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It is a truth universally acknowledged that as splendid as the work of Jane Austen is, there simply isn’t enough of it. Despite her enduring influence on literature, she only published six completed works before her untimely death. So after you’ve read all of the books three times over, watched every movie adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” (yes, even the one with zombies), and you’re still left wanting more, where do you turn?
That might well have been the question on Georgette Heyer’s mind when she sat down to write her first novel. She didn’t know that in doing so she would be accidentally inventing an entire genre: the Regency romance. Nowadays, hundred of Regencies are published every year, but still none rival Heyer for her quality of writing and sparkling wit. And with 32 published romances between 1921 and 1975, she can keep your Austen-ish longings satisfied for a long time!
Where to start? “Arabella” is perfect example of the humor and wit that Heyer wraps into her stories. Arabella, the daughter of a poor country vicar, is on her way to London when her carriage breaks down, and she is stranded on the doorstep of none other than Mr. Beaumaris, the most eligible bachelor in England. But when Arabella realizes Mr. Beaumaris thinks she faked the breakdown to entrap him, her runaway temper leads her to pretend to be a secret heiress. The rest of the book is a delightful froth of mistaken identity, whirlwind gaiety — and even a very cute dog!
A fake engagement triggers the plot of “Cotillion.” When Kitty Charing’s guardian decrees that he will leave his vast fortune to her provided that she marries one of his nephews, she concocts a scheme to pretend she is betrothed to nephew Freddy in order to get a London season. Of course, she only wants the season to try to catch the eye of the man she is really interested in, and Freddy doesn’t want to marry at all, so there’s no chance that this fake betrothal could turn into anything more serious … right?
It’s not all about London, though; some of my favorites of Heyer’s works are set in the country, including “The Toll-Gate.” Jack Staple, recently returned from the Battle of Waterloo, is bored with civilian life. Traveling late at night, curiosity leads him to investigate why a lone child has been left in charge of the toll gate on the county road. Next thing he knows, Jack is dealing with missing fathers, highwaymen, Bow Street runners and the unexpectedly charming granddaughter of the local squire, in a story that is as much mystery and adventure as romance.
These three are great places to start, but there are many more Heyer works to enjoy. So if you’re an Austen fan and haven’t tried Heyer, pick one up!
Genevieve Baillie is the extension services librarian at the Wilson County Public Library.