Heyer (was: Happy dance of joy)
JOdel at aol.com
JOdel at aol.com
Fri Jan 21 13:25:48 EST 2005
I tend to group Heyer's 18th century romances into the same category as her
Regencies (i.e., romantic comedy that remains a fun read, where the period
works as a necessary part of the setup). The 18th century-set stories are more
obviously artificial "puppet-theater" than the Regencies. But she was much
younger when she wrote them. Once she discovered the Regency period, I don't think
she ever looked back. I tend to agree with Minnow that Regency Buck is faintly
off-putting. It was her *first* Regency and she was puffing off her research
to excess. She was also using stock 18th century puppets in a Regency setting
which didn't quite work. She soon figured out that she needed to make them just
a little less artificial in their behavior for Regencies. She didn't always
get the balance right, but she did far more often than not.
My other categories are the Mysteries, which are readable, but a bit
lack-luster. And Miscellaneous, which is everthing else. The period romances she set
anywhere other than the Regency or 18th century are just painful. Her
storylines work against the period rather than with it. Her attempts at biography are
laboured and way too "earnest". None of them really work. The modern romances
vary. People had different expectations from a romance novel in the '20s and
'30s than they do now. Instead of the Thorn, is actually pretty good in that
regard, and has aged to the point that it makes a rather nice period piece today.
Barren Corn, otoh, is irredemably corney. But then, that one was *supposed*
to be a tragedy.
She never really got a handle on writing tragedy, which is also the big flaw
in her two primary attempts at "gothic", Penhallow and Cousin Kate. She put
some gothic elements into Footsteps in the Dark, but that was one of her least
successful mysteries, and the one that she supressed during her lifetime.
I've never encountered Helen or Pastel, so I can't speak for them.
In general, her attempts to hybridize romance and straight historical fiction
made for a less engaging read. But Spanish Bride and Infamous Army aren't a
penance to get through. And in A Civil Contract, where she tried very hard to
turn a period romance into a mainstream novel she ended up with less sparkle,
but rather more substance than was typical. It wouldn't have necessarily made
for a more popular book, however, and she didn't seem to try it again.
Mystery is the universal mixer, though and where she hybridized that and
romance she usually came out with a cracking good adventure plot to set her
romance off with, although in some cases the romance comes across as a distinct
afterthought, as in Unknown Ajax.
I made a point of collecting the '80s Pan editions when I was over there. I
think I may be missing Slyvester, although I got a copy from an American
publisher around the same time, so I have the book, just not in a uniform edition. I
think one of the others got damaged in shipping it home, but can't recall
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