Friday, September 25, 2009

Georgette Heyer

When I was eleven I was lucky enough to get a really excellent English teacher, she managed to make her subject come alive for me in a way that none of her successors ever did, and she introduced me to Georgette Heyer, for all of which I am very grateful.

Heyer became and has remained my favourite author, her books have been there to escape into whenever I’ve felt in need of a lift, and have never yet let me down. A quick check suggests I own about forty nine titles all but one of which I bought in my early teens. That one is ‘The Unfinished Clue’ which doesn’t seem to have been in print back then. I stumbled across it about a year ago in the new arrow editions and couldn’t quite believe I had found something unread from such a favourite writer, but so it was.

The Unfinished Clue’ turned out to be a nice cosy sort of murder mystery with the typical country house setting and Heyer cast of characters, it was thoroughly satisfying, and I loved every moment of it, but it’s not her very best work. A little bit of research revealed that there are a handful of titles that Heyer had repressed in her lifetime, either because she felt they were too personal or not up to scratch. I wondered if ‘The Unfinished Clue’ was originally one of these, I see that she intended to repress another crime novel ‘Footsteps in the Dark’ which is arguably a better book.

Heyer’s first manuscript was written when she was 19, and since it was published in 1921 I don’t think she’s ever been entirely out of print. Still writing up to her death in 1974, she must have produced on average a book a year. Her earnings supported herself, her husband and her younger siblings so there would have been tremendous pressure to keep on publishing, despite this all her research is meticulous; people, places, things, events, slang, costume, it’s all spot on. The level of detail was criticised at the time, but I think it’s what makes the books live and breathe now.

A search on Amazon disclosed that all the repressed titles I found mentioned are available, expensive but not really outrageously so, and with fairly positive reviews. I am curious to read them, extremely so, but at the same time slightly uncomfortable about it. Having considered the books and by extension the author to be friends for such a long time I can’t help but feel like I should respect her wishes and leave well alone, even more so as I learn how private a person she was. Yet on the other hand she initially chose to publish these books, so at what point does an author get to choose their legacy? Can they choose to delete parts of their own canon? I think the answer is probably not, but for now I’m going to respect Heyer’s wishes, after all she’s done for me it seems the least I can do in return.

1 comment:

  1. Ack, that's a dilemma. Part of me feels like any source left, published or not, must be considered and made available for research and/or enjoyment. But the other part is extremely uncomfortable about violating the wishes of someone one knows from other sources to be private or who wished a piece to be supressed after publication. I'm just glad Heyer left us such a huge body of (unrepressed) work to enjoy and such wonderful characters as The Grand Sophy to return to time and again.