Prolific author of romance novels, mostly set in the Regency era in England. The plots and settings are contemporaneous with those of Jane Austen, and there are a number of references to Austen's books.

Although the books do not pretend to literary quality, they occasionally contain memorable characters and situations, which lift them above the average for the genre.

Heyer also wrote a few murder mysteries, for which she is much less well-known.

Georgette Heyer was born on 16th August 1902 at Wimbledon, London. She was the eldest of three children and had two brothers, Boris and Frank. It was to entertain for her brother Boris, who was sick, that she first wrote The Black Moth.

Impressed with his Georgette's creativity, her father suggested that she submit the story for publication. She did so, and it was published by Constable in 1921 when Georgette was only nineteen. It made good, but not brilliant, sales, as did her next few books. She specialised in historical novels, particularly those based in the Regency period and these were always to be the style of book for which she was best known.

In 1925 she married a mining engineer, Ronald Rougier, and the following year her writing career really took off. These Old Shades was a resounding success, and brought her a solid, dependable source of income, something she badly needed, since her father had recently died and Georgette was responsible for supporting her youngest brother, who was still at school.

In 1927 she and her husband moved to Tanganyika, and from there, the couple moved to Macedonia (both for the purpose of Ronald's mining career) where, according to Jane Aiken Hodge's biography "she nearly died of an erratically administered anaesthetic in a dentist's chair"

By 1929 the spectacular success of Georgette's novels allowed Ronald to give up his mining work - something he had never enjoyed - and the couple moved back to London. This success also prompted Heinemann to republish her earlier, less successful novels.

Ronald and Georgette moved to Horsham in Sussex after an unsuccessful business venture in London, and in 1932 their son, Richard, was born. Georgette had recently begun writing in a new genre, detective novels, in addition to her historical books. Her husband, dissatisfied with life and business in Horsham began studying to be a barrister.

In 1939, after Ronald had qualified for the bar, and several more novels had been published, the family moved to a serviced flat in Hove, to allow Ronald to reach London easily. Richard was, at the time, being educated at private school, with expensive fees, and the family still relied heavily on Georgette's income from writing, as a junior barrister didn't (and doesn't) command the huge fees of a senior one.

In 1942 they moved, to chambers in the Albany, in London where they were to live for 24 years, and in 1959 Ronald became a QC.

In 1966, when the lease expired on their rooms at The Albany they moved to a flat in Jermyn Street, London. She continued to write until her death in 1974.

The Regency romances for which Heyer is best known are painstakingly researched, and rich with detail of society, fashion, idiom and the historical events of the period in which they are set.

Many, like the Jane Austen novels which inspired Georgette, deal with the precariousness of a woman's position in society, but they are threaded through with humour, and a lightness of touch which makes them very easy to read, without sacrificing quality of writing or historical accuracy. Do not assume that light equals trashy ... indeed the novel The Infamous Army, which deals with the events surrounding the battle of Waterloo is a set text at Sandhurst Military Academy.

Bibliography (Historical novels unless otherwise noted)
  • The Black Moth 1921
  • A Proposal to Cicely in 'The Happy Mag.' (Short story) 1922
  • Powder and Patch (AKA The Transformation of Philip Jettan ) 1923
  • Instead of the Thorn (Contemporary fiction) 1923
  • The Great Roxhythe 1923
  • Simon the Coldheart 1925
  • These Old Shades 1926
  • Helen (Contemporary fiction) 1928
  • The Masqueraders 1928
  • Beauvallet 1929
  • Pastel (Contemporary fiction) 1929
  • Barren Corn (Contemporary fiction) 1930
  • The Conqueror 1931
  • Devil's Cub 1932
  • Footsteps in the Dark (Crime) 1932
  • Why Shoot a Butler? (Crime) 1933
  • The Convenient Marriage 1934
  • The Unfinished Clue (Crime) 1934
  • Death in the Stocks (Crime)
  • Regency Buck 1935
  • Behold, Here's Poison (Crime) 1936
  • The Talisman Ring 1936
  • An Infamous Army 1937
  • They Found Him Dead (Crime) 1937
  • A Blunt Instrument (Crime) 1938
  • Royal Escape 1938
  • No Wind of Blame (Crime) 1939
  • Pursuit (Short story in The Queens Book of the Red Cross) 1939
  • The Corinthian 1940
  • The Spanish Bride 1940
  • Envious Casca (Crime) 1941
  • Faro's Daughter 1941
  • Penhallow (Crime) 1942
  • Friday's Child 1944
  • The Reluctant Widow 1946
  • Full Moon (Short story) 1948
  • The Foundling 1948
  • Arabella 1949
  • The Grand Sophy 1950
  • Duplicate Death (Crime)1951
  • The Quiet Gentleman 1951
  • Cotillion 1953
  • Detection Unlimited (Crime) 1953
  • The Toll-Gate 1954
  • Bath Tangle 1955
  • Sprig Muslin 1956
  • April Lady 1957
  • Sylvester: or The Wicked Uncle 1957
  • Venetia 1958
  • The Unknown Ajax 1959
  • Pistols for Two (collection of 11 Regency short stories) 1960
  • A Civil Contract 1961
  • The Nonesuch 1962
  • False Colours 1963
  • Frederica 1965
  • Black Sheep 1966
  • Cousin Kate 1968
  • Charity Girl 1970
  • Lady of Quality 1972
  • My Lord John 1975

Heroes and Boys

This little snippet I found in "The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English" by Lorna Sage: Heyer herself describes her heroes as "Model No. 1" and "Model No. 2". I don't know which is which, but one is "The Avon Type" and the other is "The Sherry". The former is the often older, always urbane and frequently cynical hero as exemplified by Justin Alastair, the Duke of Avon in "These Old Shades". Others of this type include his son Dominic, the "Devil's Cub", although he is very young - possibly the youngest Heyer hero; Mr Beaumaris in "Arabella" and although he is not the hero, the "Black Moth".

The latter type reaches the pinnacle of its success (IMHO) in "Friday's Child" in Sherry. Others of this type include Ludovic Lavenham in "The Talisman Ring", and Jack in "Black Moth". These men are the younger heroes, enthusiastic and a little boyish. They almost never keep mistresses or commit any really bad sins. They are frequently paired with an "Avon" type hero as a double-romance novel, as is the case most notably in "The Talisman Ring".

Regular readers of Georgette Heyer's work have no doubt worked all this out for themselves, but it is nice to know that she did it deliberately.

In my teenage years I was much addicted to the Historical Romances of Georgette Heyer. I guess I can credit her novels with increasing my vocabulary, however trying to work words like divagation or valetudinarian into conversations with one’s High School chums in a small farming town in the middle of the Yakima Valley in the late 60s was somewhat problematic. As you may have guessed, I did not hang with the popular kids.

As a teenager I was uncritical and unquestioning. That has changed. In a fit of nostalgia I recently reread many of Heyer’s novels. I now have some criticisms and questions.


One of my first questions is why so many of her male protagonists (and, indeed, a few of her female ones as well) are actually not that likeable.

As indicated in Demeter’s node and also by Wikipedia, Ms. Heyer had two basic types of male lead characters; the first was an arrogant and often rude man–let’s call them “Type A” because it seems fitting. The second (Type “B” just to distinguish) was a younger man, usually a reckless, sporting-mad scapegrace. Wikipedia characterizes this second type as “debonair, sophisticated, and often a style-icon” but I do not agree. Some of them may have been stylish, but generally they were more dashing, impetuous and lively than debonair.

Most of the Type A leads were also sophisticated and stylish (however more in the understated, “Beau Brummell” style of elegance). They were often arrogant and cynical, somewhat short-tempered, and altogether unwilling to “suffer fools gladly.” I think Ms. Heyer considered these traits to indicate a “masterful” man. There was often a disparity in the ages between her Type A protagonists and their female love interests (Daddy issues, perhaps?).

I suppose this age disparity could be explained by the fact that young women were apparently gaveled off at the marriage mart (aka Almack’s Assembly Rooms) at a tender age, whilst the men got to sow wild oats with mistresses, “fair paphians” and opera dancers until they decided to settle down and create heirs with some malleable young thing (whom he hopefully would not infect with a venereal disease!).


Now I’m not going to accuse Ms. Heyer of being an elitist, but whether Type A or B, most of her male protagonists have Titles or are at least of the gentility, and most are also wealthy. Some of her ancillary characters are servants, most being of the “devoted old family retainer” type who, with some few exceptions, knew their “proper place.”

There are many derogatory references in Heyer’s novels to Jewish money-lenders which led to claims that she was anti-Semitic. According to the Wikipedia article on her, her family papers confirmed that she held “prejudiced personal opinions.” There also seemed to be a few small black pages in her works, so make of that what you will.

And why do I think she had libertarian leanings and was likely a Tory? Perhaps this quote Wikipedia provided from a letter she once wrote to a friend answers that question: “I’m getting so tired of writing books for the benefit of the Treasury and I can’t tell you how utterly I resent the squandering of my money on such fatuous things as Education and Making Life Easy and Luxurious for So-Called Workers.”


Unlike the “bodice ripper” Romances (aka Soft Core Porn) that started to appear somewhere around the 1980s, there were no “tumescent members” or heaving “rose-peaked” breasts in Ms. Heyer’s novels. Sex was not overt, but it was alluded to, because most of the male leads had had the afore-mentioned mistresses with whom to sow their wild oats prior to meeting the heroines of these stories. With few exceptions (i.e. widows), the female leads were mainly young and virginal.

Indeed, the warmest interactions between the leads, usually written about only at the end of the book, consisted of a lip-mashing kiss and a very tight hug (apparently squeezing a woman’s ribs until she can hardly breathe shows a high degree of passion).

Now, some of these protagonists were already married during these stories, so I’ve got to wonder what would cause, as an example from the end of The Convenient Marriage, Horry (short for Horatia) to exclaim to her husband of at least several months that she “never knew he could kiss like that!” It might make one wonder just how satisfying Heyer’s own marriage was.


Her Romances were mainly set in the era between 1740 and 1820, and can, I suppose, best be described as “Novels of Manners,” with much of the action revolving around the social mores, attitudes, and actions of the upper classes of those eras.

In my opinion her better novels had a bit more in the plot department (often some form of mystery) to hang their hats on. Her last Regency Romance, Lady of Quality. had almost no plot: the heroine, an independent (but attractive!) woman who has achieved the advanced age of 29 without being married (in this era to be unmarried at such an advanced age would make her an old maid, or in more vulgar parlance, an “Ape leader”) befriends a young heiress. That’s it–this is basically the main plot point that in turn causes her to meet the Type A guardian of said heiress, known as the “rudest man in London.” Characters visit the pump rooms in Bath, go shopping, horseback riding, etc., but there is actually very little interaction between the two main characters. Yet by the end of the novel they are somehow in love. I do not recommend this book–it is definitely not one of her wittiest.

There are a few other plot devices that have caused me concern. For instance, in The Masqueraders, which is one of Heyer’s livelier novels, is set in 1745, which is apparently a hard-drinking age. The heroine is (for reasons) disguised as a man and has, in this capacity, become friends with the Hero of the novel. While having dinner with him at his abode, she “tips” wine down her sleeve rather than drinking it, so as to not become “bosky.” It is this action which betrays her female identity to him, although he had, of course, suspected. I couldn’t help wondering why she didn’t just say “No. Thank you, but I’ve had enough wine.” And wouldn’t a big ol’ dripping wine stain down her sleeve be rather noticeable?

Another plot element that I question is the romance between first cousins. This was a plot element in both The Talisman Ring (published in 1936) and Grand Sophy (published in 1950!). As a genealogist I’m aware that in the past first cousins did, indeed, marry and that it was not uncommon during the time period Heyer wrote about, but BY the time she was writing, this type of incestuous union had (thankfully!) died out.


I realize this piece seems rather excoriating of Georgette Heyer and some of her novels, but for nostalgic reasons many of her novels still hold a place in my heart as solid escapist fiction.

There are good reasons she is considered the “Doyenne of Regency Romances.” She could tell a good story (definitely better than the inane drivel created by Princess Di’s step-granny, Barbara Cartland), and most of her characters are well-drawn; some are even quite endearing. In fact, some of her most appealing characters were minor ones, including some of the canine variety, such as Ulysses in Arabella, Luffra in Frederica, and Bouncer in The Reluctant Widow.

Some of my favorites:
  • The Reluctant Widow
  • The Talisman Ring
  • The Convenient Marriage
  • Masqueraders
  • April Lady
  • Faro’s Daughter
  • The Black Moth*
  • These Old Shades*
  • Devil’s Cub*
  • Grand Sophy
  • Friday’s Child
  • The Corinthian
  • Toll-Gate
  • Unknown Ajax
  • Sylvester: or the Wicked Uncle
  • Frederica
  • Arabella
  • Regency Buck
  • *These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub are part of a multi-generational trilogy which concluded with The Infamous Army. It contains a very detailed account of the Battle of Waterloo, but is not one of my favorites (this book could also be considered a cross-over, since it also includes characters from Regency Buck).

    Strangely, the “hero” (Justin “Devil” Alastair, the Duke of Avon) of These Old Shades is remarkably similar to the villain (Tracy “Devil” Belmanoir, the Duke of Andover) in Black Moth, even though he has a different name. Since many of the other characters also seem to be the same (again with different names) and certain plot elements of the earlier work are also mentioned, I am led to believe Ms. Heyer just recycled the characters from one book to another.

    More details of Georgette Heyer's personal life can be found on Wikipedia

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