Jennifer Kloester’s Biography of Georgette Heyer

Anne here, delighted to be hosting another visit from Honorary Word Wench, Dr. Jennifer Kloester, pictured here in her study, surrounded by Heyer novels and a few of her many files of research. If you'
d like to read my first interview with Jennifer, it's here.

Jennifer's eagerly awaited biography of Georgette Heyer will be released in London on the 6th October. That's just a few short weeks away. I'm so excited. Jen, this biography has been 10 years of research and five years of writing. Has the journey been worth it? What have been some of the highlights along the way?

HeyerBioCover Jennifer: I have had the most wonderful time writing this biography but I must confess that when I began working on Georgette Heyer’s life and writing, I never imagined where it would lead me. I actually began the research in 1999 but didn’t really get serious about it until I began my doctorate on her in February 2001. When I began I can remember thinking, ‘oh, there’s hardly any material out there about her.’ Boy, was I wrong! I have had so many incredible moments of discovery and made so many wonderful friends along the way that I do feel fortunate in having followed this path. 

One of the main highlights has been discovering the new archives of her letters and having her son, Sir Richard Rougier, give me copyright permission to acquire copies of them and to quote from them.

Another highlight has been the discovery of nine of Georgette’s short stories, seven of which will be completely unknown to the modern reader. I spent days at the British Library trawling thousands of magazines from the 1920s and 30s and I can’t tell you how exciting it was to turn the page and find Georgette Heyer’s name at the top of the page!

Anne: I can imagine. And I hope those stories get published some day. There have been several books written about Georgette Heyer, but I gather you've had unprecedented access to Georgette Heyer's private family papers. How did that come about?

Jennifer: My access to Georgette’s private papers was entirely due to the kindness and generosity of her son. I wrote him a formal letter in 2001 and he invited me to lunch at his house in Somerset. It was a truly memorable occasion sitting with him in the arbour beneath the most magnificent scented wisteria and talking about his mother and her writing. After lunch he showed me his office where he kept her notebooks and papers and pretty much left me to it. After that, he and his wife, Lady Rougier, invited me to stay and I guess I just kept going back. 12 Georgette & Richard

(Picture on right is Georgette with her son Richard, aged 8.)

On each of my research trips to England they had me to stay and each time Sir Richard would show me something new. On one trip he brought out the family photo albums, on another, Georgette’s baby book and, of course, we wrote to each other. I would send half a dozen questions in a letter and he would write back with the answers. That proved to be a particularly good way of doing it because he was a wonderful writer himself and the act of putting pen to paper often jogged his memory and as a result I got some wonderful new anecdotes about his mother and her family. (Pic below, Georgette, her husband, Ronald and her son, Richard.)

22 Ronald, Georgette & Richard Anne: Even though there have been other books written about Georgette Heyer, I believe there are some new and exciting revelations. Can you share one or two with us?

Jennifer: The new biography is full of new information about Georgette Heyer and that’s the thing that’s probably given me the most satisfaction. For those who have read the first biography, you’ll know that Georgette is in her early forties by the end of the second chapter, whereas in the new biography the first two thirds of the book are about those years.

DSCN3683 I have been hugely fortunate in having access to a wealth of new material and that has meant that, among other things, I can tell you a lot more about her childhood and adolescence than we have known before. There’s a fascinating story about when These Old Shades was written and Georgette’s vision for the book and lots and lots of pithy quotes direct from her pen about her novels. There’s also the complete story of her 1942 novel Penhallow and the crucial role it had in her writing life.

Anne:  These Old Shades was my first Heyer, so I'm dying to read that. What surprised you most in your discoveries?

Jennifer: What surprised me most about Georgette was the extent to which she wrote her emotions into her novels. She once said ‘I am to be found in my work’ and when you read her letters and understand more about her life and writing you can see what she means. I recently re-read Bath Tangle and I was struck by how much Lady Serena’s response to her father’s sudden death echoed Georgette’s own experience. These days I often see these sorts of parallels in the novels. (Pic below, Georgette aged 21 by E. O. Hoppe 1923)16 Georgette aged 21 by E. O. Hoppe 1923

The plagiarism chapter in the biography is short but fascinating, especially as I have let Georgette tell a lot of it in her own words. I was really pleased to be able to write openly about the case, not only because people have wondered about it for years, but more importantly because it is in these letters that Georgette really rises to the defence of her writing and research and this was not something she did very often.

 Anne: Yes, I read some of the articles about it in the UK papers.(Here's a link to one such but prepare to be annoyed by the last paragraph.)

That's a beautiful photo of Georgette on the cover of the book. I don't think I've ever seen it before.  I know you have quite a few photos never before seen by the public in this book. Would you care to share a photo or two?    8 Georgette, Sylvia & baby Boris

Jennifer: I would love to share some photos with you that (on account of space restrictions) did not make it into the final book. Having said that, I am thrilled with the number of never-before-seen photos that are in the biography and I really hope readers will be as delighted as I am to see them.

(On right, Georgette, her mother and baby brother, Boris.
Below, Georgette.)


Anne: You're flying to London for the launch, shortly, and I understand there's a whole Regency day planned by the Romantic Novelists Association, of which your launch is a major part. WordWenches Jo Beverley and Nicola Cornick will also be in attendance. Sounds like a marvellous day. I wish I could be there but I'll have to content myself with the Australian launch in December. What else will you be doing in the UK?

Jennifer: I leave for London in a couple of weeks and I am SO excited to be doing the Romantic Novelists Association Regency day. The programme is terrific and there will be some wonderful writers there as well as lots of enthusiastic readers. I also have a book launch at Daunts Books in Marylebone High Street on Thursday 6 October at 6.30pm and a signing at Hatchard’s, the famous eighteenth-century bookstore on Piccadilly, on Monday 10th at 3pm. Georgette used to shop there so that makes it extra exciting.  Hatchards1

I’m speaking at the Wimbledon Bookfest on the 3rd and the Guildford Literary Festival on the 17th and I am being interviewed on BBC4 Woman’s Hour on Tuesday 11 October. So all in all it should be a really exciting trip.

 Anne: It sounds wonderful. Are there any plans for a North American release?

Jennifer: I am also about to sign a contract for the biography with Sourcebooks which means there will be an American edition out in fall next year in the USA – I’m very excited about that.

Anne: Me, too, as are many of the readers here, I'm sure. What else is planned?

Jennifer: The book comes out in Australia and New Zealand on 1 December and I am having launches at Dymocks in Sydney on the 1st and in Melbourne on the 8th. Everyone is welcome. There will be launches in Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart in the New Year and I also hope to do a tour of New Zealand in the first half of 2012.

Anne: It all sounds so exciting, Jen. I'll be joining you on at least one of those occasions — more if I can wangle it. Congratulations on all your work and research finally coming to fruition.

Jennifer: Thanks, Anne. It has been the most marvellous journey and I fervently hope that Georgette Heyer’s many admirers will enjoy the result. 

Anne: I'm sure they will. Thanks so much for joining us here on wordwenches, Jen.  Jennifer's biography of Georgette Heyer can be ordered from here. People can also check out Jen's website for more about Heyer and some of the things that didn’t make it into the book.

Jennifer is giving away one copy of Georgette Heyer's biography to some lucky person who leaves a comment. So here's the question — who is your favorite Heyer character, and why are they your favorite? And if you have any questions about Georgette Heyer, Jen will be happy to answer them.