Friday, October 19, 2018

Friday's Child - Georgette Heyer 1944 book club

For everything I've ever read about, or from, the Second World War nothing has ever made more of an impact than a great aunt quietly mentioning that her first husband was shot down and killed the day after they got married. They must have known that was a possibility, maybe even a likelihood, I can only try and imagine what it does to your outlook on life to think in those terms.

One of the things I really like about Simon and Kaggsy's book clubs are the way they give me an excuse to revisit Georgette Heyer novels, and then the way it makes me consider whatever I'm reading in relation to when it was written.

When I first read Heyer back some 30 odd years ago the image I had in mind was more or less pure Gainsborough, they felt old fashioned enough and I hadn't read particularly widely. Reading 'Friday's Child' now my image is more Gainsborough studios - this one feels like it's a more or less contemporary novel in fancy dress.

I think the reason for this is the youth of the characters. Her heroine is not quite 17, her hero a hardly less youthful 23, the latter especially is unusual for Heyer. The book opens with lord Sherringham making a proposal to the beautiful Isabella Milborne - who with perfect good sense turns him down flat. He goes home, argues with his mother, and swears to marry the first woman he sees.

The first woman he sees is almost 17 year old Hero Wantage, a penniless orphan, who has had a crush on him for years - and so they get married. Just like that. His friends all adore her, but she can't help but get herself into all sorts of trouble that could lead to social ruin. The responsibility is more than anybody is quite prepared for, and inevitably that puts pressure on the marriage. The question is can a relationship entered into with so little thought turn out happily? It's a romance, so the answer isn't in doubt.

Something I have to mention, because it stands out now, is the number of times Sherry threatens to slap Hero, and the couple of times he actually does. I think the intention is to underline how child like both of them are at the outset. It's the sort of physical end you might expect to a children's fight. It's also a reflection of an era when smacking children was not particularly frowned upon, but it's a detail that's ages really badly.

This one had never been a particular favourite of mine, the instant wedding had always seemed a bit far fetched, but in a wartime context it makes sense. Sherry and his friends would also make as much sense, maybe more, pictured in uniform (they would be quite at home in an Angela Thirkell, and not infrequently stray into P. G. Wodehouse territory).

The descriptions of food and clothes mean something else considered against a back drop of rationing as well. Less like filler, and more the kind of details that people might particularly like to imagine. And now I'm not seeing those young people as just tiresomely selfish, instead I'm wondering if Heyer is lamenting the responsibility placed on the younger generation in front of her. All of her young characters rise to the occasion here, it's the older ones who consistently let them down.

I always enjoy reading Heyer, and the more I do the more interesting I consider her. She does a couple of other interesting things in this book regarding the way she presents marriage and the choices around it. She may be famous for her romances, but they're oddly subversive when it comes to the actual romance.


  1. This was the first Heyer I ever read and it led to a lifelong love of her books. I wouldn't list this as one of my favorites but I have a fondness for it because it was the first. It is interesting to look at it in connection with the time in which it was written. I might have to reread it and notice all the food descriptions!

    1. Some of them were unexpected. I love her books, and they generally repay rereading. Some of her attitudes are awkward now, and the smacking references in this one are uncomfortable, but I'm old enough to remember corporal punishment in (my Scottish) primary school and the general concept of sparing the rod spoiling the child. It's not something I agree with, but It doesn't really spoil my enjoyment of the book.

  2. Everything you say is true (especially the threatened smacks) but it is also the funniest of all her books, even or especially upon rereading. And Kitty's easy friendship with Sherry's friends is somewhat unusual for the era but is also what saves her when she urgently needs help. As I have aged, I appreciate the Heyers with more mature heroines but as a teen I had a special place in my heart for Hero.

    1. I found myself cheering on Isabella this time, who had a lot to put up with, and deals with it all so well. I think the Talisman Ring is probably my favourite, but so many of them reveal something unexpected when you recread them that it's hard to say. Something else I like about Heyer is her essentially business like approach to marriage and how she places so much emphasis on respect and friendship in a successful relationship.