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 likable 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
Trade paperback (282) pages
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.