Charity Girl, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Dana Huff of Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Georgette Heyer’s novel Charity Girl, originally published in 1970, is the story of Ashley Carrington, Viscount Desford’s entanglement with Charity “Cherry” Steane. Desford’s father wishes Desford, who is approaching thirty, had married family friend Henrietta Silverdale, known affectionately as Hetta, but Desford and Hetta insist, rather too much, that they were not in love. At a party where the Lady Bugle schemes to help her daughter catch the eligible Desford, Desford spots Cherry watching the party from upstairs. He learns through conversation that Cherry is a virtual Cinderella in the Bugle household. The next day he sees her walking toward London with a suitcase, determined to run away from her Aunt Bugle. When Desford cannot persuade her to return to her aunt, he takes her to London to find her grandfather, the notoriously nasty Lord Nettlecombe, only to learn Nettlecombe is not in London. Desperate to help Cherry, Desford takes her to his friend Hetta, where the Silverdales take care of Cherry while Desford searches for Lord Nettlecombe. Tongues start wagging—why is Desford so interested in helping the girl? Can it be that he has fallen in love with a charity girl?

I have to confess myself disappointed with this novel. I know many consider one of Georgette Heyer’s strengths her facility with Regency slang, but I found much of it incomprehensible, even with my Kindle dictionary. While the language does lend authenticity to the story, it did curtail my enjoyment. I think most readers will guess the ending by the end of the first chapter, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and the fun is in how the characters will figure out what they already know. Desford spends much of the novel traipsing all over England trying to help locate Cherry’s grandfather. He’s a gentleman to be sure, but he went to an awful lot of trouble to help a girl he barely knows. Cherry is never fully fleshed out as a character. Somewhat dull and submissive, she never emerges as a likeable character in the same way as smart, kind Hetta does. However, Heyer’s most brilliantly drawn character is Cherry’s long-lost father, Wilfred Steane, who shows up late in the novel demanding Desford marry his disgraced daughter. The storyline moves mainly through dialogue, and while it wasn’t a long novel, I had a difficult time maintaining interest in the characters. However, it is a light story with a happy ending and authentic Regency period details for which Heyer is justly regarded.

Charity Girl, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2008)
Trade paperback (282) pages
ISBN: 978-1402213502

Dana Huff teaches high school English and is currently a grad student in Instructional Technology at Virginia Tech. She lives in the Atlanta, Georgia area with her husband Steve and their three children. She started her blog, Much Madness is Divinest Sense, in 2004, and began focusing the blog’s content on books, reading, and book reviews in February, 2008. She also writes about education at huffenglish.com and genealogy at Our Family History. You can also follow her on Twitter as danamhuff.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 18 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of Charity Girl, by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2008) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about the plot or characters, or if you have read it, which is your favorite character or scene by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 19   Aug 31 – Review: Lady of Quality
Day 19   Aug 31 – Essay: Heyer Heroes
Day 19   Aug 31 – Event wrap-up
Day 20   Sept 07 – Giveaway winners announced

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

26 thoughts on “Charity Girl, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. Thanks for the honest review :-) All of them are making it so mush easier in deciding which book I would be most interested in to read first!

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  2. It is unfortunate that you didn’t enjoy the language employed in the story. I sometimes wonder if it makes a difference to enjoyment when you were born in England. I was, and I have never had a problem with the cant broad accents that Heyer often uses in her stories.

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    • It could be that being British would help. I probably appreciate literature written in a Southern dialect more than someone who isn’t familiar with it. On the other hand, I have read a great deal of British fiction (British literature is what I teach) and this is the first time I had trouble.

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  3. I was born in America, but I love Heyer’s Regency language and have always been able to figure out its meaning from context. It’s so much fun!

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  4. Hmmm . . . the story line sounds fantastic, but I had a hard time with the language in The Toll-Gate as well. That makes me want to put Charity Girl a bit further down on my list of future Heyer reads!

    Great honest review!

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  5. Hmmm… written towards the end of her career, I wonder if there were financial concerns that made Heyer rehash familiar themes?

    Thanks for the warning regarding the Regency slang. So far, The Unknown Ajax was the only one the threw me off with it’s Yorkshire cant, otherwise I’ve enjoyed Heyer’s meticulously researched cant.

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  6. I feel partially responsible for your not liking Charity Girl since I suggested it. Please don’t be put off by this one novel Dana. It is not one of the most beloved of her canon. If you have been following the reviews, you might be interested in Frederica, Venetia, The Grand Sophy or Friday’s Child. I hope we have encouraged you to give another novel a try.

    Thanks for your thoughtful review.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann

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  8. I enjoyed this one, even though it wasn’t my favorite. I recommend people try it for themselves. Reading Georgette Heyer’s Regency World will help with the cant, as well as other sites that have lists of her cant and meanings.

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  9. This was definitely not one of my favourites, although I don’t remember having any trouble with the language. This is one where she has rehashed old plots and characters without improving them. Charity is a less engaging Foundling; Hetta is a recycled Lady Hester (Sprig Muslin), etc. I think she ran out of steam at the end.

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  10. Well, although the review is less than encouraging, when told that the plot mainly moves through dialog, and Heyer dialog is always so engaging, that would be a saving grace as far as I am concerned. This may not be a favorite, but I still would want to read it.

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  11. Maybe it’s because we grew up reading Heyer, and I think the first time I read this one I was probably 14, but I’ve never had any problem with the slang terms. Who can’t figure out what “nipfarthing” or “cheeseparing” means! So descriptive. And I love the scene when Desford’s younger brother Simon meets Wilfred Steane/Baron Montescano/whoever. Then, when Hetta steps in and rescues Desford, it’s got perfect lines. This one’s not in my top 10, but it is for my sister Jane.

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  12. This is the only Georgette Heyer novel I’ve ever read because it’s the only one at my local library. *sigh* However, I found it to be quite engaging. The two best characters were Desford and Hetta and were meant to be, I believe. But the scene between Nettlesford and his housekeeper turned wife had me laughing out loud. I’m very excited to find this new (for me) author, and look forward to reading her other books.

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  13. Thanks for the review. This novel does sound like an interesting read, though I agree with you that the use of the slang may limit my own enjoyment of the novel too.

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  14. Appreciate your honest review, Dana: I always like it when someone has the courage to critique a certain book even of a beloved author. Do try “Friday’s Child” or “Cotillion.” There’s some slang, but if you’ve read a sizable amount of British fiction, you should be able to make your way through.

    How’d you feel about Desford? I have heard that while this is not one of Heyer’s greatest efforts, the hero is quite engaging.

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  15. I agree that Charity Girl is NOT one of Heyer’s best. Hetta the heroine is given very little impartance compared to Cherry and it took me a while to realize who the heroine was. Like another poster said Hetta was a recycled and watered down version of Lady Hester in Sprig Muslin which I loved. Desford was OK, but I wish he had spent more time with Hetta than with Charity or time spent in chasing down her grandfather which is half the novel.

    If you are picking first Heyer novel, don’t pick this, you won’t finish. Pick Fredricka or The Grand Sophy for strong heroines. If you like the Mark I type heroes definitely go for These Old Shades, Duke of Avon in unbeatable. You can never go wrong with these books.

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  16. I’m afraid I have to agree with Aprilfool and Vidya, this is defintely one of the lesser Heyers, but the writer was at the end of her life, sick and tired, so an unsuccesful recycling was to be expected. Maybe for those who had not read The Founding, the one to which Charity Girl is more directly related, Sprig Muslin and The Corinthian, this may look interesting. But having read all those others, this is disappointing.

    I’m sorry you had difficulty with the language, Dana, I do not know what could have been the matter for you. IIRC this one is not among those which should present some linguistic challenges for beginners (Sherry’s tiger’s slang in Friday’s Child might be one and in The Unknown Ajax’s review there was comments on the Yorkshire dialect, and sometimes one needs to get used to the language of some of the Georgians). BTW I am not a native English speaker.

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  17. I am a well-educated person, a high school English teacher, and consider myself to be an intelligent and well-read person. This is the first book I have ever read with Regency slang, and I did find some examples of language I couldn’t figure out in context. I can actually understand Yorkshire and Scots dialect in reading, but I had difficulty with some of the language in this book. I don’t believe that having difficulty with the Regency slang used means that there is something the matter with my reading comprehension skills.

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  18. This is definitely one of my third tier Heyers, as well. Mind you, her third-tier books are still better than the majority of the other Regency romances out there!

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  19. This is the only Heyer where I ever stopped reading and didn’t pick it up again. Granted, it was somewhat due to the fact that I had exams but despite the fact that I renewed it several times from the library I never picked it up again. However, I really do want to give it another chance because a mediocre Heyer novel is much better than a lot of other works out there.

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  20. I really appreciate the honest review and coming from an English teacher, to admit that the Regency cant used was difficult at times. This does make me feel a bit insecure about reading Heyer. I wonder since Dana Huff mentions in her review that this is dialogue driven if that means Heyer used a larger amount of Regency language in comparison to her other books. This certainly would be one to leave until after I am more comfortable with the slang. I was really hoping that Jennifer Kloester’s Heyer reference book would contain definitions of some of these terms, just to make things a little easier for we newbies.

    Thanks Dana, for a very intriguing review!

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    • Dawn, I wouldn’t trust my word alone. I have nothing to compare it to as this is the only Heyer I’ve read. A lot of other folks seemed to have no trouble with it at all, and I suspect with more exposure, I wouldn’t either.

      Trish, I thought Wilfred Steane was an interesting character. Not quite the fully rounded Count Fosco of The Woman in White, but along those lines.

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