Thursday 4 June 2015

Georgette Heyer: who's your hero?

On Friday June 5th, English Heritage are putting up a Blue Plaque to Georgette Heyer. This gives me SUCH a warm, fuzzy, happy feeling that I can't even begin to describe it.

I read Georgette Heyer for many reasons. Like Mary Stewart, Diana Wynne Jones and Ngaio Marsh she is the literary equivalent of my comfort blanket.

I read her for her wit, for her ability to create a world within the space of a couple of paragraphs, for the way she invests even the most minor of walk-on characters with lives of their own.

I read her for her heroines, for Serena in Bath Tangle, for Frederica in Frederica, for Elinor Rochdale in The Reluctant Widow - and surely Sophy Stanton-Lacy (The Grand Sophy) is the most glorious creation in any novel anywhere.

But heroes... well now, Georgette Heyer's heroes do cause slightly ambivalent feelings to flutter in my breast.

The problem is not with the chaps themselves, there is no one I would rather have on my side over rough country than ex-Dragoon Captain John Staple (The Toll Gate) or Hugo Darracott (The Unknown Ajax). The problem lies rather in their interactions with their lady of choice.

There are exceptions, but Georgette Heyer's books tend to be very much main-character driven. John and Nell fall in love on sight in The Toll Gate, but it is at heart an adventure story with John playing the starring role (and none the worse for that). In another of my favourites The Grand Sophy, Sophy's foil Charles Rivenhall is masterful enough, but no match on the page for Sophy who sweeps magnificently through the book setting wrongs to rights and dispatching everyone to their proper destiny.

For a complete hero, I want a sense of equality, a sense of respect and willingness to let the other person play their part. Sir Gareth Ludlow and Lady Hester Theale come close to this in Sprig Muslin. Sir Tristram Shield and Sarah Thane come even closer in The Talisman Ring.

But my number one hero is another man entirely. He is the one our heroine trusts above all others, the one she unfailingly turns to, knowing he will have the answer to all life's problems big or small. His one object, throughout the book, is to make her happy.

Yes, he's a surprising choice (and I couldn't live with him myself, I'd want Kit Fancot from False Colours for that), but the crux for me was when - with events going into free fall around him and everyone screaming at him to do something about it - he takes the trouble to read the heroine's long, rambling letter with such concentration that he instantly perceives the one flaw in her plan - AND MAKES IT BETTER, JUST LIKE THAT.

 And then, as if that wasn't enough, he is ready to stand aside and let her go if that is really what she wants.

So, Freddy Standen of Cotillion, take a bow. You are my absolute, number one Georgette Heyer hero, and fortunately Kitty Charing agrees.

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What about you? Who is your best ever Georgette Heyer hero? And why?