The Foundling (by Georgette Heyer)

I have a large collection of Georgette Heyer’s historical novels, and re-read most of them periodically. The Regency era ones are my comfort reading of choice, so it was with the anticipation of a few relaxing hours that I picked up ‘The Foundling’ a few days ago. I last read it in 2007, and had very little recollection of the plot.

The main protagonist in this novel is the Duke of Sale, a young man of 24 known to his family and friends as Gilly. He was a sickly child, orphaned at birth, and has been brought up by his uncle. Gilly is the owner of many estates and vast wealth, but is a quiet, unassuming man who sometimes wonders what it would be like to be an ordinary person, unencumbered by his valet, and groom, and countless other well-wishers.

His cousin, a university student, confides in Gilly that he is in big trouble. Gilly sees this as a way to escape his life of luxury for a few days, and also to see if he can solve the problem….

The majority of the story then charts the often dramatic and exciting adventures that befall Gilly once he sets out on his own. He meets a runaway teenager and temporarily adopts him, not realising quite what mischief the boy will get involved in. He meets an extremely beautiful girl with nothing much in her mind other than the wish for a ring on her finger and a purple gown.

He meets some most unpleasant villains too… and yet, this is Heyer, so there’s a vein of humour running throughout. It’s not always obvious, and if I hadn’t been so sure it would all end well I might have found some of the book rather tense reading. But Gilly is resourceful, as well as diplomatic, with the air of a high-class gentleman even though he is travelling incognito.

I was struck, as I read, by the similarities with the novel ‘Charity Girl’, and also ‘The Corninthian’, both of which (if memory serves) also involve a young man running away from his family for a while. Gilly is betrothed to a childhood friend called Harriet, and that reminded me forcefully of a very similar relationship in ‘Charity Girl’. Not that it much matters; with so many novels Heyer was bound to re-use some of her plotting and characters. ‘The Foundling’ was in fact one of her earliest novels, so the others were based on this rather than the other way around.

There’s a tad too much slang for my tastes, particularly as used by the villains of the piece. I’ve been reading Heyer novels for long enough that I get the gist of what’s said in these exchanges, but they could be a bit daunting for new readers.

The characterisation is excellent, as with most of this author's books. I loved the quiet Gilly and the gradual development of his confidence. He becomes more assertive, yet in a way that is consistent with his gentle and generally diplomatic self.

The plotting of this book is superb, one incident following another in unexpected ways. Perhaps far-fetched at times, but no less enjoyable for being unrealistic in places. I recalled some of the story, as I read it, and the eventual resolution. But I had entirely forgotten most of the scenes along the way.

All in all, I enjoyed this book very much.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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