Monday, November 09, 2009
Heyer 2009: Jennifer Kloester: 'The Life of Georgette Heyer'
In her presentation, ‘The Life of Georgette Heyer,’ Jennifer Kloester revealed that she has completed a new biography of Heyer and hopes it will be published next year by Random House. [LV comment: Random House, under its Arrow imprint, has reprinted Heyer's works and published both Jennifer Kloester's Georgette Heyer's Regency World and Jane Aiken Hodge's biography of Heyer.]
Jane Aiken Hodge, who died earlier this year, granted Kloester access to her own research archive on Heyer but the new biography will also draw on a great many other archives which were not available to Hodge. Kloester has had extensive access to many letters written by Heyer which were untapped by Hodge, as well to the archives of A. S. Frere, Heyer's friend and publisher. Richard Rougier, Heyer's son (now also deceased) gave Kloester copyright permission to quote from his mother's letters. Kloester has a number of photographs of Heyer, including some taken in front of the the Rougiers' "mud hut" in Tanganyika [LV comment: A. S. Byatt, in her very short "biographical portrait" published in 1975, reports that "The Rougiers were [...] living in a hut made of elephant grass, in a compound in the bush, prowled round by lions, leopards, and rhinos."] and one by E. O. Hoppé. She also showed us photos of Heyer's family: her mother, Sylvia Watkins (1876-1962), her father, George Heyer (1869-1925), who graduated from Cambridge with a degree in classics and introduced Heyer to Austen, Dickens and Shakespeare, her brothers Boris and Frank, her son, Richard Rougier, and her husband, Ronald Rougier. Ronald had a varied career: originally training as a naval cadet before his defective eyesight was discovered, he retrained to become a mining engineer, briefly ran a sports shop and finally retrained yet again, becoming a barrister. Kloester has also found seven published, but since forgotten, short stories by Heyer, one of which was published pseudonymously.
Kloester gave a brief outline of Heyer's early life and publishing career. Georgette Heyer began writing at a very young age, and was described as a "prodigy." The Black Moth was published when she was very young. Heyer later suppressed her early contemporary novels Instead of the Thorn (1923), Helen (1928), Pastel (1929), and Barren Corn (1930), in which she struggled with the issues of gender and male/female relationships. In Helen the heroine's beloved father dies suddenly, much as George Heyer did, but at the time reviewers criticised what they considered this contrived aspect of the plot. Regency Buck (1935) was Heyer's first Regency romance. An Infamous Army (1937) was the novel that Heyer herself considered to be her best, and for a time it was recommended reading at Sandhurst because of its detailed description of the Battle of Waterloo. Kloester concluded by describing Heyer as a "great, enduring, bestseller" whose books continue to sell extremely well in the twenty-first century.