Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective
by Mary Fahnestock-Thomas
(PrinneyWorld Press, $29.95) ISBN 0-9668005-3-2
Fans of Georgette Heyer will definitely want to get a hold of this book. In what is clearly a labor of love (but also a work of scholarship), Mary Fahnestock-Thomas has collected nearly all the extant and available commentaries on the works of this author who single-handedly created the Regency romance and made early nineteenth century England the favorite setting for contemporary historical romance novels. Likewise, anyone who is interested in the history of the romance genre will find this a fascinating anthology.

This is not a book that one sits down to read cover-to-cover. Rather, one picks it up and dips into it whenever the spirit moves. The editor has included a number of Heyer’s shorter pieces, both stories and commentary. She also includes several of the obituaries which appeared in British newspapers at her death in 1971.

Perhaps the most impressive material that the author has collected are the two hundred plus reviews of Heyer’s fifty-four novels. Arranged chronologically, the reviews first appeared in such various publications as The Times Literary Supplement and the Springfield (MA) Republican. Reviews from The Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly and other like publications are generally brief, but the recognize the popularity of Heyer. A new Heyer was a publishing event in the 1950s and 1960s and recognized as such. The author reports that Heyer was regularly reviewed in The New York Times and other major newspapers, but that the rights to these reviews were not available.

My favorite part of the book is called “Other articles and books.” Here Fahnestock-Thomas has collected articles written about Heyer’s works and excerpts from books that talk about her work. As a fan myself, I most enjoyed the articles that exhibited a fondness and respect for Heyer’s work. Especially noteworthy are two pieces by Booker Award winner, A.S. Byatt. In “Georgette Heyer is a Better Writer than You Think”(1969), Byatt pays homage to Heyer’s skill, style and use of language. Equally interesting is her brief biographical piece which skillfully captures Heyer’s personality and devotion to her craft.

Fahnestock-Thomas also includes some less favorable comments on Heyer’s work and appeal. It’s interesting to read what feminists from the 1970s and 80s like Germaine Greer have to say about romantic literature in general and Georgette Heyer in particular. It is interesting that Heyer’s eleven mysteries receive almost as much commentary as do her forty-five historical novels. And it’s reassuring that such a cultural giant as Jacques Barzun includes Heyer in the pantheon of British women mystery writers like Christie and Sayers.

The book also includes some examples of scholarship on Heyer which, while intriguing, suggest that there is a lot more that can be said about the enduring popularity of this important popular author.

Do I recommend this book? Well, indeed, I think that Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective belongs in libraries, especially in academic libraries. Indeed, I shall order it for our library. And I think that the many devoted fans of “the sainted Georgette” will want to own this book. Certainly anyone who is interested in the development of the romance genre will want to take a look at this excellent anthology. So if you fit one of these categories, this book is for you.

--Jean Mason

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