to make children drink it – because children, of course, drank gin to make them behave in those days. It then became by – I’ve researched this, this is pathetic – and daffy did come to mean gin, because it so often had gin added to it. But there’s ‘blue ruin’ of course, it was called, and ‘flash of lightning’, I think she calls it, ‘stark-naked’, ‘old tom’, so many different words for that. And for beer, there’s ‘heavy wet’, which I’ve always loved, which is a bit like the Scottish use ‘a pint of heavy’, but with her it’s always the ‘heavy wet’. So those I loved. And of course, names for ‘girls of easy virtue, shall we say: ‘barques of frailty’, ‘incognitas’. And then there’s some very classical ones like ‘paffions’, which is after the city of Paffos on Cyprus, which was known for its cult of Aphrodite and therefore, I suppose, was considered to be sort of sexually light. And ‘light’ is another one – ‘light skirt’ and ‘light of love’.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

STEPHEN FRY: ‘Haymarket ware’, that’s another one, isn’t it? ‘A bit of muslin’, of course, is very common. Men have called it being ‘in the petticoat line’. And there used to be, in my youth, a radio programme called the ‘Petticoat Line’.

SARA-MAE: Oh, wow. Yeah.

STEPHEN FRY: So, it obviously was a phrase that had lasted a bit. But I’d heard a story, and I don’t know if you know about this, that she got so annoyed by people stealing her Regency cant…obviously it’s public domain, in the sense that she found it in books, that she would often put in one that she made up herself, so that if someone then used that she knew they were stealing from her. Have you heard that story?

SARA-MAE: In Jane Aiken Hodge’s biography, The Private World of Georgette Heyer, she politely draws a veil over the identity of Heyer’s plagiarist. But in Jennifer Kloester’s excellent biography, and with the benefit of Georgette’s letters to her agent LP Moore, we find that there were two authors who were particularly guilty of nicking Heyer’s phrases. In 1951, a fan wrote to Georgette to tell her that Barbara Cartland had been plagiarising from her work. Cartland was a socialite with royal connections, and with her own column in the Daily Express. She’d published several non-fiction books and plays, as well as thirty moderately successful modern romances. Three of her works, set in the Georgian era, had raised a few eyebrows because of the similarities to Heyer’s novels, amongst them A Hazard of Hearts and Knave of Hearts. Georgette largely dismissed the allegations, though dryly acknowledged Cartland had stolen names, characters and plot points. At first, she intended to simply write a letter of protest to Cartland, but after she read Knave of Hearts and noticed just how closely the circumstances, characters and events adhered to those in These Old Shades, she wrote to her solicitor instead.

By the way, throughout the series, you’ll hear a difference between the older Heyer and the younger. We have two wonderful voice actors playing her. Here’s Sarah Golding:

[HEYER QUOTE: Barbara Cartland’s work has a certain salacity which I find revolting. No sense of period, not a vestige of wit, no ability to make a character live – besides a decided melodramatic bias. The whole thing makes me feel more than a little unwell. I think I could have born it better had Miss Cartland not being so common-minded, so salacious and so illiterate. I think ill enough of The Shades, but good God, that nineteen-year-old work has more style, more of what it takes than this offal that she has written at the age of forty-six.]

SARA-MAE: She began a lengthy process of working her way through Knave and annotating in red ink as she went along, noting all names and period phrases. Using black ink, she marked lifted situations and paraphrases. On top of this, she sent a ten-page list of the main points of similarity between the novels, with examples of Cartland’s linguistic errors. These included Regency fashion, a particular sticking point with Heyer, who knew her breeches from her pantaloons. This is important because it’s the first time in over thirty years of writing that Heyer acknowledged her pride in her research. She was notoriously disdainful of the quality of her work but, faced with the blatant recycling of her painstaking research, she was moved to act, so disgusted was she by Cartland’s lack of historical integrity. Plagiarism is very hard to prove in court, and in the end Heyer simply demanded an apology and for the offending books to be taken out of circulation. There is no evidence she got her apology letter, but copies of the titles ceased abruptly, until 1971 when Knave of Hearts was re-issued under a new title, The Innocent Heiress, with a heading ‘In the tradition of Georgia Heyer’. So, I guess that makes it alright?

The second instance came in 1961, when another fan wrote to Georgette about Kathleen Lindsay’s Winsome Lass which an infuriated Georgette called ‘a blatant piece of piracy’. Fun fact: Lindsay was even more prolific than Georgette, writing nine hundred and four novels under different pseudonyms. Kloester notes in her biography that Lindsay actually held the record as the world’s most prolific novelist. As with the first episode of plagiarism, Georgette wrote to Lindsay’s publisher, Robert Lusty – appropriate name for a romance publisher! – of Hearst and Blackett. This time, instead of tacitly acknowledging the plagiarism, Lindsay’s publishers write back brusquely, telling Georgette that the author takes exception to the accusations, demanding details of the alleged borrowings. I can just see Georgette rolling up her sleeves and narrowing her eyes, cracking her knuckles. Once again, she sent a detailed summary including a two-page list. Some examples were: confusing the fourth and fifth Lady Jersey, and the wrong publishing date for Walter Scott’s Waverley. One instance, in particular, rankled: Lindsay’s use of the phrase ‘to make a cake of oneself’. Like many of Georgette’s idioms, she’d found it in a privately printed memoir, unavailable to the general public. The stress of all this actually made her ill, making her blood pressure skyrocket. Lindsay, however, was not having it, and she sent back what Kloester calls ‘a poor response’. Incensed, Georgette consulted with a solicitor. Her counsel recommended an injunction but, in the end, she never went to court.

I mention to Stephen that anyone foolish enough to plagiarise Heyer must have more hair than wit.

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, that’s a beauty, isn’t it?

SARA-MAE: I can think of several people in the political sphere right now that might, that might be attributed to.

STEPHEN FRY: Definitely, and plenty of them are doing it ‘a trifle too brown’. I mean it’s just wonderful. And I love ‘without roundaboutation’, to sort of latinize such an Anglo-Saxon thing as roundabout. And ‘bellows to mend’ and ‘bag of moonshine’.

SARA-MAE: It’s just one of those things that…it helps to locate you in the world. You’re instantly there and you know exactly what kind of character she’s talking about.

STEPHEN FRY: Yes, absolutely. As you read the books you get to know the subtle gradations, so that if you’re talking about ‘a Pink of the Ton’ there are those that are just plain ‘macaronis’ and absolute ‘coxcombs’, real sort of dandies with striped trousers and too, too many quizzing glasses and fobs, and so on. And then there are those, the ones that she obviously finds the sexiest, who are the Corinthians, the members of the Four-in-Hand Club, with their many-layered riding capes and who can drive within an inch, and so on. And they’re much more lazy and casual in their fashion, but when they need to go to a ball, they can dress up beautifully, of course. So, you have all these, they are Bloods and Corinthians and are pretty close. They’re good for Mendozas and for the boxing in Haymarket and where they can practice fencing and so on.

SARA-MAE: I’d love to talk to you more about this, particularly as it relates to Beau Brummell, because Oscar Wilde who you played was very much influenced by him. And I just love that Brummell appears in many of her books. But I just want to talk, prior to that, about film. To me, it’s a total mystery that they haven’t plundered her books for, for brilliant films.

STEPHEN FRY: Yes! With the exception of Reluctant Widow, isn’t it? Yeah.

SARA-MAE: Indeed, yeah.

STEPHEN FRY: Which I haven’t seen, but I know is on YouTube. I suppose I should, I should catch it. It’s not a very well-known cast.

SARA-MAE: Well it’s not particularly good, to be honest. She really didn’t like it. She thought they really made it kind of smutty and sexed it up in her, in her mind.

SARA-MAE: It’s a commonly held misapprehension that Heyer hated the idea of her books being made into films. In reality, as early as 1926, aged twenty-four, she was pressing her agent to sell the rights to her book Simon the Coldheart. Her beloved father had died the year before, leaving the young writer to shoulder the burden of supporting her mother and two younger brothers after her father’s death. Here’s Helen Davidge as young Heyer:

[HEYER QUOTE: Why the blazes not one of those stinking film companies can see what a super film Regency Buck would make beats me. I despair of films. I expect fate is going to be ironic and I shall sell them when it doesn’t really matter much.]

SARA-MAE: In fact, it was to be a common refrain with her over the years, seeing films as an opportunity to make extra money, and enhance her popularity, particularly in America. In 1935, with her husband, Richard, working at sporting goods shop which didn’t bring in enough money to mitigate their expenses, Georgette was still the main breadwinner. Adaptations for the stage gave her hope, as her debts piled up.

[HEYER QUOTE: Once I’m straight I think all will be plain sailing, as I seem to be making a fair income, one way and another. That’s why I’m so mercenarily minded at the moment and lie awake praying for the American film to be a success, and for Fox Films to buy Talisman Ring.]

SARA-MAE: Prickly Georgette, however, could not help interfering with the playwriting process, as playwright AE Thomas was to find.

[HEYER QUOTE: Wit and custard pies don’t mix. If he tries to introduce ‘mad situations’ he will fall between two stools. This play is not going to be as good as I could make it. To correct by correspondence is very difficult, as I don’t wish to hurt Mr Thomas’s feelings. The ideal thing would have been for us to have worked together – he to plot the sequence, me to write the necessary dialogue. Reading this second version has made me more than ever determined to do Behold, Here’s Poison myself.] 

SARA-MAE: Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of these early adaptions were successful, with Merely Murder opening for only three nights on Broadway in 1937. So, by 1946, Georgette was delighted when a film company showed interest in producing The Reluctant Widow. Unfortunately, the advance publicity she received, in 1949, ahead of the film’s release, disgusted her.

[HEYER QUOTE: I feel as though a slug has crawled over me. I think it is going to do me a great deal of harm, on account of the schoolgirl public. Already I’m getting letters reproaching me. They have turned the widow into a ‘bad-girl’ part for Jean Kent, and this week’s ‘Illustrated’ carries two pages headed ‘Jean Locks Her Bedroom Door’. Also, seduction scenes I and II…I should like a notice to appear in every paper disclaiming all responsibility. At all events, I think I can get my name removed from the thing, and I shall. It seems to me that to turn a perfectly clean story of mine into a piece of sex-muck is bad faith, and something very different from the additions and alterations one would expect to be obliged to suffer. If I had wanted a reputation for salacious novels, I could have got it easily enough. The whole thing is so upsetting that it is putting me right off the stroke.]

SARA-MAE: We’ll continue to explore her film woes in later episodes when we speak to Heyer’s agent, Peter Buckman, and Andy Paterson, producer of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’. They have been working to get a version of The Grand Sophy off the ground. But more on that later.

SARA-MAE: She wasn’t against her books being made into films. In fact, she was always looking for more money, so she kept, she kept longing for someone to make them.

STEPHEN FRY: I can’t understand why she wasn’t fantastically rich. I mean, look at the rewards that come to best-selling authors today. And she was a fantastically best-selling author. So why wasn’t she a fantastically rich one? I know her husband, Rougier, who got into some trouble, did he, I think? Did she have to bail him out?

SARA-MAE: Ronald Rougier? Well, I think he was an engineer and it didn’t seem to really pan out. They went to Africa, they came back. He opened a sports goods store that didn’t quite work out. Then he retrained as a lawyer, so I think it was just sort of finding his way with whatever he was doing, and she supported him the whole time. And many of her family members as well.

STEPHEN FRY: Right.

SARA-MAE: A brother who was a bit unstable, I think he had a few mental health issues and things like that.

SARA-MAE: I ask Stephen which of her books he thinks will make good films. I’ve told him that The Grand Sophy is being developed. Sophy is one of Heyer’s strongest heroines, who descends on her distant cousins in London having followed her diplomat father around Spain and France during the Napoleonic wars. I can think of a number of great parts for Stephen and can’t understand why he wouldn’t be first on anyone’s casting list. Side note: I’m trying to stop myself from ‘toad-eating’ him, as Georgette would say, but there are moments during this interview when I feel as though my head will explode that I’m actually having this conversation. Anyway, back to Stephen Fry, national treasure. Ooh! Get a grip, Sarah. He’s talking about which books he thinks would make good films. Are you listening, film producers?

STEPHEN FRY: Let me think…I suppose False Colours might be a natural because you’ve got twins.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

STEPHEN FRY: Most people’s favourite great ones are These Old Shades and then Devil’s Cub because that’s the sequel, as fine as the original in many ways.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

STEPHEN FRY: Delightful. I wonder if they would work as well? Friday’s Child I was very fond of.

SARA-MAE: Which role would you love to play, if you could, if you had a choice of anybody? Before I tell you what they think you should play!

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, my lord! Well now, that’s a very interesting question. See, I mean, I…obviously we all think of ourselves as these cold, brutal heroes, but I’m just not like that at all. Obviously…who’s the, who’s the great big fellow? Oh, the Ajax?

SARA-MAE: Yes, yes, Hugo.

STEPHEN FRY: Yeah, that would have been a nice character to play. I go, you’ll have to tell me…I’ll either sound ridiculously modest or absurdly vain. You know, when I was younger, Sylvester or something would have been quite fun because he’s this wicked character, but I’m nothing like sexy enough. They’re all Hugh Grant parts, let’s be honest, or someone similar.

SARA-MAE: I’ve asked the Heyer fan club on Facebook to weigh in on this question of who Steven should play. I wonder if he’ll be surprised when he hears their thoughts?

SARA-MAE: Well, they did, they did suggest a few of the heroes, including Hugo from The Unknown Ajax, Sir Hugh Thane from The Talisman Ring…

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, yeah.

SARA-MAE: …the Earl of Rule…

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, yes.

SARA-MAE: I had someone very forcefully suggesting that you should play the Earl of Rule. Sir Anthony Fanshawe from The Masqueraders?

STEPHEN FRY: That’s a good character. Yes, I like that.

SARA-MAE: But there were many other sort of more character roles they wanted to see you in.

STEPHEN FRY: Yes, there are some good fat uncles, aren’t there, who live alone on Brook Street or Half Moon Street or one of those ones, the north side of Piccadilly from St. James’s and Charles Street, all those Mayfair addresses. They’re usually only up at noon, with their chocolate and their scapegrace nephew comes to see them. They find them tiresome, but they get on well. That sort of character is marvellous. And I thought, I always wanted to live the life of one of those. And indeed, I have lived in that part of London and I still find it marvellous going around St. James’s, and seeing the bow window at White’s Club, for example. She talks about that quite a…on several occasions, if you recall, that people sit in the bow window and they make bets on who’s coming past, whatever, and the whole world comes, comes by. If you look for long enough, you’ll see everybody.

SARA-MAE: For Heyer newbies, many of her most popular works take place in the Georgian era, and her novels set in this period have spawned countless copycats.  It quickly becomes clear that Stephen is way more knowledgeable than I am about this period.

STEPHEN FRY: Opposite, of course…White’s is the great Tory stronghold and opposite it is Brooks’s, which is the great Whig stronghold. And at the time she’s writing, the Tories have come back – the Prince of Wales was a Whig – and I’m always quite interested to try and discover what her loyalties might be. Because Tories aren’t Tories as we think of them today, and the Whigs, certainly not a liberal opposition in any particular sense, though they tend to have slightly more intellectuals in them, and characters like Charles James Fox and Horace Walpole, whom she’s very fond of. And obviously, Beau Brummell was a member of Brooks’s, and the Prince Regent was very much a Whig and he hated Pitt and he hated the Tories. And so when Prinny is occasionally in the stories, is there, or one of his uncles or brothers is there, she’s kind of playing occasionally with this pressure that’s on the Whigs who have been taken over by the stern, the stern Tories. Although the Tories she likes because of course, through them, you get to Wellington and she’s fond of the old Duke, and obviously Waterloo is an important landmark between the Regency and the reign of George IV so it’s, it is a fascinating time, it really is. And it’s interesting to see when she chooses to be right in the middle of it, as a Regency writer, and when she chooses to go a bit earlier. I mean, she actually writes some much earlier stories, doesn’t she?

SARA-MAE: Yeah.

STEPHEN FRY: My Lord John, her last one, was mediaeval, wasn’t it?

SARA-MAE: Yes. I think she sort of kept thinking those are the books she should be writing, these kind of epic ones about, you know, Henry the – I can’t remember, was it the eighth? – or which Henry it was, but…

STEPHEN FRY: Yes, right there with the early one. Yes. And, and The Masqueraders is Jacobite, I think, isn’t it? So that’s 1740s, I guess. And then there were some I find slightly duller, like Bath Tangle – doesn’t, not much seems to happen in that, maybe I’m being unfair. But Arabella is good. And The Foundling I like. Regency Buck, of course.

SARA-MAE: Yes.

STEPHEN FRY: I mean, it’s just amazing…you almost want to be ill in a light enough way to be able to just have a whole shelf of them.

SARA-MAE: And just dip in.

STEPHEN FRY: Yeah, absolutely.

SARA-MAE: Well, Swithin Liversedge, I don’t know if you remember him from The Foundling? He’s the one who kidnaps poor old Gilly, the Duke of Sale, and then winds up being his butler by the end, because he’s such a…he reminded me of Harold Skimpole from Bleak House.

STEPHEN FRY: Yes.

SARA-MAE: Oh, I’m just a child, you know? He was of that ilk.

STEPHEN FRY: Yes. Who is based on Leigh Hunt, isn’t he? Skimpole. He characterised him on his friend, Leigh Hunt, Dickens. And that absolute childishness is a very nice quality. And actually, Gilly is a very sweet character, isn’t he? I like the idea of the sort of pampered aristocrat.

SARA-MAE: Yes. But I thought it was just so genius how she got this, this guy who is essentially a kidnapper, and who planned on murdering him.

STEPHEN FRY: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: She has a bit of a laissez faire attitude towards violence in some of her books.

STEPHEN FRY: She does, doesn’t she? It’s fascinating, that. She sails close to the wind in that regard, but somehow it always seems to work out. There are murder plots sometimes. Some of the stories are much more with criminals, you know, she likes the ‘High Toby’ as she always calls highwaymen – I don’t know where she gets that one from, it’s rather splendid – and rakes. There are rakes who have really cold eyes and cheat, and The Masqueraders is where…yes…Masqueraders is the cheating at cards as a backstory, isn’t it?

SARA-MAE: I think so. But, but Devil’s Cub – he basically shoots in cold blood a highwayman, leaves him in the road!

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, yeah. That’s right. He is, I mean, wonderfully vicious.

SARA-MAE: Yes. But you kind of love that, I don’t know why, but you just sort of allow her that…let her ‘run her length’, as she would say.

STEPHEN FRY: Exactly, exactly. She was probably not the easiest person in the world to get on with, Georgette Heyer. She was formidable and she not only didn’t suffer fools, she didn’t suffer anybody who got in her way, I think, did she? She would, I mean she had a row with her…she felt the publishers weren’t treating her properly or anything like that. She really took it seriously.

SARA-MAE: Even the Queen found her intimidating, apparently.

STEPHEN FRY: That’s, that’s saying something. Was that the Queen Mother?

SARA-MAE: Elizabeth, I think. She went to lunch. And she wasn’t impressed because Prince Philip turned his back on her. And she, she didn’t think much of that.

STEPHEN FRY: My!

SARA-MAE: But she liked the Queen and was surprised that she’d find her intimidating.

STEPHEN FRY: [laughs] And I did try a couple of the legal thrillers, detective stories. And there I found her snobbery, when it was in the 20th century, was somehow really unpalatable. SARA-MAE: Yes, yes.

STEPHEN FRY: It was pretty tricky to deal with. I mean, I’m by no means politically correct when it comes to reading; I accept John Buchan and Sapper and their slightly casual ways with ‘oily levantines’ and all the rest of it. But there are some limits. And I think with Georgette Heyer, there’s a sort of, almost a malevolence when it comes to the kinds of people who are not good enough for her. And it’s fine in the Regency world because, you know, they are the Ton, they are the upper…what’s the number? I can’t remember.

SARA-MAE: Upper One Hundred, or something. Upper One Thousand.

STEPHEN FRY: Yeah, it’s the numbers you can get into Almack’s, I guess, Lady Jersey gives a voucher to. And so, you kind of accept that’s the rules of her game, but when it comes to the much more fractured and anxious and complex twentieth century I don’t think it works nearly as well.

SARA-MAE: This is why we’re focussing solely on her Regency romances in this podcast.

SARA-MAE: No, you’re right. I think it kind of guilds it a lot more, and it softens some of the things that are, as you say, more unpalatable.

STEPHEN FRY: Yeah.

SARA-MAE: But that’s possibly because she just lost herself in those worlds, whereas I think she found the murder mysteries quite a struggle to write, and apparently on one her husband had to help her. Someone tells of her coming along and sort of saying right at the end, ‘So, tell me who did what, when, and how?’ [laughs]

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, my goodness.

SARA-MAE: We chat about Beau Brummell, whom Stephen, as with many of the subjects we touch on, is very well informed about. You can hear his thoughts on that over the following weeks. Helen Davidge and I will spend an entire episode exploring this louche historical figure, who looms so large in many of Georgette’s works. We also touch on Brummell’s influence on Oscar Wilde, so look out for that. Stephen then gives a potted history of the Regency era in which Georgette was most comfortable writing.

STEPHEN FRY: And the Regency taste is not – people think of Regency stripe and the sort of boldness of it, but if you go to Regent’s Park, and you look at those extraordinary Nash houses, it’s astonishing how elegant and understated, really. It’s cream rather than white, and it’s just beautiful, and it’s harmonious. It’s a moment in history, which is fascinating and you can look at all kinds of things it might have come from – the settlement of the Jacobite War in 1745, ‘cos, ‘cos George III reigned from 1760 to 1820, something like that, was it? Sixty years, I think?

SARA-MAE: I don’t know. Man, I’m so dumb compared to Stephen Fry.

STEPHEN FRY: So, a part of that was the Regency when he was mad, of course, and in that time, we lost America. But the Industrial Revolution began to grow, and the odd mentions of something suggesting the Industrial Revolution in Georgette Heyer, and most importantly the threat of Napoleon. There are people who go to the wars, come back from the wars, and Wellington, the Duke, is mentioned. And obviously after 1815, when the battle was won, a period of peace and prosperity in Britain became the major player and the Prince Regent became King in 1820, I think.

SARA-MAE: The BBC website has a rather damning entry about George IV saying: ‘Never in modern times has a sovereign died so unlamented, nor has the person of the monarch retained so little respect after death, as King George IV in 1830. Robert Huish’s venomous biography of 1830-1 declared of the late King that, “with a personal income exceeding the national revenue of a third-rate power, there appeared to be no limit to his desires, nor any restraint to his profusion”, and concluded that George IV contributed more “to the demoralisation of society than any Prince recorded in the pages of history”.’ All of which may explain Georgette’s rather damning portrayal of him whenever he’s mentioned in her books, where he is often described as grossly overweight and a bad influence on all those in his set. Villains and reprobates are often connected with him, so it would seem that Georgette agrees with the Beeb’s summary dismissal of poor old Prinny.

STEPHEN FRY: And that’s the period in which you have barouches, and phaetons trot, and adventures and her romances take place. And usually it’s Brighton, Bath, London – and within London, Mayfair and St. James’s – and occasionally country houses and so on. It’s a small milieu, but like many truly great writers – Chekov, and Jane Austen obviously a great exemplar – they do work with, with a small milieu and within that they create the greatest art imaginable. Sometimes a miniaturist does more than an epic writer to capture the human heart. And, and even if it’s a populist writer of fantasy, escapist fiction like Georgette Heyer, it can nonetheless touch you in places surprisingly. And the way it does that, I suppose you’d say, and this is interesting when it comes to films and television adaptations, what everyone wants to think and hope might be made, is that you can divide a writer, I suppose, into three domains and they are the domain of character, the domain of narrative and the domain of language. And in the case of Georgette Heyer, the characters fit into types – I won’t say they’re stereotypes, they’re her stereotypes, they’re her types, they’re Heyerite villains, Heyerite heroines, Heyerite heroes, and so on. And that’s a stock of those, like a great repertory company. She has a repertory company of these great actors who suit these roles. And then there’s the narratives, and the stories are, again there’s a selection that she chooses – some of them are very Janeite – very, very Jane Austen-like – where there is the sensible heroine who’s smart, and has wise eyes or smiling eyes, or then there are the silly, ‘daffy’ characters who might be the heroine for that one, or indeed rather childlike ones, like, like Léonie and so on. And those stories are very satisfying. And then the third domain to me is the most important, which is what raises her above the others, is language. She doesn’t write bad sentences. She doesn’t overdo adverbs or do any of the other bad things that populist writers do and that are very tempting to do. She doesn’t overwrite, but, but she enjoys the rotundity and rhythmic pleasures that can, can be got from various characters and, and indeed from the prose style outside the characters – that of description and so on. So, the first description of Sale House, for example – it’s seen through a visitor’s book – is a delightful piece of writing. It’s marvellous, descriptive writing, and she knows how to do that. And it’s that that I think is the reason that writers as diverse as Kingsley Amis have mentioned Jane Austen. In fact, I think it’s in The Green Man, isn’t it, that his hero’s in the bath and says ‘Why don’t people call Georgette Heyer literature? She’s just as good as Jane Austen’ – or something, the character says! [laughs]

SARA-MAE: I know. I mean, I was really surprised there were some people that were very, very disinclined to even mention her in the same breath as Austen. Well, you were in Love and Friendship recently, which I thought you did a wonderful job in. And I think that’s one of the closest things we can…closest to Georgette Heyer, in a way, ‘cos it’s a bit more classical, isn’t it?

STEPHEN FRY: Yes, it is. Absolutely right.

SARA-MAE: If you’d like to know more about ‘Love & Friendship’, catch my guest spot on Flixwatcher – it’s a film review podcast covering what’s currently on Netflix. Our season one heroine, Ruby, and I discuss the film at length. It’s a total hoot. Based on Austen’s Lady Susan juvenilia, the main character is a dashing, if hilariously amoral anti-heroine played by Kate Beckinsale. Stephen’s part was far smaller than I would have liked, but he still manages to add brilliance, even amongst such a wonderful cast.

STEPHEN FRY: And there is an element of Jane Austen which is a bubbling excitement and a fun. It’s not that she, Jane Austen, suppresses that side of her, as a writer, it’s just that she is too much an artist to allow that to be her only modality, her only voice, and there is a, she is a moralist and there’s no getting away from it. It doesn’t mean that she’s stern or unbending or inhuman, quite the opposite – she’s moral because she knows that morality leads to virtue and happiness. And yeah, I mean, to compare Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen is unfair, because it’s also unfair to compare her with any writer, because Jane Austen was a unique and extraordinary genius and a clear-sighted, remarkable moralist, as they say, and, and Georgette Heyer’s not interested in being a moralist. Although she borrows and expects a certain kind of calculus – bad people are usually punished and good people come out okay, so a popular novelist.

SARA-MAE: Or they’re salvaged by the love of a good person.

STEPHEN FRY: Yes. Exactly, yeah.

SARA-MAE: But the difference is Austen’s work relies a lot on a very, very sophisticated irony.

STEPHEN FRY: Yes.

SARA-MAE: Whereas Georgette, her humour – the dialogue, the snappy banter, it’s a lot more sort of overtly humorous.

STEPHEN FRY: Yeah, exactly. I mean, Georgette Heyer is that box of chocolates that you treat yourself to and Jane Austen is three-course cuisine, and it’s staggering how this food can be prepared so perfectly and what a mixture of flavours it is. The crème brûlée has the bitterness as well as the sweetness and the unctuousness, and all those other clichés that food writers come up with!

SARA-MAE: Yes, indeed.

STEPHEN FRY: I’m sure that’s going nowhere, that particular metaphor, but you know what I mean. Georgette Heyer, let’s not forget, is therefore for our reading pleasure. It’s not, Jane Austen isn’t there for pleasure either because she’s supremely pleasurable to read, but you get more from Jane – much more – and sometimes you, you just want a sweetie, you know? You want a chocolate, you want the joy and pleasure of it, and you feel, ‘that was fun’. And that makes it ideal reading for the sick room.

SARA-MAE: Or the air raid shelter, she said.

STEPHEN FRY: Yes, of course, in her era. And, and I do wish that publishers would not have those hideous covers so that one would be embarrassed about having them in public. I suppose now one can read them all on Kindle so that no-one would know what you’re reading, but one shouldn’t be ashamed of reading Georgette Heyer. And there are those like my friend Nigella Lawson who’s a big fan of Georgette Heyer as well, and we talk about it sometimes. You know, you bump into people, or you just happen to be at a party and the downstairs loo is busy, and you’re popping for a pee and you go upstairs and you see people’s upstairs bookshelves, and they’re more likely to have Georgette Heyer than their downstairs one, you know what I mean? And then you go down and you say “Oh, I see you’ve got at least twelve Georgette Heyer’s! Isn’t she wonderful?” They’ll go, “My God, you don’t read Georgette Heyer?” And I go “Yes, I do!”. “Do men? Is it because you’re gay?”. There’s a point. Do mean read Georgette Heyer? Of course, they do. And I don’t think only gay men read Georgette Heyer. That would be weird. But obviously, the genre, and if you’re a publisher, I suppose what you try and do is sell as many books as possible. And if you sell Georgette Heyer, you have to aim at a certain market because that will be 80% of your readership, and the 20% that you could get by altering the publishing style and the design of the book are too fleeting and unreliable for you to guarantee that it’s worth it. And so, it would be a risk to re-design the books just for the possibility of getting a new kind of reader. What you need is, and this is what we’re coming to I suppose what you need is a film or something that would just… or a television adaptation that would raise her out and tell people about her.

SARA-MAE: Yes, so I’m hoping for a resurgence in interest in her work, but I’m doing my small mite by trying to convert people who’ve never read her work, and also just try to generate a bit of interest and awareness. I find it totally bizarre, by the way, that I have to do that because I just always assumed that everybody adored her and was just part of the kind of literary DNA of everyone’s lives, but apparently not.

STEPHEN FRY: Yes. At least people have started to write about her in in a sort of semi-scholarly way. There are books about her Regency England, and there’s Elizabeth Spillman and writers like that who’ve done a great deal to take her seriously enough, without being absurdly pompous or over-academic about it. That’s good. And then there’s this, things like this – podcasts and websites and places you can go – and I think there are some of those for people who are visually impaired or who like to take an audio book with them, there are more audiobooks now of hers, some of them from that free site. What’s it called? Artbox, is it? I don’t know what they’re like. Is that it? Who does the readings on those, do you know?

SARA-MAE: I do know the Richard Armitage one.

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, well, he’s very good.

SARA-MAE: He’s lovely. But…and he would make a great hero as well, just putting it out there. But unfortunately, they were abridged.

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, abridged!

SARA-MAE: Yes.

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, that’s a shame. Oh, that is a shame.

SARA-MAE: And I don’t want my Georgette’s abridged.

STEPHEN FRY: No. There’s an unabridged Sylvester, isn’t there? On Audible, I think.

SARA-MAE: Yes. I think there are a few.

STEPHEN FRY: And occasionally they do them on radio.

SARA-MAE: I mean, come on, you should do them!

STEPHEN FRY: Oh, well…

SARA-MAE: You’d do a wonderful job. You must do everything!

STEPHEN FRY: I just finished doing a big Audible job – well, I’m about to finish next week. I can’t talk about it, but it’s a complete reading of the whole canon of a particular author. And I’ve got three more days on it next week. So, I will be free. But whether I could do Georgette Heyer, I don’t know. It’s an interesting thought.

SARA-MAE: In case you’re interested, Stephen is referring to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which are available now on audible.com.

STEPHEN FRY: I would be to sit on someone’s bed when they’re ill and read them These Old Shades and The Devil’s Cub and…

SARA-MAE: Wow, what a lucky person that would be.

STEPHEN FRY: Well, it’s a great…

SARA-MAE: To end off I’ve got some fan club questions for you. So which character do you find most interesting and why? So, this is not your favourite, but the one that sort of makes you think.

STEPHEN FRY: Well, that’s interesting. We mentioned Ferdy Fakenham because he’s that sort of silly ass kind, and then Lord Sheringham, who’s similar. I like the fact that it’s not always the sort of gruff, Darcy-like hero who is the one that appeals. And similarly, with the heroines, there are diffident ones sometimes who can turn out to be rather charming. Friday’s Child, Hero Wantage – is that her name, I think? Is it?

SARA-MAE: Yes. Drusilla.

STEPHEN FRY: Oh yes, yes, Drusilla’s a good one as well. And the very Byronic George Wrotham – I think it’s pronounced ‘Root-am’ because it’s spelled W-r-o-t-h-a-m. But there’s a Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire, which the Byng family lives in, which was a famous family that had the, the Admiral Byng, who was executed for failing in some battle, as Voltaire or somebody famously said it was ‘pour encourager les autres’ – that’s where that phrase comes from, the Byng family. Anyway, they lived in Wrotham. And there’s a George Wrotham, who’s a very Byronic character, he’s rather likeable. And then there’s the strait-laced type like…which is…Mary Challoner. Do you remember her?

SARA-MAE: Yes, indeed. Yeah, yeah.

STEPHEN FRY: She wins that ghastly, that sort of, not ghastly but he’s one of the sort of toughest heroes – Vidal, I think he’s called, isn’t it? So yeah, I like it when they are uniquely Georgette, that is to say they are not the standard Darcy, basically. It’s been well pointed out that all what’s rudely called female romance is based on Pride and Prejudice. It is the ultimate dark hero, the bright, curvaceous heroine. When they meet, they misunderstand each other and they hate each other and they declare that they, and vow that they will never like each other, that they’re each beastly and appalling people. And then there’s some sort of coming together and it’s all wonderful. And there are B plots, as it were, sisters or brothers to be married off. And it’s true, almost all romances are like that. But where Georgette Heyer is different, where the hero is not so Darcy-like, where he can be a gentle giant like the Ajax, or you can be apparently a silly ass who turns out to have a very tender heart and a very understanding way and is indeed, indeed not considered brilliant by his peers. And so then, you have a job as a writer, you as a writer see something in that character that no one around them can. But if you’re told the character is brilliantly rich, a fabulous Duke, amazingly clever, rides better than anyone else, is a ‘Pink of the Ton’, the most marriageable man in society – then it’s all just a question of how is the girl going to get him to love her? But when, when there’s more ambiguity in the character, that’s when it’s delicious.

SARA-MAE: The last question I asked Stephen was the obvious one: which is his all-time favourite Heyer novel? To find out what he says, you’ll have to wait until episode seven.

SARA-MAE: Thank you so, so much. I can’t believe you’ve given me so much of your time.

STEPHEN FRY: Well, anything for Georgette Heyer and for Georgette Heyer fans. And let’s, let’s hope the word gets spread.

SARA-MAE: Thank you so much.

STEPHEN FRY: Thank you very much, Sara-Mae. Absolutely. And lovely talking to you. All the best.

SARA-MAE: You too. Bye.

STEPHEN FRY: Bye bye.

SARA-MAE: I’m sure I don’t need to tell you my immediate thoughts after this interview were ‘Aaaargh! I just spoke to Stephen Fry!’. Then I poured myself three glasses of water and didn’t drink any of them. And then I made my husband check the recording in case it was just me whispering to myself like some kind of lunatic. Can you imagine if I’d not pressed record? Or if the whole thing was an elaborate hallucination I’d dreamt up?? But here it is, audio evidence.

There was a dream-like quality to the experience, not only because of the unlikelihood of a pleb like me getting to speak to one of my personal icons, but also because we were talking about Heyer, whom we both love.

On balance, I think I just about managed to keep it together in the interview, no thanks to any great self-control on my part, but rather Stephen’s adroitness in answering my nervously posed questions.

Bear in mind, I’d only been promised fifteen minutes and he spoke to me for an hour. I think I had about twenty minutes worth of questions prepared so thank goodness he’s as smart as he is.

I intend to sprinkle little out-takes from this interview throughout the rest of the series, so stay tuned to hear more Fry. Oh and, film producers, someone needs to cast this national treasure in a Heyer movie. Seriously, get on this!

The truth is, so many people have been wonderfully generous with their time. It’s something I encountered throughout this almost four-year journey – people who love Heyer love talking about her. In the next episodes, you’ll hear writers Joanne Harris, Harriet Evans, Jane Holland, best-selling romance novelist Mary Jo Putney, Emma Darwin, as well as Heyer’s biographer, Jennifer Kloester, and Head of the Australian Austen society, Susannah Fullerton, amongst many, many others.

Next week will be the first of our book club episodes, which we’ll have every second week. Why not join in by reading along? You’ll find the reading list at fablegazers.com. The first one we’ll be tackling is These Old Shades. The book is available from Audible, which is almost as good as a podcast.

Now I need to go and have a lie down…

[Credits]

Thanks for tuning in this week, we hope you enjoyed it.

This episode was recorded, produced and edited by me, Sara-Mae Tuson, with production, writing and research help from Beth Keehn, and Will Dell from Aurality for production support. For more visit: facebook.com/auralitysounds

The music used in this episode is from Emma Gatrill’s wondrous album, ‘Chapter I’, as well as Jerome Alexander’s luscious Message to Bears’ tunes. Original music was composed especially for the podcast by myself and Tom Chadd.

You can find Message to Bears here: messagetobears.com

Tom’s music here: tomchadd.bandcamp.com

And Emma’s website is: emmagatrill.com

Comment and take part in our discussions on social media. We’re @fablegazers on Instagram and @fable_gazers on Twitter.

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