Some Thoughts on Georgette Heyer’s Heroines

The following is a guest post from one of our JASNA-Vermont members, Janeite Lynne.  After she commented on my post on Georgette Heyer’s ‘Frederica’ , Lynne and I were in touch and discovered that we both seem to be having a parallel summer of reading Heyer! – she sent along the following thoughts on Heyer’s heroines  ~ we welcome comments on YOUR favorite Heyer female lead and why ~ and thank you Lynne for sharing your thoughts!

I recently submitted a comment to Deb’s blog about Georgette Heyer’s novel Frederica.  I noted in my comment that Heyer’s plots were formulaic.    I hope that this isn’t a spoiler, but the lead male and female characters do end the novels by expressing, admitting, or realizing their love for their opposites.  The more Heyer you read, the more you see stock characters: the arrogant but honorable duke; the rake with a good heart; the headstrong heiress; the penniless relation in a noble family, etc.  Yet within these stock shells, Heyer brings out three dimensional characters.  

book cover bath tangle

I especially admire Heyer’s strong female leads.  But strong is not always the same.  Serena Spenborough in Bath Tangle is a powerful woman in the traditional sense.  She is rich, beautiful, and she travels in the highest circles of society.  The plot device of Bath Tangle involves her fortune being tied up after her father’s death until she marries.  Even when she is more financially constricted, you are never in doubt that she will always be rich, so this is one form of power.  She also refuses to follow the accepted social conventions that coddle and restrict women of her class.  She is a vigorous walker and refuses chairs in Bath.  She rides on horseback all day in pursuit of a runaway without thought to comfort or propriety.  And she cried off  from a marriage earlier in her life because she believed they would not suit without thinking about how it would affect her social standing.  Serena’s character is a good match for the male lead, the Marquis of Rotherham.  He is the man she rejected years before the novel opens, and the dialogue between them is like swordplay. 

book cover sprig muslin

Still, powerful women in Heyer come in many different packages.  Another of my favorites is Lady Hester Theale in Sprig Muslin.  She is a spinster daughter whose father describes her as insipid and without fortune or “any extraordinary degree of beauty.”  When he tells Hester that she will soon receive a proposal from the extremely eligible Sir Gareth Ludlow, he says: “ I don’t mind owning to you, Hester, that when he broke it to me that it was my permission to address you that he was after, I thought he was either foxed, or I was!” Every member of her family attempts to browbeat her into accepting his proposal, but she refuses.  She reminds me of Melville’s Bartleby in his short story Bartleby the Scrivener.   She simply chooses not to.  Hester is the anti-Serena.  She is not rich or beautiful, and she has no one to support her, yet in her own ethereal way she asserts her independence.  She will not accept a marriage of convenience, even if it would seem to offer her a better life.  She knows what it is to love, and she will not compromise.

 So while there is formula in Heyer, there is also wonderful character development and dialogue.  Best of all, she was such a prolific writer that there are many novels to escape to during this rainy summer!

[by Janeite Lynne, posted by Deb]

9 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Georgette Heyer’s Heroines

  1. Thanks Lynne for sharing your veiws on Heyer heroines. Having been a recent convert to GH, I have only read three of her novels: Friday’s Child, The Quiet Gentleman and The Grand Sophy. Of the three heroines, I liked Sophy Stanton-Lacy the best. Since I have 50 odd books to go, I might change my mind.

    My reaction to Heyer’s plots be formulaic in regard to the hero and heroine ending up together after struggles, the same can be said of Jane Austen, and she ain’t so bad either.


  2. Thanks for stopping by Laurel Ann [as always!] – I am a very recent Heyer convert as well – so very funny to find that Lynne and I have been immersing ourselves this summer – and you too! Of those I have read, I heartily recommend Faro’s Daughter, Frederica, and as you mention The Grand Sophy – all have the strong older independent woman pitted against the bored Regency rake – but each offers very different characters, lots of humor and of course a great love story. I also had recently read Jude Morgan’s “An Accomplished Woman” which reads so much like a Heyer I had to keep checking the title page! [Lynne has also just read this as well as Morgan’s “Indiscretion” which she says is as good as AAW] – so there are a few more to add to your list of 50 Heyer books! [not to mention the annual P&P re-read, etc!] – as you mention on Facebook, we could be suffering from Austen-Heyer-overload!


  3. Deb – I am chomping at the bit over An Accomplished Woman but will not be able to read it for a few months. Too many other commitments, but can’t wait. I am trying to corral Vic into reading it too. Don’t give away too many of its secrets in your review. ;-) As always, thanks for your great insights and recommendations.


  4. My favorite female lead? Too hard to choose! I will always have a fondness for Arabella. But I will put in a suggestion for one who may be overlooked: Jenny Chawleigh, from A Civil Contract. It’s a mature Heyer in many ways. Jenny is not the typical heroine and the love story is certainly not the usual “regency” style romp, and in some ways it is a sad book, but for all that it is a gem.


    • I haven’t read one or two of her ‘moderns’ and have only read some of the detectives once, but the histories and romances, yup, several times, though some not as recently as others.


  5. All Georgette Heyer heroines are different,but all of them are strong,independent and have a mind of their own.My all time favourites include Leonie( These Old Shades),Sophy( The Grand Sophy),Frederica,Arabella,Deborah Grantham ( Faro’s daughter),Horatia( The convenient Marriage),Serena( Bath Tangle),Judith Taverner ( Regency Buck),Annis ( Lady of quality) etc.
    All her books are very enjoyable and i have read them many times and still enjoying reading them again and again.
    Here is a list of her books which are worth reading.
    These Old Shades
    The Convenient Marriage
    Faro’s daughter
    Regency Buck
    Bath Tangle
    Lady of quality
    The Corinthian
    Devil’s Cub
    Sprig Muslin
    False colours
    The Grand Sophy(Do not miss it)
    April Lady
    The Nonesuch
    Friday’s Child
    Pistols for Two
    The Black Sheep


  6. Pingback: A Jane Austen Reading Group Reads Georgette Heyer | Jane Austen in Vermont

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