- Posted by Sophia Meredith
- On September 13, 2016
- 5 Comments
- Books, Writing Techniques
I have to admit, and, as a new JAFF author this seems a bit risky, but here goes…dadadum…I love Georgette Heyer. I mean, I adore her, can’t get enough of her Regency novels and if tasked with choosing ten books for a desert island at least three of them would be hers (though I would dither until stepping ashore over which ones they would be). If I’m being really honest with you, I think I even like Georgette more than the Lady herself. Don’t get me wrong, they are in the same category, but Heyer’s laugh out loud funny and delectable dialogue won me over. I didn’t find Georgette Heyer until well after my Jane Austen obsession began, so I do have that going in my favor. And I have read a very wide body of literary critiques and essays on Jane’s work that goes far beyond my knowledge of Heyer. Okay, now that I’ve said it, I’m determined to have no regrets!
Heyer was not of the Regency, her work is from the 20th century, but she is credited with establishing the historical romance genre and the Regency romance sub-genre, though her writings are not bodice rippers by any means. They end with the requisite HEA, a hug and a kiss, and the curtain closes. Of course, Heyer’s favorite author was Jane Austen, but writing over a long timespan in the 1900’s had its advantages, and the modern novel allowed her to take some liberties that a clergyman’s daughter would not have considered proper.
Foremost, in my mind, is the extensive Regency idioms and slang that simply leaps off the page, causing burbles of laughter and the obsession to read her novels again and again. When I wrote “On Oakham Mount,” and its sequel, “Beyond Oakham Mount,” I was inspired equally by my love for “Pride & Prejudice” as by Heyer’s skill as an author and I read both Austen’s canon and several of Heyer’s books quite closely to help me develop the tone and style I sought. When I consider how frequently reviewers commented on both my authentic Regency style and clever dialogue, I know I accomplished my mission.
One cannot imagine Jane Austen introducing words and phrases compiled by Captain Gross in his “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” published in 1811, nor even being aware of it for that matter, though the gentleman in her stories would certainly have been. Young men of fashion used this compendium of terms collected from the lower orders of society to distinguish themselves by their wit. Heyer sprinkles these terms throughout her novels liberally, then adds an extra dose for good measure. Imagine Pride & Prejudice so embellished. Elizabeth’s family often “Put her to the blush,” (embarrassed). At such times one might see her “Flying her colors,” (blushing). Mr. Darcy is the epitome of one “High in the instep,” (haughty, proud). In spite of Darcy’s willingness to “set up his nursery,” and become a “tenant for life,” (marry) it is no wonder that his doomed proposal of marriage, “Set-up her back” (offended, angered). Though she initially intended to “keep her tongue between her teeth,” (not respond rudely), it is no wonder she “flew up into the boughs,” (to be “in a passion”) or was “on her high ropes,” (outraged). However, she showed “pluck to the backbone,” (courage) in her refusal even if many of her friends might consider her a paper-skulled widgeon (stupid girl) for not making Darcy a “tenant for life,” (husband), for even if he was disagreeable, he was certainly “full of juice,” (very rich). In short, Elizabeth was more likely to “pull caps” (argue) with Mr. Darcy than to “set her cap at him,” (aim to ensnare him for marriage).
Of course, Heyer had her own, seemingly inexhaustible, vocabulary and talent for the perfect turn of phrase–quelling hauteur, lambent gaze, lacerated sensibilities, thundering rage, horrid affability, rigid imbecility–Oh! How I wish I had such a needle wit!
Another Heyeresque technique that I adopted divergent from Jane Austen is the use of extensive dialogue tags. In Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen used just 13 of them, and 49% were “said” (221), followed by “replied” at 83. She used “acknowledged,” “called,” and “whispered” just one time each. By contrast, Heyer’s tags include: jibed, snapped, complained, announced, added, corrected, agreed, assured, enquired, faltered, explained, apologized, echoed, declared, pronounced, decreed, gasped, approved, nodded, breathed, and objected, just to name a few. And that doesn’t include the numerous adverbs tacked on–scathingly, wonderingly, querulously, etc…. Combine these with her snappy, rapid-fire dialogue and delightful use of period slang and I become simply mesmerized by the color and depth of her characters, language, and indisputable brilliance. Though I can never match her skill, I certainly embraced her style of using a greater range of dialogue tags.
And now a final distinction between these two accomplished authors. Jane Austen is justly praised for her craft in character development, in large part her skill is due to how sparingly she pulls it off, describing in relatively few words a character who is immediately grasped by her reader. Every action of that character which follows fits neatly into her model. Let us juxtapose her style with Heyer’s details for a minor character in the novel (perhaps my favorite) “Frederica.” Austen’s description of Mrs. Bennet is perfection:
“She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.”
In this example, Heyer has already spent several paragraphs detailing the history and character of Mrs. Dauntry.
“…As a girl, she had been an accredited beauty, but a tendency to succumb to infectious complaints had encouraged her to believe that her constitution was sickly; and it was not long after her marriage that she began (as Lady Jevington and Lady Buxted unkindly phrased it) to quack herself….By the time she was forty she had become so much addicted to invalidism that unless some attractive entertainment was offered her she spent the better part of her days reclining gracefully upon a sofa with a poor relation in attendance, and a table beside her crowded with bottles and vials…”
Reading Jane Austen, I intuitively understand the character she has created for us. With Heyer, however, I feel as if I have entered the room of that dear, sickly, pathetic creature. Georgette Heyer was a truly prolific author, so we are blessed to have dozens of her wonderful works to augment our Austen and Austenesque libraries. There is definitely a place for her in our world. And she paid homage to Austen many, many times. In fact, the central romance in a number of her Regency romances depict heroines and heroes who combine that perfect combination of Elizabeth Bennet’s “archness and sweetness” that is is the undoing of the wealthy and clever, yet disagreeably “haughty, reserved, and fastidious,” Mr. Darcy. So, now that “I’ve let the cat out of the bag,” (admitted) are you “chomping at the bit” (in a rush) to look between the covers of one of Heyer’s novels? Or are you already “head over heels,” (in love) with Heyer? If so, which Heyer book is your favorite? Which heroine do you adore? And which of her heroes makes you swoon?
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