Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller - Jennifer Kloester
Georgette Heyer has been one of my favourite writers since my mother gave me Friday's Child when I was about thirteen and told me that it had always made her laugh. Heyer's Regency and Georgian romances are the books I turn to when I am feeling sad or unwell, even though I don't generally read books which would fit within the romance genre. They are the literary equivalent of a cup of sweet black tea: warm, comfortable and reviving. Many of them make me laugh out loud. Most of them make me smile. A couple of them have scenes which bring tears to my eyes. Heyer's novels are not great literature, but then Heyer didn't intend them to be. They are well-written, witty escapism; the best of them are comic romances with subvert the romance genre. Heyer also wrote witty (although not brilliant) mysteries, a number of historical novels and several contemporary novels which she lived to regret writing.

This is the second biography to have Heyer as its subject. The first, The Private World of Georgette Heyer, provides an interesting background and an analysis of Heyer's novels which occasionally includes plot spoilers (as I discovered to my consternation when I wanted to check a detail of Heyer's life and had revealed to me the identity of the culprit in the mystery I was reading at the time). However, Kloester's work appears to have had the benefit of much greater access to Heyer's correspondence and to other records. In addition, while Kloester sets the writing of each of the novels in the context of Heyer's life, she does not analyse or discuss them in any depth and most definitely does not provide spoilers. Kloester has also been able to discuss much more frankly some issues touched on in Hodge's work, particularly the allegations of plagiarism which Heyer made (with apparent justification) against another well-known writer.

However, for all of the access that Kloester had to Heyer's letters and to people who knew Heyer, the image which emerges of her remains hazy in some of its details. This is, I think, is because Heyer was so resolutely private. She did not give interviews, she did not pose for publicity shots, she did not keep a personal diary, she destroyed her manuscripts after publication of her novels and she disposed of most of the letters she received. The image of her which does emerge is not particularly attractive. Heyer was deeply politically and socially conservative, a middle-class woman with aspirations to a lifestyle beyond the income she had for much of her life, a poor money manager, emotionally distant and yet supportive of her extended family, intelligent but insecure.

Kloester writes well. She indulges in relatively little speculation about Heyer's feelings or motivation - which is admirable given the somewhat limited nature of the resources at her disposal. In addition, she provides some insights into Heyer's life which contribute to an understanding of her novels. There's plenty to laugh at in Heyer's letters. One amusing episode describes Heyer's reaction to an invitation to dine at Buckingham Palace and her realisation that the Queen had found her "formidable". (This episode particularly tickled my fancy, I suspect because of my appreciation of Alan Bennett's novella The Uncommon Reader).

Overall, Kloester's work reinforces my view that I would not have particularly liked Georgette Heyer. I have little in common with her and I have no sympathy for her social or political views. If I had been Heyer's literary agent, I would have been driven crazy. However, for all of that, I enjoyed reading her biography and I will remain a fan of her writing. Kloester's work is an excellent resource for anyone interested in knowing more about Heyer.

This was another enjoyable buddy read with my friend Jemidar.