It was many years ago, in a small town Ohio public library, in the back where there weren’t any book jackets, that I first found Georgette Heyer. I was moving along the rows searching for something new to read. I pulled a volume down to investigate. And I was hooked.
I don’t remember which novel it was. Arabella? Faro’s Daughter? I do know I gobbled up every Heyer the library possessed in short order. I was entranced by her writing, her humor, her rich casts of characters, the wit and sophistication of the Regency society she so wonderfully portrayed. I also found, that day, a source of inspiration. I already longed to be a writer myself, and in Heyer I found so many things I wanted to learn.
For one thing, her stories were fun. I laughed out loud as I read. Think of the end of Friday’s Child, where complications pile on complications and misunderstandings multiply as the poor hero just tries to find a moment to declare his love. Smile at the Duke of Sale, juggling the antics of pugnacious young Tom and witless Belinda in The Foundling. Admire Hugo Darracott’s masterly manipulation of a scene out of farce in The Unknown Ajax.
Heyer’s tales also have an essential humanity. Her heroes most often achieve their HEAs by showing kindness – taking in an abused chimney sweep, humoring an irritating father-in-law, befriending a prickly young brother, recognizing the heroine’s practical needs and fulfilling them.
At the opposite pole, her villains are selfish, like Kitty’s guardian Matthew Penicuik in Cotillion, or Lord Darracott of Ajax, two self-centered, tyrannous old men. The Reluctant Widow’s Lord Bedlington betrays his country out of greed. His son and nephew think only of themselves – the one ruinously indulgent, the other coldly ruthless. Heyer’s values resonated with mine.
I also appreciated the way she portrayed true love as a process. Of course, we can all be dazzled by a wild physical attraction. But for Heyer and for me, desire alone doesn’t make a true match. Her couples challenge each other and reveal their true characters through action before they find their happy endings.
Finally, over time I realized that I admired Heyer’s scope. She doesn’t tell the same story over and over with different dresses. She created a range of character types and narratives. If you’ll allow me the comparison, I think her Regency novels have something in common with Shakespeare. Their appeal changes as the reader does. When I first read her work, I mooned over the alpha heros – the brooding Byronic Damerel in Venetia, the omniscient Robert Beaumaris in Arabella, Sir Waldo Hawkridge of The Nonesuch. When I re-read today, older and maybe wiser, I am much more taken with her less domineering men. Adam from A Civil Contract, the not really hapless Freddie in Cotillion, the soft-spoken Duke of Sale. These men inspire love without the overweening alpha aura, and I like that.
The romance novel has evolved since Heyer’s time. Readers want to enter the hero’s point of view now, as well as the heroine’s. Many of them are keen to follow couples beyond the bedroom doors. Way beyond sometimes. They’re also interested in what was happening outside the ballrooms of the Regency upper classes. And that’s great. It opens up all kinds of exciting opportunities and storylines for today’s writers.
My sources of inspiration have expanded, too. In many ways. But these basics have remained the same for me. It’s always my intention to create believable, humane characters; stories in which two people learn about each other and find their way to recognition and love; and to give readers a bit of fun.
Jane Ashford discovered Georgette Heyer in junior high school and was entranced by the glittering world and witty language of Regency England. That delight was part of what led her to study English literature and travel widely in Britain and Europe. Born in Ohio, she has lived in New York, Boston and LA.
Jane has written historical and contemporary romances. Her books have been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Spain, as well as the U.S. She has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews. Jane can be found on Facebook and JaneAshford.com.