October 5, 2011

A Lovely (and Funny) Regency Romance

I've mentioned before that I really love Georgette Heyer's books. She wrote about 40 regency romances, which I read in middle and high school. At that point I picked out my favorites and I've read those 15-20 multiple times. But last year I realized that it'd been about a decade since I'd read the "not-as-good" ones, so I've been rereading those over the last few months, and discovering with happiness just how enjoyable even a "not-as-good" Heyer is.

Charity Girl tells the story of Ashley Carrington, Viscount Desford, known as Des to his family and friends. Desford is handsome, rich, and inexplicably single, much to the irritation of his father, the Earl of Wroxton. Wroxton wants an heir in the next generation, and is still irritated with Desford for refusing to marry their neighbor, Miss Henrietta Silverdale, nine years earlier.

Des points out that Hetta is his best friend, but that all there is between them is friendship, no romance. (Famous last words!) He then sets off to visit family in another part of England, where he coincidentally encounters Miss Cherry Steane running away from her aunt's house. Cherry has no home of her own, because her ne'er-do-well father abandoned her and is presumed dead. Her aunt provided Cherry with lodging only in exchange for the performance of menial tasks better suited to a servant.

Chivalrous by nature, Desford can't just leave Cherry to fend for herself, so he drives her to Henrietta's house while he sets off in search of her only known relative -- the irascible Lord Nettlecombe. Not unnaturally, tongues in the neighborhood start wagging about Desford's possible relationship with Cherry, and Hetta herself starts to wonder just what Desford might see in Cherry.

Misunderstandings abound, hilarious minor characters including both Des and Hetta's younger brothers complicate the situation, and then things get truly tangled up when Cherry's disreputable father reappears. Will Desford and Henrietta find true love? Or will Des marry Cherry while Hetta finds comfort in the arms of a neighbor?

As I mentioned, this isn't one of my very favorite Heyers, but it's still lovely -- a funny, historically accurate, enjoyable romance. There are a few slightly grating passages where Desford's barques of frailty (mistresses) are lightly mentioned as no big deal, but then everyone is horrified that Cherry "compromised" herself by running away and being alone with Desford. But I think Heyer has quite truthfully portrayed the ridiculous double standards of high society in the Regency -- when men could have as many affairs as they wanted, but women had to remain completely pure and chaperoned if they wanted to achieve a respectable marriage.

Rating: 3.7 out of 5
Should I recommend this to my grandma? Definitely. She'll love it!

Have you read Georgette Heyer? Who is your favorite romance author? Aren't you glad that unmarried women don't have to be constantly chaperoned anymore?

Full disclosure: the book image and title are Amazon affiliate links.