We don’t know why Constable only published this one book of Heyer’s and no other. It may be that they had an option on her second novel but did not want The Great Roxhythe because it was so different from The Black Moth. Or there may have been some other reason. Like many publishers, Constable’s archives were badly damaged during the Second World War and so searching the records for clues is not possible. Heyer’s first novel sold well and Constable brought out a second edition in 1922, only months after the book’s initial publication. They also sold it to Houghton Mifflin in America who brought out an elegant edition with orange lettering against a black background and the sub-title ‘A Romance of the Eighteenth Century’ on both the front board and the spine.
The US dustjacket is also a mystery
To date I have never seen the dustjacket for either the American or the UK edition. It remains one of my romantic dreams to find one for it is not known what the original cover of The Black Moth looked like although Heyer’s first biographer, Jane Aiken Hodge, saw a copy in the 1980s during her research for The Private World of Georgette Heyer and said that it “carried [Heyer’s] picture in a central medallion”. I think Jane must have seen Heyer’s brother Frank’s copy of the book. He was ten years younger than Georgette and when he died in 2002 he left behind several signed editions of her novels. These were later sold. When I contacted Frank’s stepson in hopes of locating the elusive dustjacket, he said he thought that the cover must have fallen to pieces for it was not sold with the book.
The mystery photo on the original jacket?
I still dream of one day finding a copy with the jacket intact – if only to finally see what it looked like. During my research for my Georgette Heyer biography I found a photo of Georgette Heyer that might have been the one used in the ‘central medallion’ on the original Black Moth dustjacket. The photo was published in The Bookman in 1924. In that magazine it is only matchbox-sized (hence the grainy picture here) but the hair and clothes are the right period for The Black Moth. It has been suggested that Heinemann might have copied the original cover illustration when they acquired the rights to republish The Black Moth in 1929. This is possible, although when Heinemann republished The Great Roxhythe seven years after Hutchinson first published it, they did so with a different dustjacket from the original.
Copied from the original?
Will it always be a mystery?
I hope that one day someone will find a first edition of Georgette Heyer’s famous first novel, The Black Moth, complete with the original dustjacket. I would love to see it. I would love to own it. I would love to sell enough books to be able to buy it. Today, nearly one hundred years after its first publication It remains a bestseller. September 2021 will mark its centenary. To have a novel endure for so long is a huge achievement for any author. But for a book written by a girl in her teens, it is exceptional. I wonder how many novels written by seventeen-year-olds remain in print a century after their first publication? And I wonder if an original dustjacket will ever come to light or whether it will forever remain a mystery?