A literary plagiarism allegation from the 1950s is set to be given its first detailed airing in a new biography of much-loved novelist Georgette Heyer.
Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller by Jennifer Kloester (Wm Heinemann, hb, £20, October) reveals the outrage felt by the queen of witty regency romances at the obvious similarities between Barbara Cartland's historical novel Knave of Hearts and her own youthful story These Old Shades (published in 1926), when they were brought to her attention in 1950.
"I think I could have borne it better had Miss Cartland not been so common-minded, so salacious and so illiterate," Heyer told her agent, Leonard Parker Moore, in no uncertain terms. "I think ill enough of the Shades, but, good God! That 19-year-old work has more style, more of what it takes, than this offal which she has written at the age of 46!"
Heyer was also indignant at Cartland's "borrowing" of various character names. "Sir Montagu Reversby", a character in Cartland's novel Hazard of Hearts, was blatantly pinched, Heyer felt, from Sir Montagu Revesby, a character in her novel Friday's Child.
But it was Cartland's historical and linguistic errors that really offended the writer‚ herself a stickler for accuracy. "She displays an abysmal ignorance of her period. Cheek by jowl with some piece of what I should call special knowledge (all of which I can point out in my books), one finds an anachronism so blatant as to show clearly that Miss Cartland knows rather less about the period than the average schoolgirl," said Heyer, who told her agent she would "rather by far that a common thief broke in and stole all the silver".
A solicitor's letter to Cartland followed, and according to Kloester: "There is no record of a response . . . but Georgette later noted that ‚'the horrible copies of my books ceased abruptly'."
Kloester's biography has been written with the backing of Heyer's son and the late Jane Aitken Hodge, whose own biography was entitled The Private World of Georgette Heyer. The book's editor, Georgina Hawtrey-Woore, said the book contains much new material, including photos and 400 of Heyer's letters.