Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: Pan, 1971
Genre: Historical fiction: Regency romance
Blurb: When Viscount Desford befriends a forlorn runaway, his only thought is to keep such a pretty girl as Cherry Steane out of mischief.
Soon the chivalrous Corinthian is in a rare bumble-bath, so baulked by Cherry’s lickpenny grandfather and card-sharping father that all his efforts to help lead only to some new confusion or misunderstanding. Even Henrietta Silverdale, his childhood playmate, has certain reservations…
How I came to own it: I first heard of Georgette Heyer on the BBC programme ‘Guilty Pleasures’. The guilty party was none other than Mr. Stephen Fry. I am a great admirer of Mr. Fry and so I had been keeping an eye out for Heyer. I stumbled across ‘Charity Girl’ for 20p or some other similarly ridiculous sum in Oxfam a few years ago and have been meaning to read it ever since. I recently persuaded my book group to take it on. I was a bit nervous, actually: the blurb doesn’t exactly scream ‘compelling and profound’ and I rather felt that I would be held responsible if it was crap.
What I thought: On the back of this edition, The Evening Standard warns us to ‘never doubt that Georgette Heyer can at times match the ironical skill of Jane Austen’. No, Evening Standard, I’m afraid not. This novel is lively, frothy and very funny, and it has Jane Austen’s influence all over it, but it isn’t really ironic and it lacks the depth of an Austen novel. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it immensely. It was silly and it was fun. It was also very engaging: plot-wise, it was more than just a farce and I found myself genuinely caring what happened to Cherry. Although the pairing of Desford and Henrietta was hardly unexpected (so Emma and Knightley), I had had a terrible fear that Heyer was going to try and pair Desford and Cherry and that would have annoyed me immensely. I thought Cherry’s stupidity was a nice touch. I could see Heyer trying to sidestep producing the dullness of a stereotypical Regency romance whilst simultaneously, tongue-in-cheek, embracing it. At times, it verged on parody.
The novel owes much of its liveliness to its dialogue and to some of the most splendid slang I have ever heard. I must share it with you. Someone needs to compile a Regency slang dictionary. A ‘bumble-bath’ is, of course, a mess, or a tricky situation. There are some wonderful insults: ‘a skitterbrain… slibberslabber here-and-thereian… a damned scattergood… a shuttlehead… muttonhead… rascally scrubs… a curst care-for-nobody… a jackanapes… old humbugger’ – and that’s just the first few pages!
Great literature it ain’t but I doubt this will be the last Georgette Heyer I read. Too funny, and it’s lovely to just breeze through a book sometimes. I’m not sure what my book group will have thought, though!
How I’m doing: Back down to 49.