Wednesday, January 28, 2015

DASHING BLADES AND MAIDS IN PERIL


Mention the name Georgette Heyer (1902 – 1974) to any reading woman over a certain age and you will be met with a dreamy look and a sigh of recognition. They will immediately be reminded of when they were twelve or so, devouring delicious novels set in Regency times that promised strong, dashing, young (and not quite so young) men who sweep around a bend in the road driving a phaeton with four perfectly matched horses to rescue lovely young (and sometimes not quite so young) women from a variety of pickles that they had managed to get themselves into. There was an absolute certainty that, after several dramas, the story would end well for everyone because love conquers all.

Ladies, don’t go back there. You might be sorry.

It is rare nowadays for one of Heyer’s novels to be found on library shelves but I happened to be browsing through the recently returned section the other day and saw a copy of “The Nonesuch”. It was a large print copy – a sop to the likely potential reader which tells you something – but I snatched it up. A dollop of old-time romance was just the thing for the weekend and I had fond memories.

I was about fourteen when I gulped down probably all of Georgette Heyer’s historical novels. Then, I was entirely uncritical of style or quality and cared only for romance. And Heyer was skilful at creating colourful storylines that allowed attractive people to meet, connect, misunderstand each other and finally, inevitably, draw together. That is what every young girl expects of love, marriage and happy-ever-after, guaranteed, and we got it in spades.

Now? I have spent decades evaluating books. I no longer believe in fairy tales. And while I now appreciate Georgette Heyer’s diligent and well respected attention to the historical details of atmosphere, dress, social pursuits, language, and even the slang used by her characters, I found “The Nonesuch” disappointingly clunky. There was a lack of style, of grace, and Jane Austen, whose novels were also set in the Regency period, had already raised the bar way out of reach.

The large print didn’t help. It seemed to accentuate the use of capital letters, frequent italics (which were in a different, and larger, font) and the explosive exclamation marks, all of which combined to cause irritation. There was, for example, the following:

“Told him – Mr Mickleby! You did not! Eat his mutton with us - ! Of all the vulgar, shabby-genteel – What did he say?”

So, my retrospective dip into the dashing blades and maids-in-peril style of fiction has been disappointing. Better to leave Ms Heyer in the stacks at the library where she has presumably been languishing all these years.

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