Georgette Heyer: The Biography of A Bestseller by Jennifer Kloester
Arrow Books 2011
394 pages (plus appendices)
I don’t usually read biographies, but there are exceptions. Georgette Heyer is one of them: I’d previously read Jane Aiken Hodge’s The Private World of Georgette Heyer (1984), but it took me some time to finally pick up Kloester’s work. Kloester is the leading expert in Heyer and her Regency world, and the author of another work on Heyer’s writing, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World (2005).
For those for whom the name Georgette Heyer (1902–1974) rings no bells, she is the author of a number of titles including contemporary fiction, detective novels, short stories, and historical novels. She is best known for her twenty-two Regency-set romances, and she is considered to be the mother of that subgenre. Her novels have crucially shaped the way Regencies are still written today, and her novels continue to sell steadily.
For this biography, Kloester got her hands on much previously undiscovered material, such as Heyer’s early letters. These have allowed her to build a much more complete picture of the author than was possible for Aiken Hodge, and I must commend her for the honesty and relative lack of bias of this biography. It would have been easy to leave out Heyer’s questionable political views, such as her anti-Semitism, but they have been left in. Heyer is presented as neither a saint nor the devil, but as a person, a creation of her time, her upbringing, and her background, sympathetically but honestly.
Much of the emphasis falls on Heyer’s financial struggles and her writing, which is not unsurprising, considering how closely related these two things were for her. Kloester borrows Heyer’s letters, as she states in the author’s note, whenever she can, and Heyer was not shy about personal aspects of her life when writing to those she considered her friends. This may sound daunting, and I will say there are lots of numbers mentioned at times, but even as someone who has no head for this kind of thing I didn’t find it jarring or difficult to read.
In fact, this book drew me in much deeper than I thought it would. Being about 400 pages long, I expected it to take me much longer to get through than it did: turns out you could get through this in a day or two, provided you could just sit down and read. Kloester writes in a very clear manner and keeps the pace up quite creditably. I did feel at times that sometimes a detail was brought up only to be left out again, or it turns out a relative had died years earlier than the moment I was reading about (and what happened to the dogs, and when?) but it mst be admitted that these were things peripheral to the main subject.
I warmly recommend this biography. It is entertaining reading if you’re a writer yourself – I sent a couple of extracts to Alex who found them relatable – and very interesting if you’re interested in publishing and being a writer during the World Wars. And, of course, if you’re a fan of Regency romance; you can’t get much further back than Heyer, and she is an interesting person in her own right.
It will take me rest of the day to recover from this experience. Wow.