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.

Layout 1

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

” Frederica ” ~ ‘Cutting One’s Eye Teeth’* on Georgette Heyer’s Regency Cant

Layout 1Frederica
Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2008
ISBN:  1402214766
[originally published 1965]

I loved this book ~ just so full of humor and the usual fabulous Heyer-created characters – the scattered, talkative heroine, though surely not pretty enough to BE the heroine; the elegant and aloof hero, always “quizzing”; the off-the-wall family of the heroine [who else but to engage the hero?]; the elitist family of the hero appalled at the arrival into their midst of this not quite up-to-snuff relative; and a series of hilarious mishaps and one serious accident to give everyone a chance to show who they really are – a pure Heyer-romp, and one you must add to your to-be-read-pile.

A quick overview:  Frederica, already “on-the-shelf” at about twenty-four and the sole guardian of her younger siblings, entreats a distant cousin, Lord Alverstoke, to take on her sister’s coming-out in London.  The Marquis is the epitome of the Regency Buck, older [in his late thirties], rude and condescending to his sisters and their families, yet bored with his fashionable lifestyle.  When Frederica appears on the scene, he is in no way inclined to help this unheard of “cousin” with her beautiful sister and two out-of-control brothers – but he is taken in regardless and agrees to help her, at first just as an exercise to undercut his sisters, and little knowing that his easy, boring existence will never be the same again.

No full review or spoilers here! – you can see with the opening lines where this story will lead – but Heyer in Frederica gives us one humorous page after another, and the creation of the two young brothers Felix and Jessamy, one of a scientific bent, the other bound for the clergy, gives the reader an interesting diversion on the hero-heroine tale – what IS it about these boys that makes Alverstoke, who barely acknowledges his own nephews and nieces, take such a liking to them and their endless mis-adventures?

What I found so engaging about this book is the abundant collection of Regency “cant” thrown into every sentence whenever possible – Heyer had a field day in this book with her uncivil tongue!  During the Regency it was the fashion for upper-class men to pepper their speech with the language of the lower classes, especially boxing and horse-racing speak as well as that of the Regency underworld.  In Frederica, we have a heroine with three brothers who use this talk constantly – she is adept at it herself, much to Alverstoke’s surprise and delight [“…such cant expressions on the lips of delicately nurtured females are extremely unbecoming,” he says to her with a “gleam in his eye” -p. 177].  Most of the terms you can figure out in context, others you can look up in the Regency Lexicon for starters [though alas! so many are not there!] or if you have Jennifer Kloester’s very helpful Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, or The Regency Companion and see below for other sources and links on cant – otherwise you might be at a loss in reading this book!

I here append a list – you will see that many terms make reference to one’s “stupidity” or “denseness”, but there are many others that apply to all manner of situations – if you can figure them out OUT of context, you are a better “canter” than I! [and with apologies for any duplication – I feel like I am transcribing a foreign language!]

  • Tremendous swell
  • Rake-down
  • Moonling
  • Slow-top
  • Nip-farthing ball
  • Bumble bath
  • A complete hand
  • Ramshackle
  • Rubbishing style
  • Tongue runs like a fiddlestick
  • Cry craven
  • Stow it!
  • Rag–mannered
  • Little bagpipe
  • Shabster
  • Oh botheration!
  • Shag-rag
  • A regular trump
  • Frippery fellow
  • Gammon
  • Bird-witted
  • Pudding-hearts
  • Toadeaters
  • Shatter-brained
  • Pea-goose
  • A set-off
  • Wet-goose
  • Dovecots
  • Paper-skulled
  • You are a baggage
  • Rackety gadabout
  • Give you a pepper
  • Clodpole
  • Stupid little looby
  • Rats in your garrett
  • Complete to a shade
  • Young stiff-ramp
  • Nipperkin
  • Of all the plumpers
  • City-mushroom
  • Dagger-cheap
  • Ape-leader
  • A flat
  • On-dits
  • “coming”
  • Flummery
  • Needle-witted
  • Prattle-box
  • Gabblemongering
  • Purse-pinched
  • Basket-scrambler
  • Young cawker
  • Mill
  • Gudgeon
  • Ninnyhammer
  • Rusticated
  • O’clock
  • Blunt
  • Bag-wig feeling out of curl…cut up stiff
  • Mawworm
  • Moulder
  • Sapskull
  • Chawbacon
  • Cawkers
  • Jobbernoll
  • In the seeds
  • Hip
  • Cockloft
  • Barques of frailty
  • Top-lofty
  • Chancery suit upon the nob
  • Lobcoble
  • Gibble-gabbing
  • Peel eggs
  • Havey-cavey
  • Thratchgallows
  • Bacon-picker
  • Dicked in the nob
  • Bumble broth
  • Nipperkin
  • Mull
  • Poke nose
  • Top sawyer driving
  • Nip-shot
  • Go into whoops
  • Roll of flimsies
  • Jackstraw
  • Game as a pebble
  • Nodcock
  • Ugly as bull-beef
  • Take a damper
  • A knock in the cradle
  • Curst addle-plot
  • Watering pot!

[ *Cutting one’s eye teeth = to become knowing, to understand the world ]

5 full inkwells [out of 5]  ~ Highly recommended ~

Further Reading on Regency Cant:

Further Reading on Frederica:

Posted by Deb