Friday, January 23, 2015

The Book That Started It All by Victoria Chatham

I class a favorite book as one I will read and then re-read again and again. The book I have re-read the most is Georgette Heyer's Frederica and I still find it as fresh and as funny as the first time I read it.

Georgette Heyer, 1902 - 1974
Frederica Merriville has one burning desire and that is to see her beautiful younger sister, Charis, introduced to the London ton in order to achieve a suitable marriage. To this end she engages the assistance of a distant cousin, the Marquis of Alverstoke - rich, bored and cynical. Alverstoke gradually succumbs to Frederica's charms, charms of which she is totally unaware as her family has her total focus. Along with her sister, Frederica also oversees the antics of brothers Harry (sent down from Oxford University), Jessamy (determined to be a priest and constantly berating himself as he falls between boyish pranks and high virtue) and Felix (who has a passion for science).
Alverstoke has already been approached by one of his sisters to have a coming out ball for his niece, Jane, at Alverstoke House. On a whim, he agrees to this providing his sister, Louisa, introduces Charis into society. Louisa has no option but to agree but is nearly undone when she discovers that Charis's shining beauty puts her own daughter in the shade. Tender-hearted Charis gets into one love interest after another culminating in her elopement. Jessamy's love of horses interests the Marquis, and Felix's scientific endeavors intrigue him. Harry, being older but not necessarily wiser engages the Marquis in an entirely different way. 
This is one of the best of Heyer's Regency romances. Heyer exquisitely captures the rough and tumble of family life with the social mores of the era, and wraps it into an engaging story with a strong thread of real comedy. The dialogue sparkles as Alverstoke is a perfect foil for Frederica's wit. One family adventure after another captivates Alverstoke's lively mind and, when he finally wins Miss Frederica Merrivllle's hand, it is on the understanding that he accept Jessamy and Felix too.
Heyer wrote her first book The Black Moth in serial form for her brother Boris, a young man in ill health who frequently became bored. Her father, George Heyer, enjoyed the story so much he became instrumental in getting it published and it was released in 1921.  
For many years Heyer took responsibility for supporting her family, publishing two novels a year, one a Regency romance and the other a thriller. Her Regency books sold well, her thrillers less so and were once criticized for having unoriginal 'methods, motives and characters'.
That her Regencies were influenced by the work of Jane Austen there is no doubt.  Austen rarely refers to details such as dress and manners because her writing was contemporary. Heyer, in comparison, included rich detail about fabrics, styles, and d├ęcor for her readers to understand the times and settings in which she placed her characters.
Heyer wrote until her death in July, 1974 and at that time had 48 titles in print. She lived out of the public eye, stating that “My private life concerns no one but myself and my family.”
I have read all of her romances and most of the thrillers, but it is Frederica that draws me back every time. This book alone gripped me from start to finish and made me want to create enigmatic characters, sweeping settings and thoroughly satisfying happy-ever-afters. I’m still working at it.

For more information about Victoria Chatham and her books, visit: