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Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer

fridayschild.jpgGeorgette Heyer is a name I've been familiar with for years because for some reason a lot of science fiction fans like her novels. I seem to recall that the late rich brown was a fan of hers, as is Jo Walton, and now I discover via Hazel Ashworth that D West recommended her novels to Hazel years ago and that Friday's Child was a particular favorite of theirs. Since I've been focused on women writers lately, this appeared to be an ideal time to finally explore Heyer's work, so I picked this one up at Powell's City of Books while I was in Portland for Christmas.

The novel starts out with a bit of a head fake that initially threw me off. Viscount Sheringham proposes marriage to the Incomparable Isabella Milborne, widely believed to the most beautiful woman available -- and as a side benefit she's quite wealthy too. Isabella rejects the proposal, because she considers Sherry an irresponsible gambler and libertine. Sherry, who won't inherit his fortune unless he marries before he turns 25, flies into a rage and vows to marry the first woman he sees. This turns out to be Hero Wantage (what a name!), who is a childhood friend of his and Isabella's who was raised by a cousin when she was orphaned at an early age. Sherry always treated Hero as a bratty kid sister, but when he learns that her mean-spirited cousin is trying to force her to become a governess in Bath, he takes pity on her and proposes marriage. She accepts.

From this set up, I confess I thought the novel would be about how Sherry would reform his rakish ways and win the Incomparable over in the end. However, I was quite wrong about that. The title is from an old nursery rhyme about the character traits of people according to what day they were born on:

Monday's child is fair of face,
Tuesday's child is full of grace,
Wednesday's child is full of woe,
Thursday's child has far to go,
Friday's child is loving and giving,
Saturday's child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath day
Is fair and wise and good in every way.

Wikipedia says there's an alternative version which has it, "Friday's child works hard for a living/Saturday's child is loving and giving," but Heyer pretty clearly had the former version in mind. Hero is an unbelievably sweet and giving person, and the novel is a kind of satire contrasting her essential goodness and empathy with the selfishness and corruption of the aristocratic crowd that Sherry runs with. Far from being about Sherry's reformation in pursuit of Isabella, the novel is about his reformation in pursuit of Hero.

I loved pretty much everything about this book. I loved Heyer's assured, precise, nuanced prose style, her vivid characterization, complex plotting, sly wit, and also her rowdy humor. There's a scene involving a duel between Sherry and one of his upper crust friends whom he sees kissing Hero that is particularly hilarious and had me laughing out loud in delight. Early on I thought I might find the unquestioned life of ease and plenty of these aristocratic characters tiresome after a while, but the slight air of satire kept it fresh, and to be honest it works as a kind of fantasy world as well, where you can have the vicarious pleasure of never having to worry about money or work or really anything other than, well, pleasure. Heyer is aware that her characters are less than admirable, but she generously forgives them for it, whether they deserve the generosity or not. Yet she keenly observes their absurd vanity, selfishness, and meanness, all the while contrasting it with Hero's loving and giving self-sacrifice, which puts them all to shame. It's wish-fulfillment, but it's very funny, sweet, and moving as a form of escape from harsher realities, and that was something I really valued at this particular juncture in my life. It definitely convinced me to read more Heyer, and maybe to get back to Jane Austen, to whom Heyer is often compared, because Heyer wrote a lot of romances set in the Regency era. Hazel Ashworth says D. liked to say that Heyer was like Austen on speed. Sounds about right to me. It was also funny to discover how much of D's humor I could see in Heyer. It didn't surprise me to learn that he loved Hunter S. Thompson, but I surely had no ideas whatsoever that he loved Georgette Heyer too. It's enlarging to be surprised like that, I must say. Many thanks to Hazel for recommending the book, which she says has helped her through many a hard time too.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 7th, 2016 09:30 pm (UTC)
The version I was used to of the Mother Goose rhyme said of the Sabbath child, "is fair and bright and good and gay," or something of that nature. The first two attributions I'm not sure about, but I'm dead certain of the latter two. Makes me wonder if the version you quote was another recent bowdlerization to avoid using the word "gay."

But yes, Heyer's best writing is really deft, amusing, well-crafted escapism about those wacky nobles. In that way, I think it's more like P.G. Wodehouse than Jane Austen: Austen seldom actually looked at the very upper crust, and while she did absolutely satirize many of her characters, she also took somewhat more seriously the genuine economic and social problems that attached to being a young woman in the early (long) 19th C. Heyer and Wodehouse tend to give their characters purely fluffy problems, or set them on improbable and even absurd adventures, so that we never fear seriously for their eventual triumph. Heyer's stories also remind me of the madcap upper crust romp comedies of the 1930s: the various troubles facing the protagonists are treated rather lightly, and the specter of real poverty seldom enters the picture except as an expedient plot device; very much vehicles to give the viewer a vicarious glimpse of the imagined lives of the carefree well-to-do.

Since you enjoyed Friday's Child, I would consider reading Cotillion soon -- it has a similar lightness, and the rather fun twist of exploring what happens when one of the hapless, Bertie-Woosterish fellows she usually relegates to the supporting players, is cast as the romantic protagonist.
Jan. 7th, 2016 09:34 pm (UTC)
I've never actually read Wodehouse, but I did think of him as I read Heyer based purely on what I've read and heard about him. Excellent points about the differences between Heyer and Austen. And based on previous recommendations on Facebook, including yours, I've got Cotillion on the Pile even now.
Jan. 8th, 2016 01:18 am (UTC)
I've read Austen, but not Heyer. Maybe this would be a place to start.

"The novel starts out with a bit of a head fake that initially threw me off."

So far, but only that far, I'm reminded of my reaction to the dramatization of Burnett's The Making of a Lady, which is also not about what it begins being about, but departs rather more dramatically than this does.

"Sherry, who won't inherit his fortune unless he marries before he turns 25"

Now there's the kind of escapist or fluffy problem that defines books of this kind.

Jan. 8th, 2016 06:31 am (UTC)
Yes, it's the sense of humor that really carries it, which I guess is true of Wodehouse too. I've also now read The Grand Sophy, which I didn't like quite as much, although I did like it.
Jan. 8th, 2016 06:59 pm (UTC)
I forgot to mention that there's a really nasty outbreak of anti-Semitism in The Grand Sophy, and what I can only describe as a thread of anti-Spanish racism as well. If I run into much more of that, I probably will give up on Heyer. What's interesting is that there's an encounter with moneylenders in Friday's Child as well, but while they are unpleasant people that refined folk clearly shouldn't consort with, they aren't characterized as Jews or with any of the obvious anti-Semitic stereotypes, at least to my eyes.
Jan. 9th, 2016 02:26 am (UTC)
I finished Friday’s Child yesterday. All the way through, I kept being pleasantly surprised by how much the story focuses on the men and their take on both friendship and romance. I haven't read much in the way of Regency romances, but all the romance I have read over the years (decades) has been oh, so much more focused on the female characters and their sensibilities and concerns. The men have always been pretty much stick figure characters. In Friday's Child, they aren't.

Then there's all the madcap adventuring...it's a total hoot.

Interesting, though, once Isabella turned down Sherry's proposal, I didn't think he was going to pursue her. I always thought it was going to be the story of Sherry and Hero finding their way to each other. I liked how that also involved finding their way toward adulthood in the process. (Though I'm far from certain about how far along that path Hero progressed in the course of the novel.)
Jan. 9th, 2016 03:12 am (UTC)
That's an excellent point about how much the men have to say about friendship and romance, and two of the best characters are Gil and Ferdie, who are great friends to Sherry and to his relationship with Hero, while not being interested in romance for themselves. But really all the male characters are very vivid and distinct; their personalities come through loud and clear. Also a good point about the question of whether Hero grows up at all. She's so idealize, in a way, that progress seems impossible. She's more the measure of how the other characters progress, since her innocence and selflessness is almost perfect already and something everybody else can only aspire to.
Jan. 9th, 2016 06:34 am (UTC)
I wish I'd bookmarked the point late in the book where one of Sherry's friends points out that Hero never makes the same mistake twice. It seems like thing Gil would notice, but I'm crap at remembering specifics like that.

Right around then, and after for awhile, I found myself tiring of Hero because she didn't seem to be learning. Yes, she made new mistakes, but she only seemed able to understand her specific missteps, not to generalize from them. But much of that is my own mistake in judging characters by my own standards rather than by the societal standards of the era the novel is set in.

I admire Hero's selflessness, from her constant wish for Sherry's happiness to when she takes in and sees to the well-being of Ruth Wimborne and her child. Though the latter is born of her innocence as well. I mostly attribute her innocence to her age and limited experience due to her upbringing. It's something I want her to mature out of.
Jan. 9th, 2016 05:40 pm (UTC)
I guess I would say that Hero is less a character than a kind of story device for exposing the nature of the other characters. She's the idealized thing that shows how selfish, corrupt, and mean the others are.

It's interesting to compare her to Sophy, who is the protagonist of The Grand Sophy. Sophy is less innocent and probably less selfless (is that a double negative?) than Hero. In fact she is very manipulative and conscious of her desire to shake up the status quo, which she finds idiotic. But in shaking up the status quo she has an effect similar to Hero's, and I'd say she also doesn't learn or change much over the course of the story. It's the other characters who learn and change. Maybe that's part of Heyer's formula? And yet the story is completely different than Friday's Child, at least in the particulars, even if in the end it's still a story about people blind to love learning to finally see it clearly.
Jan. 11th, 2016 03:45 am (UTC)
Hero as story device makes loads of sense! Thanks for helping me see beyond my literal, surface interpretation to the deeper story below.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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