Fan Letter #2

Dear Mr. Armitage,

Your voicing of “Sylvester” has been playing steadily in my office since January 8. The first three quarters of it, anyway. Somehow I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to the last disc yet. I really don’t want it to be over, I guess! It’s all on my computer. I often listen to it while I am grading or editing book reviews.

I already know how it ends, of course. I first encountered Georgette Heyer in 1983, when I finished reading Jane Austen’s major works for the first time, gulping them down as if there were an apparently infinite number, like the Nancy Drew novels I’d polished off four years earlier. I had a fantastic piano teacher who played an important role in my life, and I mentioned to her my grief that there was no more. She said, “well, maybe you should try Georgette Heyer. It’s not great literature, but it has a similarly soothing effect.” She knew that reading let me create a necessary buffer to the confusing and often uncomfortable world. Eventually I went away to college and then graduate school and Heyer was not the sort of taste that one admitted to in professional company. I owned copies of many of her works but they got lost in one of innumerable moves. Or maybe I discarded them as not pertinent to my professional life and newly educated tastes. I hadn’t thought of her in years until I discovered you had recorded “Sylvester.”

I thought it would be escapist to listen to you read Heyer in the same way that repeated watchings of “North and South” soothed my nerves late at night during the first week of January. I wasn’t wrong. Just as I turned to Heyer for comfort as a teenager, I listen to your reading of the book, sometimes a minute or so at a time, when I feel my blood pressure rising, and it calms me and brings a smile to my face. Indeed, when I first got it, I had to limit myself to a few minutes at a time because people walking in the hallway noticed my broad grin and stopped to comment. I think that by listening slowly I am attempting to recover the potential to savor a delicious work of art that I squandered with Austen. I am trying to be mature.

Unfortunately, I am not achieving that goal. I am troubled by the label of fangrrrl but the obsessive writing of this blog belies my kneejerk rejection of it. I may flood you with more words than some of your other fans; I will never design you a t-shirt; but my reactions and what I have to say about them are not so different from theirs. Like them, I enjoy listening to your wide vocal range. Neither will I deny that your voice, often described as “chocolatey,” is entrancing. (Unlike most of your fans, even after listening to “Clarissa,” I am skeptical about your future as a singer, but your voice is never, ever boring. On repeated hearings I always notice different little details in your interpretation, and I wonder how long such discoveries can possibly continue.) I share all the perceptions of your creativity in individuating all of those voices, many of them — successfully! — female. Like many U.S. listeners, I suppose, I am fascinated by the various regional and class accents of these characters, though I am in no position to judge your accuracy. In particular, as a lifelong student of languages I savor the precision of your consonants and the way I hear the air escaping from your cheeks when you pronounce both letters of the double t in words like “little” or “pretty.” I’m impressed with your control of Heyer’s rather dumbfounding, occasionally precious, historicizing vocabulary. I’ve only caught you in one mispronunciation.

All that’s not what essential to me in your performance, though. What grabs me every single time I listen is that you immediately grasped that the most important character in this novel is Heyer! How did you know that? You can’t have read these novels as a teenager, so how did you figure out that Heyer’s painstaking, joyous narrative description of the characters is more essential to their initial construction than anything they say or do?

Heyer’s stories, like Phoebe’s, are unbelievable; the romances forged in her novels, unlikely; the plots too stereotypical and the social observations too conventional for her work to be anything more than an aping of Austen. What separates her work from cheap paperback romances, though, is the delight that she brings to the exact description and observation of the material world and the mis-en-scene of her creations. She sees the world in front of her and describes it with a carefully measured, enchanting celebration of detail. Modern readers either don’t appreciate this style or don’t respect it as an authorial choice. I hardly need to tell you that this is not the sort of book likely to be admired by men.

So when I listen to you narrate Heyer’s description of Ianthe’s entrance into the Duchess of Salford’s rooms at 2:18 on CD 1-03, I am stunned by the intensity with which you immediately transport me into the world of Heyer’s own fascination with her creations. Your voice suggests that you see, with Heyer, Ianthe “dressed in a blue velvet pelisse, and a hat with a high poke front, which made a frame for a ravishing countenance. Ringlets of bright gold fell beside damask cheeks. Large blue eyes were set beneath delicately arched brows. The little nose was perfectly straight, and the red mouth deliciously curved.” “What a delicious vision!” your voice suggests in tandem with Heyer’s words, and invites listeners to share in it by building a bridge between us and Heyer. And you do this again and again. We love the world of the novel because you uncover Heyer’s love for every inch of its terrain.

Mr. Armitage, thanks for giving Heyer back to me by choosing to play her as consistently in your own voice as you interpret characters like Salford and Phoebe in their individuated voices. Thanks for doing it with such artistry that I don’t have to be ashamed of the fangrrlish aspects of this activity and can think of it as the analytical consumption and aesthetic appreciation of a master performance by a skilled performer. Thanks above all for not thinking that this sort of project was beneath your notice or worthy of anything less than your full intensity.

Thanks, in sum, for giving it your best effort and all your skill. You make me want to listen to you read me this story again, and again, and again.

I write with gratitude, as well as all best wishes to you personally and for your future endeavors.


The “me + richard armitage” blogger

ps. I purchased a copy to give to my former piano teacher, who reports that she is enjoying it as well.

pps. My copy of “Venetia” is currently in Des Moines, Iowa. I can hardly wait!

~ by Servetus on April 8, 2010.

9 Responses to “Fan Letter #2”

  1. Great letter. I enjoyed reading this.


  2. I am one of Richard’s admirers who would like to write to him to express my appreciation of his artistry, but fear that I would come across as a bore as he must receive so many letters. Your letter is eloquent and elegant.
    Are you sure about that one mispronunciation? They are several differences in pronunciation of certain words in Brtish and American English. I say this because Richard is quite meticulous in his approach to voice work. Not only is his voice an amazing instrument, but his enunciation is particularly good. especially compared to many modern actors.


  3. You´ve put in many words my thoughts as well: RA is quite a detailed actor and you see and hear that if you pey attention.


  4. So what is the mispronouciation? Do tell.


  5. @MillyMe and The Gruffalo: It IS a word with a slightly different pronunciation in the U.S. and England, but he still mispronounces it, I fear. OED and another British dictionary say I am right, but I have three colleagues from different areas of England, so I am waiting to ask them how they would pronounce it. It’s possible that there is a regional variant that these references don’t cover. If I can find anyone who pronounces the word the way he does I’ll take that sentence out. And of course I’ll let you know when I am finished verifying.


  6. […] the voicing of even the most minor characters of Heyer’s novels. This care was one theme of an open fan letter I wrote to him on this site, a long time ago, and it continues to stand out. I’ll have more to say about this work […]


  7. […] I fully concede that the line between a major and a minor character is somewhat arbitrary. Also, obviously the most important character that Mr. Armitage voices in this audiobook is Georgette…, so I am leaving her out, and planning to write more about how he performs Heyer at a later date. […]


  8. […] the light stepping and conscious avoidance of the potential ridiculousness of the entire affair. He realizes that beyond the stories, Heyer as observer is the main character of these works, but he puts a light touch on that awareness, with a presentation that is equally accessible to […]


  9. […] a huge fan of Armitage’s audiobooks (or audiobooks in general, for that matter). There are some that I have enjoyed, and one that I really loved, but since his association with Audible I’ve been regularly less […]


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