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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/20/2008 Archived Entry: "Book review: Friday's Child"

Friday's Child
By Georgette Heyer
Originally published in the United Kingdom in 1944 by William Heinermann, reissued by Sourcebooks Casablanca, U.S.A. 2008
ISBN13: 9781402210792
ISBN10: 1402210795

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Here I am again with yet another review of my favorite romance writer of all time, Georgette Heyer. This sweet little story was written in 1944, but it was still delightful to a troubled Puerto Rican teenager in the 1970's, whose life on the Lower East Side of New York was far from glamorous. This is a traditional romantic comedy, minus explicit sex or obscene language, which will delight you as much as a box of bonbons full of fruits and nuts.

Lord Anthony, Viscount of Sheringham, Sherry to his friends, is in a pickle when Miss Isabella Milborne refuses his offer of marriage. Not because he's in love with the red-haired beauty, whom he's known since childhood (they live on adjoining estates in Kent), even though she's been dubbed the Incomparable by Polite Society and has many well-born suitors at her feet. You see, despite having succeeded to his father's title at a tender age and being blessed with blond good looks and an athletic build, he is still forced to live on a veritable pittance, compared to other young gentleman of his class, thanks to the trust fund his late father set up which prevents him from inheriting the whole of his father's fortune until he turns twenty-five or marries.

Upon returning to Sheringham Place, his ancestral home in Kent, Sherry finds his widowed mother Valeria and her freeloading brother Horace Paulett, one of the two uncles in charge of his trust fund. When Mummy Dearest (a silly old woman who reminds me of Mrs. Howell on "Gilligan's Island") finds out that Isabella rejected her darling boy, she lies on her chaise lounge clutching her smelling salts in one hand while bemoaning her son's wild way of life. Meaning the drinking, gambling, reckless riding and driving most young gentlemen of the Regency era take part in—after all, no gentleman ever works for a living! Her brother clutches her other hand, pretending to sympathize with Sherry in the most patronizing way, but the young viscount knows very well that he's gloating inwardly at the thought of enjoying two more years of living off the trust fund. Between his mother's vapors and his uncle's patronage, our boy gets so mad that he stomps out of the parlor declaring "I'm going back to London! And I'm going to marry the first woman that I see!"

Despite her ladyship's fear that her only son will return from the city with some vulgar creature from the opera-ballet on his arm just to spite her, the first woman he meets turns out to be another childhood friend. While driving his curricle on the road to London, he passes the modest estate of his neighbor Mr. Humphrey Bagshot and sees dusky-haired Hero Wantage, not yet seventeen, sitting on the stone wall by the road, dressed in one of her three homely cousins' worn out gowns, crying into her hankie. It seems that Hero's Cousin Jane, Mr. Bagshot's wife, who took Hero in upon her father's death when she was eight years old, has decided that she is to be sent off to Bath to be a governess instead of having a proper coming out like her cousins. Not only is Mrs. Bagshot afraid that her pretty cousin will outshine her ugly daughters in the Marriage Mart, but she caught her mousey son Edwin kissing Hero and blames poor Hero for it. The poor girl is so innocent and simple she sees no escape from her fate unless she marries the local curate, the only man who has ever offered for her.

Upon learning of Hero's plight, Sherry, who's been her idol since she was a little girl, decides to do them both a favor; he suggests that she marry him instead of the curate. That way she won't have to become a governess, and he'll be able to inherit his father's money. Besides, if he can't be married to The Incomparable, he might as well be married to another girl he's known since childhood, who not only idolizes him but believes every word he says and obeys him unquestioningly. What man can resist that? So he persuades Hero to join him in the carriage, along with his diminutive groom Jason (a former jockey and pickpocket), and carries her off to London with nothing but the dowdy clothes on her back.

Upon their arrival in London, Sherry deposits Hero at a respectable hotel, after buying her some decent clothing and toiletries, and goes off to his friend Gil's lodgings to get his advice on how to obtain a special license, which is considered more respectable than an elopement to Gretna Green in Scotland, where most young lovers of that era went to get married in a hurry. Gilbert Ringwood and his bosom friend, Ferdinand Fakenham, also known as Ferdy, serve as the comedy relief in this story. Gil has more sense than Ferdy (who is also Sherry's cousin), but only just enough to serve as a straight man to Ferdy's more clueless remarks, which he makes constantly.

During their discussion of marriage they are joined by a dashingly handsome young man, Lord George Wrothham, also a close friend of Sherry's and a rival for the Incomparable Isabella's hand. He thinks that Sherry went to Kent to steal Isabella from him and is on the verge of calling him out, because George is so hot-headed he's always trying to challenge people to duels. But he's such a good shot that nobody ever obliges him, which leaves him incredibly frustrated. Anyway, as soon as George learns that Sherry's not going to marry Isabella, he's so grateful that he offers to help him marry Hero instead. Turns out that George knows an Anglican bishop from whom they can obtain a special license. But only because the good bishop is an old friend of his mother's; it seems that young gentlemen of that era have as little to do with the Church of England as they do with work.

This small circle of friends helps Sherry to tie the knot with Hero, enabling him to end the trust and send his sponging Uncle Horace packing, as well as rescuing poor Hero from a life of drudgery under her domineering cousin's roof.

But Sherry's hopes of a polite marriage of convenience with his childhood friend are soon shattered when he finds his innocent bride getting into one scrape after another, due to her lack of experience in Polite Society, or the Ton, as it was called back then. When she isn't going off to Margate with a party of friends on the steamboat (a new contraption which was regarded with as much suspicion during that era as the horseless carriage was in America), he finds her dining at the Royal Saloon (a less than respectable establishment in Piccadilly) with a fast young widow and two of the wildest young blades of his acquaintance. He's just in time to stop her from going to the Peerless Pool (another less than respectable place which no lady goes to unescorted), after which he makes her a list of places where she shouldn't go without him. Unfortunately he forgets to include fairs, and then has to run off to Bartholomew Fair in Smithfield when she leaves him a note saying she's going there with Gussie Yarford, an old friend from Kent who's turned into quite a party girl since her marriage, along with Gussie's wild younger brother and his disreputable friend, who is also Gussie's lover. Poor little Hero gets into as much trouble as Lucy Ricardo!

The irresponsible young viscount soon realizes that his young bride is no more fit to get by in society than the kitten he nicknames her for. Her lack of a mother's guidance, along with her mother-in-law's hostility and her bossy cousin's resentment at her poor relation making a good marriage before any of her homely daughters, leaves her at the mercy of any enterprising older female who claims to be her friend, and quite a few rogues who claim to be her husband's friend. Among then is Sir Montagu Revesby, a cad and a cardsharp who keeps luring Sherry to gambling saloons to lose his newly acquired inheritance at various games of chance, and is much too interested in the Incomparable Isabella for Hero's comfort, or that of Isabella's faithful suitor George Wrothham. Poor little Hero is too fond of Sherry to criticize his friends, but she's able to see through Sir Montagu's charming exterior and doesn't need to be told by the worldly-wise Gil to have nothing to do with him. Her instinct and Gil's shrewd judgment of character are soon justified when a discarded mistress of Monty's turns up on the steps of Almack's as they are leaving, a poor country girl with a baby in her arms who begs him to do the right thing, only to hear him deny that he ever knew her.

This shocking glimpse of Sir Montagu's true character soon sours his friendship with Sherry, for which Sir Montigu unfairly blames Hero, who insists upon rescuing the poor abandoned woman and her baby and giving them refuge on one of her husband's estates. This won't be the first time that one of Hero's impulsive actions leads to trouble later, along with Isabella blowing hot and cold on George as she flirts with the Duke of Severn as well as Sir Montagu. When Hero finally gets into a major scrape that nearly gets her ostracized from Polite Society, her outraged and exasperated husband finally decides he's tired of rescuing her from her own folly and threatens to send her back to Kent to live with his mother. Just the thought of being exiled in the country with her hateful mother-in-law is enough to make Hero flee to her good friends Gil, Ferdy, and George, who fortunately for her are all playing cards at Gil's bachelor pad the night she decides to run away. By now all three young gentlemen are as fond of her as if she were one of their young sisters, so after hearing how monstrously Sherry has treated her and how much she loves him, even though she knows he doesn't love her, they decide to send Hero somewhere safe while they deny knowing where she is, hoping this will teach Sherry to appreciate his poor little wife.

After being sent to Bath to stay with Gil's maternal grandmother Lady Saltash, a comedy of errors and mistaken identities soon ensues, which leads to a showdown at an inn on the road to Wells, a cathedral town where a smitten admirer of Hero's intends to elope with her under the impression that she's a single woman. Sir Montagu also turns up there with Isabella, after attempting to compromise her by pulling the old "My carriage broke down in the middle of nowhere and now you have to marry me to avoid a scandal" bit. Don't worry, Sherry and George both turn up in the nick of time to save their ladies, and Sir Montagu gets his comeuppance, but not from either of these gentlemen. Along the way, Sherry realizes how much he loves his silly little wife after all, and Isabella finally learns to appreciate her faithful admirer George once she sees how stuffy the duke is and how big a blackguard Montagu is.

Anyone who loves romance laced with comedy that doesn't rely on silly romantic clichés or explicit love scenes will enjoy this tender tidbit by Georgette Heyer. I know that reading it always makes me feel young and hopeful again, when love was still in the distant future and boys were a scary mystery to me. It helped me set my standards high enough so I wasn't willing to settle for just any man, but one who was able to love me brains and all. Being the smartest girl in class usually means you're a wallflower at best, an outcast at the worst. It takes a talented writer like Ms. Heyer to show intelligent young women short of confidence that you don't need to be an Incomparable beauty to find love. Of course you don't need to be as silly and scatterbrained as Hero Wantage either, but sometimes it takes an innocent to show more worldly-wise people what they're missing. BTW, the title of the book comes from the old Scottish rhyme about the days of the week one is born on; "Friday's Child is loving and giving"—that's Hero! Don't miss this reissue of one of Ms. Heyer's many classic romances. It's as good as reading Jane Austin, without as much wordiness. You could finish it on a long flight or during a long weekend. What else could you ask for in a summer reading selection?

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