Despite various domestic challenges, including her “little boy’s illness” and Ronald selling the sports store and preparing to begin his legal training, Georgette Heyer wrote The Talisman Ring in less than three months. On 2nd April she had roughed out the plot and early in May had delivered the first instalment to Woman’s Journal who were to begin publishing her novel in serial form in August. Although the second instalment was delayed due to Richard’s illness, on the 18th May, Georgette wrote to assure Miss Perriam that the second instalment of four chapters would be sent to the editor that week. In a rare moment of self-praise she even went so far to say:
“I hope she will like the four chapters I’m writing now: I think they’re quite good fun myself.”Georgette Heyer to Norah Perriam, letter, 18 May 1936.
Five days later Georgette delivered the second instalment and a few weeks after that Woman’s Journal received the remaining chapters of The Talisman Ring in plenty of time for the first instalment to appear in the August 1936 edition of the magazine. It was a perfect novel for serialisation with a clever plot, plenty of sparkling dialogue, a bit of cross-dressing, and a cast of highly entertaining characters. Georgette was becoming well-known for her ready wit and ironic sense of humour and this latest novel provided the perfect foundation for her talent. She gave the book two sets of lovers: the melodramatic Eustacie and her daring cousin Ludovic; and the humorously intelligent Miss Thane and the ever-practical, always rational, Sir Tristram Shield. The two couples are polar opposites and Georgette obviously derived enormous enjoyment in creating “farcical” scenes and amusing conversations for these four very different characters. The Talisman Ring proved a great success in Woman’s Journal and the illustration for the first instalment had a marvellous drawing of Sylvester, Baron Lavenham, on his deathbed with his granddaughter, Eustacie, and her serious cousin Tristram, at his side.
“A hearty laugh”
It was Woman’s Journal’s second instalment of The Talisman Ring that gave Georgette “a hearty laugh”. Perhaps because the illustrator, Clark Fay, had not been properly briefed, or perhaps because he had not read the excerpts and understood that the novel was set in 1793, but his choice of costume was entitely wrong! Clark Fay illustrated the September instalment with a picture of two young ladies attending the wounded hero, Ludovic Lavenham, while wearing ball-gowns! Georgette was astonished by the picture and wrote in some amusement to her agent to say:
“it gave me a hearty laugh. Two ladies in full Victorian ball-dress in the middle of a winter’s morning & staying in a country inn!’ “
Miss Sutherland approves – Georgette does not
The magazine’s editor, Miss Sutherland, did not seem to mind the anachronism but was delighted by the story’s reception. Georgette, however, cared a great deal about historical accuracy and the incident did not improve her already unfavourable opinion of Dorothy Sutherland. Although she would have preferred a more accurate picture to illustrate her story, it was a feather in her cap to have Clark Fay illustrate her work. He was a sough- after early twentieth-century ullustrator who had studied under N.C. Wyeth and Harvey Dunn before going on to produce illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post and Delineator. His most famous work was the Legend of Woksis which depicted the Algonquian chief Woksis, who is credited in mythology with the discovery of maple syrup (it’s amazing where research into Georgette Heyer will take you!). Although his drawings of Sarah and Eustacie are inaccurate in terms of costume, I still love The Talisman Ring illustrations in Woman’s Journal.
Ronald is admitted to the Bar
On 19 June 1936, Georgette and her husband Ronald celebrated his admission to the Inner Temple and the beginning of his training to become a barrister. While it was an important step in Ronald’s career and one of which Georgette seems to have thoroughly approved, it also meant increased financial stress as she was now the sole breadwinner for the family. Life in country Sussex may have been cheaper than life in London, but running a house the size of Blackthorns, maintaining a domestic staff of at leat two servants, and helping her mother and brothers financially whenever necessary put a constant strain on her purse. It had not helped that the renovations had cost far more than planned (as they always do), and Georgette had been forced to take out an overdraft guaranteed by her mother-in-law. Georgette Heyer was a woman of great fortitude, however, with an extraordinary work ethic. There was a sense of relief in having sold the sports store and no longer being “in trade” and she was prepared to go on “earning by the power of [her] pen” for as long as necessary if it meant Ronald could fulfill his long-held ambition of becoming a barrister. The spirited story that is The Talisman Ring reflects much of Heyer’s strength of character and is worth reading for that and for the marvellous story that lies between the covers.
The original cover art
Surprisingly, the original cover art for The Talisman Ring still exists, though it’s never been seen in public. Consisting of a rough pencil sketch and the final watercolour design, the two pictures remain in private hands. I am grateful to the current owner who has given me permission to share the photos of Philip Youngman Carter’s original design. Youngman Carter was a writer as well as an artist and was married to the famous mystery author, Margery Allingham. He was better known as an artist than a writer, however, and he designed dustwrappers for many famous writers, including H.G. Wells, Daphne du Maurier, John Steinbeck, Graham Greene, J.B. Priestley and Rebecca West. Over the years Heyer had several fine artists design her book jackets. Arthur Barbosa was her favourite and he would design her cover art from 1954 until 1970. She also liked followed by Philip Gough who designed the jackets for The Foundling and Arabella and she approved of the eye-catching art deco design for Pastel (1929) done by the well-known graphic designerTheyre Lee Elliot.
The American edition
I love the Amercian first edition of The Talisman Ring with its colourful cover, gorgeous spine, and melodramatic picture. It depicts the scene in Basil Lavenham’s library where Miss Thane is pretending to be the antithesis of her real self and has adopted the persona of a foolish female. Sir Tristram is on bended knee and appears surprised to see his cousin Basil, who seems to have a rather sickly green hue. Perhaps Basil has realised thy are onto him! the binding depicts the book’s young hero and heroine: Ludovic and Eustacie in a loving embrace. Despite the slight inaccuracies in the library scene it does appear that this time Georgette’s illustrator had a least read the book!
Sir Tristram Shield arrives
“Sir Tristram Shield arrives at Lavenham Court in the wintry dusk. Old Sylvester, ninth Baron Lavenham, is dying in splendidly sardonic fully-dressed, fully-powdered style. The cultured reader chuckles. Soon he beams, he’s in for a thriller and detective story in one. And why not? Is the art of detection limited to the Yard and our own dull petrol-stinking period? Horses, smugglers, excisemen, the undeveloped forest that few but the charming and shrewdly innocent Eustacie would have ventured into by night with a couple of band boxes and the intention of catching the London coach and becoming a governess—isn’t all that, and more, a much better field? The characters are not brought on, they come on. Sir Hugh, a great eater but no fool, Sir Tristram, the Beau, that attractive villain, the few female characters wo are so much alive that if Miss Heyer put up any paste-board scenery they would knock it over. The hunt for the Talisman Ring is soon up. The dénouement is neat, extremely neat. It is not, perhaps, our business to say so, but this is Miss Heyer’s twelfth novel at least and has she ever tried to palm the reader off with fustian?”The blurb from the first edition dustjacket, 1936.