The Black Moth

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The Black Moth
First edition
Author Georgette Heyer
Cover artist Walter Lambert
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Georgian, Romance
Publisher Heinemann
Publication date
Pages 320
Followed by These Old Shades

The Black Moth (1921) is a Georgian era romance novel by the British author Georgette Heyer, set around 1751. Published when Heyer was nineteen, The Black Moth was her debut novel. It was based on a story she had written for her haemophiliac younger brother and published with the encouragement of her father. It was a commercial success. While modern critics have considered it a flawed work, they have observed characteristics Heyer included in her later works.

The story follows Lord Jack Carstares, an English nobleman who becomes a highwayman after taking the blame during a cheating scandal years before. One day, he rescues Miss Diana Beauleigh when she is almost abducted by the Duke of Andover. Jack and Diana fall in love but his troubled past and current profession threaten their happiness.


The British writer Georgette Heyer (1902–1974) was born in Wimbledon, London, and grew up amidst many literary influences. Her father, George Heyer, was an author and former member of the Wimbledon Literary and Scientific Society, and as a teenager she befriended the future writers Joanna Cannan and Carola Oman.[1] In 1921, the elder Heyer encouraged his daughter to publish a story she had written for her haemophiliac younger brother Boris. This story became the nineteen-year-old girl's literary debut and was published as The Black Moth.[1][2][3]

Plot summary[edit]

The story is set during the Georgian era in the 1750s.[4] The story follows Lord Jack Carstares, the eldest son of the Earl of Wyncham. Six years ago, Jack took the blame when his younger brother Richard cheated at cards. Jack consequently faced social exile and fled England for the European continent. He has now secretly returned, robbing carriages as a highwayman. In public he calls himself Sir Anthony Ferndale.

Jack discovers that his father has died but refuses to take up his role as the new earl of Wyncham, preferring that his brother enjoy the family's privileges in his place. The amiable Richard, who is still guilty over his role in his brother's social ruin, refuses. This decision displeases Richard's spoiled wife, Lady Lavinia.

A disguised Jack attempts to rob a carriage, but fails when his prey notices that Jack's pistol is not loaded. The supposed victim, Miles O’Hara, is a Justice of the Peace and arrests Jack. Recognizing that Jack is a gentleman, Miles takes him back to his residence to interview him. Miles is delighted to discover that the outlaw is actually his old friend, estranged since the gambling incident years earlier.

Lavinia's brother the Duke of Andover is called the "Devil" among society, and is sarcastic, darkly humoured and manipulative. He covets Miss Diana Beauleigh, a young woman he met in Bath, and is almost successful in abducting her when a disguised Jack encounters them. The two duel, and Jack triumphs over Andover and frees Diana. Jack, however, is injured and recovers at Diana's home. He does not reveal his identity, instead referring to himself as Mr. Carr. The two fall in love but Jack cannot allow himself to be with her, as he seems himself as a scoundrel and unworthy of her love. He returns to the O'Hara residence.

Richard becomes upset when Lavinia spends too much time with one of her old suitors, Captain Harold Lovelace. Richard can keep silent no longer and plans to reveal his cheating to a large party, to the dismay of Lavinia. Richard gives Lavinia permission to leave him and elope with Lovelace, but realising she truly loves her husband and seeing the error in her spoiled ways, the two eventually reconcile and embrace happily.

The Duke of Andover succeeds in kidnapping Diana, desiring to marry her. He brings her back to Andover Court, his estate. Jack learns of the abduction and arrives in time to duel Andover. Richard, Miles, and Andover's brother Lord Andrew arrive and stop the fight right as Jack collapses from fatigue. Richard confesses his role in the cheating scandal, clearing his brother's name. Jack and Diana embrace and get married. They avoid a scandal with Andover, as the latter persuades them that any news of the abduction will hurt Diana's reputation.

Main characters[edit]

  • John "Jack" Carstares, Earl of Wyncham
  • Richard "Dick" Carstares – brother of John
  • Lady Lavinia Carstares (née Belmanoir) – wife of Richard
  • Tracy Belmanoir, Duke of Andover – Lavinia's brother
  • Lord Andrew Belmanoir – Lavinia's brother
  • Diana Beauleigh – a young woman from Sussex
  • Jim Salter – John's servant
  • Sir Miles O'Hara – John's best friend
  • Frank Fortescue – Andover's friend


The initial publication of The Black Moth was done by Constable, a British company in existence since 1795. Anna Faktorovich describes Constable as a good publisher for the young author; they had a good distribution network and wished to support the development of relatively new genres such as historical romance.[5] Constable arranged for Heyer's novel to be published in the United States by Houghton and Mifflin.[5] The novel was a commercial success.[1][6] In a contemporary review published in 1921, The Times Literary Supplement deemed the protagonist Jack a "fascinating hero of romance" and added that the novel was "a well-filled story which keeps the reader pleased".[7]

Analysis and legacy[edit]

Scholars have perceived The Black Moth‍ '​s influence on Heyer's later works. In an essay published in 2012, K. Elizabeth Spillman describes the novel as "improbable" and "heavily derivative" but notes characteristics visible in Heyer's other books: the centrality of friendship, seamless action scenes, and a "natural discourse" between the male protagonists.[8] The Encyclopaedia of British Writers adds that The Black Moth is "typical" of many later Heyer novels, as it has a "historical setting, aristocratic characters, and exciting plot".[6] As Jack lives as a highwayman, James Devlin also notes themes of violence, suspense and criminality that appear in other Heyer stories such as The Masqueraders (1928) and Faro's Daughter (1941).[9]

Spillman also opines that Diana is the only Heyer heroine to be "unironic [and] untraditional", as the novel is dominated by the doings of its male characters. Diana is relegated to the background, "as if the author had little interest in her own heroine".[10] In later Heyer novels, Spillman writes, the heroines show more agency and will.[10]

In 2012, Diana Wallace wrote of similarities between The Black Moth and the works of Jeffery Farnol and Rafael Sabatini, as well as Baroness Orczy's story The Scarlet Pimpernel.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Womack 2004.
  2. ^ Stade & Karbiener 2009, pp. 234–35.
  3. ^ Byatt 1975, p. 291.
  4. ^ Ness, Mari (26 June 2012). "A Bit of Derring-Do and Name Dropping: The Black Moth". Retrieved 19 January 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Faktorovich 2014, p. 124.
  6. ^ a b Stade & Karbiener 2009, p. 235.
  7. ^ Times Literary Supplement.
  8. ^ Spillman 2012, p. 85.
  9. ^ Devlin 1984, p. 360.
  10. ^ a b Spillman 2012, p. 88.
  11. ^ Wallace 2012, p. 133.

Works cited

External links[edit]