Old Book

Georgette Heyer Regency Novels 

This is where I review Heyer's delightful Regency romance novels.

They will be ranked in order of delightfulness (according to my subjective opinion) and I'll be adding all the novels in due time.

Frederica

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HISTORICAL EVENTS 

The year is 1818. Nothing political is talked of much in this lighthearted story, but the society news is that the ailing queen is not expected to live long, which is a great inconvenience to the mothers who want to bring their daughters out at the queen's Drawing Room next season. The other important news is that Lady Melbourne, a leading society hostess, has just died. She moved among the glamorous echelons of British aristocracy, her close friends including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and the Prince of Wales. One of her sons became Viscount Melbourne, Queen Victoria's Prime Minister. Viscount Melbourne's first wife was Caroline Lamb whose obsessive and doomed love affair with the poet Lord Byron caused an enormous scandal in the Regency era

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1818 is a time of new technological inventions: gas lighting is appearing in the streets in parts of London, and steam power is advancing. The age of candlelight and horsepower is moving slowly but inevitably towards gas and coal-fired engines. The industrial revolution is not far away.

In Heyer's world, it is the same year that Venetia and Damerel are having their holiday romance up in Yorkshire. Perhaps Venetia and Frederica passed by one another when Venetia stayed in town with her aunt. They may have shopped at the same fashionable modiste in Bruton Street or at the Pantheon Bazaar; they could have walked past each other in Hyde or Green Park, or visited the same galleries and exhibitions.

THE SET UP

The bachelor Marquis of Alverstoke is beset by a pair of sisters clamouring for him to advance their sons and marriageable daughters into society at great expense to his own pocket. But Alverstoke has no interest in his nephews and nieces or sisters. They are all bores. In fact, his whole self-indulgent, hedonistic existence is a bore. He likes excellent clothes and excellent horses, and not much else interests him. His latest mistress is 'becoming an intolerable bore' with her demands for expensive gifts, all the women in Alverstoke's life seem only to want his money. And then comes another young woman into his life making a demand upon him. This lady claims distant kin, and asks for assistance in introducing her younger sister into the ton. What a ridiculous notion! Why would Alverstoke, who will not countenance giving a come-out ball for his own nieces, go to the trouble and expense of doing so for a stranger? But the young lady is not like any other in his circle. She does not bore him. In fact, her whole family of brothers and sisters are unusual and diverting with their 'frank, easy ways,' and the youngest sister is the most dazzling beauty he has ever seen. Young beauties are not in his style, but perhaps, for the sake of his own amusement, he will give a come-out ball for this young 'cousin' and her sister. His nieces can share the limelight with this 'ravishing diamond'. It will assuage his boredom for a time, and be the most perfect revenge on his badgering sisters to see their daughters upstaged by the most beautiful girl in London!

THE HEROINE

'She was unusual, and therefore diverting; she was not a beauty, but she had a good deal of countenance, and an air of breeding which pleased him...'

Frederica Merriville is the eldest sister of a family of orphans. She tales seriously the role of mother to her three younger siblings: the beautiful but vacuous Charis, whom Frederica is determined to see make 'a splendid marriage'. There is twelve-year-old Felix who wants to be an engineer, and bookish, sixteen-year-old Jessamy who wants to be a clergyman. There is also an older brother, Harry, away at university, and heir to the family estate, but he has no sense of responsibility, and all is left to Frederica. And not forgetting Lufra, an enormous mongrel dog who has a place as a member of the family, and who gets into scrapes just as frequently as Frederica's young brothers.

Caught up in her responsibilites, Frederica thinks nothing of her own future happiness, or of a marriage for herself. She sees herself as having been 'on the shelf for years' at the grand old age of four-and-twenty. But she does not opine over this; in fact, she tells Alverstoke, she finds it 'very agreeable to be an old maid, and rid of tiresome restrictions.' She naively considers that no one will think of her romantically, and even when she does receive a respectable offer from a new admirer, she brushes it off with a matter-of-fact air. It is this lack of romantic ambition that causes Alverstoke to relax in her company; here is a woman of humour and intelligence who is not after him for a husband. But here is a woman of humour and warmth and intelligence that he is beginning to feel he cannot live without...

THE HERO

'There was no warmth in Alverstoke, and no softness. If he was kind it was for his own ends...'

At seven-and-thirty Alverstoke is a confirmed bachelor. Not that he doesn't like women, a 'notorious flirt' is how Alverstoke's faithful and morally sound secretary considers him. But Alverstoke thinks marriage would be a bore, and having been pursued as 'a matrimonial prize' since his youth, and being disillusioned on discovering that his first love only loved him for his money, he is a very cynical man where single women are concerned.

Alverstoke freely confesses to 'pure selfishness, coupled with a dislike of being bored,' but after only one interview with Miss Frederica Merriville he agrees to put himself to considerable trouble for her and her sister. What is it about her that the selfish marquis likes? She is not at all his idea of an ideal woman – she is unconventional, she is 'matter-of-fact, and managing'. But he likes her frankness, her smile, her sense of humour, and her courage. And he likes her brothers, and the family camaraderie. 'He had no experience of family life as it was enjoyed by the Merrivilles.'

THE ROMANCE FACTOR

'Had she been told that she was rapidly becoming an obsession with him, she would have been incredulous.'

While Alverstoke takes an instant liking to Frederica, she is not so quick to like him back. 'She had not, at the outset, been favourably impressed'. She thinks him 'distinguished',  but not handsome, and she finds him cold and cynical, an 'aristocrat of haughty composure'. Now and then she glimpses a warmer, more charming side to him, and he is certainly very tolerant and kind to her young brothers, and even their amiable but troublesome great hound of a dog. But she has no romantic notion of him whatsoever. She is decidedly not 'on the catch for him'.

Meanwhile, everyone close to Alverstoke is astonished by the attention he shows to this young family. He does his utmost not to give the gossips any cause to link his name with Frederica's, but something odd is happening to him – he can't stop thinking about her.

It is Frederica who puts her finger on the source of Alverstoke's besetting boredom with life: 'If you don't care for anybody or anything you can't be cast into dejection...I daresay that is why you are so bored,' she tells him. And it is Alverstoke who sees that Frederica is so bound up in her marital ambition for her sister and her responsibilities for her brothers that she never does anything to secure her own happiness, nor does she seem to consider what will be left to her in life once her sister is married off and her brothers grown up and gone.

As in all good romances, this is a couple at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum – Alverstoke needs a good deal of Frederica's outgoing love, and Frederica needs a little of Alverstoke's self-interest. This is a couple with something each other needs.

FAVOURITE SECONDARY CHARACTER

'His happy knack of making friends wherever he went stood him in good stead.'

Favourite Secondary Character goes to Master Felix Merriville. Very aptly named: he is both felicitous and merry, 'the most delightful urchin', full of infectious (or tiresome, if you don't care for engineering) enthusiasm for new technologies. He has a passion for learning about steam engines, locomotives, pneumatic lifts, hot air balloons – passions that land him in a deal of scrapes, his ballooning scrape almost a deadly one. Would Alverstoke have fallen in love with Frederica so well without Felix? Most likely he would, but Felix plays an important role in bringing to life the marquis's 'cold heart' and drawing him into the family. Life with Felix is certainly never boring.

FAVOURITE SLANG EXPRESSIONS

As fine as fivepence = dressed very smartly

On the toodle = out on the town and drinking freely

A bumble-bath = a confused mess

As right as a trivet - in good order

A trifle cucumberish - to be in debt

 

HOW MANY TIMES DOES THE HEROINE 'GURGLE' AND 'TWINKLE'?

Frederica is the twinkliest Heyer heroine I've met so far. Her first 'engaging twinkle' is in chapter 3, and she goes on to twinkle 'gaily' and 'irrepressibly' seven times in total.

She is also the gurgliest of Heyer's heroines so far. She gurgles first in chapter 7, and goes to gurgle 'with merriment' five times.

BEST OUTFIT

Best Outfit goes to Lord Alverstoke, who is a 'leader of fashion' and always 'the most elegant man in the room'. On a social call to the Merriviale house Alverstoke is dressed in his typical trademark style of 'a blue coat of exquisite cut, a waistcoat of striped toilinette, pale buff pantaloons which appeared to have been moulded to his legs, and tasselled Hessians.' As it is Frederica's drawing room he is walking into, I can only assume it is she who notes the tight moulding of the pantaloons – perhaps a hint of her awakening attraction to him? It is at this same visit that Alverstoke kisses her hand in parting – an old-fashioned gesture, and therefore out of character for the fashionable Alverstoke. Could this gallant gesture be a sign he is trying to 'get up a flirtation' with her, she wonders? The idea crossing her mind for the first time and stirring up some interesting thoughts and feelings...

 

(In case you were wondering about the toilinette, as I did, I shall quote from Webster's Dictionary : n Toilinette  - A cloth, the weft of which is of woollen yarn, and the warp of cotton and silk, -- used for waistcoats)

 

ANYTHING I DIDN'T LIKE?

I cannot think of anything I didn't like in this sweet, sunny romantic comedy. There is no cruelty, no violence, no despicable villain. There is a sensible, likeable, independent heroine, and a rakish, selfish hero who comes good, and who, I think, will make a faithful husband and a devoted father. Happy children, happy dogs, happy horses, and plenty of wealth to share around. The Merrivilles and future Alverstoke family have a bright future ahead of them.

FAVOURITE SCENE

The 'Lufra in the Green Park' scene is my favourite. Take a young, untrained, wolfhound-ish dog who has had a previous bad experience with a bull, and let him loose in a park with a herd of dairy cows, and what do you get? Absolute chaos. Lufra doesn't mean to be bad, and no cows are bitten, but stampedes, fainting old ladies, shrieking milk-maids, and wailing children are some of the outcomes of Frederica's morning walk. And what is the only thing she can think of to do in a moment of crisis, with park-keepers and cowmen demanding Lufra be impounded and she be sued? She desperately claims kin with the Marquis of Alverstoke, and leads the whole troop to Alverstoke's door. The scene is highly comical, and Alverstoke has the first serious notion that life can never be boring with the Merrivilles around. 

Venetia

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HISTORICAL EVENTS 

The year is 1818 – three years since the Battle of Waterloo marked the end of the war with France. Political and royal events mentioned are that the Whigs are dissenting over Tierney, Princess Elizabeth has become betrothed, and three of the royal dukes have just married. In Heyer's world it is the same year that Gilly from The Foundling has his Grand Adventure, while Sophy of The Grand Sophy has been married to Charles Stanhope for a year or two, depending on how soon they arranged their wedding.

THE SET UP

Twenty-five-year-old Venetia has been running the family estate since she was seventeen. Her family consists of her older brother Conway, currently away with his regiment and busy living for his own interests, and younger brother Aubrey who lives for books. Venetia lives to keep everything in comfort and good order for everyone else. Conway is the Brawn of the family, Aubrey is the Brains, and Venetia is the local Beauty. Hers is a quiet, rural Yorkshire life which is soon to be enlivened by the arrival of a neighbour: Lord Damerel, a man of infamous reputation and scandalous legend, known to Venetia and her brother as The Wicked Baron, and he's about to change their lives forever...

THE HEROINE

'Venetia had been born with a zest for life.'

Venetia's bright, witty humour is never diminished, but her zest for life has been curbed by the social seclusion imposed on her by her late father, and the responsibilities laid on her since his death. With her intelligent, self-contained and sunny personality she is more than capable of handling these responsibilities. The family servants love and respect her, she is well thought of in her small community, and she even has a pair of eager suitors: the Byronic-wannabe Oswald Denny, and 'country gentleman of solid worth' Edward Yardley. Oswald is too young at nineteen for Venetia to take seriously, and thirty-year-old Edward is 'a dead bore' who can't take no for an answer. But Venetia cannot remain mistress of the Manor forever; sooner or later her elder brother will marry and bring home a new mistress to displace her. Venetia's zest for life, her longing to travel and see something of the world is not an option available to a young lady of her time. Hers is a 'bleak future', a choice between ageing spinsterhood in her brother's house or marrying the respectable Edward Yardley. And then one day, while out blackberrying alone, she meets a man who is neither a young pup nor a respectable gentleman – she's accosted by Lord Damerel himself, who behaves exactly as 'a shocking rake' would do – kissing her as punishment for trespassing on his land. Venetia surprises both of them by neither swooning with shock nor running away, but instead 'stays to bandy words with her wolfish assailant', then finds herself wondering how differently she might feel towards her staid suitor Edward if he were to kiss her with the same passion...

THE HERO

'He bore himself with a faint suggestion of swashbuckling arrogance.'

'Ogre', 'devil-may-care outlaw', 'buccaneering stranger', 'villainous', these are some of the adjectives ascribed to the romantic anti-hero, and they are not misplaced, for Damerel's first thought is to seduce Venetia for his own entertainment. But something odd is happening to him – he finds himself disarmed by her 'unshadowed friendliness'. He finds himself unable to take advantage of this young woman who is 'the most unusual female' he has encountered in all his thirty-eight years. 'The devil of it was, my dear delight,' he later tells Venetia, 'that you were too sweet, too adorable, and what should have been the lightest and gayest of all flirtations turned to something more serious than I intended.' Damerel has all the best romantic lines, including a propensity to quote Shakespeare and poetry at her. How could any girl resist?

THE ROMANCE FACTOR

'When you smile at me like that, it's all holiday with me.'

There is a Beauty and the Beast theme running through the story: Beauty is found pilfering from the Beast's garden (blackberries rather than roses), and is subsequently thrown together with him in 'the ogre's den' (complete, of course, with a fabulous library). But the twist in this delightful tale is that it is not Beast who must persuade Beauty to marry him, but Beauty who must employ all her efforts to persuade him into agreeing to marry her. And in keeping with the Beauty and Beast analogy, Lord Damerel is indeed redeemed from the curse of his past errors by his love for the beautiful Venetia. (Egocentric and possessive Edward also makes an appropriate Gaston)

The romance factor is firmly centre stage in this story; there isn't a wide cast of characters or a far-reaching plot, it's all about Venetia and Damerel. It takes a mere 'ten halcyon days together' to spark a holiday romance between the unlikely pair. By the end of chapter four the Reader knows that this couple is hopelessly in love – but do they know it themselves? 

Venetia's friends, hearing of this unexpected friendship, assure themselves that there is nothing to worry about, for Venetia and Damerel are worlds apart, it is only young Aubrey who sees that they are perfectly fitted for one another. They share a deep loneliness and longing for connection. They have a physical attraction from the first moment of meeting, they share an affection for Aubrey, and they share a sense of humour. Theirs is a love story of redemption: Damerel finds an unexpected peace with his past, and Venetia finds an unexpected love for the future. Without trying to change him, she calls him out of his history, out of wallowing in past sins, and into reclaiming his true identity. Damerel's neglected house and overgrown garden reflect his own soul; it is Venetia who brings life back to it and motivates him to start setting 'his house in order', but she will have to go to great lengths to do so: 'it's my whole life I'm fighting for,' she tells her aunt as she prepares to rush back to Beast's Castle, not knowing if it will be too late to save him.

 

FAVOURITE SECONDARY CHARACTER

'Aubrey likes books more than people.'

I enjoyed the loyal and Biblically-minded Nurse very much, but Favourite Secondary Character goes to Aubrey, perhaps because I too occasionally like books more than people. Aubrey has an important role in bringing together his devoted sister and Damerel. It is his own surprising friendship with the Wicked Baron that reveals Damerel's qualities of a 'well-informed mind, and a great deal of kindness' to the observant Venetia. In the ten days that Venetia, Damerel and Aubrey are thrown together, they unconsciously become a close, affectionate family unit, one that Aubrey is happy to see continue, even plotting to hijack their honeymoon for the chance to enjoy a cultural vacation of his own.

FAVOURITE SLANG EXPRESSIONS

A saucy jackanapes = a cheeky and impudent person

A daffish notion = a daft idea

A Jack-pudding = a buffoon

Old court-card = an ageing courtesan

Give the go-by = shun/cut someone

HOW MANY TIMES DOES THE HEROINE 'GURGLE'?

Only once.

Venetia utters 'a tiny gurgle of laughter' in chapter two.

BEST OUTFIT

When Damerel first meets Venetia, he takes her for a village girl due to her outfit of 'an old dimity' and a sunbonnet. Later in the story, Venetia goes shopping in London 'charmingly attired in a blue velvet pelisse trimmed with chinchilla, and a fetching velvet hat with three curled ostrich plumes, and a high poke lined with gathered silk' and 'a large chinchilla muff'.

ANYTHING I DIDN'T LIKE?

Two things:

1. That kiss. I gasped at Damerel's presumption on first hearing of it (I was listening to the audiobook while crossing a field at the time. I also had a dippy spaniel (or three) with me, just as Venetia did). Damerel's behaviour on meeting Venetia shows that he truly is 'wolfish'. There is no glossing over this and no justifying it, and Venetia doesn't try to. Venetia comes from a world where women are expected to turn a blind eye to men's appetites; her pragmatism makes her accept it, just as she has had to accept all the bad behaviours and attitudes of the men in her life.

2. I was very disappointed not to meet Conway, the elder brother who remains offstage throughout the novel. I felt cheated out of the pleasure of seeing him get his comeuppance in dealing with his dreadful new mother-in-law, and I was left wondering – what did he do about his dogs...?

FAVOURITE SCENE

I liked the scene in the barn where Venetia is busy trying to rescue kittens, Damerel is busy trying to manipulate her into physical proximity, and being thwarted by young Oswald who charges in demanding to have Venetia to himself. There's a deal of comedy in Oswald seeing himself as Venetia's champion and Damerel as the villain, then having the roles reversed as he is thrown out by Damerel, who rescues Venetia from Oswald's unwanted amour. Then follows almost the first proper kiss between the true lovers (proper as in consensual). This is a turning point for Damerel where he realises he could take advantage of Venetia, but is restrained by feeling something more for her than mere flirtation. 

 
 

The Grand Sophy

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HISTORICAL EVENTS 

The year is 1816: five years into the nine-year Regency. Lord Byron is about to flee England to escape scandal and debt. The Duke of Wellington (an acquaintance of Sophy's) defeated Napoleon a year ago, ending the long years of war with France.

THE SET UP

Twenty-year-old Sophia Stanton-Lacy, known to her friends as Sophy, has led a colourful and unconventional life abroad with her diplomat father. Deposited at very short notice with her aunt, Lady Ombersley, Sophy is ready to be launched into London high society to find an eligible husband. Lady Ombersley has been assured that she will find Sophy a 'good little thing' and no trouble at all and looks forward to her niece being a sweet companion to her own daughter the gentle debutante Cecelia. But 'little Sophy' is not so little at 'five foot nine in her stockinged feet' and neither is she the trouble-free thing that her aunt had been promised. It's not long before the whole household is turned upside down and the ton taken by storm.

THE HEROINE

'You are like poor Whinyate's rockets: no one knows what you will do next!'

Sophy makes her charismatic arrival at the Ombersley mansion along with a parrot, Italian greyhound, a head-turning horse, and a monkey in a red coat. Like the entourage of exotic animals she brings she is eccentric, fearless, and independent. 'Hoyden' is how Miss Wraxton, the fiancée of Sophy's cousin Charles, describes her. But Miss Wraxton has every reason to feel unkindly because Sophy quickly sets herself up as Miss Wraxton's rival as the newest influence over the Ombersley family. Moreover, Sophy has a way of bringing out the worst in Miss Wraxton, showing up a spiteful, busybody side to her which makes Charles begin to regret his choice of future wife.

THE HERO

'Charles,' said Lady Ombersley, 'does not care for very lively girls...'

Charles Stanhope, eldest son and heir to the Ombersleys, has a financially irresponsible father and a passive mother who frequently takes to her boudoir with spasms. A perspicacious great-uncle bypassed Lord Ombersley to leave his fortune to Charles who has used it to redeem the family from the brink of ruin and dutifully take care of his mother and six younger siblings. Charles has borne a heavy mantle of family responsibility upon his shoulders and seems much older than his twenty-six years. Fortunately, being a Corinthian-type (in danger of being called a 'Yahoo', so one of his friends tells him) his shoulders are strong and athletic due to his love of boxing, skilled horsemanship, and shooting skills. He's no dandy and he's no charmer; he is 'stern' and 'autocratic' with a 'saturnine grin' and rules the house with an iron grip. But he shows his better side in his kindness to children and animals. In Sophy, Charles has truly met his match. She is the only person unafraid of him, and the only person he cannot control. His grip on his family begins to slip alarmingly as she sweeps in to 'wrench' him 'from the paths of convention'.

THE ROMANCE FACTOR

The romance is subtle, slow-burning, and mostly subtextual. Sophy declares she was born with 'almost no sensibility', and Charles is certainly no romantic. But they are both passionate and strongly physical personalities. Charles has repressed this side of his nature on entering an emotionless marriage pact with the chilly Miss Wraxton; until he meets Sophy he seems content to offload his sexual energies in the boxing ring. Post-marriage, I think Charles and Sophy will be as well-matched in the bedroom as they are in handling horses and guns, and I think there will be good camaraderie between them but plenty of battles – which Sophy will always win.

 

FAVOURITE SECONDARY CHARACTER

'Well, well, he is plainly a paragon.'

Lord Charlbury, the faithful, long-suffering lover of Cecelia narrowly takes the title of Favourite Secondary Character (Augustus Fawnhope, the would-be-poet, comes a very close runner-up). 

Charlbury's charm is in his willingness and courage to enter into Sophy's outlandish schemes to win Cecelia from her infatuation with Fawnhope. Charlbury consents to pose as Sophy's would-be-lover, is prepared, if necessary, to be kidnapped, shot, killed in a duel or at least 'planted a facer' by the pugilistic Charles, all in the pursuit of True Love. Why he should be so enamoured of Cecelia I'm not entirely sure, for while she is very sweet, described as 'a dream-princess' and a 'fairy', she is perhaps too much like her enervated mama to be worthy of such noble heroism; but Charlbury thinks otherwise and is prepared to endure all for his lady.

FAVOURITE SLANG EXPRESSIONS

Hagged = looking lean, ugly, like a hag

Bacon-brained = doesn't need explaining

A poltroon = a coward

A great gaby = a simpleton

Draw his claret = give a bloody nose in a bout of fisticuffs

HOW MANY TIMES DOES THE HEROINE 'GURGLE'?

Three.

Sophy gurgles with mirth in chapter 3, gurgles with amusement in chapter 6, and gives a gurgle of laughter in chapter 13.

BEST OUTFIT

Sophy's gown for her spectacular coming-out party is a suitably 'striking ensemble' for her personality. She wears a dress in 'her favourite pomona-green crape, which she wore over a slip of white satin. It had tiny puff-sleeves of lace and seed pearls, and was lavishly trimmed with lace. Particularly fine diamond drops hung from her ears; her pearl necklace was clasped round her throat; and an opera-comb was set behind the elaborate knot of hair on the crown of her head. Jane had brushed and pomaded her side-curls until they glowed richly chestnut in the candlelight. Green-striped satin slippers, long gloves, and a fan of frosted crape on ivory sticks completed her toilet'.

(Pomona green is an emerald / apple green colour, named after the goddess of apple orchards. Crape is a thin, semi-transparent fabric made from silk.)

ANYTHING I DIDN'T LIKE?

Two things:

1. Cousins-in-Love – socially acceptable and common in 19th-century England, but more unusual now when first cousins are typically brought up as siblings.

2. The Shylock/Fagin-type character of the Jewish moneylender. Considering Heyer wrote The Grand Sophy only four years after the end of WWII, this stereotype was uncomfortable.

FAVOURITE SCENE

Every scene with Sophy is a riot, but the final scene is particularly madcap. All the entangled couples are brought together in an old, dilapidated Elizabethan manor on a rainy night. There are smoking chimneys, a Spanish Marquesa cooking dinner noisily in the kitchen, while Fawnhope the poet wanders around interrupting scenes of passion in his quest for ink. Included in the chaos is a brood of escaping ducklings, and an excited Italian greyhound. Dramatic break-ups and declarations of love abound all over the house, some of them taking even Sophy by surprise, in a farcical and satisfying conclusion of all Sophy's grand schemes.

 

The Foundling

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HISTORICAL EVENTS 

The year is 1818. It's been a summer of royal weddings. Princess Charlotte, only child of the Prince Regent, died in childbirth the previous year triggering a scramble among the three royal brothers: the Dukes Clarence, Kent, and Cambridge, to marry and produce a legitimate heir to the throne. The elderly Queen Charlotte has just recovered from a 'spasm' but will die before the year is out. The country has had a General Election, with the Prime Minister the Earl of Liverpool retaining a Tory government.

THE SET UP

Adolphus Gillespie, known by the affectionate if juvenile name of 'Gilly', is the fabulously rich Duke of Sale. He is only months away from coming into his majority at the age of twenty-five, when he will take full control of his vast fortune, his London residence, his castle in the Highlands, and his half a dozen or so estates dotted about the English countryside. He has an army of devoted servants, and a well-meaning but domineering uncle for a guardian. Gilly's life is one of absolute luxury and leisure ... and he is bored.

He is bored of being cosseted by his staff, fed up with his overbearing guardian, wearied with the burden of high expectations placed upon him as a Somebody, and is daydreaming about what it would be like to be an anonymous, ordinary, 'plain Mr Dash of Nowhere in Particular.'

When his young cousin confides that he's in a pickle, being blackmailed over some love letters, Gilly sees his chance: the chance for an adventure. The chance to slip his leash, plot a careful plan to evade his servants and watchdogs, and take off on top of a mail coach as 'plain Mr Dash' who will recover his cousin's love letters and free him from the threat of being sued for breach of promise. But before he sets off on his 'odyssey', first he must squeeze in a quick marriage proposal to the girl he has been told by his uncle he ought to marry...

THE HERO

'Well, if I do not know what is due to my position I am sure it is not for want of being told,' sighed the Duke.

As the only son and heir of the Sale family Gilly has been hedged about with the utmost care, continuously supervised, and waited on hand and foot. He could have grown up into an arrogant spoiled brat, but instead he has 'a naturally sweet disposition' and 'a thousand amiable qualities' He is self-effacing and hates to hurt anyone's feelings, even that of his servants. But as his uncle reminds him, he lacks 'decision of character.' By the end of the story, Gilly will have grown from boy to man, and will know his own mind, and his own heart. But there's plenty of discomfort, wicked villains and troublesome companions to encounter on the road trip ahead.

(A quick side note about Gilly's wealth that interested me: Gilly's butler says that Gilly's kitchen maids are paid 'not above six pounds a year'. By contrast, Gilly draws out a hundred pounds just for pocket money for his jaunt to London, and then asks for another 'two or three hundred' later on, after he's spent a hundred in a matter of days.)

THE HEROINE

'I entertain no fears that Harriet has been allowed to fill her head with romantical stuff and nonsense.'

Harriet doesn't have a large on-page presence; she has a short scene early on, and then doesn't appear again until the last quarter of the story when she plays an important part in extricating Gilly from some of the consequences of his adventures, including bailing him out of the Round house.

Harriet and Gilly have a lot in common. 'Gentle and shy' Harriet has spent her life 'zealously chaperoned', and in subjection to her ambitious, formidable mother. The young lovers have known each other since childhood, their marriage being arranged before they were 'out of the nursery'. Gilly proposes to her with the noble motive of not wanting to disappoint her, and he is fond of her, but is not sure that she is the 'damsel' of his dreams. Harriet is likewise uneasy about this arranged marriage, and the proposal scene where Gilly is allowed only minutes alone with Harriet to do the deed is more awkward than romantic. But Gilly's wild escapades conclude with him calling upon Harriet to assist him in the winding up of all his tangled exploits. Harriet rises to the occasion, and the couple begin to see how well they work as a team with a basis of genuine friendship between them. By the end of the novel they are more than just resigned to their marriage, but are actually looking forward to it and the new independence from their respective guardians that marriage will bring.

(Quick side note: Harriet mentions that she is invited to Lady Ombersley's party, and I wondered if this could be the same Lady Ombersley as in The Grand Sophy?)

THE ROMANCE FACTOR

'may not a lady of quality – love?'

The Foundling is chiefly a coming-of-age story, but the romance is very sweet, nonetheless. Gilly is advised by his guardian to think of marriage as having nothing to do with passion. If passion is what Gilly wants, his wife-to-be 'is a very well brought-up girl' who 'will know how to look the other way.' Meanwhile, Harriet has been counselled not to expect 'a love-match', and to take care not to wear her heart on her sleeve. 'A lady of quality must not behave as though she were 'Miss Smith of Heaven knows where!' Harriet's mother informs her, the context being that only nobodies show emotion or affection to their husbands. Little wonder that gentle natured Gilly and Harriet are apprehensive about entering into marriage where love and affection are considered only for 'parvenues'.

Gilly and Harriet's arranged marriage is common among the aristocracy, hence the reference early in the novel to the royal dukes. The fifty-two-year-old Duke of Clarence meets his bride young Princess Adelaide only days before his wedding, while the Duke of Kent abandons his mistress of twenty-eight years to marry Princess Victoria. It's interesting that Gilly's actual first name is Adolphus, also the first name of the Duke of Cambridge. Gilly's uncle dislikes this name, thinking it 'one of these newfangled German names'. The Duke of Cambridge was the only duke who was popular with the general public, not being wreathed about in scandal as his brothers were; he also made a rushed arranged marriage to a German princess less than half his age, though the marriage was said to be a happy one. Thus, compared to the other prominent dukes of England, Gilly has as least married someone he knows in advance, and who is of a similar age. I'm sure that out of all the dukes of England, Gilly's marriage was the happiest, despite them not being a mere Miss Smith of Heaven-knows-where and Mr Dash of Nowhere.

FAVOURITE SECONDARY CHARACTER

'I am sure that Gideon would fill my shoes far better than I could ever do.'

I was highly entertained by young Tom Mamble's incessant scrapes, but nevertheless, Favourite Secondary Character goes to Captain Gideon Ware, Gilly's older cousin. While Gilly is the inverse stereotype of the Regency romance protagonist, his cousin twenty-eight-year-old Gideon is the epitome of the romantic hero. Gilly is not dark, brooding and forceful, but Gideon is. Gilly is shorter than average, while Gideon is long legged. muscular and tall. Gilly has 'a dislike of quarrelling, and of loud, angry voices', Gideon is a soldier, who has no hesitation in violently dealing with the man who claims to have kidnapped his young cousin.

It's not just Gideon's manliness that makes him a hero, it's his obvious affection for his little cousin that makes him an attractive character. 'He is quite my best friend, you know,' says Gilly of him. When the villain of the story offers to do away with Gilly, leaving Gideon as the heir to the magnificent Sale wealth, Gideon's prompt actions show that such wealth means nothing to him compared to his love for his cousin. And when suspicion does fall upon Gideon over the disappearance of Gilly, Gideon bears the brunt of all gossip and slander without any hesitation, choosing to ignore it rather than betray Gilly's confidence. But when he thinks Gilly might be in danger, he leaps to the rescue, and woe betide anyone who gets in his way. Captain Gideon Ware, with 'his attractively crooked smile' is a secondary character badly in need of his own Regency romance novel, and he doesn't need a coming-of-age story, he's already man enough!

FAVOURITE SLANG EXPRESSIONS

Toad-eaters = obsequious / sycophantic persons

In a pucker = in a state of disorder, stress

Brought up to scratch = brought to the point of a marriage proposal

Die-away airs = feminine dramatics 

Nip-cheese ways = stinginess

A couple of wisty castors = a couple of heavy blows in a fight

HOW MANY TIMES DOES THE HEROINE 'GURGLE'?

Only once, but then, Harriet doesn't have many scenes.

Harriet gives 'a gurgle of laughter' in chapter twenty.

BEST OUTFIT

Best outfit goes to Gilly's younger cousin, Matt, who wears a dandified outfit of an 'amazingly striped waistcoat, an Oriental tie of gigantic height, a starched frill, buckram-wadded shoulders to an extravagantly cut coat, buttons the size of crown pieces, and a pair of Inexpressibles of a virulent shade of yellow.

(Inexpressibles are very tight-fitting trousers, akin to modern leggings, that show every manly bulge – hence the name, I'm guessing...)

ANYTHING I DIDN'T LIKE?

Three things:

1. There was a lot of head-hitting, which I didn't enjoy. It is in the vein of slapstick action, but I was taken aback at how callous the characters are in regards to violence. Young Tom Mamble knocks his tutor out with no remorse, and is later on beat up by thugs – what goes around comes around, perhaps. Mild-mannered Gilly knocks a man unconscious, albeit not quite meaning to, without showing any concern. The man later on knocks Gilly unconscious, what goes around comes around yet again, perhaps, but Gilly is a slightly-built fellow, and his assailant hits him hard enough to have killed him. And then there is Gideon throttling a man unconscious without any concern – though no one would dare throttle him in return.

2. I was uneasy about the character of sixteen-year-old orphan Belinda being essentially trafficked. We are assured that she is 'still innocent', but there are some lewd remarks made by a few characters that show that she is vulnerable to ending up a young prostitute. Happily, Gilly and Harriet save Belinda from such a fate, and once again there is a lot of comedy to keep the story from getting dark. But the darkness is there just below the surface, and all credit to Heyer for keeping it in balance.

3. Which brings me to the third thing I was not happy about: the villain who was quite ready to kill Gilly and sell Belinda to the highest bidder gets rewarded at the end of the novel – what! Gilly actually pays him off to go and set up a gambling club on the continent as a reward for compelling him 'to put off the boy and to assume the man.' Again, lots of humour surrounds this, and the villain, Liversedge, is a larger than life character, but I'm with Harriet on this one, she is appalled by Gilly's dealings with this unsavoury character, and so am I!

FAVOURITE SCENE

I've only mentioned fifteen-year-old Tom Mamble in passing, but his misadventures provide plenty of comedy. I laughed at the scene where Gilly comes back to his lodgings to find a crowd of people accusing Tom of being the ringleader of a gang guilty of 'obstructing the King's highway' smashing up a citizen's cart, and incommoding the Mail coach, which carries a penalty of five pounds. All this chaos has come about because Tom thought it would be a good idea to race a cow, two donkeys and an old horse backwards down the road. 'You told me I might amuse myself!' the aggrieved Tom tells Gilly. Sorting out this altercation is a good opportunity for Gilly to exercise his newfound leadership and diplomacy skills, and to have a good laugh in private afterwards.

coming soon...
Frederica