Posts Tagged ‘Barren Corn’

Dust jacket of an original 1930 edition, not of my copy, which is a plain red cloth binding, sans dj.

Barren Corn by Georgette Heyer ~ 1930. This edition: Buccaneer Books, 1977. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-89966-123-8. 282 pages.

Not exactly a hidden gem in the way one would hope (meaning reading quality wise), but instead a long-suppressed early novel by our well-beloved Georgette Heyer, who dabbled in all sorts of genres throughout her long writing career, including a number of “serious” contemporary novels in the 1920s and 30s, of which Barren Corn is the fourth and last. (The others being Instead of the Thorn, 1923, Helen, 1928, and Pastel, 1929.)

Those who’ve read them all report that Barren Corn is the best of the lot, which is rather damning, because this uneven novel is not on Heyer’s A-list by a long shot.

Georgette Heyer herself was deeply embarrassed by a number of her earlier works (this one very much included), and refused to countenance their republication after she hit the big time with her Regency novels and murder mysteries in the 1930s and beyond. It wasn’t until after the author’s death in 1974 that reprint publisher Buccaneer Books managed to access Heyer’s B-list, and put a modest number of titles back into circulation, of which my copy of Barren Corn is one.

Nephew of a British Baron, professional dilettante and casual artist Hugh, meandering his way around France, meets lovely English shop-girl Laura who is taking a well-deserved short holiday. Infatuation at first sight and so on, and Hugh is so enamoured of Laura’s Madonna-like grace and stillness that he completely overlooks the fact that she is staidly bourgeois and almost morbidly religious.

Against all advice from friends of both of them, Hugh convinces Laura to marry him, and the two embark upon an extended passion-filled honeymoon among the Italian mimosa flowers. But at last the day comes when the newlyweds must return to England and the searching eyes of both families.

It doesn’t go well. Laura’s people disgust Hugh by their very respectability; Hugh’s family is rudely snobbish to the new bride; Laura’s friends stay away after the first few awkward visits; Hugh’s friends find Laura utterly boring. Which she absolutely is, apparently content to stay at home alone while Hugh dines out and resumes his riding with the local hunt etcetera, twiddling her thumbs and nursing her inferiority complex instead of getting on with creating some sort of inner life for herself.

Enter Hugh’s childhood friend Stella, who cherishes a quiet passion for her old pal deep within her heart – she is too well-bred to let it show – and Laura immediately realizes that this was the woman Hugh should have married, and because her (Laura’s) stern religious principles preclude divorce, she must just find another way to free her beloved to marry The Other Woman.

Yes. For real and for true.

Barren Corn has brief moments of Heyerian brilliance, but these are greatly outweighed by its ridiculous plot and a truly gormless heroine. Poor girl, she steps out on the wrong foot from page one, and spends much of the book sighing herself ever deeper into a tragically deep depression. This reader very much wanted to reach inside the book and shake silly Laura and tell her to stop selling herself so darned short and to either divorce the guy and marry the fellow lurking in the wings who does appreciate her, or at the very least get herself a hobby.

Mari Ness goes into some detail regarding this novel here, (there are spoilers), and I must say I agree with her assessment. The thing is both painful to read and strangely compelling; it ends up being weirdly memorable and even rather thought-provoking, which may indeed be what Heyer had in mind all along.

Perhaps.

My rating: A regretful 5.5/10. If this were by anyone else but Georgette Heyer I suspect I would have given it a 3 or 4, but it is very interesting in the context of her other work, and contains some quite good dialogue on morals and the interpretation of good and evil, which motivated me to raise it a few notches. Oodles of discussion on British social class structure, which perhaps was still an issue in the 1930s in Great Britain, but it felt a over emphasized to me – it read rather “older” versus post-Great War.

Your own thoughts, fellow readers, are (as always) greatly appreciated!

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