The Life and Legacy of Georgette Heyer: the Queen of Regency Romance

18 May 2023

Georgette Heyer is one of those rare people – a born writer who is still selling more than fifty years after her death. She began making up stories as a child and wrote her first novel at just seventeen. It was a swashbuckling serial story intended to relieve her younger brother Boris’s boredom (and her own) during his convalescence from illness. Her father thought the story had potential and insisted she submit it for publication. The Black Moth was published just after Georgette’s nineteenth birthday and ‘caused a big sensation’. The novel brought its youthful author good sales and her first literary agent, but its success was only the beginning.

Over the next fifty years Georgette Heyer would go on to write another fifty-five novels and become world-famous for her witty plots, memorable characters and sparkling dialogue.

Born in Wimbledon in 1902, she was an Edwardian child with Victorian parents whose ideas and attitudes made a lasting impression on their clever, strong-minded daughter. Mostly educated at home, with only a few years of formal schooling while her father was serving as an officer in the Great War, she immersed herself in books, honing her remarkable memory and developing an acute ear for language. Her father, George Heyer, was a Cambridge Classics graduate who raised his only daughter on a rich diet of Shakespeare, the Greek plays, the Renaissance poets, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen; Austen would become her favourite author. Georgette’s voracious reading was to be a powerful influence on her writing, and she revelled in the research necessary to bring her historical novels to life.

In the early years, she wrote in whatever genre took her fancy and during her first ten years she published a dozen books, including four Georgian novels, two medieval, four contemporary, an Elizabethan novel and a story set during the reign of Charles II. The first of a dozen detective novels was published in 1932, the same year her only child, Richard (later Sir Richard Rougier), was born. Georgette Heyer’s first Regency – the genre which she would create and with which her name would be forever linked – appeared in 1935 under the title Regency Buck. Two years later she wrote her second Regency novel An Infamous Army, with its searing account of the Battle of Waterloo, which would not only win her international acclaim but also become recommended reading at Royal Sandhurst Military Academy.

Through the 1930s, Georgette wrote an average of two books a year and in 1944 she wrote the novel that was to become her own personal favourite. Friday’s Child would also ensure the creation of the Regency genre of historical fiction. Published in 1944 the book was snapped up by eager readers weary of war and desperate for joyful escape from the harsh realities of death, destruction and food rationing. Georgette’s thirty-second novel was the perfect antidote to struggle and misery and it marked a major turning-point in her career. From 1944 until her death in 1974, with just two exceptions, Georgette Heyer wrote only Regency novels. These books would establish her not only as ‘the Queen of Regency romance’ but also as one of the great comfort reads (and re-reads) – an author whose enduring hallmarks are brilliant wit, superb prose and truly memorable stories.

Jennifer Kloester, May 2023

Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller by Jennifer Kloester is out now.

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