Heyer

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sat Dec 11 10:43:37 EST 2004


Robyn replied to me:

>>It is my opinion that *My Lord John* is seriously flawed by Heyer's
>>apparent blind spot about religion: it is not sensible to write an
>>ostensibly accurate and historical book set among the nobility in the early
>>fifteenth century and make no mention of any character in it having any
>>religious feeling or motivation.  A bit like writing something set in the
>>present day among the Cabinet or the Administration and having nobody in it
>>with any interest in money or sex.
>
>I think it is also flawed by the fact that her medieval research into
>minutiae was necessarily much less detailed. I think there is an issue
>about her not getting the dynamic of a medieval world view (this is me
>agreeing with Melissa in different words). If you look at what a fabulous
>Regency sensibility she has, then perhaps it is not surprising that she
>found a period that is so different to be difficult. There's also the issue
>of language. Heyer does faux-regency so well, I think with My Lord John she
>was trying to sound medieval, but it doesn't come off as frothy and amusing
>like the other books; it's more ponderous and impenetrable. She needed to
>read more Chaucer.

She was researching that book for twenty years or more (I think she started
it in the early 1940s?), and it was the thing she reallyreally wanted to
do, and I have a feeling in the back of my mind that one of the reasons she
never got it finished was that in her heart of hearts she knew it wasn't
what she had meant it to be when she started out.  It might be very
difficult to admit to herself, and even more to others, that she simply
couldn't really do it.

As regards the language, what threw me when I first read it (back in 1975
when it came out) was that she had her characters in the 1390s using modern
abbreviations in their speech.  <opens book at random>

"Edward, why don't you help Dame Katherine down from that stuffy litter,
instead of standing awhape?"

gives me the gigglies.  "wouldn't", "doesn't", "can't", "that's", and so
on, sit uneasily with "God assoil him" and "anoyous" and other such rather
conscious archaisms.

As for "stuffy" in relation to the quality of the air -- Hah! is what I say
to that.  Regency, maybe; Ricardian?  No.  As I came to know more about our
language I found it less easy to read *My Lord John* because so many of the
"archaisms" in it were that but were two or more centuries too early, words
invented by Shakespeare or used in a quite different sense in the fifteenth
century from that which they had by the seventeenth.

I didn't *know* what was wrong, back in my early twenties, but the language
just jarred on me, over and over and over again, until the only way I could
read it was by thinking of it the way I thought of the hiptalk in *A
Clockwork Orange*, purely invented and in no way intended to be taken as
real.

Minnow


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