Regency Turns 80 — Charity Girl

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

Regency romance author, Mary Moore, freely admits that Charity Girl is not one of her favorites among Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. Nevertheless, today she gives this book its due, comparing and contrasting it to some of Heyer’s other Regency romances. And even admits to a sigh when she came to the end of the story. In addition, for all of you Regency aficionados who particularly enjoy the colorful language of that era, Mary shares some of the delectable phrases which Heyer sprinkled through Charity Girl.

Do you have a favorite Regency cant term? Please feel free to share it in a comment to this article.

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Two dark-haired young women in Regency gowns, one cream and one peach, their heads together as they read a sheet of paper.

Like everyone else, I became a voracious reader in my early teens. Romance novels were at the beginning of their rise and the library had them flying off the shelves. Then one day I found The Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer and I was hooked, on the author and the era. Everything had to be a Regency from then on and when I read the last Heyer book, I discovered that Zebra Publishing (as it was then) had a Regency book club — four new Regencies arrived on my doorstep every month!

I have to admit that Charity Girl was not one of my favorites. Ms. Heyer’s penchant for keeping us guessing is no less present in this story.

Charity, or Cherry as she is called, runs away from a family of second cousins who treat her as nothing more than a second class servant. She is met on the road by Viscount Desford. He cannot be expected to leave such a young girl stranded, so he takes her up and drives her to London where she believes her grandfather to be, and that he will take her in.

Desford was on his way to London after visiting his dear friend, Lady Henrietta, Hetta to him. Both families have expected them to marry for years, but both protested they are too good of friends to ruin it with marriage.

As in Sprig Muslin with Lady Hester and Sir Gareth, we do not know whether he will fall in love with Amanda, the young woman he becomes embroiled with out of chivalry, or realize it has been his friend Lady Hester all along.

In The Corinthian, we know Sir Richard is to be engaged to the staid Mellissa Brandon. Will he discover it is his young charge, Pen, who has stolen his heart?

In Jane Ashton’s review of The Reluctant Widow she explains it perfectly, "True love is a process in a Georgette Heyer book!"

It is precisely because we have already read these other book before Charity Girl, near her very last one, that we cannot decide who Desford will end up with until the end. In this case, he comes to see that only his dear friend, Hetta, will do for him (winning a shout of joy from me) and she, in turn, vows she has loved him for years.

The thing that kept me from enjoying it immensely is that Des spends so little time with Hetta. (Note: forget I said this when you read my thoughts on Beauvallet!) He is busy chasing rabbit trails trying to reconnect Cherry with her grandfather throughout much of the book. And Cherry is with Hetta guarding Cherry’s reputation, and breaking Hetta’s heart as she believes him to have fallen in love with the young girl. However, the ending satisfies and there is still a sigh as there always is when you have read the last page and must close the book.

I could, and maybe should, have ended with this review with the sigh. But I wanted to point out an interesting tidbit I never noticed before. Ms. Heyer’s descriptive language and her use of cant is always amazing. However, about half way through the book I noticed some particularly expressive phrases and began to write each one down. There were more than 65 after I began to notice and not a one was used twice. There was nothing so ordinary and the usual "here and thereians" oh no! Perhaps you will find a few of these interesting: "she’s a rabbit pole," "we shall have him quite rumtitum again," "you rush-buckler," "a diet drink of dock roots," "what a fimble famble," "it was all Lombard Street to an eggshell," "she is looking more demure than a nun’s hen," and so on! I once heard someone say that Ms. Heyer believed others to be copying her work so she began to make up phrases hoping they would use them and embarrass themselves. I utterly believe it now!

Award winning author, Mary Moore, released her third Regency through Love Inspired Historical in January. She began writing in 1995, inspired by Georgette Heyer and other Regency writers, and was first published in 2011 after battling and beating breast cancer. She and her husband are natives of the Washington, DC area, but now live in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia.

Connect with Mary online at:

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  1. There are on-line sourced of Regency cant, though I have not double-checked their bibliography/sources. The Pascal BonEnfant one does use 1700 sources.

    Thanks for the comment that Heyer began to make up some slang, but I wonder because she was always so precise in her research that I find it hard to believe she would inset red herrings in her books. Has anyone verified this?

    1. I don’t know if anyone has specifically researched this, Judith, but I know people have been unable to find any earlier uses of some of her phrases. Later uses abound, of course. πŸ˜‰
      I believe one such phrase is “bit o’ muslin,” though I would not swear to it. After all, even if it isn’t authentic, it SOUNDS authentic.

    2. Good heavens, Judith, I checked out your site, and I could spend MONTHS there! I don’t claim to know whether Ms. Heyer actually made up terms to trip up her copy cats, I was just amazed as I got to the second half of the book and began to notice her delightful phrases – never once using the same! I assume there were as many in the front of the story but I was a little more focused on my job of reviewing and did not notice them. I don’t think it has been verified whether she made up her lovely descriptions, but I believe, as cheeky as she was, I can certainly see her laughing to herself as she inserted “she’s a rabbit pole,” which I have to admit I have no idea what it means!! I Ioved them all.

  2. Rumtitum! I love it. I am determined to use that word every day this week. “Are you over your cold?” “Oh, I’m quite rumtitum again!” “Has the cat eaten?” “His tiny tum is rumtitum, by gum!”

    Mary, I like your analysis of Heyer. I always think of Charity Girl, Sprig Muslin, and The Foundling together, as three novels where there are two potential romantic interests for the hero, and he runs around having adventures and spends lots more time with the young one, and not much with the sensible one, and ends up with the latter. But although the three novels are similar in this way, I’ve never cared for Charity Girl; I like Sprig Muslin (though not as well as many, from what I’ve heard! many love it); and I adore The Foundling.

    As to things Heyer invented, I seem to recall that Jane Aiken Hodge, in her excellent bio of Heyer, claimed that “make a cake of” was invented by her…but I would have to check to make sure.


    1. Cara, you made me laugh out loud! And then I had to see if it was a real word. I went to Webster’s Dictionary and they didn’t have it. I went to and they didn’t have it. Finally, I found it in the Oxford Dictionary. It said, “enthusiastic, if ultimately empty talk……” However, I prefer your usages and I think Ms. Heyer would laugh out loud with us!

      1. “Enthusiastic, if ultimately empty talk”… that’s great, too! Indeed, I now see that many of my characters constantly engage in rumtitum. And if they take after their creator, it’s just between you and me.

        So… “The Rum Tum Tugger enjoyed rumtitum with his tea and buns.” “Tallyho! Great-aunt Rumpole is toddling over for a tiddle of rum, full of rumtitum until her tummy rumbles…”

          1. When our army had carried the fight,
            The rumtitum went on all night;
            I drank ’til I fell
            Down a deep wishing well,
            Where a fairy said “You’re not that bright.”

          2. OK, I’m an O’Leary through my dad and a Callaghan through my mom, any chance we’re related?? πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

            Poor Miss Caroline Wren
            Always demure as a nun’s hen
            They called her a rabbit pole
            when she fell in a vole hole
            And she was never yet heard from again.

  3. I’ll make a case for inventing one’s own Regency expressions, if one is inventive enough to do so. (Sadly, I do not seem to be.) Somebody must have been the very first to voice the ones that exist, so they came from somebody’s expressive mind. Why shouldn’t your characters be equally unique? If someone accuses you of making things up, well, after all, this is fiction, and it’s certainly a more benign accusation that being accused of copying somebody else’s work. A friend of mine who writes western historical romances often has had her characters say delightful and very colorful slang expressions that totally fit in the western voice. So, even if Georgette made up some of hers, well, good for her. And if others copied them with the mistaken assumption they were actual cant speech of the time, who was harmed? I don’t see that it’s any different from using one’s own unique way of putting words together to write any other part of a story.
    I have fallen behind on visiting the blog and reading the various Heyer retrospective articles, so missed out on the chance to remark on some. But thanks for this one, Mary. As has usually been the case for this series, your article fulfilled both the purposes, of reminding readers about some of the stories we may either not have read before or not have visited for some time, and of enlightening us on some aspect of the books we might not have considered.

    1. Judy, as to the earlier blog posts, it’s never too late to comment. Some of us subscribe to the comments on all the Heyer posts, so if anyone says anything, we see it, and can respond if we want!

  4. Judith, I am with you 100%. If she made up her colorful phrases, more power to her; as you said, it is fiction after all! And if it made her laugh when when we all used them later, then even better. I fear “fact checkers” however. Those that say, “No, I don’t think so…..” I once had an content editor question my use of Mr. Weston as the leader of men’s fashion. First of all, I knew what I was talking about, but more importantly, IT IS Fiction! Even if I had made him up, what would have been the harm? I know I am offending those who fight for the accuracy of our genre…but I did not make Mr. Weston up and if Cara wants to make Rumtimum a byword of the Regency genre, I’ll gladly follow suit!!!

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