A Jane Austen Reading Group Reads Georgette Heyer

Guest post by JASNA-Vermont member Lynne H.

Our JASNA Vermont reading group recently discussed Georgette Heyer’s Frederica.  A skeptical member asked the question: why should we read Heyer?  Georgette Heyer is a prolific 20th century novelist known for writing Historical Fiction, Regency Romances, and Mysteries.  Frederica is one of the Regency Romances. (Think Harlequin not Hawthorne….)   So, why should a thoughtful group of Austen devotees choose a Heyer Romance?    Below are some of the answers from our group’s discussion.

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Reason # 7: It’s summer.  Let’s face it, we don’t have to read Tolstoy, Dickens, or even Austen all year.  Go to the beach and relax!

Reason #6: Heyer, as mentioned above, is prolific.  If you like one of her Regency Romances, you have 33 more to choose from.

Reason #5: Heyer researched and included wonderful Regency detail.  She described the carriages, dress, and food, for example, in specific detail.   You can read about phaetons and curricles, neck-cloths and laces, and jellies and sauces.  If you have any interest in the Regency period, it is both fun and informative to have such specifics included in the novels.

Reason #4: Ditto for Regency language, cant, lingo, etc.  Heyer used Regency cant in all of her Romances.  What does it mean if someone is a “nodcock”  or a “ninnyhammer”?  What about if someone is trying to “gammon” another person?  Usually the meanings of the expressions are clear from the context; however, members of our group also mentioned further Regency reading to fill in more information about the period.  Two of the books were Jennifer Kloester’s Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, and Carolly Erickson’s Our Tempestuous Day. 

Reason #3: Heyer’s dialogue.  She used dialogue extensively. Her dialogue is witty, but it is also artfully constructed to expose and develop character.

Reason #2: Heyer’s characterization.  While her main characters are usually from the aristocracy (these are Romances after all!), they are not two dimensional ladies and gentlemen.  Within the structure of the Romance, Heyer adeptly fills in the motivations, foibles, and flaws, of her main characters.  Her writing usually depends on the characters to move the books forward.  In the following excerpt, you can see both the characterization and dialogue at work.  This is from an early episode of Frederica in which Frederica and Lord Alverstoke have their first meeting.  Frederica begins by responding to him:

            “I see. You don’t wish to recognize us, do you?  Then there isn’t the least occasion for me to explain our situation to you.  I beg your pardon for having put you to the trouble of visiting me.”

            At these words, the Marquis, who had every intention of bringing the interview to a summary end, irrationally chose to prolong it.  Whether he relented because Miss Merriville amused him, or because the novelty of having one of his rebuffs accepted without demur intrigued him remained undecided, even in his own mind.  But however it may have been he laughed suddenly, and said, quizzing her: “Oh, so high!  No, no, don’t hold up your nose at me: it don’t become you!”

Reason #1: Her books provide both escape and solace.  One of our members mentioned that she read Heyer while she was undergoing chemotherapy.  She said that during this difficult time in her life, Heyer made her laugh and gave her a place to retreat to for comfort and solace.  For Janeites this is very familiar ground!

So…if your interest has been piqued by our reasons to read Heyer, we’d suggest that you start with Frederica.  Just about all of our group members enjoyed it.    And remember, unlike Austen, there are many, many more novels to choose from for those lazy summer days or for times when you just need to escape.  Don’t be a ninnyhammer, try one.


Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2008
ISBN:  1402214766
[originally published 1965]

Further reading:


book cover-Frederica1st

[Image: 1st edition cover, Bodley Head, 1965 – Wikipedia] – I love this cover!

What is your favorite Georgette Heyer? – i.e, after starting with Frederica, which Heyer would you recommend to our book group to read next?

c2013 Jane Austen in Vermont

18 thoughts on “A Jane Austen Reading Group Reads Georgette Heyer

    • There is something about the first one read – mine was Faro’s Daughter, and it is still my favorite – but maybe also because the heroine’s name is Deborah! Thanks for commenting Melissa! I love the Grand Sophy too…


  1. Oh huzzah – you read Frederica! Fabulous. She is delightful and so is Heyer. Which reminds me that her birthday is on August 16th. Must think up a celebration. Thanks for sharing. I totally agree with all of your reasons and will only add that their are some recent Heyer biographies worth discovering too.


    • Yes, Laurel Ann, the biographies are wonderful too! – There were a few of us in the group who are avid Heyer readers – I really stacked the decks against the non-readers by making sure all those people were there! – Lynne is one of the avids, and she wrote this as a sort of explanation as to why one should read Heyer, even if completely prejudiced against “romance” novels – those who did not want to read her were pleasantly surprised, some might pick her up again, some not – but at least we got them reading her finally [it was a bit of a struggle!]

      What is your favorite Laurel Ann? Mine is Faro’s Daughter, which is the first one I read and can still laugh out loud in a re-read! – which book would you suggest as a second read for a first-timer?

      Thanks for stopping by!


      • I’m currently reading The Reluctant Widow, and have These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub lined up ready to follow. I haven’t read them in a long time, and I have you ladies to thank for getting me to read them again. My previous recent reads have all been Jane Austen.


  2. I LOVE Georgette Heyer! When I was a teenager I first discovered Austen, and I read those, but the problem was Austen didn’t write many so I quickly ran out. So my mum advised me to try Heyer as being along the same lines, and I have to say, of Regency romances, Heyer really is one of the best ones in my opinion. If you like Regency romance you should definitely try Heyer – there is humour, characters and a welcome absence of too-modern words dropped in.

    My first one was April Lady, because it was thin and I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, so didn’t want to commit to a longer book. I DID like it, however, so then I moved on to pretty much all the others.

    My favourites are probably, in no particular order
    1) Frederica
    2) The Grand Sophy
    3) Friday’s Child
    4) The Unknown Ajax
    5) Arabella
    6) The Reluctant Widow
    7) Cotillion.
    8) The Nonesuch

    If I had to chose one it would probably be Frederica, but don’t make me choose one, I am so fond of them! There are lots of others that are worth a read too, but personally I’d recommend sticking to the Regency romances. She wrote some 20th century mystery books too and although they are ok, in my opinion there are lots of people who can do those as well if not better, but of modern authors I’ve not read better Regency romances than Heyer’s.

    Apologies for huge post, but you don’t often get a chance to talk about Heyer!


    • Thank you Ceri for this post! – a great list of Heyers for our reading group to tackle… shall let you know how we fare! – like you I find I can re-read them periodically and still laugh out loud and still appreciate the tale – she was the best, quite the “nonesuch” herself!

      So glad you stopped by,


  3. Hi Ceri. Some of these are my favorites too! In fact, after reading Frederica, I went on to re-read The Nonesuch, and now I’m in the middle of Cotillion. One of my favorites that is not on your list is Sprg Muslin. Thanks so much for chatting about Heyer!


    • Do you know, Sprig Muslin is one of the few I’ve not read, although I’m pretty sure that I have a copy. I will bump it up my TBR list :)


  4. Love all of hers I have read – and that were most of hers – but I read them in german, the titles are a little different (no direct translation). They did a good job translating her, though, how easy can a translation ruin a wonderful book. Heyer herself might not have thought much of her regency-novels, but she was still taking those novels seriously enough to take care of details, something I missed on a more modern writer I read recently. Frederica (german: Heiratsmarkt- marriage market) was not my first, but yes, it was a good choice – loved that one, too.
    It’s been a while since I devoured them, so I will just recommend those, that stuck in mind, cos there is a reason if a book is remembered by me over a decade, The grand Sophie for example, The spanish bride. Arabella.


    • So nice to hear from you! – I agree about Heyer and her details – it is what makes all the books so rich, so memorable. I too love the 3 you mention! – it might be easier to ask which books people _don’t_ like – the lists would be shorter! {I would assume Cousin Kate would be at the top of everyone’s do-not-like-list…:)]

      Thank you for sharing,


      • I am not sure, if I would really put a Heyer Book on a don’t like list – but I think for me it was Friday’s child (the one Heyer herself liked most, I read) I liked not so much as the others.and yes, Cousin Kate is not her best. Still – better a not top-Heyer than a modern approach to Regency romances with inappropriate language and rather outspoken sex-scenes like I just read *shudder* – the story would have been a good one – but the writing ruined it. You never get those disappointing details with a Georgette Heyer.


      • I quite like Cousin Kate, although it is darker than the others. The only one I’ve read by her that I didn’t like was The Black Moth, which I think may have been her first novel. Another one I wouldn’t be in a hurry to reread would be Bath Tangle as I found the main characters annoyed me. I still enjoyed it though, and like another commenter said, even an average Heyer is better than most books in this genre!


  5. COTILLION was my first Georgette Heyer. That first scene, with the young gentlemen lounging in front of either a small fire or, perhaps, no fire at all, speculating about the decision of their miserly uncle. At first I couldn’t completely understand how beautifully these characters were drawn, I will never forget Freddy. And, frankly, it took me awhile to “get” the language.


    • It does take a while doesn’t it? – but once one is past the introductory phase, a whole new world of wit and humor, fashion and social life, and characters that jump off the page is before us! – how sad I am that I waited so long to read her! Thanks for sharing Dorothy!


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