Heyer, Georgette. Friday’s Child.

NY: Putnam, 1946.

There’s a pattern that Heyer employs in nearly all her Regency romances for the male and female leads: One is dominant (clever and/or successful, regardless of age) and the other is in need of assistance (and may also be clever and/or impoverished, regardless of age). This time, though, we have the blind leading the blind, two quite charming young people who both are so inept, so thoughtless, so innocent, they ought not to be allowed out alone.

Anthony Verelst, Viscount Sheringham (known to his friends as “Sherry”), is twenty-four and trying, not very successfully, to subsist on the allowance provided by the trustees of his estate, which his late father has prevented him from inheriting until he marries. He promptly proposes to Miss Isabella Milborne, whom he has known since early childhood, and who has since become The Incomparable in London society, a/k/a The Beauty. But she rejects his offer — and rather nastily, too. In a subsequent interview with his very self-centered and annoying Mama (and his uncle, one of his trustees, whom he suspects of dipping into the estate he’s supposed to be conserving), he loses his temper and storms out, swearing he’ll marry the first woman he meets, so there.

And that happens to be Miss Hero Wantage, not quite seventeen, an orphan (though of good family) who has been Cinderella in the home of her Cousin Jane, and who has worshipped Sherry since they were children, when she used to tag along and fetch and carry for him. Sherry sweeps Hero off to London, obtains a special license, and the marriage is performed with no loss of time. He sees it as a matter of convenience so he can come into his inheritance and assumes his new status won’t really affect his various gambling and sporting interests. The new “Lady Sherry” sees it as a dream come true and sets out to fit herself into the social swirl. The trouble is, the only training her custodial cousin ever provided her was intended to prepare her to be a governess; she hasn’t the slightest notion of how to be a lady. But she expects she can learn all she needs to know by watching her young husband, whom she believes is the font of all wisdom. Soon Sherry and his three closest friends have virtually turned the girl into a mascot, renamed her “Kitten,” filled her vocabulary with sporting slang, taught her to drive a curricle, and begun escorting her to very questionable entertainments. And Kitten, in wanting to please her husband and his friends, and through total ignorance of how the proper world works, naturally gets into scrape after wince-producing scrape — though Sherry adds to their problems by his extravagant spending (and which his wife innocently emulates).

Meanwhile, there’s a parallel plot involving George Lord Wrotham, Isabella’s most ardent suitor. (Remember Isabella? The Beauty?) He’s a dashing and handsomely Byronic figure with extremely limited financial expectations who drives his friends crazy with his constant readiness to challenge people to duels. At least he’s sincere, but still, Isabella figures she can do much better. And there’s yet another plot involving the sinister Sir Montagu Revesby, who makes a living steering suckers into gambling clubs, and who has his eye on Isabella’s fortune — and who also has a personal grudge against Hero.

Though the early part of the book is somewhat scatter-shot in its pacing and organization, it all comes together soon enough. Sherry and Hero, though appallingly immature (Kitten at least has some excuse), are both highly sympathetic characters, even with their screw-ups and lack of responsibility. The Viscount is not a bad guy and everyone agrees that Kitten always means well. The main spear-carriers, Gil Ringwood and Sherry’s cousin, Ferdy Fakenham, are delightfully drawn as classic young men of leisure, but they, too, haven’t a mean thought between them and they both go far out on a limb in trying to help Lord and Lady Sherry. And the duel between Sherry and George is an out-and-out hoot. This is definitely one of Heyer’s better efforts.

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Published in: on 9 May 2012 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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