Tuesday, December 9, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer

Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer may be one of the silliest Regency Romances I’ve ever read, but for once, I’m using "silly" as a positive descriptor. I wanted something light and entertaining, and Heyer’s Regencies can always be counted upon to fit that bill.

The male protagonist of this book is, at first, anything but heroic. Lord Sheringham, (otherwise known as the Viscount or Anthony) is a spoiled, entitled young rake who finds himself in a bind. Having inherited his title early, along with a generous allowance, he has been running wild, enjoying himself with drinking, gambling, and loose women. Naturally, this scandalizes the ton, but not too much, since he is male and boys will be boys. Anthony’s problem is that he has outspent his allowance. His late father, no doubt a good judge of his son’s character, has tied the family fortune up in a trust that Anthony cannot touch until he is twenty-five or. . .marries.

Anthony has come up with a solution. He and half of London’s worthy gentlemen have been courting the exceedingly beautiful and well-bred Isabella Milborne. While gossips are betting either the romantic, handsome, hot-headed but down-in-the-heel Lord Wrotham or the staid but wealthy Duke of Severn will win her, Anthony thinks she will have him. After all, he is first to offer for her. Moreover, he feels certain of her yes since they knew each other as children and he imagines she remembers this childhood friendship with some fondness.

Isabella refuses him, citing his poor character for excuse, but in fact, she doesn’t feel his proposal is heartfelt enough. When she understands his reason stems from monetary embarrassment, even a somewhat temporary one (he’s not marrying her for her fortune, but for his own) she is sure she has made the right choice in saying no.

Anthony is peeved. He’s furious Isabella would insult his character. Not because it isn’t true, but because it is true of everyone and besides, girls shouldn’t know about such things, etc.

At any rate, while in his peevish state, he comes across another old friend, Hero Wantage.

When the youthful aristocrats played together back in the old days, Hero was the tagalong, the baby of the group, and the misfit. Although her birth was as good as theirs, she was orphaned and taken in by a cousin, who made sure she understood her poverty and dependence. She was quite a bit younger. (Currently, she is not yet seventeen.) Anthony allowed her to fetch and carry for him and she was pathetically grateful. In fact, he treated her wretchedly, but with a certain regard which was better than the cruel disdain of the other children.

Hero is now quite upset, and her distress distracts Anthony from his own problems. It seems that Hero’s cousin, who has three plain and unpleasant daughters to introduce to society, is finished with Hero. A choice has been put before the unfortunate girl: she may go to Bath and become a governess or she can marry the curate.

Anthony is appalled. He has never liked Hero’s cousin or the daughters and this cements his opinion of them. Impetuous by nature, the obvious solution occurs to him, and before he can think of the down sides, he blurts out that Hero should marry him (by special license, the next day.) It would solve both their dilemmas. They wouldn’t have to change their lives, of course, it would just be a marriage of convenience.

Hero has no idea what she is getting into, only that she is escaping a fate she does not want, to run away with a man she adores. And trusts.

And things go haywire from here on out.

Normally, I enjoy clever heroines and sardonic heroes. I like witty repartee. I like significant external forces keeping lovers apart, and the strong heroine and hero overcoming them to find their way back together. This isn’t that book–yet I loved it. These characters are not clever. Little more than children, they bumble their way into marriage, play at setting up a household, and pretend to start a life together. It is their good-natured bumbling that makes this book such a delight.

Anthony is truly an awful husband. He wants to continue drinking, gambling, and chasing women. He keeps company with the same scoundrels as before, introducing some of these low men to his wife without thought to consequence. Fortunately, he has three very decent friends, who band together to help shield Hero from the worst excesses. Anthony also understands the necessity of protecting Hero from scandal. She’s a viscountess, after all. For her sake, even more than for his own, it’s important that she be accepted by the "right" people.

At first, he is certain it’s her own innocence and naivete that cause her to get into scrapes, but slowly it becomes clear to him that she is only mimicking his behavior–and she believes him to be beyond reproach. And he is, deep down, actually not an awful person. At the very least, he’s too decent to say, "This behavior is acceptable for me because I am a man, but not for you because you are a woman." Each time he tries to blame her, he is caught up short by his own failings. Things people have tried to point out to him unsuccessfully, he now sees mirrored back to him as he tries to lecture his wife.

The fun of this book is these refreshingly simple characters. They make mistakes and immediately apologize. Both of them. They forgive each other, laugh, and move on. Certainly, they go on to make other mistakes, but as one of the more astute friends points out to Anthony, Hero never makes the same mistake twice.

Their marriage is strange, but it is a fun and companionable one. However, there is one looming imbalance. Hero obviously adores Anthony. Anthony also adores Anthony. He never did care for Isabella, no matter if he did propose to her first. But eventually he’s going to have to realize that it isn’t just a sense of responsibility and proprietorship that he feels for Hero. Either he regrets his rash decision in marrying her or he doesn’t. Either he yearns for the carefree abandon of his bachelorhood, or he would not trade Hero for all the gambling hells and opera dancers in the world. Which will it be?

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