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The Private World of Georgette Heyer (original 1984; edition 1984)

by Jane Aiken Hodge

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265942,932 (4.08)29
Member:wyvernfriend
Title:The Private World of Georgette Heyer
Authors:Jane Aiken Hodge
Info:The Bodley Head Ltd (1984), Hardcover, 216 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:non-fiction, read, 2007, october, rr, biography, author

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The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge (1984)

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Jane Aiken Hodge’s 1984 biography of Georgette Heyer, reissued this month by Sourcebooks, was until very recently the only one available. Published ten years after Heyer’s death, it describes her life primarily from her letters to her publisher. An intensely private person, Heyer eschewed publicity, never giving an interview, and not keeping her papers. Thus a biographer has relatively little material available. Hodge interviewed Heyer’s editors, surviving family members, and a very few friends (all of whom loved or respected her), and then wove a narrative around the books themselves, using them to illustrate her life, and vice versa.

A lot of the criticism of this biography has focused on either errors Hodge made about the novels themselves, or some kind of personal disappointment the reader feels from finding Heyer “unlikeable.” I personally find whatever errors Hodge made to be minor and forgivable, and find Heyer herself to be witty, strong-willed, and very likeable. Her personality comes forth in her letters, and makes me want to read more of them. Coupled with her friends’ descriptions of her immense style and charm, they make me wish I could have known her.

Her private nature prevented her from discussing her books with her friends. She would talk about everything else in the world with them, but when the conversation came around to her work, she would remain silent on it, leaving any discussion to her husband, or changing the subject. It is hard to tell from this remove (of both time and culture), but it seems to me that this was, at its core, a very large dose of British reticence and self-deprecation. The idea of self-promotion was simply repugnant to her, and since her first novel, written as a serial to amuse a sick brother when she was 17 and published before she was twenty, had sold well, and a later novel had come out during a general strike with no publicity and yet sold 190,000 copies, she was convinced that she had no need to promote her work. She referred requesters of interviews back to her work. Hodge reports that she would say: You will find me in my work.

So this biography focuses on her work, and how it informs us about the author. And in that regard, it is particularly interesting to writers. There is advice to new authors (she sometimes read other people’s manuscripts for her publisher) and there is the long incubation and development and experimentation of her own style and settings before she settled into the Regency period. It took her twenty years, and twenty-four novels, before she did so. For many years she wrote a historical novel and a thriller every year. It was an intense pace. And her meticulous research is always highlighted.

I was surprised by the size of the Sourcebooks edition, which was smaller and thinner than I had expected. The comparative sizes of this trade-paperback-sized edition and the original hardcover edition is deceptive, however. The new edition runs to 242 pages while the original is only 216. The new edition has a new sentence at the end of the Acknowledgements stating that some new material has been incorporated into the text. While I did not make a word-for-word comparison of the two editions, I did not find any additions or corrections. The most significant difference between the editions appears to be the lack of color illustrations in the new one, and the omission of as many as half of the illustrations that were in the original. The hardcover edition is one of the best-illustrated books about the Regency anywhere, full of large color and black and white plates of photographs, portraits, caricatures, fashion plates, and paintings, something on nearly every page. Many, perhaps most, of these are missing in the new edition, and of course the smaller format and plain paper reduces the beauty, and even the utility, of many of those that remain. It is still well-illustrated, just no longer exceptionally so. This is the only thing that restrains what would otherwise be an enthusiastic recommendation of this book to all Heyer and Regency fans. Even so, it is still well worth reading for anyone who enjoys Heyer or who is interested in the development of a successful author’s career.

Note: I wrote this review for Austenprose, where it was published 14 August 2011. ( )
  laura1814 | Oct 4, 2012 |
Borrowed from Heather

A nice, proper, old-fashioned biography of the popular writer of Regency novels. We all know that a lot of work goes into something that's deceptively light, and Heyer's notebooks were amazing. The author clearly loves her subject and her novels, respecting rather than being in awe of this formidable lady, and giving a fair as well as a fascinating portrayal. Makes me want to go back to all the books, as a good literary biography will! ( )
  LyzzyBee | Jul 17, 2011 |
I enjoyed this so much I then reread my Gerorgette Heyer collection in the order she had written them...a most joyous reading experience...in which I learnt to appreciate her crime writing as well ( )
  philippa58 | Mar 21, 2009 |
I'd heard that this book was disappointing for Heyer fans, because it depicted Heyer in an unsympathetic, cold, snobbish light. However, I really liked the book a lot. To me, Heyer's personality was not at all incompatible with the books she wrote - her letters are amusing (very Austen-esque) and she almost seems to have lived in the world she wrote about. I enjoyed the synopses of her novels and the descriptions of her struggles in writing them and getting them published. There were also (at least in the hardcover version I read) a lot of interesting paintings and photographs, mostly depicting the Regency world. I have so much more respect for Heyer now; I used to think of her novels as well-written fluff, but she actually did huge amounts of research on the Regency period, collecting notebooks full of costumes, carriages, slang, political events, and pretty much anything else you can think of. I was completely floored. In short, I highly recommend this bio to Heyer fans, and to anyone who likes to read (or write) Regency romance.
1 vote christina_reads | Mar 11, 2009 |
The Private World of Georgette Heyer can best be described as an "authorized" biography. In the words of the author: "I hope to trace the thread of this development of her writing ... with the known facts of her life sketched in simply, as background to her work. I think that is what that very private lady would have wished" (from the Foreward). As a result, the book includes not much in the way of messy details, little or no psychological insights, no discussion of what it might have meant to be partially Russian in England at that point in time. I would have enjoyed that kind of detail and did miss it.

On the other hand, I did gain a lot of information I did not have before about the trajectory of her writing career, some of what she thought about her work, and the bare bones about her personal life. I am glad I read it, I will be referring back to it as I read through my Challenge selections, and I do recommend it to other fans. It is inclusive as an overview, it is decently written and it will provide insight into the differences among her novels. I do agree with much of what Hodge says about her works. Validation is always satisfying. ( )
1 vote NeverStopTrying | Jan 3, 2009 |
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To Georgette Heyer
alias Mrs Ronald Rougier
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Georgette Heyer was born on 16 August 1902, in the prosperous London suburb of Wimbledon.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099493497, Paperback)

The classic biography of Georgette Heyer is, finally, back in print and will delight Heyer fans everywhere.
Lavishly illustrated, and with extracts from her correspondence and references to her work, The Private World reveals a formidable and energetic woman with an impeccable sense of style and above all, a love for all things Regency.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:32 -0400)

As an internationally bestselling phenomenon and queen of the Regency Romance, Georgette Heyer is one of the most beloved historical novelists of our time. She's written more than fifty novels - romances, detective stories and contemporary works of fiction - yet her private life was practically inaccessible to any but her closest friends and relatives. With this classic biography we catch a glimpse into Georgette Heyer's world and that of her most memorable characters. With access to private papers and archives, Jane Aiken Hodge reveals a formidable, energetic woman, with an impeccable sense of style and, beyond everything, a love for all things Regency. Lavishly illustrated from Georgette Heyer's own research files, her family archives and other Regency sources, complete with extracts from her correspondence and references to her work, THE PRIVATE WORLD is a delight and a must-read for every Georgette Heyer fan.… (more)

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