The Foundling: Georgette Heyer book thread no. 15

(55 Posts)
MooncupGoddess Thu 03-Jan-13 19:54:16

The Foundling is rather an oddity amongst GH's Regency romances - in that it is barely a romance at all. The hero proposes to the heroine on the orders of his uncle in about chapter 3, and we then see nothing more of the heroine until the final section of the novel, in which she shows support to him by offering to buy some substandard hats. This makes him recognise her worth and they indulge in a bit of affectionate chitchat. Damerel and Venetia it isn't - though the depiction of Gilly and Harriet's relationship is touchingly realistic.

In some ways The Foundling is a reworking of The Corinthian: rich young man is ordered to propose to suitable family connection, rebels against his ordered life and controlling family and goes off on an adventure. Just like Richard Wyndham, Gilly encounters various criminal low lives whom he thwarts, and a couple of silly young things whom he helps. I find GH's comedy criminals rather irritating - Liversedge has his moments (especially at the end when he turns out to have immaculate butlering skills) but it's not very believable that he would offer to do away with Gilly for payment from his cousin Gideon, and even though Gilly is apparently at risk of his life at one point the reader never doubts he will come through.

Tom Mamble is fun - one of GH's many spirited adolescent boys - but Belinda is so airheaded as to be utterly dull, and the subplot (pinched wholesale from Emma) about her devotion to a taciturn farmer is rather unconvincing. Similarly, Gilly's cousin Matt is a cardboard cutout Silly Young Man, and Harriet and her oppressive parents feel very familiar.

The redeeming feature of The Foundling, however (for me anyway), is Gilly (always referred to by his Christian name rather than his title, unlike other noble heroes) himself. Quite unlike most GH heroes (except perhaps Adam in A Civil Contract), he is young, short, skinny and no more than nice-looking. His kind, shy nature makes it very hard for him to stand up to his numerous well-meaning but overbearing relatives and retainers and the core of the novel is his quest to become a proper grown-up and assert his own opinions and boundaries. His character develops convincingly throughout the novel, whose climax is not The Clinch but the point at which Gilly finally tells his Uncle Lionel to shut up and let him make his own decisions for once. It's very reminiscent of those fantastic MN threads where the OP is dreadfully put upon by her dominating mother/ neighbour/SIL and after much encouragement finally finds her backbone and tells them where to go.

The Foundling will never be one of my favourite of GH's works - and I suspect GH recognised its weaknesses, which is why she reworked the plot in the (for me) more successful Sprig Muslin. But thinking of Gilly and his triumphs still makes me feel all warm inside.

Marking place. But he is often "the Duke", not always Gilly!

MooncupGoddess Thu 03-Jan-13 20:38:04

Oh drat - I misremembered! That's what comes of not having the copy beside me. He's never Sale, though, is he (cf Alverstoke, Damerel, Worth, Avon etc etc)?

LeonieDeSainteVire Thu 03-Jan-13 20:41:14

Well, this one has a special place for me because it was the first GH I attempted to read - when I was about 9! For some reason it was left on the shelves in my bedroom and as I was the sort of child who would read anything I gave it a go, and found it utterly bewildering. I only read as far as the proposal IIRC but I certainly tried it several times and just didn't understand it at all. So those early chapters always make me smile!

I agree this book is neither a romance nor an adventure story, though it has those elements, it is the story of Gilly discovering himself. And I think GH draws him and his growth very convincingly, I really like Gilly, he's so nice without being wet and I find his family convincing too, all those strong willed, well built people endless concerned with him but ultimately dominating him, and of course he finally learns to assert himself without being aggressive. I find him much more human than many of her heroes and so more likeable but I do not fall in love with him and I would be surprised if this was very popular when it was written.

Belinda is very unbelievable but in the end it's not about her, she's just a plot device. And I do think the murder element is too lightly treated, as it is in other novels, genuine intent to kill another human has no place in a light romance which I think GH recognised, and yet she keeps including it confused

LeonieDeSainteVire Mon 07-Jan-13 16:39:56

Did I kill the thread! Come on other GH fans, where are you?

Here but I find The Foundling a bit hmm. I only have it because I HAD to have copies of all GH's books and am a rabid completer-finisher.

I struggle to say why - mortifyingly, it may well be precisely because the hero & heroine are quite so meek and mild. I read GH for Damerel not Gilly. I now realise quite how shallow I am.

The comedy is good in places but overall a bit blunt-edged and lacking her usual wit. I think she finds it hard to be funny with characters she doesn't actually like that much and very few of them have any redeeming qualities. Belinda actually makes my skin itch.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Mon 07-Jan-13 20:45:06

Having read it and waited keenly for the thread, I find everyone's been so cogent that I have little left to say.

I love Gilly, who is totally unlike any other Heyer hero, and his relationship with his cousin; Heyer is always good on male friendships. Dashing cousin is loads of fun all round actually, a sort of Flashheart-y chap. I love Harriet's genuine bafflement when asked if she doesn't prefer him to Gilly.

I like Belinda actually - but I draw the line at Tom Mamble, whose plot is just plain silly.

But all in all it suffers from simply not being as good as Sprig Muslim, whilst having exactly the same plot. The one thing that did occur to me that distinguishes the two is that SM has that long stretch in the inn where Gareth recuperates, whereas this one takes place over a ludicrously short period of time, like Reluctant Widow. I do tend to prefer the Heyers which spread themselves out in time a bit - I think it gives the romance a bit more heft (I make an exception for Devil's Cub, because that's just plain bonkers). All the Austens take place over months and years, which is far more realistic than bundling seven plots into a period of two weeks . And I actively enjoy Heyer's handling of the passing of time, of weeks of balls, excursions and ridottos, and the gradual changing of feelings. What do you lot reckon?

LeonieDeSainteVire Mon 07-Jan-13 22:17:46

Oh i agree about the passage of time. It wouldn't hurt most of them to be stretched out a little unless is key to the plot, eg in Venetia the glorious autumn weather is part of creating the 'fairytale' and of course it can't last. I think it was The Corinthian where I was slightly taken aback at the end when one of the characters refers to the fact that the whole story has taken place over a few days hmm which is another reason why A civil Contract is so good, the characters have long enough to reasonably have developed changes in their feelings towards each other.

MooncupGoddess Tue 08-Jan-13 13:41:31

Yes, I agree Isabella - my favourites are Frederica, Civil Contract, Arabella, The Grand Sophy etc where the relationships have a chance to develop naturally over time. This is also why The Tollgate (for instance) feels rather forced and OTT.

Good point about Sprig Muslin - I really like the section where they are all just hanging out at the inn. It feels natural in a way that The Foundling just doesn't.

sarahtigh Wed 09-Jan-13 10:00:43

Gilly has actually known Harriet all his life, when Uncle Lionel first suggests match Gilly thinks Harriet is just fine but only known her as friend just has vague idea of completely unknown female and falling in love, Harriet told by her stupid mother that men do not like shows of affectation from wives, being in love is stupid etc and they both find out actually their parents/guardians have been spouting rubbish

I like Sprig Muslin as I think Hester is great also like Miles and abigails relationship, Arabella is good too

And mooncup The Tollgate is another of her mysteries.

I am liking this theory that her determination to shoe-horn in her mysteries is to the detriment of her writing - and that she is best with allowing relationships to develop within the natural milieu rather than within a melodrama.

My favourites list looks much like yours mooncup and I'd add Devil's Cub to it although its more sensational, it still charts the change and development of characters over time. Sylvester too might fall into the same category.

I've nearly finished, so am bumping.

I've just got to the bit where Sale (who incidentally is addressed as such only by Uncle Lionel and The Dowager) realises that Mr Mudgeley has been under his nose all the time.

A silly, forgettable romp. It could be nobody's favourite, although I have been enjoying it. I just prefer the domineering heroes, not the affable young men (Freddie in Cotillion rings a bell) and there are too many minor characters, so it isn't neat enough.

thewhistler Thu 10-Jan-13 23:43:45

Not one of my favourites.

I do like Harriet, because she has pride and pluck despite her innate sweetness and meekness. but like others I prefer Hester who is both short sighted (yes!) And has a gsoh.

I get fed up with Gilly until he tells Uncle Lionel off, and I don't find his exit from The Bird in Hand credible.

Gideon I do like. I want him to be the hero. Less for his height as his combination of niceness and activity.

I find it slightly more interesting than I might in that along with Cotillion and Friday's Child and Black Sheep it deals with prostitution, and you can completely see how Olivia, Belinda, and indeed Sophia will end up if not rescued. But Belinda is sooo stupid I get put off.

I reread it fairly recently and wondered whether to again in preparation for this thread, but decided against.

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 11-Jan-13 08:21:31

I just prefer the domineering heroes

Is this the problem? Earlier on in these thread we had a bit of a moan about the sexist attitude of some of the men, 'knowing' what the women want better than they do etc hmm and yet when we read the books is it fair to say most readers actually warm to/prefer the capable, dominant (and older) men to the diffident, quieter (and younger) men.

Discuss! grin

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 11-Jan-13 08:22:08

Oh god, but don't report me to the feminist boards!

No, I think we are safe from feminist theory here!

It's been mooted that part of the success of Fifty Shades is a national female rejection of having to be capable and self-reliant all the time. It isn't so much a rejection of feminism itself as a more general fear of responsibility and wish for comfort.

In the context of historical fiction, we are looking through two lenses - between us and Heyer, and between Heyer and the action. There are six decades in the first lens, and six socially and politically tumultuous decades at that.

Heyer's heroines legally give up everything when they marry - property and freedom over even their own bodies. Sexual assault crimes are crimes of property, not against the person. Violence and sexual assault within marriage may not have been commonplace but they were certainly not illegal. Marital rape doesn't exist as a legal concept until the 1990s in this country and 50/200 years ago there was certainly more of an idea of a married man's entitlement to marital relations being natural and inviolate.

In TCM (Heyer's version, not the 21C sanitised audiobook edit) Rule's refusal to beat Horatia despite her expectation, and the recommendations of others, and even though we know he isn't against using violence in other quarters (he threatens Crosby as well as Lethbridge) is held up as an example of his unusual self-control. In this kind of context we can draw parallels with the Relationships board where women still feel grateful that their husbands ever do any housework or childcare, since the societal expectation absolves men of any responsibility for "women's work".

Maybe some women prefer dominant/domineering men, and those are also the kind of women who like historical fiction. It must surely be self-selecting. Anyone who was really turned off by a very patriarchical view of the world would hate these books, no?

MooncupGoddess Fri 11-Jan-13 13:24:40

Hmm. I am a feminist and I much prefer the nicer heroes - I'd take lovely Hugo Darracott or Adam Lynton over ghastly Ivo Rotherham any day. I find dominant, arrogant men a dreadful turn-off, though I like the heroes who start off being rather up themselves but are brought down to earth by the heroines (e.g. Mr Beaumaris). Or those who have a masterful turn when necessary (e.g. Miles Calverleigh).

Competence and confidence are attractive in a man (both real life and in GH!), which is why Anthea finally falls for Hugo after he masterfully solves the crisis at the end of The Unknown Ajax, and Kitty falls for Freddy after he unexpectedly sorts out Dolph's wedding. Sherry does nothing for me as he's so young and feckless (and Vidal annoys the hell out of me with all that pouting and stropping).

I'd also argue that a lot of GH's heroines are pretty impressive in their own right - Sophy could sort out the post-Napoleonic European settlement before breakfast if she had to, Venetia runs an estate very competently and Frederica manages her four excitable younger siblings and the family finances. They're not pretty, giggly swooners by any means.

So, although reading GH through a rigorous radical feminism lens probably wouldn't be much fun, I would argue very strongly that her post-1930ish novels are not at all anti-feminist... and indeed, that they are much better on men, women and gender relations than the vast majority of historical fiction.

thewhistler Fri 11-Jan-13 14:51:21

Just to go back to TCM, I'm never convinced that the beating is suggestion is anything more than a tease. His threat to carry her upstairs is real, as Horry recognises.

I like the heroes who may be arrogant uncaring selfish swines to begin with but develop their softer side and recognise the strengths of their future wives. Avon is a classic. Not a nice man to begin with, but very changed by the end, as Davenant realises, something like " you have learned to love someone more than yourself". Damerel ditto, the entrancing picture of Alverstoke looking after Felix and not leaving him, even though in later years he dramatises his discomfort. Vidal not quite so satisfactory but being reduced to small boy status and later realising that the only thing he can do for Mary is to marry her, and then to set her free if she wants.

Silvester is a classic but I find the arguments too wearing to read about, although better than Rotherham.

But the combination of wealth, power, intelligence, strength of character, and development if niceness is an aphrodisiac for me. Freddy is too stupid, and his cousin Jack not nice enough. I'd prefer Freddy's father to be the hero.

Adam is a fine portrait but, oh, my heart bleeds for Jenny. I don't actually find Gareth Ludlow v attractive; he was emotionally stupid not to have realised how awful Clarissa was going to be, and although his understanding of Hester increases, she is so far ahead of him the whole time I don't think he deserves her.

Beaumaris and Charles are people who learn the error of their ways, and GH points this out quite clearly with transformation scenes. I never feel Worth does, perhaps that's why I don't like him so much now, though as an adolescent I did.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Fri 11-Jan-13 15:47:36

To those I'd add my favourites, Anthony Fanshawe in The Masqueraders, Charles Audley in Infamous Army and (of course) George Wrotham in Friday's Child.

All true.

My point is that Heyer as a mid C20 wife is in an odd position as a famous/successful woman in her own right. Her view of her characters is socially if not chronologically almost as far removed as we are from her - she was writing before my university awarded degrees to women at all, for example. That's what I meant about lenses.

And I grant you that her heroes and heroines are very modern compared to Austen's or the Brontes'. Even the ones who do conform to old-fashioned stereotypes do so somewhat ironically or unwillingly.

thewhistler Sat 12-Jan-13 15:57:16

Completely agree, of course.

But I suspect that her lens was closer than the equivalent for us; society has changed so extraordinarily since the pill.

I was rereading Sara Maitland's book on silence, where she says in effect the expectations of young women of her social class and era were to be articulate and intelligent, social and marry well.

Heyer would I think recognise all of those for her heroines; she has no time for the stupid such as Lydia Daubeny. But outside a Mills and Boon that is laughable now, or at any rate career would come into it.

And I agree how shocking it is how late one university gave degrees to women and also how badly that same university behaved when it came to a woman (not) becoming senior wrangler.

In all fairness it was better by the time I arrived this century. But men still outnumbered women two to one at my college (although that has its advantages shock grin ).

MooncupGoddess Sat 12-Jan-13 16:13:38

My college admitted women a full, er, twelve years before I started studying there. One of the senior fellows was so opposed to the decision that he never dined in college again.

Agree re attitudes of GH's time - though of course GH bucked the trend rather, since she supported her family for several years as her husband arsed up various business endeavours, until finally retraining as a barrister.

Question: if MrGH was such a feeble article (I have scant sympathy for men who can't knuckle down), perhaps she was drawn to write strong men as an escape from having to be the breadwinner/clever one/successful one?

::crap amateur psychologist::

MooncupGoddess Sat 12-Jan-13 17:05:07

Ooh, good theory Horatia. Especially as the most dominant heroes (Worth, Rule, Vidal, Ravenscar) were written in the 1920s/early 30s when Ronald was being useless, as opposed to later periods when he'd got his shit together.

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