Yesterday (25 February) a conference was held in Sydney to celebrate the life of an author many today have never heard of, and yet who outsells JK Rowling, Charles Dickens, and James Patterson on the gargantuan book site, ABE Books.
Who was she?
My mother adored her books, and I still have her well thumbed copies of The Cornithian and These Old Shades. She was certainly not a lonely fan. Sedate, yet, sparkling with humor, with gutsy heroines and handsome rakes in need of reforming, with a guaranteed happy ending, Georgette Heyer's Regency romances were beloved by millions -- and still sell.
They were, I suppose, the "chick lit" of the time. I read them avidly, and learned a love of history from their wonderfully detailed late eighteenth century settings, which were usually the nicer parts of London. Later, I realized they were just light and lovely imitations of Jane Austen -- in the very best of taste, and with the same adroit avoidance of any mention of anything nasty going on, such as the wars with the French and Napoleon -- but still I could understand why my mother and her friends loved them.
It's an attraction that lingers. Over the decade, Georgette Heyer has consistently featured in the ABE Books list of ten most popular authors.
There's an Aussie connection to the Heyer success story. Linda Morris relates in the Brisbane Times that five years after publishing Georgette Heyer's first novel, The Black Moth -- a cloak-and-sword romance written to amuse her convalescent brother -- the young author's London publishers received a congratulatory letter from an Australian librarian.
Heyer was a ''bonzer woman'', the librarian gushed, and ''all the girls who read the filthiest books read hers''.
The antipodean fan mail was one of the first intimations that Heyer had brought something new to the romance genre and convinced her publisher, Heinemann, it should dedicate an Australian print run, according to new biographer Jennifer Kloester.
I love Heyer and it's great that she is now respected for the depth of her historical research as well as her engaging writing style. I recently bought a vintage copy of The Black Moth because I was intrigued by the story of how it was written.
According to ABE books, only Shakespeare, CS Lewis, Agatha Christie and Stephen King are ahead of her on their list of top-selling authors. I was pleased to find that out, really -- as I have to confess that I have never read JKR!
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