Guest Post: Differences of Georgette Heyer & Jane Austen

Perhaps one of the greatest literary celebrity death matches has been between Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Heyer and Austen are compared to each other, rather fairly or unfairly; but what sets them apart and makes them unique?

Jane Austen published her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811. This was followed by Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816). Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously.

In contrast, Georgette Heyer published her first book, The Black Moth, in 1921 and her last book My Lord John in 1975. Heyer wrote a total of 50 novels, twelve of which are detective novels written towards the end of her career.

The main thing that sets them apart is that Austen wrote about the times in which she lived. She was familiar with her subjects because she was able to observe those around her daily. She was familiar with the customs and courtesies of society. This allowed her to exhibit her veiled wit which is imbedded in her carefully crafted pose.

“A heroine in a hack post-chaise is such a blow upon sentiment as no attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand. Swiftly, therefore, shall her post-boy drive through the village, amid the gaze of Sunday groups, and speedy shall be her descent from it.”

(Northanger Abbey, Chapter 29)

Heyer, known primarily for her Regency novels, spent meticulous hours researching to ensure her novels accuracy. As she didn’t live in the times in which she wrote she sought to ensure that her novels painted a historical picture. She also took great pains with language, writing her works in a formal tone with period correct dialogue, although she was known to make up some things of her own as well.

“He was dressed in the height of the Versailles fashion, with full-skirted coat of palest lilac laced with silver, small-clothes andstockings of white, and waistcoat of flowered satin. On his feet he wore shoes with high red heels and silver buckles, while a wig of the latest mode, marvelously powdered and curled and smacking greatly of Paris, adorned a shapely head.”

(The Black Moth, Chapter 1)

I would argue, however, that Heyer wrote purely for entertainment which makes reading her slightly easier then Austen. Her plots are romantically driven with a singular focus of bringing together the hero and heroine. While there are conflicts and villains they sometimes feel like afterthoughts. Yet, even when they feel like afterthoughts they are still memorable.

‘Lord Lethbridge shut the door and stood for a moment in frowning silence. He was aroused from his abstraction by the approach of his valet, who came up the stairs from the basement to attend to him and remarked with concern that the rain had wetted his lordship’s coat.”

(The Convenient Marriage, Chapter 7)

Heyer’s characters also lack the depth which Austen typically exhibits. Although, I would argue Fanny Price of Mansfield Park is one of Austen’s least developed heroines, but I digress. She lacks the ability of Austen to take a satirical look at society and human nature itself. Austen was intricate and sly in her ability to reveal the flaws of human nature.

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and live nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

(Emma, Chapter 1)

While Heyer and Austen are often compared to one another, I think it is considerate of us to remember that both these woman wrote in different times and in their own right they created their own poignant mark on the literary world. Austen delights us because of her ability to remark on society and human nature. Heyer delights us because she entertains us. She gave us some of the most memorable characters and plots.

One cannot go wrong with either, for they are both perfect and unique in their own way.

Guest Post by Kaydee at For the Love of Austen


Filed under Adult Books, Events, Georgette Heyer, historical fiction, Jane Austen

6 responses to “Guest Post: Differences of Georgette Heyer & Jane Austen

  1. Great post! I think it’s natural to compare the two – they both write with a kind of wit that endears us to them and Heyer writes about the period with more accuracy than most. She almost makes you think she lived it herself. She isn’t Austen though. Jane Austen does have that depth and her stories are like phyllo dough. They have layer after layer you can discuss. Whether you are talking about her characters or the elements of the story, there is always something more to discover.

  2. Mary Preston

    I actually find the style of writing very different for Jane Austen & Georgette Heyer. I thoroughly enjoyed the post thank you.


  3. Colleen Turner

    Thank you for the post, it was very informative! I am not nearly as familiar with Georgette Heyer as with Jane Austen, but from all the posts I have read on this blog this month about Ms. Heyer I can see why people would compare them. I can definitely see the upsides to writing about what is going on in your own times right outside your door, but with the meticulous research Ms. Heyer did I am getting that she did a great job of making up for not writing about her own time period. Thanks for the thought provoking information!

  4. Very interesting. While I LOVE Austen, I have read only one work of Heyer’s…one of the detective novels. I’ve been meaning to get my hands on one of her Regencys. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Laura W

    One of the main points of Hodge’s biography of Heyer is that she created a world. It is not a perfect Regency world. It is her version of the Regency.

    It’s natural to compare Heyer and Austen because they share the Regency. Although their styles are different, their setting is consistent, and if Heyer’s isn’t as perfect as Austen’s because she didn’t live through it, it is close enough to be better than 99% of other historical novelists when it comes to the Regency.

    But I don’t think it’s fair to say that Heyer’s books are only about entertainment and not about society and human nature. I think her characterizations have a depth rarely found in “light” literature and her insights into human nature are frequently spot-on. I think it is unfair that reviewers and academics consider her work to be fluff simply because her novels have adventure and romance. I always find something new when I read her novels.

  6. Very interesting comments.
    I read some of Heyer’s ‘Regency Romance’ stuff as a teenager; I re-read it recently as part of my general research on how reading romance contributes to women’s oppression, and found it a bit astonishing that it’s still so popular; it’s entertaining, yes, but it’s so reactionary about class and sex roles. Jane Austen was infinitely more subtle and her approach is anything but ‘romantic’ in the modern sense. I can’t help thinking some of the writers who claim Heyer is a ‘romance ‘ writer must have read ‘Sense and Sensbility’ with their eyes shut (winks).
    Heyer was an intelligent and cultured woman (though her views were terribly racist and right wing, even by the standards of her time) and expressed her scorn for the genre the created in her private letters Her real ambition was to write purely historical novels,but she had to churn out her ‘Regency Romance’ to pay the bills.
    With respect, I do think that in reading them the less informed reader can go very wrong and adopt a terribye consensus based, romanticsed and sanitized view of life in that most savage of ages – the late Georgian and Regency period.

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