A Mere Chance, Ada Cambridge

Here I am, doing a second Perth – Mt Isa, unloaded last night. Luckily, I wrote this review for my AWWC gig before I left. Right now I’m negotiating for a load home, which may or may not involve me in running to Townsville over the weekend. Meanwhile I can sit in the (mild – 26C) tropical sun and read and write.

You might see that I had last week’s Australian Legend post on my mind as I wrote this one.

It’s a tragedy that Australia’s early women writers were denied their place in the canon by the rabid misogyny of the turn of the (C20th) century Bulletin, and by its fellow travellers Colin Roderick and Vance Palmer who dominated what we were allowed to know about Australian literature right up to the 1960s. With the consequence that important writers like Catherine Helen Spence, Catherine Martin, Tasma, Rosa Praed and Ada Cambridge were dismissed as romance writers and remained out of print for up to a century.

Read on …

The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer

I am probably pinching one of WG’s future Monday Musings here but my subject today is What do we do about racial stereotypes in old novels? Theresa Smith who reviews extensively in the area of Australian women’s fiction, recently challenged my liking for Georgette Heyer romances and said that the consensus was that Heyer was a right-wing anti-semite, citing The Grand Sophy as a particular example.

Any excuse to slack off and read another Georgette Heyer. The Grand Sophy wasn’t on my shelves so I dropped in at (daughter) Gee’s, waved and smiled through the door at my waving and smiling six month old grandson whom, due to Covid and over-cautious governments, I have seen only twice before, and borrowed her battered 1952 2nd edition hardback.

And then I began searching on ‘Georgette Heyer anti-semitism’. The most prominent results were blogs like Smart Bitches Trashy Books (which looks like a fun site) –

So then Sophy takes it upon herself to go confront said Jewish moneylender [Mr Goldhanger]. And then the whole book went to hell.

“…the door was slowly opened to reveal a thin, swarthy individual, with long greasy curls, a semitic nose, and an ingratiating leer…. His hooded eyes rapidly took in every detail of Sophy’s appearance.”

GOLDHANGER? With a “semitic nose” and the “instinct of his RACE?” Really?! That’s the BEST HEYER could come up with?! A stock character embodying every possible negative stereotype of Jewish people? It was so badly done it was multiply offensive. Not only was I offended personally as, you know, a Jewish person, but I was more offended as a reader as well because IT WAS SO BADLY DONE.

SB Sarah of SBTB, Aug 15, 2011

Biographer Brenda Niall in her review in the SMH of GEORGETTE HEYER: BIOGRAPHY OF A BESTSELLER, by Jennifer Kloester says the same thing, though more temperately –

No one faulted Heyer’s research on Regency manners and idiom, snuffboxes, staging posts, pantaloons and Hessian boots. Although, as Kloester concedes, her characters are essentially 20th-century people in costume, their world of illusion is wittily sustained.

Heyer is not an easy subject for biography, nor an endearing one. She was ferocious about maintaining her privacy and because so much of her life was consumed in her work, there is not a great deal to say. Kloester’s use of family papers reveals a loyal daughter and a generous sister, wife and mother.

The papers also reveal Heyer’s snobbishness about people ”not out of quite one’s own drawer”, and her racism and anti-Semitism.

SMH January 7, 2012

I meant to start this discussion at another place, so let’s go there now. As a radical socialist (syndicalist) I am totally anti-Zionist. Zionism as presently practiced by the government of Israel is Apartheid by another name, a fig leaf to justify the illegal occupation and subjugation of Palestine. Zionists of course conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which is dishonest and a nonsense, but then so are most arguments on the Right.

The problem which I am willing to own is that I am going to argue that money lending and being Jewish were so often regarded as synonymous in the past that their conflation must be unremarkable. Which is not to say that Heyer (1902-1974) is that far in the past, and her depiction of Goldhanger in 1950 – so after the War and after the Holocaust – was probably almost as offensive then as it is now, though far less likely of course to have been contested.

Because Jewishness and Moneylending are so often paired in literature, I looked into it a little and it seems that from the beginning of the Christian Era educated Jews had the advantage of a world-wide (the “world” being you know, Persia say to Gibraltar) system of enforceable law which made banking and trade both profitable and relatively safe (more here). Which is not to say that come the Middle Ages the Church in particular did not also engage in moneylending and perhaps for the same reasons.

But of course the Middle Ages were also famous for the murder and eviction of Jews to enable Christians to avoid paying their debts. And even now, as we too often see, it is always useful to have an Other to blame and vilify for our own mistakes and weaknesses.

A quick read and a quick review: The eponymous ‘Grand Sophy’ is a fine heroine, tall, independent after years travelling Europe with her diplomat father, following Wellington through the Spanish campaign and on to Waterloo. Still only 19, she is foisted onto her aunt while her father goes on a diplomatic mission to Brazil. And there with unfettered access to her father’s money she wreaks havoc amongst her half a dozen cousins.

Heyer’s plots are too complicated to simplify down to a few words, but they always begin with the heroine running into a guy whom she could not possibly like and end with the heroine and the guy heading off to the altar, and so it is here. The incident at the top of this post takes up only a few pages about half-way through as Sophy rescues the second son of the family, actually slightly older than she, from the trap he has fallen into by borrowing to cover gambling debts and being unable to face his father, himself a serious gambler, or his straight-laced older brother.

Heyer was attempting to paint a villain, engaged in fencing stolen goods and lending illegally to minors. By resorting to a stereotype 100 years out of date she was probably giving voice to her own prejudices. But I’m afraid it wasn’t enough for me to find the book unenjoyable. I would have been far more annoyed to encounter caricatures of Black people. Why? I wonder. Perhaps because the Jewish battle, in Australia anyway, seems to me to be just about won.

A wider debate than I have space for here would consider the cases of TS Elliott, and of say Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gone With the Wind. I guess my short answer to the question I asked at the beginning is be aware of the author’s prejudices, but if they are not central to the story, keep going. Reading doesn’t make the author’s prejudices yours. Though not recognising them might.


Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy, first pub. 1950.


Journal: 049


My favourite romance of all time, well, like everyone else, it’s probably Pride and Prejudice. But my favourite romance which is just mine is Beau Ideal, one of PC Wren’s Beau Geste trilogy. A nice young American boy discovers that Isobel, the English girl he secretly loves, has married her childhood friend John Geste who has run off to join his brothers in the French Foreign Legion, and he must go and bring John back. I seem to remember that to secure John’s release he agrees to marry an Arab dancing girl – as in the dramatic picture above – only to be saved at the last moment when it turns out that his father and the girl’s father … But no spoilers!


These are some of the PC Wrens I collected and loved in the 1960s. PC Wren suited and no doubted moulded my view of the world, that idea of doing the right thing. Not that that was enough to protect Fancy from my raging 17 year old hormones, but that’s another story. I tried. And have always had a romantic and no doubt idealized idea of women, probably due to the misfortune of having no sisters.

Since Fancy, I have had girlfriends and wives and girlfriends. In fact there was always someone I could call my girlfriend as far back as primary school – you’re unlucky I couldn’t dig up a photo of me and Helen Sporn as minature debs in 1960. It often strikes me reading Romance Fiction that young lovers never seem to have any of those almost relationships that precede the just right one, or maybe that’s just me. After the failure of my marriage to the Bosomy Beauty a decade or so ago I tried online dating with RSVP. And don’t say what about Milly! It was her idea, to stop me hanging around. I met some nice women, one raving lunatic, and the Shy One with whom I and Milly and her sisters are still friends. But she was ready for marriage, as is every woman on RSVP, and I was not, I just wanted someone I could go out to dinner with.

Melanie/Grab the Lapels asked me recently to explain my attraction to the romance novels of Georgette Heyer. My father as a young husband bought Georgette Heyers for my mother and as soon as I was old enough I read them all. Years later Gee, my daughter having read them all too – and baggsed them in mum’s will – began a collection of her own so that we all three of us now have comprehensive collections.


Georgette Heyer’s romances are all slightly ridiculous, girls of good fortune running away with childhood (boy) friends, rescued from lifelong shame by handsome rich single gentlemen who inevitably marry them. I realise I haven’t given a single reason, but I love them. And yes I enjoy Regency Romances and Chick Lit. But not Bodice Rippers. Novels, written mostly by women, in which the premise is that if the guy treats them rough the gals will fall down in love, don’t turn me on at all. I like the boy and the girl in any novel I read to have a happy ending, and get anxious if the boy comes over all jealous and starts to spoil things – looking at you Maurice Guest!

In the truck this last trip I listened to the end of Jane Eyre, about which I will write a separate post, some general fiction of the American thriller variety, and to Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748) by John Cleland. Talk about happy endings!

In each of the three C18th novels I’ve read over the past few months – Moll Flanders, Tom Jones and now Fanny Hill – the woman’s point of view has been put so strongly that I wonder to what extent the stated (male) authors had female assistance. Fanny Hill, said to be the first long prose work of pornography, is an astonishingly erotic work with graphically described sex in every chapter (read this to Nick, Melanie!).

I went through a stage where I read, and even wrote a little, erotic fiction – Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell. James Joyce and DH Lawrence are Literature rather than Erotic Lit but before Fanny Hill, Lady Chatterley’s Lover contained the most explicit passage I had read and the ending of Ulysses the most erotic.

Fanny Hill probably tops them. Fanny, an innocent 14 year old comes up from the country when her parents die. She ends up in a brothel where, while the madam waits for a customer who will pay handsomely to deflower her, she is put under the care of and shares a bed with Phoebe who very quickly initiates her into the joys of woman on woman sex

her lascivious touches had lighted up a new fire that wantoned through all my veins, but fixed with violence in that center appointed them by nature, where the first strange hands were now busied in feeling, squeezing …

Phoebe teaches her about the birds and the bees by showing her a hiding place where she can watch the madam taking her pleasure with a young customer, and another hiding place where she and Phoebe watch a young couple until they are forced to retire to satisfy their raging desires with each other. Before she can be sold, Fanny meets a young man of her own, Charles, and escapes with him to be his mistress. They spend a few happy months before Charles is tricked by his father into boarding a ship leaving immediately on a two year voyage to the South Seas, and Fanny is on her own again.

She finds other situations involving lots of sex, graphically described. I thought at one point she was pregnant but then nothing more was said. Eventually Charles returns, Fanny is now 18 and for some reason I forget, wealthy, and the two live happily ever after. So even Fanny Hill contains Romance.


Recent audiobooks 

PK Dick (M, USA), The Penultimate Truth (1964) – SF
Linda Howard (F, USA), Cry No More (2003) – Crime
Linda Howard (F, USA), Kiss Me While I Sleep (2004) – Crime
Linda Howard (F, USA), Cover of Night (2006) – Crime
Shane Gericke (M, USA), The Fury (2014) – Crime
Ray Hogan (M, USA), Soldier in Buckskin (1996) – Biog. Kit Carson
Lisa Jackson (F, USA), Innocent by Association (2011) – Crime
Haruki Murakami (M, Jap), 1Q84 – Lit.Fic.
Robert Dugoni (M, USA), My Sister’s Grave (2014) – Crime
Charlotte Bronte (F, Eng), Jane Eyre (1847) – Lit.Fic.
John Cleland (M, Eng), Fanny Hill (1748)

Currently reading

Patrick White, The Cockatoos
Majorie Barnard, Miles Franklin
Flannery O’Connor, Complete Stories