Monday, September 17, 2007

Georgette Heyer

Devotees of Jane Austen, as well as others who think that the English language reaches its pinnacles in the writings of a select group of authors throughout the centuries, usually recoil in horror and dismay when I confess—for in a manner of a 'confession' it is, and how could it be anything else, at least in their eyes—that, like my elder daughter, I am a devotee of the novels of Georgette Heyer.



Said folk—that is, the assessors of literary merit and whom it should be ascribed to—some of them friends of mine, exhibit a range of physically visible reactions: open frowns; carefully-contrived expressions of indifference designed to conceal their feelings at such gaucherie; utterances representing variations upon the theme "Surely, you're joking!".

After I have made my heretic pronouncement—said pronouncement being the 'confession'—and made it clear that, no, I wasn't being jocose, some of them have never looked at me in the same light again. My own literary efforts, paltry as they may be, sink to a lower level of worthiness in their consideration. For surely, anybody really 'liking' Georgette Heyer—meaning someone who actually reads her novels in preference to more worthy works—cannot have the same literary aspirations and never rise to the same heights as one feeling the same affection and/or reverence for, say, Austen.

Lest someone misunderstands: I have a great affection for Austen's work. But let me follow this immediately with another heresy, that should induce quivers, possibly quakes, of indignation in the literati. It is this: just like I much prefer the Lord of the Rings movies to Tolkien's novels, so I enjoy several of the Austen film adaptations—all of them for TV, as opposed to the feature-movie incarnations, which are inferior—more than her writings.

The operative term here is 'enjoy', of course. I wouldn't deny for a moment that, from a purely literary point of view, the novels can lay claim to some kind of superiority. Yet not everything literary is necessarily 'enjoyable', unless you happen to enjoy literary things just because they are 'literary'. And it so happens that Austen just translates very well into the film universe. A lot of the things she's spends extensive effort of describing can be taken by a good screen writer, director and some good actors, and be displayed in inflections of speech, gestures, facial expressions and all the other tools available to one in that medium.

Back to Georgette Heyer, who lived somewhat longer (71) than Austen (41), whose life took her along a very different path, and who, here's another bio, appears to have been a woman of 'character', whose main vice appears to have been smoking—a lot. Well, who's perfect? Still, she died of lung cancer—albeit at 71—and one wonders what else she might have written, had she lived, say, another decade and into the 80s. But these things we will never know.

Heyer's life experiences are reflected in her novels, of which there are more than 50—not quite in the 'output' league of the likes of Edgar Wallace or Agatha Christie, but definitely right up there with my personal literary guiding light, Jack Vance.

I'm still working my way through Heyer's writings; there is such a lot. Right now I'm reading Death in the Stocks, one of her mystery novels. I should also mention that I do prefer her mysteries to Christie's. They may look like who-dunnits, but in truth they're not really 'procedural' and 'investigative', but rather character character studies with a 'mystery'—meaning 'murder'— thread. To me, that makes them interesting and worth spending time on them.

Heyer's novels rank high among the literary works I would absolutely love to adapt into screenplays and movies. The other, of course, is good old Jack. The whole cycle of stories involving the characters of 'T'sais' and 'T'sain', the psychological-mirror-image twins—from the Dying Earth stories—would make an amazing and engrossing fantasy movie.

More plans. As if I didn't have enough!

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