Inquiring reader: The January doldrums are upon us. The days are short, the weather is bleak, and it will be months before we can seriously garden again. What to do on a cold and wintry day? Why sit by the fire, of course, curled up with a good book, a pet warming one’s feet, a pot of hot chocolate at one’s disposal, and hours of entertainment in the form of romantic entanglements set in the regency era. To help you choose a good book, my elegant friend Lady Anne reviewed Friday’s Child, a comedic novel written by Georgette Heyer, now available through SourceBooks.
Headstrong, spoiled and impetuous, Lord Sheringham wants to be married. Not because he is in love, but because he wants control of his fortune, his father having left it so that he would be either 25 or married before he could rid himself of his trustees. He has some difficulties with debts, certainly, but the main reason he wishes to have that trust drawn up is that one of his trustees is plundering his estate.
The book opens with his proposal to the Incomparable, Isabella Milborne, a lifelong neighbor and friend. She refuses him because they don’t love each other, and he, furious at her level-headed thwarting of his plans, vows to marry the next lady he sees. This would be Hero Wantage, another lifelong neighborhood friend, just out of the schoolroom and unschooled in any of the ways of Society. Hero, who has adored her friend Sherry for years, is an orphan who has been under the care of her cousin, who never intended to provide a Season for her ward, but rather to prepare her for marriage to the local curate, or for life as a governess. At just seventeen and full of fun, Hero is not ready for either quelling prospect.
So the two decide that they will get married. Lord Sheringham’s cousins Gil and Ferdy and his friend George, Lord Wrotham, all of whom seem to travel in a pack, among them arrange for the marriage by special license. The young Lord and Lady Sheringham set up house, and Sherry and his friends seek to establish young Lady Sherry in London society, where they have been cutting a pretty wild and dashing swath. What follows is a madcap romp, as Hero falls in and out of scrapes as fast as she can. All through innocence, or from following her husband’s sayings. She is bright, educated, and has a mind of her own, and when she takes umbrage at her husband’s scolding her for something, she will say, “but you said…” To his credit, he hears his words and begins to reconsider his own way of life.
Finally, Lord Sheringham has had enough and, recognizing that his wild past has not prepared him for establishing a lady in the upper reaches of Society, he decides to send Hero off to stay with his mother. Hero is clear-eyed enough to know that this woman, far from wishing her well, will do what she can to destroy their marriage, so Hero runs away. To Gil and Ferdy and George, who decide to take Hero to Lady Saltash, a matriarch of the family, who will school Hero in the ways of the ton. Incidentally, as far as these young men are concerned, Hero’s disappearance will also show Lord Sheringham what he has not yet learned – that he really loves his wife.
Friday’s Child is said to be Heyer’s favorite of her novels. This is undoubtedly because of the countless amusing conversations among the many young men we see throughout the novel. Heyer’s deft comic touch sets her apart from the usual run of romance novelists, and the bright and worldly patter of this novel is certainly its strong point. Like all the best of Heyer’s heroines, Hero Wantage Sheringham is willing to stand up for herself. She shows a sharp tongue to her cousin after her marriage, and a strong desire to cut a dash in Society. If she is a little slow to learn which people to trust in the early days of her marriage, she still is sure of what she wants in a home, is capable of running a household with servants, and, when she runs away, shrewd enough to keep her abigail alongside with her baggage. The final chapters involve virtually everyone, including the Incomparable, in a pair of failed elopements, considerable miscommunication – most of it funny – a timely theft, and assorted miscues. At the end, the Incomparable and her swain Lord Wrotham are united, and the Sheringhams are back together, this time on a different level, wiser in the ways of love. Friday’s Child is an enjoyable romp, more comedy than romance, and great fun for a rainy day read.
A Fascinating Prisoner of War Story About Friday’s Child:
In her excellent biography of Georgette Heyer, The Private World of Georgette Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge relates the following story about Friday’s Child:
The letter of thanks from the Romanian political prisoner who had kept herself and her fellow prisoners sane by telling the story of Friday’s Child over and over again reached Georgette Heyer that autumn , and she treasured it. The woman who wrote it was safe in the United States, and Georgette Heyer was able to thank her for the heart-warming tribute.
Excerpts from a letter by Norma Samuelli, Lake Placid, September 6, 1963:
In 1948, a year before my arrest, I had read – and revelled in – Friday’s Child, and as I have a very rententive memory I was able to tell it to my cell-mates, practically verbatim…Truly, your characters managed to awaken smiles, even when hearts were heavy, stomachs empty and the future dark indeed!
During the 12 years I spent in prison I didn’t see a written page. My memory however, could not be sealed up and thanks to it and to you, my fellow-sufferers begged, again and again, to hear “What Kitten Did Next”.
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