CROSS DRESSING WITH GEORGETTE
The magic of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels is the way in which her heroines manage not to dance the marriage minuet, their awkward refusal to ‘fit’ the model of the eager, conforming debutante. Her heroines aren’t proto-feminists: they accept the marriage market as the way of the world, but they work to make room for themselves and their natures within its constraints.
Their refusal to submit to the machinery of match-making, and to yet find love, this is what makes her books habit-forming. It’s why my older girl-cousins, who introduced me to Heyer, loved them. India is a place where young men and women have to try to find romantic love in and around the apparatus that exists to arrange marriages. In Heyer’s intrepid heroines, her Indian readers find the comfort of knowing that given spirit and a little luck, true love can find a happy ending in a plausibly real world.
This doesn’t explain why I, as a tenyear-old desi boy, became addicted to them, an addiction that persisted into adulthood. Her books allowed me, as fiction does, the pleasure of inhabiting bodies not my own. I could be a debutante, a cross-dressing runaway and an elfin French urchin without effort or imagination. I liked them for the same reasons as the girls who read them, with the thrilling bonus of cross-dressing at one remove. Heyer taught me that the most secret excitement of fiction is not that it makes you a voyeur but that it allows you to be possessed.
by MUKUL KESAVAN who is an essayist, historian and the author of the novel Looking Through Glass