All Things Georgette

The Grand Sophy (part one)

By 1950, six years after writing Friday’s Child, Georgette Heyer had written another three novels set in the English Regency. Of her 35 published novels, at that date only seven were set in the Regency period of 1811-1820. Those books were all bestsellers, however, and Georgette found plenty of inspiration for future novels in reading about that short but dynamic era. In the 1930s and 1940s there were not many reference books specifically about the Regency era – the gradual increase (eventually an explosion) in such material only began in the late 1940s and 1950s (and may even have been due in some part to the success of Heyer’s Regency novels). She found the period fascinating and would spend several months researching various aspects of the era before setting pen to paper. There was much to inspire her and often, when reading both primary and secondary sources, it is not uncommon to come across an obvious inspiration for one of Heyer’s characters. I have no doubt that Lord Bromford, the well-meaning but “prosy bore” of The Grand Sophy, had his birth after Heyer read about the Honourable Frederick “Poodle” Byng in preparation for writing Arabella. Although her knowledge of the period continues to delight her readers, on the surface at least, Heyer was becoming increasingly – if humorously – self-deprecating. In November 1949, just a few months after Arabella appeared in the bookshops, Georgette was busy writing a new novel called The Grand Sophy. She was making her usual rapid progress but was certain the novel was a bore (!) and took a brief respite from its writing to send her favourite publisher, A.S. Frere of Heinemann, a long and very funny letter in which she reveals a little more of herself than usual. So here, for your delectation, I append the letter in all its parts. Next week, Part Two of The Grand Sophy will blog reveal more of the book and its writing.

the grand sophy first edition 1950
The 1950 Heinemann first edition of The Grand Sophy

“A triumph of Experience over Inspiration”

My dear Frere,

I cannot but feel that you need help in making out your advertisements. Taking as a guide, the methods employed by some doubtless very fine publishers, may I suggest something on these lines:

We proudly present The Grand Sophy A triumph of Experience over Inspiration By Georgette Heyer

You may then proceed on these lines:

We venture to think that few publishers have been privileged to produce a novel of this calibre. (always try to be ambiguous. No one could possibly deny the above statement, though purists may cavil at the use of the word “privileged”). The reader, we confidently prophesy, will be kept guessing throughout. (Do not seek to improve on this masterly passage by substituting “in suspense” for “guessing.” Suspense suggests excitement, and you should never mislead the public. Where nothing in particular happens there can be no excitement. Guessing is fair enough, for I myself am still guessing). To one of her light-hearted Regency Romances Miss Heyer had added a wealth of accurate historical detail. (Wealth is, you will agree, figurative; light-hearted is a perfectly permissible synonym for ridiculous; as for accurate, what was good enough for forty-nine other such romances by me is good enough for this one.) you should, I fancy, be able to write the rest for yourself.

Spread yourself over Sophy, who is all right; do not mention the hero, who is not according to the accepted pattern.

Georgette Heyer to A.S. Frere, letter, 23 November 1949.
Georgette Heyer, portrait painted by Anna Murphy in 1959. A glimpse of the self-deprecating Miss Heyer.

Georgette Heyer’s wise and witty advice ‘ “a few of the maxims”

All this leads me to think that I might confer a huge benefit on countless tired and middle-aged novelists by laying down for them a few of the maxims which I have found helpful. Here they are:

1. Induce your publisher to hand over at once a sum of money grossly in excess of what the book is likely to be worth to him. This gives one a certain amount of incentive to write the thing, and may be achieved by various methods, the most highly recommended being what may be termed as The Little Woman Act.

2. Think out a snappy title. This deceives the publisher into thinking (a) that he is getting the Book of the Year; and (b) that you have the whole plot already mapped out. The only drawback lies in the fact that having announced a title you will be slightly handicapped when it comes to hanging some kind of story on to it.

3. Brood for several weeks, achieving, if not a Plot, depression, despair, and hysteria in yourself, and a strong desire to leave home in your entourage. This condition will induce you to believe yourself to be the victim of Artistic Temperament, and may even mislead you into thinking that you really are a Creative Artist.

4. While under this delusion, jab a sheet of paper into your typewriter, and hurl on to it Chapter I. this may give you an idea, not perhaps for the whole book, but for Chapter II.

5. Introduce several characters who might conceivably be useful later on. You never know: they may take matters into their own hands.

6. Assuming that he has been properly trained, read over what you have done to your husband. His extravagant enthusiasm may lead you to think you’ve perpetrated something good and this will inspire you to churn out a bit more.

7. Think out a grand final scene, with the maximum number of incongruous characters massed together in some improbable place. Allow your sense of farce full play. This will, with any luck at all, make the reader forget what the rest of the book was like.

8. Try and work out how and why these characters got together remembering that it is better to “gloss over”, by technique (which if you haven’t learnt in thirty years you ought to have learnt), than to put your head in the gas oven.

Georgette Heyer to A.S. Frere
ronald rougier 1940s
George Ronald Rougier known to his wife as “G.R.” and to his family as Ronnie.

“a few Phrases for Husbands”

I might, with propriety, append a few Phrases for Husbands – Copyright by Mr G.R. Rougier.

Your hand has not lost its cunning.

Strange that you should write anything so lively when you are not in the mood.

What “happened”, pray, in FRIDAY’S CHILD?

I shouldn’t worry. I am sure Frere will love it.

I think it is most amusing, and/or most interesting.

Haven’t you got anything more to read to me? You always feel like this when you write a winner.

Just carry on.

It will come to you in a flash. (Cite examples from the past).

How often have you said that after intensive study of a period you should really forget it for at least three months before actually putting pen to paper? (This is dangerous, and may lead to pretty daunting reprisals.)

Georgette Heyer to A.S. Frere, letter, 29 November 1950.

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