Heyer for Beginners — The Foundling (1948)

Another Regency outing — I have a feeling this is mostly where we’ll be hanging out for most of the remaining Heyer titles I have left to discover — and this one is very confusing to me. Not its story, nor its language, nor even its historical detail, though I admit that is often so unfamiliar that I cannot even get it from context and have to go google words and concepts all the time while reading these books.

But what confused me about this one, really, is why I liked it so much. It’s kind of a weird story, and a very weird romance.

Actually, maybe that’s why I liked it.

To begin with, the hero, Gilly, the Duke of Sale, is definitely not what I expect from a leading man in any kind of romantic tale. He’s young, yes, but it is not this fact that makes him so unusual. He’s also very diffident, very obliging, almost downtrodden n the beginning, for all that he is a Duke. Mostly raised by a controlling, but loving, uncle, he has not had a chance, or the temperament, to go his own way.

But at twenty-four, finally, he decides it is time to grow up (and grow a pair), so he sets off on an adventure to help out his young cousin, and ends up getting very involved in the life of the beautiful but simple-minded Belinda, an orphan of questionable origin who is so used to people taking advantage of her, she doesn’t even notice it, or notice that Gilly doesn’t do that. All she really wants is a purple dress.

I get it. A purple dress sounds amazing and I want one immediately. How have I gone this long in my life without owning one? We can all learn a lot from Belinda, I think.

Another really different aspect of this Regency Romance is that for a lot of the book, I really didn’t know where the romance was going. Early on in the story, we meet the very suitable Lady Harriet Presteigne, but the she disappears from the narrative and Gilly goes off to have his coming-of-age adventure (at, I repeat, twenty-four), and it’s hard not to wonder if Heyer is going to just go for it, and have him fall for Belinda’s guileless charms. I was wide-eyed, thinking she was really doubling down on the unequal match plots she’s done so well — most notably in Devil’s Cub and Friday’s Child — and I was way too excited about it.

But no, Lady Harriet comes back. And I wasn’t even disappointed, so clever of a writer is Heyer. And for all that the story does end in a Happily Ever After for our loving couple (a requirement of the romance genre), I would hesitate to call this a romance novel. It’s more General Fiction, even Historical Fiction, but with a romantical bent.

Kind of like The Great Roxhythe, but no one dies at the end.

I really enjoyed it.

Maura Tan was born in Zanzibar, grew up in Morocco and lives in Singapore, where she is currently studying for her third degree in Contemporary Literature—when not writing reviews for Romantic Intentions Quarterly and eating her bodyweight in durian.