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.
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.
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]