05/06/2015Novelist Georgette Heyer receives Blue Plaque
Georgette Heyer, historical novelist par excellence and one of the 20th century's most popular British writers, has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque.
Stephen Fry unveiled the Blue Plaque at Heyer's birthplace in Wimbledon today. A fan of her novels since his school days, Fry described Heyer as "a fabulous, witty writer who captured the life and language of Regency England superbly".
Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) is best known for her romance novels set in the 18th century and English Regency period. Key to their appeal are witty and entertaining plots, strong characters, credible dialogue and meticulous historical research, notably on the finer points of costume and language. Her description of the Battle of Waterloo in An Infamous Army (1937) was commended to recruits at Sandhurst for its vivid account of the battle.
By the time of her death in 1974, Heyer had become a global publishing phenomenon, selling a million copies each year in Britain alone. Loved by four generations of readers and now embraced by a fifth, at her peak, she was writing a novel a year. Her best-sellers include Devil's Cub (1932), Friday's Child (1944), The Grand Sophy (1950) and Frederica (1965). Of her 56 published novels, 51 remain in print today.
"I ought to be shot for writing such nonsense," Heyer once remarked, "but it's unquestionably good escapist literature." As well as Stephen Fry, she includes among her admirers Cilla Black, AS Byatt, Germaine Greer and the Queen.
Stephen Fry said:
"I first discovered Georgette Heyer at school and was completely hooked. She is a fabulous, witty writer who captured the life and language of Regency England superbly. I am delighted to see her honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque."
The English Heritage Blue Plaque is at 103 Woodside in Wimbledon, Heyer's birthplace and her home for the first four years of her life. The semi-detached house - newly built at the time of Heyer's birth - was home to her parents George and Sylvia Heyer. Georgette Heyer went to live at several other addresses in Wimbledon, where she was educated and married her husband Ronald Rougier. Two of her novels - Pastel (1929) and Behold, Here's Poison (1936) - were set in a fictionalised version of Wimbledon.
Howard Spencer, English Heritage's Blue Plaque historian, said:
"Georgette Heyer's impeccably researched stories of elopements and battles have brought pleasure to millions. And while most of her novels are set firmly in the distant past, their massive popularity gives us a valuable insight into the tastes of twentieth-century Britain."
Dr Jennifer Kloester, Heyer's biographer and proposer of the blue plaque, said:
"Georgette Heyer continues to be read today because she was such a perceptive and witty writer. With her Regency novels she created a genre and her readers return to her books time and again for their memorable characters, clever plots and humorous dialogue. Though often self-deprecating, Georgette Heyer actually loved writing and would have been thrilled at being accorded the honour of a Blue Plaque."
The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl, the Blue Plaques Club, and members of the public.
The life of Georgette Heyer, 1902-1974
August 1902 Born in Wimbledon to George Heyer, a teacher, and his wife Sylvia
1920 Aged just 18, Heyer lands a publishing contract
1921 The Black Moth is published to commercial success
1921-5 Four novels published including Instead of the Thorn to a modest reception
August 1925 Married Ronald Rougier, who replaced Heyer's father as her first reader
1926 These Old Shades published, and marks her first significant success
1927 - 44 Heyer experiments with different types of genres, including historical, contemporary and detective fiction
1932 First thriller published Footsteps in the Dark as Heyer publishes books at a rate of two per year
1935 First Regency romance, Regency Buck, published
1942 A highlight of Heyer's crime novels Penhallow published
1944 A new Regency romance, Friday's Child, is published and, despite the wartime paper shortage, sells 250,000 copies in its first two years
1944 - 74 Heyer writes mainly Regency novels and establishes a genre
1961 A Civil Contract published, considered by many to be Heyer's greatest work
1972 Publishes her final work Lady of Quality
1974 Dies of lung cancer in Guy's Hospital