I don’t get Heyer

I feel like I’m saying something sacrilegious when I confess that I do not love Heyer’s work. I don’t even like her work. I don’t hate it — I don’t think it’s terrible; it’s just not to my taste. I’ve tried a smattering of her books, including The Spanish Bride, A Civil Contract, Beauvallet, The Nonesuch, and Venetia. I’ve only managed to finish the first two, while the last two went back to the library.

Beauvallet shuffled to the top of the pile in The Great Book Purge last night. And after spending the train ride to and from work plus my lunch break trying to get into it, I’m giving up. It’s just over the top. Not even a pirate and a Spanish setting are enough.

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19 responses to “I don’t get Heyer

  1. Well, I hope I enjoy her. I’ve never even tried and I own a bunch of them. *looking over my virtual library nervously*

    • I think it’s just a matter of taste. Her style or voice doesn’t suit me, feels artificial and sort of strained. But I’m also not a huge trad Regency fan generally so maybe that’s why her work doesn’t thrill me.

  2. You’re right, it feels like some horrible heresy to say it, but I share your feelings. I’ve tried quite a few and most have been DNFs because I just couldn’t get into them. I did manage to finish Venetia and liked some things about it (mainly, Venetia herself), but as a romance, it didn’t work for me at all.

    • I wanted to like Venetia but just didn’t. Maybe I’ll try again someday (or maybe not :).

      On twitter, her style was compared to Austen as heavy. I can’t really compare them but find Austen much more to my taste.

  3. I quite like Heyer but I completely get that if you don’t like her style/voice then there really isn’t much hope of liking her books. Civil Contract is one of my absolute faves. I didn’t like it the first time through but something about it wouldn’t let me go. I read it again and now I don’t know how many times I’ve read it but each time I do it’s like I’m in an Eng Lit class. I read it so closely and so analytically. I now adore it.

    I don’t know that I’d ever compare her and Austen… beyond that they write with heavy focus on domestic affairs and lots (exclusively for Austen) of Regency.

    • While I didn’t love the style/voice Civil Contract, the story struck me and has stuck with me. It’s not a book I’ve reread frequently though.

      The more I think about it, the more I disagree with my Twitter feed that she and Austen have a lot in common. My reading of her body of work is limited, but I think the similarities are merely in setting and surface.

      • Totally agree about that setting and surface thing.

      • I agree with you that the similarities are largely superficial. But I also don’t think Austen wrote romances. I think of Austen as a social critic and Heyer as a historical/romantic fiction writer. Both had heavy influences on the genre but their books are not genre books. If you compare trad Regencies to Heyer, for example, the former strip out a lot of the historical richness and multiple storylines and social critique of the latter. And if you put a trad Regency up against an Austen, they have almost nothing in common, substantively speaking.

        But I know I’m in the minority on this.

      • Oh, I agree about substance when comparing Austen to genre romance and trad Regencies, although I do understand why Romancelandia wants to claim her. Legitimacy! Academic respect! Film and television adaptations that skew understanding about the actual content of the books!

        When I was younger, I thought of Austen as writing fiction with romance threads, because I paid less attention to the social criticism. As I’ve reread and lived more, I’ve come to appreciate the other aspects of her books. (But I still love Wentworth’s letter to Anne and their HEA.)

  4. Heyer isn’t really romance to me, even though her books all have a romantic storyline, and sometimes that storyline is the central story-driver of the book. But the setting, the other characters, and most especially the language are stars of the books as much as the H&h. So while she’s central to the development of historical romance as a genre, she’s definitely a particular taste, just like any very strong-voiced author is.

  5. Oh, looking at your list, I would say the most romance-genre-ish ones are the last two. I don’t think of The Spanish Bride or ACC as romance in the genre sense. So it’s interesting that you finished those but not the ones I think of as more romance-y!

    • It would probably have been better if I described her work as historical fiction with romantic threads. Because I don’t think Heyer’s work really fits the genre as we know it today, for all that it claims her as an antecedent.

      I keep meaning to try Jennifer Kloester’s biography; she was a speaker at IASPR the year I went and I was intrigued by her presentation. And also a little taken aback by it (for lack of a better word). Kloester seemed to have become very much an insider to the family circle, which I suppose may be a hazard of a biographer, but it also made me wonder about her objectivity about some of the less savory things I’ve read or heard hinted about Heyer.

      • Oh, I’m intrigued… I know nothing of Heyer personally… was she an unsavory person?

      • I’ve read a variety of critiques in blogland, from readers and academics, about antisemitism and characters in her work, as well as bigotry and class snobbery in general. I would need to look up my notes from IASPR, but I think that Heyer’s family was part of the genteel middle class edging up from working class rather than being monied or connected, so the classism seems ironic to me.

        Also, although she wrote a lot of Regency-set historicals, the morals or tone of them (the few I’ve tried) seemed very Edwardian or late Victorian to me, so I wonder about how accurate her research (which everyone touts) really was.

      • “about antisemitism and characters in her work, as well as bigotry and class snobbery in general.”

        oh quite!

        There’s no reason for me to believe those aren’t her qualities personally but the way in which they crop up in books I very much feel they are character reflections… not trying to make excuses, it’s straight up bad, but I do try hard to separate authors from narratives. Some narratives seem laced with the yuck as standard infrastructure (thereby reflecting the author’s views) and some seem better able to present them as character traits (thereby reflecting the character’s views). It could turn out to be that you don’t want to read about asshat characters but at least it appears to be the character who feels that way, not the author. Again, I have no information on how Heyer really felt (I’ve never read anything about her) but the tones her characters take very often feel real to me as something the characters would feel (I don’t particularly like it and tend to avoid the titles wherein the above list of annoyances are absent).

        Interesting on the class snobbery comments because I’ve always thought her lower classes laughed at the upper classes. There are, of course, many examples of the “i just love being your generational servant” but I think there are just as many or more of lower classes laughing at the absurdity and caprice of uppers. Perhaps simply my generous take? Dunno.

      • They could be: I haven’t read enough Heyer to have an informed opinion. To be honest, the way she treated Jenny and her father (and the tone toward merchants generally) in A Civil Contract was strikingly snobbish. It read as more intentionally unkind and petty than other historical fiction I’d read (romance and other) with nobles who disdained the nouveau riche and working wealthy.

      • erm, that comment above of mine should have the word “present” rather than “absent.”

        agreed regarding Jenny and family though I read that as mostly her husband’s family feeling that way… and really mostly her husband. one of the reasons i disliked the book on first reading it was because of all the animosity. besides the fact that i love jenny so i would re-read it just for her, i enjoyed seeing how much kindness actually surfaces in that book once I got to know it a little better.

        but anyway, this is obviously something that would be up to personal experience/interpretation and i have probably said way more in defense of something i don’t find defensible than i normally would. i just like the discussion of perspectives.

  6. I’m a huge fan of the Jane Aiken Hodge biography, which came out in the mid-1980s. It is structured chronologically and discusses Heyer’s life alongside her writing. Kloester apparently gained access to more material and was able to name names that Hodge couldn’t (e.g., Kloester tells us that the plagiarist was Barbara Cartland). But none of the reviews suggest that Kloester adds substantially to the Hodge, at least not in ways I would find particularly interesting. And I agree she seems very much part of the inner circle. Hodge, as a writer of fiction, had a take on Heyer as author that Kloester lacks.

    My interpretation of Heyer’s background is that because she had emigre roots, it put her somewhat outside the elite she wanted to be part of, and that contributed to her snobbery about the working and middle classes. As for the research, I think the descriptions of settings, events, and people are usually pretty good (although she relies overmuch on a couple of sources, treating them as fact when they too are retrospective accounts). But I agree that her take on the tone and morality was almost entirely of her time, not Georgian.

    • I’m a little boggled by the idea of Cartland plagiarizing Heyer. The only Cartland book I’ve read was markedly different in voice, style, and content to the point that I can’t imagine confusing the two or one passing the other’s work off as their own.

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