Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the editorial staff at Bas Bleu—bookseller-by-post, the friendly neighborhood bookstore in your mailbox—who’ve made books our business for more than twenty years. We’re lucky enough to read for a living and to have the chance to share some of our favorite stories with our fellow readers. But if there’s one thing we bluestockings have in common besides our love of a good book, it’s our deep affection for Masterpiece.
We recently read your memoir Making Masterpiece, about your career at the helm of that particularly wonderful entertainment phenomenon. We never miss an episode of Downton Abbey or Sherlock, we spent the summer glued to Poldark, and we’ve carried a torch for Damian Lewis since you introduced him to us in The Forsyte Saga. We’re even wont to give you credit for the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, though in reality you passed on it and A&E took the prize. That’s how much we like you. So we hope you won’t mind if we make a programming suggestion…
She’s one of the bestselling British novelists of all time, widely recognized as the queen of Regency romance. (She pretty much invented the genre.) Noël Coward, A. S. Byatt, and even Queen Elizabeth II are among her legion of loyal fans. Her protagonists are smart, funny, and brimming with personality. Like Jane Austen, her plotlines are marriage-minded; unlike Austen, they are replete with highwaymen, mistaken identities, and plenty of other twists. Heyer wrote her first novel when she was just seventeen, and she never stopped, a staggeringly prolific author whose quality of work rarely suffered from the speed of her writing. She was a master of research, a stickler for getting every historical detail just right. And how many novelists do you know who’ve received fan letters from political prisoners who kept up their fellow inmates’ spirits by recapping said author’s novels on dark days?
Maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe Georgette Heyer has been on your radar for a while now, and you’re just not sure where to start. Don’t worry, we can help! We’ve read more than a few Heyer novels in our day, so it’s only fair that we get the ball rolling for you:
#1 The Grand Sophy: If fictional characters could meet for cocktails in real life, we’re pretty sure Heyer’s Sophy Stanton-Lacy and Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse would be best friends. Raised abroad by a widower diplomat who never told her “no,” effervescent Sophy is smart, bold, and apt to take any situation she encounters firmly in hand. What’s more, she drives a curricle like a pro, carries a pistol in her reticule, and handles her own finances. (And did we mention she has a pet monkey?) Of course she sets London on its ear with her exploits, but none more so than her handsome, imperious cousin Charles, who just happens to be in need of saving from an ill-suited fiancée. Fortunately, Sophy is on the case; or, in the words of another small-screen heroine we know, “It’s handled.”
#2 The Masqueraders: Let’s give credit where credit is due: William Shakespeare was on to something when he realized what a wonderful plot device a person in disguise could be! When Letty Grayson is saved from an ill-conceived elopement by a kindly brother and sister, the grateful heiress immediately befriends the duo. The catch: Letty’s new BFF Kate is actually a young man named Robin Merriot…and “Kate’s” brother “Peter” is really Robin’s sister Prudence in disguise! Confused? We don’t blame you. It’s all part of a complicated scheme to evade capture for their roles in a Jacobite uprising. (Confession: We had to look up “Jacobite.”) While the charade is great for entertainment value, it’s also a surprisingly good dating scenario, since the Merriot siblings get to form wonderful friendships with the objects of their affections without the pressure of Regency England’s stuffy courting rules. (Sibling impersonation plotline honorable mention: False Colours.)
#3 These Old Shades: For fans of the quintessential rakish leading man, the bad boy at the heart of this novel has been setting hearts aflutter for nearly ninety years. His nickname is Satanas, for goodness sake! But of course his heart is in the right place, as revealed when he rescues an abused orphan—who just happens to be a sassy beauty in disguise. (Heyer’s canon is rife with men and women dressing in elaborate disguises; Masterpiece’s wardrobe and makeup departments will be beside themselves with excitement!) Among Heyer’s most popular titles, These Old Shades skews a few years back to the Georgian Period, known around here as simply “Austen Times.” Satanas probably ran in a faster set than Mr. Darcy, but we suspect Avon and ol’ Fitz might’ve snuck a hand or two of high-stakes poker together from time to time.
Now that we’ve given you a starting point, Ms. Eaton, we trust you to take this particular literary-adaptation ball and run with it. From where we’re sitting on Sunday nights, you’re doing a pretty bang-up job. And if you need more suggestions, you just let us know. We haven’t even touched on the adaptation possibilities of Georgette Heyer’s mystery canon!