Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Georgette Heyer's "Friday's Child"

Gentle Readers, the Amateur Historian will, on occasion, review a work that has some affiliation to the Period Mentioned in the Header. Generally these works will have at least something to do with the absurdity of history, though whether or not the author intended it is a matter of debate.

Friday's Child, by Georgette Heyer, takes place in the Regency Period (1811-1820, when George III went permanently mad and his much-hated son George IV took over), where real men wore heeled boots and lavender kid gloves. I'm not entirely sure if the title Friday's Child refers to the old nursery rhyme which informs one that though Saturday's child works hard for a living, Friday's child is loving and giving, or to Man Friday, Robinson Crusoe's justification for colonization... er, devoted companion.

In either case, it is certain it refers to Hero Wantage, the Heyeroine, if you will, who has the decision-making capabilities of a stunned lemming in the last stages of a degenerative brain disease. This then makes the Heyero, the viscount Sheringham known as “Sherry” and also known as someone so impulsive it makes him look as if he has some kind of learning disability, the Robinson Crusoe figure, who must show this strange, uncivilized Companion (Hero has lived in the country her entire life) the Ways of the World. In this he is helped by his three absolutely hilarious friends: Gil, who appears to be the only sane and practical person under the age of thirty in Regency England and is totally gay for Ferdy, Ferdy, who excellently shows the dangers of Your Brain on Dangerous Amounts of Inbreeding, and George, Lord Wrotham, who is the most splendid send-off of a Byronic Hero that this Amateur Historian has ever seen.

It all begins when Sherry, in some financial difficulties, decides to propose to the heiress Isabella, who wisely tells him to bugger off, the dissolute bum he is. Sherry gets scolded by his mother and uncle for being immature and failing to marry Isabella causing Sherry to come up with the brilliant plan to marry the first woman he sees. Yeah, that’ll show ‘em you’re an adult now.

Enter Hero, who lives next door. She’s been secretly in love with Sherry for years and agrees to elope with him at once. After Sherry realizes the practical difficulties of marriage (where does he get a marriage license? Does he have to have a ring? Ought he to see a lawyer? Where the hell is the church?), he and Hero marry. Hero promptly gets into buckets of trouble because her only guide in how to act in society is Sherry, who, being a somewhat dissolute bachelor who has the impulse control of a spastic two-year-old, sets her an extremely bad example. The rest of the book is devoted to the hilariously tormented love affair between the practical-minded Isabella and George, who mopes about romantically, threatens suicide or homicide just for fun and keeps trying to challenge people to duels, and the increasingly bad situations from which Sherry, Gil, Ferdy and George have to save Hero. “She’s as innocent as a Kitten,” quoth Sherry. “She doesn’t know any better!”

However, he doesn’t manage to tell Hero he doesn’t blame her for being an incredibly twee little idiot and so she runs off to Gil for help when Sherry of the notoriously absent self-control pitches a fit when she manages to nearly ruin her reputation. Gil (with the help of Ferdy and George) comes up with a plan to get Sherry to fall in love with Hero. Hilarity Ensues.

This is where Heyer really excels. She creates these absurd, whacky Wodehousian plots that come together very neatly and very satisfyingly in the final chapter. The best part is that they seem totally justified based on her characters. This is possibly why the plot of Friday’s Child is so absolutely hilarious: all the characters are so stupid that they get into one of the absurdest and yet most believable denouements I have ever read. (Just to pique your curiosity, Ferdie gets terrified by Greek mythology and wakes Sherry up at two in the morning, Gil jaunts off to Bath, Hero takes an asthmatic pug with her in a romantic kidnapping, Isabella totally shuts down a would-be seducer, George nearly shoots someone in an inn, and Sherry jumps out of a moving carriage to try and kill George.)

Heyer is famous for perfectly capturing Regency society, with all its furbelows and frivolities. Her books are an amazingly accurate portrait of the life of high society (the ton) of Regency England. People take boxing lessons with Gentleman Jackson, make outrageous drunken bets, lose fortunes at the card tables, and race carriages everywhere. I’m not sure of the amount of useless twits in Friday’s Child is an accurate representation of Regency society, but considering that everyone in England looked to a man famous for spending four hours getting dressed every morning to tell them what was fashionable and how they ought to act, it might be possible.


  1. Excellent. I can't stand Georgette Heyer, but this is a hilarious review! I would love to read what you make of 'These Old Shades', and its insufferable Heyeroine 'Leonie' (she who speaks in broken sentences and spasmodic French exclamations, to show that she is French). Adding this site to my favourites!

  2. Ha, I'll be sure to look for "These Old Shades" the next time I'm in the library and thanks for the fave! :D

  3. You made me LOL. Now bookmarked.