Sunday, 11 September 2005

Heyeroines in need of a slap

3. Hero Wantage (Friday's Child)

"Not Hero?" I hear you say. "Not dear, sweet little Kitten? What has she ever done to harm you?" The short answer is that she is the epitome of icky-sweet gooeyness. The long answer, well, it's like this...

We first meet Hero in her natural element, sitting on a roadside wall in somebody else's dress, sobbing her heart out in an affecting manner that she must know is just what is needed to catch the attention of any passing Viscount. Of course we know that she is a charity girl, who owes pretty much everything she has to her long-suffering cousin Jane, who has three daughters of her own to bring up. Is she grateful? Not a bit of it. Not only does she appear to have led on one of her young cousins, Edwin, but she has also somehow managed to acquire some very expensive tastes. She also knows how to satisfy them. Her first move on seeing Viscount Sheringham is to blackmail him by threatening to tell the truth to the incomparable Isabella Milborne about Sheringham's liaisons with a dancing girl. Once she has her claws in him, Hero presses home her advantage.

Hero is nauseatingly twee about what she wants from marriage - going to parties and balls, and not being scolded. She is, of course, being utterly disingenuous. Not a word is said about financial matters. Her true colours are revealed on her wedding day: she is late for the ceremony because she has been out shopping, and not many pages latter we find her helping herself to large quantities of green peas. It was a taste for green peas that led Lady Bellingham to her ruin (Faro's Daughter). It is clear that Hero is cut from the same cloth, and it isn't sprig muslin.

A single-minded pursuit of wealth might be considered an almost admirable characteristic, but only if it is accompanied by some degree of taste. Hero seems to have none. Unsuitable dresses, hideous clocks and canaries are just the beginning. Faced with all the cultural delights of Regency London, what does Hero want? The Fireproof Woman washing her hands in boiling oil, a theatrical work called The Hall of Death, or Who's the Murderer? (would anybody with taste go for one of these long titles with an "or" in the middle?)

Only lack of breeding can explain Hero's reckless pursuit of her husband's friends. Scarcely a day seems to go by without her turning up on the doorstep of Gil, or Ferdy, or Lord Wrotham. The only surprising thing about their decision to get rid of her is that they chose to send her to Bath rather than Bedlam. Even in Bath, where standards of morality are somewhat lower than in London, she still manages to be shocking, running off with one man, having him stabbed, and then finally talking about sex in the public parlour of some remote rural coaching inn.

I am sure that, had she realised what a transformation lay ahead for Hero, from poor charity girl who had never had so much as a reticule to call her own, to tasteless, vulgar hoyden, Cousin Jane would not have limited herself to administering this particular Kitten a slap. She would quite properly have tied her up in a sack and dropped her into the river.

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Mandy said...

Sex and shopping? I don't remember Friday's Child being a precursor to Sex and the City, but it's one Heyer I often start and never really manage to finish.

Not that I have a problem with poverty stricken heroines marrying rich men and buying every tacky thing their kittenish hearts desire (what was that about icky sweet goo?), but it seems like a less enjoyable version of Charity Girl.

I suspect the difference between a male and female readership is that the former can't appreciate the pleasures of hideous clocks and canaries, whilst the latter can empathise fully with the desire to buy useless objects (unless I am unusually shallow, which might well be the case.)

sherryfair said...

I've been trying to read "Charity Girl," as part of a "back to Heyer" purist resolution, and I have been chastising myself for failing to enjoy it. An aside: Have you counted the number of exclamation points that appear in the dialogue in the first two chapters? No, of course, you haven't. Such vehemence in making remarks is rather frightening to me. Also, I do not like heroine descriptions that use the term "childlike" with great approbation. I have set this book aside firmly and I am going to try some other Heyer in its place.

pam cleaver said...

This is an ourageous take-down of Hero, one of my fave Heyer heroines. It is Sherry you should be castigating orm perhaps, Isabella.

Also, this is one of the Heyer's that always makes me laugh out loud when we get to the Nemesis incident.

Stephen said...

Pam - if I didn't love the books so much I wouldn't write about them. The web is full of people saying lovely things about Hero, Serena etc. I just thought that there was room for a bit of balance. :-)

I love the Nemesis bit too.

A Heyerite said...

Hero,one of my favourite Heyer's heroines! I found your blog through the Heyer List. Do I discover a touch of Heyer in your writings? Where I live is 8 hours ahead of your time. Thanks for keeping me awake in the wee hours of the morning

A Heyerite said...

Oh Yes, you left out Arabella!

Tallie Rose said...

I thought she was merely young and grossly naive- it's aso a testament to Cousin Jane's awful bringing up that she acts so impulsively and thoughtlessly. Being suppressed and thwarted throughout her life I'm not surprised she turned so readily to compulsive consumerism.
As to her 'maudlin' taste over culture, personally I rather enjoy watching melodramatic pap such as The Appretice more than the BBC Proms.

I also thought the canary was cool.

I think I'm mostly defending her because my friend said recently I remind her very much of Hero! And because, reportedly, the book was Heyer's favourite. But it's true, the book only really stars getting really good in the last three chapters or so.

louiseculmer said...

The clock and the canary were presents, i thought. and her theatrical tastes fairly normal for her era. hero is a bit of an idiot, but then so is Sherry. The bath part is quite ridiculous though.