B: August 16, 1902 Wimbledon, England - D: July 4, 1974 - London, England
Life & Writing
Heyer’s career started at seventeen by telling a series of stories to her sick younger brother to entertain him. Her father, who was a writer himself, enjoyed hearing them and eventually asked her to write them down so she could have them published. Over the years Heyer dabbled in different genres: mystery, contemporary, Georgian, but what she is best known for is her Regency Romance novels. A fan of Jane Austen and her world, Heyer became an expert in this time period due to her meticulous research for her novels. While she thought much of what she wrote was fluffy, she knew they were popular escapist literature. Couple this knowledge with having a husband (plus two brothers and the odd aunt) to support she continued writing them.
During her career, one rather interesting stance took root, one which I find absolutely astounding in this day and age of rampant social media - her refusal to promote her books in any fashion. This attitude came about through her staunch belief that her life was her own and should not be open to her fans or critics to intrude on (the same struggle that today’s celebrities face). The General Strike in 1926 solidified her thoughts on the uselessness of publicity. These Old Shades, released during the strike, received no coverage in the media and still sold a decent number of copies. So in 1926, five-ish years after beginning her career, she refused to grant any further interviews or do any personal promotion for her publishers, maintaining her books sold just fine without it and was a waste of time - she stuck to her guns for the rest of her days.
While she did not go in for self promotion, her books were still wildly popular - even the Queen & her household are rumored to be fans! What I find interesting is the fact that she wrote over 50 books, founded the Regency Romance subgenre and put historicals on the map, but she was universally ignored by the book world. Deemed to be just a “genre” writer (a term which I find absolutely pompous and condescending), her books were never critically reviewed in any major publications and when she died in 1974 from lung cancer (she smoked 60-80 cigarettes a day, which is wow) Encyclopedia Britannica failed to mention her at all. This lack of recognition never seem to bother Heyer; the only thing that counted was that her books continued to sell in ever increasing numbers.
“As soon as one promises not to do something, it becomes the one thing above all others that one most wishes to do” - Venetia
No. of Books In Series: 4
No. of Books In Series: 4
Other Works: 42
Short Stories & Essays: 17
Setting: All in England (as far as I know)
I must admit a bit of a fan of Heyer’s mysteries (now). They were a collaborative effort, her husband wrote a bare bones outline while Heyer did the heavy lifting of fleshing them out. Towards the end of the book, it is rumored, she would ask her husband to re-explain the ending he’d sketched out so she could write them correctly. The sales of her mysteries never came close to the popularity of her historicals, but the numbers were respectable enough that she kept turning them out.
What I find interesting is the fact her mysteries have been widely lampooned by critics over the years, with complaints that her plots are unoriginal, filled with stereotypical characters and used the same motive for 58% of them. True. But, and I must stress this, they are pretty good. I wonder if the critics were being overly harsh on Heyer’s books because they were comparing them to others being published at the time - the four Queens of Crime, Sayers, Christie, Allingham and Marsh - were at the heights of their careers (generally speaking) publishing startlingly new twists, codifying the golden age of detective fiction and generally being brilliant. These were the authors Heyer was releasing against and, to be fair, many authors would fall flat by comparison to these ladies (and btw Heyer’s mysteries are better than some of Christie’s doozies like Passenger To Frankfurt or The Mystery of the Blue Train).
What I enjoyed was exactly what grates on the critics' nerves: her characters' interactions, irreverence and humor. No, Heyer’s mysteries never won an award and some of what the critics accuse her of is true - however they are still highly entertaining reading and I don’t think I wasted a moment that I’ve invested in her books. And I feel compelled to point out that a book does not have to be bleak, dramatic or revel in the human condition to be worth reading - you simply must enjoy it for it to be worthy of your time and Heyer is definitely worth my time!
My 52 Weeks With Christie: A.Miner©2015