I’ve just been reading Georgette Heyer’s biography, which turned out to be one of those rare books that I finished even though it wasn’t very good. It carefully ticked off all the things about biography that I detest. Firstly Georgette Heyer is not very interesting. She was born in Wimbledon, started writing in her teens, was first published at 19, and then wrote for the rest of her life. She didn’t go anywhere or do anything or have any interesting experiences, except for a short period in Nigeria as a newlywed. She refused to do personal publicity so the book is based primarily on her letters and her written work.
Secondly, she comes across as rather an unpleasant woman, constantly bitching and moaning about modern life (the welfare state, income tax), and pretty much apolitical (the unappealingly right-wing kind of apolitical) except for some dodgy remarks about Enoch Powell. Oh and most charming of all, as a comment on the Six Days War: ‘Isn’t it FUN to see the Israelis beating hell out of the Wops?’. Nice.
Thirdly, the author’s constant attempts to find literary merit in Heyer’s works are unconvincing and pointless. She keeps citing articles by people with a bit of serious-lit credibility who enjoy Georgette Heyer novels, and claiming that that means they have literary merit. They really don’t, and I have read lots of them and enjoy them too.
Fourthly, she does that irritating thing of trying to sell the person she’s writing to the extent of leaving massive gaping holes in her own consistency. There are several assertions that GH was ‘meticulous’ in her accounts, but at the same time she mentions several times how bad GH was at supplying information to her accountants, at calculating what tax she should be paying, and GH herself complains bitterly, all through her life, about the terrible tax burdens she’s labouring under. You do wonder whether biographers read their own books.