Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Georgette Heyer: Colloquium and Call for Papers

Via the RomanceScholar listserv and jay Dixon comes news of a forthcoming colloquium on Georgette Heyer:
This conference, organised jointly by Lucy Cavendish College and Anglia Ruskin University, is aimed at all those with an interest in Heyer's historical novels, whether academics or general readers. It will include formal papers and more informal discussion sessions. We would welcome papers on any aspect of Heyer's historical novels. Possible topics might include:
  • sources and influences
  • theoretical approaches to her works
  • critical and popular reception
  • class, gender and sexuality
Proposals for 20 minute papers should be sent to me, Sarah Brown [...], by 30th June 2009.
The colloquium will be held at Lucy Cavendish College on Saturday 7 November 2009. Professor Sarah Annes Brown, of Anglia Ruskin University, is "planning a short presentation on Lady of Quality, inspired by the writings of the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick."

I took the photo of the cover of
Lady of Quality from Of Books and Bicycles, which has a review of the novel.


  1. Ooh! I hope there will be a publication.

  2. I hope someone comments on the anti-Semitism aspect of some of her books. I loved them but I know some people can't enjoy her books because of the way she speaks about the moneylenders.

  3. Me too, Victoria. It would make up for not being able to go to the colloquium.

    Wendy, the anti-Semitism does bother me. I really noticed it in The Grand Sophy. Have you seen traces of it in other novels by her?

    Another thing that I've found problematic is the way that, particularly in These Old Shades, character traits are depicted as being the result of nature rather than nurture in ways which work along class lines. So the peasant is easy to spot because, although he's brought up as an aristocrat, he's clumsy and interested in farming.

    As a medievalist, though, I'm used to reading things which contain some ideas I find unpleasant, so I've got used to enjoying the pleasing bits, as well as analysing both them and the bits that I dislike.

  4. I'm so out of luck this year. In all likelihood, the conference is right before my defense.

    But it sounds fantastic. And it's in England for a change!

  5. Hi - I'm the conference organiser. That chapter in The Grand Sophy is a terrible blight on an otherwise delightful novel. The fact that it was, I think, published in about 1947 makes it all the more shocking and difficult to overlook. I would welcome a paper about the issue although I have to say I don't believe I have noticed antisemitism elsewhere in the texts.

    And she is also a snob, absolutely! (Though that's a bit less worrisome.)

    I do hope some of you can come!


  6. Although the undoubtedly offensive stereotyping of Jews, the belief in the supremacy of breeding over upbringing ('aristocrats are inherently more noble than hoi polloi'), and other oddities ('red-haired people and chestnut horses are always impulsive and hot-tempered') grate mightily on today's reader, they were simply part of the normal cultural currency for a person of Heyer's generation. Laura's remark about having to deal with medieval beliefs is spot-on, here. Other times, other customs.
    The fact that The Grand Sophy was not published till after the War really makes no difference, because the writer was born at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. Try reading E.Nesbit on Jewish characters, and a little later, Dorothy L. Sayers, who was definitely NOT personally anti-Semitic, although she unblushingly used the prevailing stereotypes of Jews as part of her characterisation. I would be surprised to learn, come to that, that Heyer personally disliked Jews, but she was not frightened, as we all are today, of characterising a villainous individual in terms of his racial characteristics, his 'otherness'.
    We really cannot, and must not, condemn Heyer (or anyone else) for failing to be a couple of generations ahead of her time, and should remember that some of todays's beliefs and superstitions may appear equally wrong, even contemptible, to people as yet unborn.
    Incidentally, some animal breeders, especially breeders of pedigree dogs, still believe that 'pure bloodlines' make for a noble individual, and that mongrels are hopelessly inferior creatures. Just look at any doggy internet forum... Victorian theories of eugenics have not wholly disappeared even today.
    Any study of Heyer must take account of her own cultural milieu, which is not ours. We read her historical novels through a double filter, that of the Georgian and Regency periods in which they are set, and also that of the first half of the 20th century, when she became an adult and a writer, a time that was profoundly different from our own.
    I must say I am somewhat tempted by the conference. Cambridge isn't far.

  7. Thanks so much for your comments on anti-Semitism in THE GRAND SOPHY. I posted a comment about it on another Heyer site, and it's great to have such a thorough treatment of it as your post here. There is a much milder example of it in APRIL LADY when Nell tries to visit a money lender.
    I wondered mostly about Heyer's choice of such a viscious portrait of Goldhanger in THE GRAND SOPHY given the pub. date of 1950--so soon after the Holocaust. Seems an odd choice for a writer to make. Of course, it makes perfect sense for the further development of Sophy's character--one who fears nothing.
    I'm a retired English teacher with plenty of time to read and have set myself the task of reading all of Heyer's Regency romances this year.

  8. "Thanks so much for your comments on anti-Semitism in THE GRAND SOPHY"

    I'm glad you found it interesting, and thanks for mentioning another moneylender in April Lady. I've read the novel, but I'd not remembered that, whereas the Goldhanger episode stuck very, very firmly in my mind.

    I'd commented in a tiny bit more detail on the antisemitism in The Grand Sophy on an earlier thread (where we also discussed Heyer's depiction of peasants in These Old Shades. And this post has a lot more detail about the context in which Heyer's attitudes towards "breeding" were formed.

  9. Having adored Heyer for some 47 years -- since I was 13 -- I am so glad that at last others seem to be noticing the anti-semitic tone of some of her books; not merely the romances either; one of the mysteries, I forget which, has a really poisonous description of a Jewish character. Lest anyone be inclined to excuse what Elizabeth Jane Howard called, "the casual anti-semitism of the English upper middle class" because of the time into which she was born, take note that while Christie is also guilty of it, Ngaio Marsh and the unfairly neglected Patricia Wentworth are not.