Looking for Madcap Adventures With An Unlikely Hero?

May 2nd, 2020
Penny Hampson

I’m devouring Georgette Heyer’s books at the moment. They are definitely my go-to reads during stressful times, whisking me away to a world where the worst that can happen is that no-one asks the heroine for a dance at Almack’s Assembly Rooms.

One book I’ve recently re-read is The Foundling – not a typical Heyer romance. In fact, I’d argue that it isn’t really a romance at all, more like a coming-of-age story, but charming nonetheless.

Cover of The Foundling

Adolphus (known as Gilly to his friends), is not your typical hero either. He’s certainly not an alpha male, quite the opposite, in fact. He’s an aristocrat – a duke no less, and exceedingly wealthy. Orphaned shortly after birth, Gilly has been brought up by his uncle, and smothered with care and attention. Here, Heyer goes off-trope, for Gilly’s uncle is not of the wicked variety. Gilly has been cossetted, coddled, and protected, and any effort he has made to exert his will has been thwarted by his kindly guardians.

Gilly’s best friend is his cousin, Gideon, a man whom Gilly envies for his freedom. Despite the fact that it is Gideon’s father who rules over Gilly’s life with a firm but benevolent hand, even to the neglect of his own son, there is no resentment between the pair. Heyer cleverly uses Gideon to highlight the differences between our unlikely hero, the docile, shy, and physically insignificant Gilly, and the tall, powerfully built man-of-action Gideon.

Gilly’s transformation comes about when he decides to help Matt, another cousin, out of a fix. Evading his retinue of servants, Gilly escapes to deal with matters on his own. On his travels he encounters a particularly bumptious runaway schoolboy, who continually embroils Gilly in scrapes, and a ravishing, but empty-headed orphan, who will follow any gentleman who promises her a purple dress. I hasten to add that Gilly’s intentions towards her are entirely honourable, he wishes only to protect her from her unwise impulses, and restore her to someone who will care for her.

It is with these characters that Heyer showcases her humour, with scenes so farcical that they are laugh out loud funny. Another element is Heyer’s knowledge of cant — if you wish to learn about Regency slang read this book. You’ll also meet the villain you’ll love despite his villainy — the smooth-talking Mr Liversedge. If ever a character could talk his way out of trouble it is this chap. One can sense the joy Heyer must have felt when she created him, he’s up there with the best of comic villains.

Romance is a very small part of this book. At the beginning of the story, Gilly learns that he is betrothed to Harriet, another shy character. What starts as an uncertain and lukewarm relationship develops subtly into something much more. Both characters discover their own and each other’s hidden depths, and as it is Harriet who finally helps Gilly when he needs it most, it is inevitable that they should both end up in love.

If you’re looking for something different, with memorable characters, zany situations, a convoluted plot, and importantly, a happy resolution for all concerned, I recommend The Foundling.