Georgette Heyer's Top Ten Novels 
Tuesday, January 16, 2007, 09:34 PM
The internet is an increasingly vital tool in academic research. But it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between authoritative sites and those which provide misleading or even false information. In a worrying development I have recently come across sites which claim to provide Georgette Heyer Top Tens but which are distressingly inaccurate. (How could Cousin Kate feature in any Heyer fan’s top ten, for example.) Here follows my own definitive Georgette Heyer Top Ten.

1. Arabella.

Clergyman’s daughter Arabella is furious when wealthy Mr Beaumaris suspects she engineered a carriage accident as an excuse to make his acquaintance. Her response is to pretend to be a fabulously wealthy heiress. Trouble ensues. (This novel is slated at some length by Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch.)

2. Devil’s Cub.

Dominic, Marquis of Vidal, the demonic hero, abducts Mary Challoner by accident, mistaking her for much prettier and more morally accommodating sister Sophia. She protects her virtue by shooting him in the arm but their relationship gradually improves.

3. Friday’s Child.

Refused by the love of his life, the hero, Sherry, decides to marry the first woman he sees. This turns out to be his childhood friend Hero Wantage. The best Heyer novel to begin with a marriage, and one of her funniest books.

4. The Corinthian.

Cross dressing Pen(elope) is determined to be reunited with her childhood sweetheart and runs away from home with the unwilling help of the cynical misogynist hero Sir Richard Wyndham.

5. Cotillion.

An established novelist by this stage, Heyer tricks her readers by presenting us with a sardonic, moody, saturnine hero who is rejected by the heroine in favour of his amiable cousin Freddy, a kind of Regency Bertie Wooster.

6. The Talisman Ring.

In this particularly funny novel the hero antagonises his proposed bride, the romantic Eustacie, by refusing to ride ‘ventre a terre’ to her (hypothetical) deathbed. Both end up with more appropriate partners.

7. Venetia

The heroine is very understanding about wicked Lord Damarel’s peccadilloes.
'You'd know about my orgies!' objected Damarel.
'Yes, but I shouldn't care about them once in a while. After all, it would be quite unreasonable to wish you to change all your habits, and I can always retire to bed, can't I?'

8. Lady of Quality

Young heiress Lucilla runs away from an arranged marriage – with the help of her equally unwilling fiancé. Annis Wychwood (who is 29 and doesn’t wish to marry) helps them when their carriage has an accident and finds herself having to deal with Lucilla’s rude and disobliging uncle Oliver.

9. Frederica

Capable Frederica feels sure that her beautiful sister Charis is destined to make a great match. So she travels to London (with her large and chaotic family of brothers and sisters) to seek the help of their distant cousin the Marquis of Alverstoke.

10. False Colours

Another atypical Heyer hero. Kit is polite, responsible and (almost excessively) devoted to his beautiful mother. But when his twin, Evelyn, goes missing Kit is persuaded against his better judgment to pass himself off as his irresponsible brother at the latter’s engagement party. Will Evelyn’s fiancée notice the difference?

… I do hope that settles the matter ;-)

Incidentally I have recently been reading on the web about Lois McMaster Bujold whose novels are apparently heavily influenced by (and in one case dedicated to) Georgette Heyer despite being set in outer space 1000 years in the future. Sounds intriguing.

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Diagnosing the Past 
Sunday, December 10, 2006, 09:28 AM
Certain personality types and medical diagnoses seem particularly associated with modernity. Are such conditions new or only newly defined? If the latter, we might expect to find examples of such types in the literature of the past. I will focus on two conditions my son was tentatively diagnosed with in the past (meaning that I read up about them) Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

Professor Henry Higgins, the hero of Shaw’s Pygmalion has devoted his life to a narrowly specialised field of enquiry at which he excels because of his extraordinary attention to detail and flair for pattern spotting within a closed system. However he is socially clumsy and tactless, even rude. (Rex Harrison’s portrayal of Higgins – in the film of the musical My Fair Lady – makes him much suaver and more ironically aware of the effects of his behaviour than Shaw’s original, I think.) Asperger’s syndrome was not identified until 1944 but Higgins’s combination of strengths and weaknesses seems consistent with this condition.

ADD seems a still more ‘modern’ condition. The restless impulsivity and low attention span with which it is associated can easily be aligned with the information overload of modern life. But can we diagnose the condition in characters created hundreds of years ago? Criteria include: a tendency to jump from one interest to the other, chronic procrastination, poor risk assessment leading to dangerous behaviour, a sense of impending doom, an attraction to situations of high intensity, an appetite for something ‘more’. This list seems to fit the character of Dr Faustus who picks up and discards one branch of learning after another at the beginning of the play before leaping into a situation of extreme danger in desperate quest of stimulus. If we think about some other diagnostic criteria of ADD, being more flirtatious in manner than we mean to be, an impulse to blurt the wrong thing out tactlessly, and, particularly, a tendency to misplace objects, we might also want to consider Desdemona as a candidate for diagnosis.

Our little boy has now been undiagnosed by the way. The paediatrician said that he was ‘just like his parents’. So that’s all right then.

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Iris - New Classics Magazine for Schools 
Sunday, October 22, 2006, 05:35 PM
I’ve just received the first issue of Iris, a new magazine about all things Classical. It is aimed at state school pupils and is part of a larger access initiative, the Iris Project, which runs workshops around the country and aims to support the teaching of Classics in the state sector. Some examples of Classics outreach in practice were covered in the magazine. Benthal Primary School in Hackney, which has a large number of bilingual children, is running weekly Latin lessons for all in Year 5 as well as Classics activities in its after school club. It was particularly heartening to read about how Christina Edwards, despite being discouraged from pursuing her interest in Classics at school and even being ordered not to apply to Cambridge by her headmistress, is now successfully pursuing a Classics degree at King’s College, Cambridge.

Iris also included features on ancient Greek cuisine, Roman witchcraft, an interview with Colin Dexter (the creator of Inspector Morse) and a quiz to find out which ancient hero you most resemble. To subscribe or contribute an article contact editor, Lorna Robinson
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Make it so / Prospero 
Sunday, September 24, 2006, 07:51 AM
Have recently returned from a trip to Stratford with colleagues and students from Anglia Ruskin. The high points were The Tempest and Antony and Cleopatra – not least because both starred Patrick Stewart. His portrayal of Prospero was unusually sympathetic – and very impressive. Ariel (played by Julian Bleach) also very striking, though I couldn’t thinking they should have hired Brent Spiner in a reprise of his role in Star Trek as Commander Data, the robot with human aspirations.

As well as going to three plays (Romeo and Juliet was the also ran third) we attended useful lectures and workshops run by the excellent Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. For an alternative theatrical experience with more audience participation I recommend the Cymbeline Guesthouse on Evesham Road. Very alarming (in a good way).

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SF and the Canon 
Thursday, September 7, 2006, 08:18 AM
In advance of a formal call for papers, here is some information about a one day conference to be held at Anglia Ruskin University on Saturday 24th March, 2007. Provisional speakers include Michael Bywater, Tony Keen, Genevieve Liveley, Nick Lowe, Jonathan Sawday and Peter Stockwell.

Although SF is fairly widely taught on university English courses it tends to be studied in isolation, usually as part of a discrete SF module. Although this is a perfectly valid approach it can have a slightly ghettoising effect and deter the inclusion of SF in other, more general, courses, discussions and academic books.

As my last posting indicates, I think SF extends the genre of tragedy in all sorts of interesting ways, and one of the essays in the collection I'm editing, Tragedy in Transition, is on just that topic.

The conference on March 24th will focus on intersections between SF and different aspects of the canon - engagement with Shakespeare's plays for example (such as The Tempest) or with the Classical tradition. If you would like to offer a paper please contact me.
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