Regency Turns 80 — The Foundling

Silhouettes of a man and woman in Regency dress against a background of the number 80

This year, the Beau Monde is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the origins of the Regency romance genre by posting a series of articles on the novels of Georgette Heyer. Yet, today, romance author, Charlotte Russell, tells us about a Heyer novel, The Foundling, which may, or may not, be a "romance" novel. Have you read this novel? Do you agree with Charlotte? Could it be that Georgette Heyer is responsible for originating yet another genre of fiction?

Everyone is welcome to share their views on this novel in comments to this post.

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Woman in a white Regency dress standing at a balcony, holding a flower and looking down at a gentleman.

Embarrassing confession:  Despite being a voracious reader of Regency romances, I had never heard of Georgette Heyer until I began writing Regencies myself. It’s true. While I started out reading the likes of Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy, I soon moved on to the historical romance writers of the late ’80s/early ’90s and didn’t become aware of Ms. Heyer’s writing until after the turn of the century. Needless to say, upon the recommendation of fellow writers, I quickly remedied the gap in my reading history. I have since read more than a half dozen of Heyer’s novels and in due time plan to read them all.

For the 80th anniversary celebration of Heyer’s first Regency, I was thrilled to read her new-to-me romance, The Foundling. However, I cannot in all good conscience label The Foundling a romance as it seemed to me more wonderful coming-of-age madcap adventure.

I will admit I was disappointed in the lack of romance, even by Heyer’s subtle standards. I was even doubtful of our hero, the Duke of Sale or Gilly, after he was described thusly:

He was slightly built, and of rather less than medium height. He had light brown hair, which waved naturally above a countenance which was pleasing without being in any way remarkable. The features were delicate, the colouring rather pale, the eyes, although expressive, and of a fine gray, not sufficiently arresting to catch the attention.

Can you imagine a hero in a current historical romance described as such? The duke is not even cut from the same cloth as other Heyer heroes like Damerel and Ravenscar. He’s young and has been cossetted his whole life because he was not just his late father’s only son but also sickly as a child. I trusted Heyer, though, and Gilly himself after I saw a spark of life in him while dealing with his overbearing uncle in some early scenes. By the halfway point of the story, like all those who encounter the duke, including his kidnapper, I couldn’t help but like and admire him.

Why yes, I did mention a kidnapper. This story has that and so much more: a cow racing backwards, an infamous purple silk dress, a breach of promise suit, blackmail, our hero disguising himself as a commoner, our hero’s cousin accused of murder (oh, Gideon-now there is a man whose story needs to be written), the heroine rescuing the duke from the clutches of the magistrate, and yes the veriest hint of romance with the duke discovering that he does, after all, quite adore the bride his uncle chose for him.

As you can see, The Foundling is a fun story. The Duke of Sale makes his way from being quite uncertain of himself and unable to stand up to either his uncle or his servants to becoming a man who knows who and what he believes in and who will stand up for those things at all costs. This is a story of a young man finding his way and discovering exactly who he is. Indeed cousin Gideon declares, "…his Grace has found himself."

Thus, while I cannot describe The Foundling as a romance, I do believe I’ve just read my first New Adult book!

Charlotte Russell, author of One Wicked Weekend, can be found at:

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  1. A wonderful overview of this novel. Now that you mention it, I don’t suppose that this book is in the realm of normal Historical or Regency Romance fiction. Decided to re-read the story, but can’t find it in the jumble of books in “the library” so, I’m off to AMAZON.

    Thanks for an amazing and entertaining post,
    Elaine Bedigian

    1. Elaine–I hope you enjoy the reread! I do admire Heyer’s way with characters, especially secondary ones. The kidnapper turned butler is just priceless:)

  2. Great point, Charlotte! It is more of a coming of age story. The novel is not one of my particular Heyer favorites, but the scene toward the end where Gilly finally stands up to his uncle (“It is not I who stand in danger of forgetting that I am Ware of Sale!”) is really fun to read.

    1. Mimi–I love that scene where Gilly stands up to his uncle at last! I definitely highlighted that one.

  3. Though The Foundling is not especially romantic, it did spawn several romances with the same general plot line. The Foundling was one of the last Heyer’s I got to in my own reading history of her work. By the time I did, I found the plot remarkably familiar. After cudgeling my brain a bit, I realized why. Over the years, I had read at least three or four other Regencies with almost the same plot and a similar set of characters, but with more overt romance, and sadly, usually less fun and silliness. I have read a few more novels with a similar plot in the years since.

    So, even if The Foundling does not focus closely on the romance between the hero and the heroine, it did inspire other romance authors to write similar tales which are more obviously romantic, after Heyer showed them the way. I shall be generous and assume that their intent was an homage to Georgette Heyer! 😉



    1. Definitely, Kat. I really liked the way Harriett had her own bit of “coming of age” at the end. I really wanted to see more of her because I think she’ll make Gilly a great duchess.

  4. I completely agree that it’s difficult to classify this a romance novel. And unlike the other Heyer novels I’ve read so far this year, this was the first book where I liked the leads without being particularly invested in their coming together. We hear so much today about classification types of heroes, especially Alpha and Beta; I don’t think Sale falls into either of those categories. Maybe he’s a Gamma?

    I absolutely adored, however, what you spot-on described as the “madcap adventures.” Honestly, it was this aspect of the novel that kept me reading. So, much like the Duke of Sale, this novel was eminently likable but won’t be terribly memorable to me.

  5. I can’t believe I neglected to comment on this post back in April! Especially as I really love “The Foundling” (but not the foundling in “The Foundling,” who is delightfully annoying): Sale is such a great character, in such an interesting position, and goes on to have such hilarious adventures!

    Charlotte, I really enjoyed your take on the novel. “New Adult” — we all knew Heyer was a pioneer, didn’t we? And here is more proof. 🙂 And it really is a coming-of-age story, isn’t it?

    I suppose “The Foundling” is a romance if one defines that as story in which two people discover that they are a good life-long pairing, or (alternately) change during the book to become a good life-long pairing…because Sale does change during the book, as does Harriet (a bit) — or perhaps they discover who they are? But of course if one defines a romance as as story that invokes romantic feelings in the reader, it is definitely not that. (Though honestly, I think life married to Sale would be very nice indeed.)

    One thing I particularly enjoyed about this book is that when I first read it, I wasn’t sure who Sale would end up with. (The same thing was true for me in “Sprig Muslin” and “Cotillion”). And I think that’s a sign of Heyer really dealing with character head-on and with conviction…plus, of course, I love the suspense.

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