Tag Archives: Georgette Heyer

World-building

World building fantasy mirrorAt a recent conference I discovered that Georgette Heyer has had a considerable influence on science fiction and fantasy authors.

Huh?

Restrained, witty, convention-conscious Georgette and the Trekkies? Really? How? Above all, why?

Because of her world-building.

Hang about, I thought. But isn’t that what all novelists do, build a world? Many create a world that is bigger than just one book. Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Nancy Mitford, Ian Rankin, Lesley Cookman…

The best (Insert Name Here) build a world that is bigger than all their books put together. Readers walk around in these worlds. Other authors inhabit and explore them. They live.

Georgette Heyer’s World-building

World-building Georgette Heyer's Regency WorldHeyer was definitely one of the latter. From Regency Buck (1932) onwards she was building a mirror of the world we have come to call Regency Romance.  Really, though, it is an Age of Enlightenment world, embracing the Georgian as well as the Regency.

She was an avid researcher and revelled in details of manners, clothes, slang, gambling and other entertainment, even furnishing and fabrics. She culled them from contemporaneous sources: letters, diaries and magazines as well as printed books such as Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

And, of course, there were the novels, of which Jane Austen’s work was paramount.

Jane Austen’s World-building

World-building Austen PersuasionIndebted though she was to Austen, Heyer cast her net more widely. Servants, virtually invisible in Austen, are a vivid presence. Sometimes they even contribute materially to the plot.

Aristocrats abound, in contrast to Austen who tends to use them chiefly as a source of anxiety or a challenge for her main characters. Lady Dalrymple swishes through Persuasion and we heave a sigh of relief when she’s gone.

We always assume that Austen was reflecting the world she knew. But I bet it was pretty damn different from that of many, probably most, of her own contemporaries, including those who read her with pleasure.

Princess Charlotte's wedding, world-buildingConsider Byron, who was lionised, hotly pursued by Caroline Lamb, driven abroad by marital scandals and died as a Greek revolutionary. Or poor young Princess Charlotte, with her publicly warring parents? How politically and sexually unsettled must her personal world have been in comparison with Jane’s? ( Jane pitied the Princess’s mother and wrote, “I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband.” Didn’t show in her books, though.)

Charlotte herself identified completely with Marianne in Sense and Sensibility. “You feel quite one of the company,” she wrote. “I feel Maryanne & me are very alike in disposition, that certainly I am not so good, the same imprudence, &c., however remain very like.”

So Heyer’s Regency world embraces Jane Austen’s but takes in London High Society, aristocracy, masquerades, battles, balloon ascensions and even the Prince Regent as well.

Science Fiction World-Building

I read Science Fiction in spurts. I started with H G Wells and Jules Verne, both of whom had a heavy concentration of boys’ toys. But then came the poets, the philosophers, the what-if merchants and the what-next worriers: Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, John Wyndham, Philip K. Dick.

World Building in Fahrenheit 451Bradbury, I think, comes closest to building a whole and believable world in his seminal Fahrenheit 451. Written in the McCarthy era, it confronts censorship, brain-washing-by-soap-opera, disillusion, betrayal and personal rebellion in a dystopian future where the job of the Fire Department is to burn books.

This is as much about the urgent issues of Bradbury’s day, as it is about a complex world with its own principles and habits. Guy Montag, the protagonist fireman, goes on a journey of philosophical development. But the other characters? Not so much. At least in my view.

Science Fiction [Fantasy*] World-Building

cover, Left Hand of Darkness, first edition, Ursula Le GuinAnd then there came Ursula Le Guin. Her Left Hand of Darkness was the first science fiction/fantasy novel that I read which showed me a profoundly different society. The outsider-ambassador Genly Ai, through whose eyes we see this strange gender-fluid world, has become one of my favourite characters in any genre.

He starts detached, as observers must. The ambisexual population regard him, as they do all consistently single-gender individuals, as perverted. He keeps reminding himself of this, as he struggles both to understand the extreme formalities of Karhdish society and to learn to trust individuals. Once he does, his resulting relationship with Estraven is profoundly moving.

Lois McMaster Bujold is a new recommendation from the conference under reference. A fan of Georgette Heyer’s, she called her Miles-in-love story in the Vorkosigan Saga A Civil Campaign as a compliment to Heyer’s A Civil Contract.

cover of flowers of vashnoi, vorkosigan, by Lois McMaster BujoldSo far I have only read six of the Saga – and they are wonderful. This is not just a world. This is a three-planet empire in a universe of planets, some of them the Imperium’s past or potential enemies. All of them have  highly politicised societies. At least one of them is borderline criminal. And that’s just the planets.

The characters, the families, the politics are a positive explosion of alien culture detail. Completely believable and completely absorbing. The boys’ toys aren’t bad either.  Nobody is all good and all bad.

And this complex world seems to have freed up the author somehow. The books are wondrously civilised. No major character lacks a sense of humour. (I always remember marvellous L M Montgomery describing a sense of humour as “a sense of the fitness of things”. In the truest sense of the word “fitness” I think she was spot on.) Within the Vsrkosian Saga there are spy stories, adventure stories, moral dilemma stories, romantic comedies – and she touches on life, death, prejudice and cruelty as well!

Characters and World-Building

When you have a complex and conflicted world, you start off with a three dimensional arena which has already formed your characters and which they must negotiate, along with any other challenges the plot and characters throw in their way. Damerel needs Heyer’s Regency manners and restrictions in order to overcome them and achieve a true friendship with his love. Captain Wentworth needs to recognise the depth of true feeling in Anne, which can only be expressed as a restrained philosophical proposition, expressed to a third party. And she has to overcome her well-mannered reticence and assert her opinion, based on profound experience when she claims that women “love longest when existence or when hope is gone.” Breathtaking.

Miles Vorkosigan is a super hero with an eccentric approach to responsibility, very shaky grasp of the law and the intellect of a genius. He is also an absolute plonker when it comes to romance. I adore him.

Georgette Heyer, who described herself as relying on “a certain gift for the farcical” – which she finessed into near tragedy more times than I can count, as does Bujold, who has already twice had me in tears – has achieved a worthy successor.

And I’m not even half way through the Vorkosigan list. I’m in Heaven.

 

* To be clear, I’ve always thought of Le Guin’s adult novels as a science fiction and fantasy writing as peopled with sword, sorcery and spirits. Earthsea would qualify. But I am informed that stories which posit intelligent alien life may be so classified. So you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Sophie Weston Author

Sophie

Georgette Heyer Study Day

Georgette HeyerThis week I spent a day with Georgette Heyer. Billed as The Nonesuch Conference, this was at a hybrid gathering at London University, offering a selection of papers from accredited academics together with reader/writer participation from people labelled in the programme as independent scholars.

Clearly, and heartwarmingly, most of the speakers I heard were also fans.

Georgette Heyer regency invitationIt was preceded by a writing workshop the day before. And there was a Regency Soirée in the evening after the conference, which sounds like a lot of fun.

Sadly, I couldn’t make either of these events. For one thing I’m still convalescent. (My energy gives out unexpectedly, so I didn’t want to push it.) For another, the programme was really full. Academics seemed to be supercharged, cheerily steaming from session to session, enthusiasm still at white heat.

When I read my notes I was astonished at the sheer volume of ideas I had noted down for further consideration. Continue reading

Beautiful heroines, handsome heroes : never ugly, never bald?

Let’s hear it for the heroes! Tall, dark and handsome?

mysterious hero but is he handsome?

Hero = handsome; heroine = beautiful?
Bestselling author Susanna Kearsley published a blog last week that asks a thought-provoking question about romantic heroines:  — why is it that “some readers, when faced with a blank face, are programmed to fill in the features as ‘beautiful’?”

Good question.
A disturbing question, too, perhaps.

But what about the heroes? Do we readers fill in male features in a similar way? Why?
Do the heroes of our imagination have to be tall, dark and handsome? Continue reading

Day 8 of 12 Days of Christmas : 8 Maids a-Milking & Heyer

By Day 8, the True Love is getting more ambitious and, frankly, a bit cracked.

Today’s gift embraces both livestock and human trafficking. This is seriously dodgy territory now. He’s clearly into all things quaint, traditional and with just a hint of the Good Old Days. Maybe even Heritage.

I feel we’re beginning to detect some disturbing undercurrents in these so-called gifts. Are they not just another way of tying his Beloved to endless cleaning and animal husbandry? Only now she’ll have staff to placate as well. Not a good outlook. Continue reading

Subtext and Space Between the Words

Roman Holiday subtextI’m intrigued by subtext and, in particular, the space between the words in a novel. 

Yet perhaps the most perfect example of this is not in a novel at all, but in a movie. It’s the little miracle that is Roman Holiday, starring a luminous Audrey Hepburn as a stifled princess. Gorgeous Gregory Peck plays against type as a distinctly dodgy expat newspaperman. They don’t have a Happy Ever After ending, either. Yet its perfect, mostly because of that extra layer of meaning.

Why Subtext in Roman Holiday is Interesting for Novelists

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Writing for a Reader – a personal journey of discovery

Writing for a ReaderWriting for a reader is how I finished my very first book. That probably sounds strange, after my heartfelt blog about writing for one’s own inner reader. But the truth is that, although I’d been writing all my life, the very first book I finished was written for a particular reader.

And the key word here is FINISHED.

My First Time Writing for a Reader

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A Sideways Look at Regency Life — All At Sea!

figure contemplating slightly stormy sea

When we read fiction set in the Regency period, we often come across references to sea journeys but, usually, they’re over pretty quickly. On one page, we’re at Dover or Harwich or Falmouth. A paragraph or two later, we’ve arrived at our destination and the story continues. (Not in all fiction, of course. Who could forget Mary Challoner’s horrendous cross-Channel trip in Heyer’s Devil’s Cub? Still, at least Vidal proffered a basin at the vital moment.)

Nowadays, our ships have GPS and radar and even engines! 😉 So this modern figure, staring out over a slightly stormy sea, has little to fear from going on board. But what was it really like, making a sea voyage on one of the Regency’s relatively tiny and fragile sailing craft?

Let’s take an imaginary sea journey…

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Regency evening gowns: delicious detail at bosom and ankle

White evening gown, 1800, Bath costume museum

Bath Costume Museum

Regency evening gown, replica, Bath costume museum

Bath Costume Museum

Detail does matter. The Regency lady going to dinner, or going to a ball, wanted every detail of her appearance to be perfect. Especially if her aim was to attract a potential husband. (She might, of course, have been a married lady looking for a little diversion with a new lover.)

Did the gentlemen in question notice these details? Possibly they did, because most of the details on these gorgeous gowns were around two areas of the female body that drew the masculine eye — the low-cut neckline exposing much of the lady’s bosom, and the naughty ankle, glimpsed as the lady walked or danced. Continue reading

Regency Gowns: Who Would be a Seamstress?

white gowns worn by Bennet sisters in BBC 1995 Pride & Prejudice

BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice

Regency gowns are familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Jane Austen adaptation on TV or film. We expect to see ladies floating around in high-waisted dresses, probably made of fine white muslin. We expect to see large quantities of bosom on display. But from our modern perspective of mass-produced clothing and home sewing machines, we rarely think about how these supposedly simple Regency garments were made.

By female hand and eye. Every last cut and stitch.

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Servants on the Page: the Downton Conundrum


Downton Abbey
 — and Upstairs, Downstairs before that — can be a bit of a curse for writers. Why? Because both show us servants, below stairs, who are human and empathetic. Because they show us relationships between upstairs and downstairs that seem respectful on both sides, even cosy. And because they aren’t always true to history.

Don’t believe me? Then let’s turn to Mrs Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management (1861) for advice:

A servant is not to be seated … in his master’s or mistress’s presence; nor to offer any opinion, unless asked for it; nor even to say “good night,” or “good morning,” except in reply to that salutation.  Continue reading