Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Jane Austen vs Georgette Heyer

Sherwood Smith has a really interesting post up at Book View Café, wherein she contrasts Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, arguing that Heyer was writing romances but that Austen really wasn’t.

I, like Sherwood Smith’s friends, would have been like, Well, but, weren’t they basically writing in the same mode? And now I see that they weren’t, really.

Austen’s stories end with marriage because that was pretty much the only choice open to women of her social stratum, and she writes from a woman’s perspective, giving women’s points-of-views first place at the table. But her context is social criticism.

Well, when you put it like that.

Also, now I know what a hapax legomenon is. I fear the term might prove difficult to work into casual conversation, but you never know, you never know. Maybe I will be chatting with one of the English faculty on Monday and a chance will arise.

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7 Comments Jane Austen vs Georgette Heyer

  1. pete mack

    I used hapax in a technical paper once, about guaranteeing a unique mark somewhin a text when treating the text as circular.

    And yes, I never once thought of Austen’s books as romance. I mean, she wrote about zombies, didn’t she?

  2. Maureen E

    Ooooh, fascinating. I think she’s right about that there’s a big difference in Austen’s goals and Heyer’s–for instance, I get very frustrated with people who soften Austen’s biting wit into blurry romance, whereas Heyer can be very biting and funny, but as a secondary function of the story, and more focused on the characters than on principles.

    On the other hand, I think Smith’s post overstates the case in a few places. First, saying that marriage was the only choice open to women of Austen’s time conveniently ignores the fact that both Austen herself and her sister were unmarried. In terms of story, of course, the idea of a novel with a happy ending that doesn’t involve a wedding would have been practically unthinkable in that era, but it still wasn’t literally the only option.

    Also, I think that Austen is very focused on social commentary (a lot of which is lost to modern audiences because we don’t have the context), and yet I think she also did believe in the romances she wrote. She was very keenly aware of romance and flirtation, if you judge by her letters. But also, Elizabeth’s happy ending is Pemberley, the aristocratic and perfectly harmonious mansion to which only the select few are admitted. While Austen’s other novels undercut that, as far as I can remember, there’s clearly a tensions in her portrayal of the nobility. After all, even Colonel Brandon’s largesse is the avenue for Edward and Elinor to marry. (Or perhaps Smith doesn’t count Col. Brandon as a member of the ton? I wasn’t quite clear there.)

  3. Maureen E

    I have written you an essay, apologies! I have a lot to say about Austen–there’s a reason my first internet foray was an Austen message board. (Also I wrote a thesis about Pride & Prejudice and Gaskell’s North & South, so I can go on forever.)

  4. Rachel

    No, no, I enjoyed it! I actually kind of want to read your thesis.

    Both Austen and Heyer feel to me like romances, still. It’s hard to imagine Austen’s novels ending up without a happily-ever-after. I think this must be because of your point that she “believed in the romances she wrote.”

  5. Rachel

    Sure, Maureen, I’d like that. Then I’ll go back and re-read North and South. Or at least watch the movie, which I liked quite a bit.

  6. Lela

    I searched posts on the heroines of Austen vs Heyer and found none. Everybody is concentrated on actions of characters. I read both authors and was impressed about Heyer’s lack of depth and wisdom of Austen’s heroines. They are either very immature or tiresome, even if they have one or two attractive personality characteristics. The last Heyer novel I read was Sylvester… and her heroine, Phoebe, may be intelligent and perceptive, yet, a 19 year old girl going on 9…. An immature and foolish child, whose intelligence and perception never advanced her to maturity and wisdom of Elizabeth Bennet .
    However, Heyer’s writing is pleasant and very enjoyable light reading.

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