Continuing to work through my library’s selection of Heyer novels, I came home last Saturday with both her earliest book and one of her last. The first one I decided to read was Charity Girl, which was published in 1970, towards the end of Heyer’s career. It doesn’t seem to be one of her more popular Regency romances; I’ve seen other readers describe it as a recycling of Sprig Muslin and The Foundling, but that wasn’t a problem for me as I haven’t read either of those yet. While I did find a lot to enjoy, though, I would agree that this isn’t one of her best.
The hero of Charity Girl is Viscount Desford who, as the novel opens, is being berated by his father for not marrying his childhood friend, Henrietta Silverdale, and providing him with grandchildren. Desford and Hetta have been insisting for years that, although they are the best of friends, they are not in love – and nothing has changed now that they are both in their late twenties. Following this uncomfortable interview with his father, Desford goes to visit family and ends up attending a party at which he meets a vulnerable young girl called Charity – or Cherry – Steane.
Cherry’s mother is dead and her father has abandoned her, leaving her at the mercy of an aunt and cousins who treat her like a servant. The next day, Desford encounters Cherry walking along the road to London with a suitcase, determined that she is running away from her aunt. Unable to persuade her to go back, Desford accompanies her to London to find her grandfather, Lord Nettlecombe. However, the old man is away from home, so Desford turns to Hetta Silverdale for help. Cherry goes to stay with the Silverdales while he continues to look for her grandfather and absent father, but people soon begin to talk – why is Desford so concerned for Cherry’s welfare? Has he fallen in love at last?
I found Charity Girl an entertaining read, as have been all of the Heyer novels I’ve read, with plenty of the witty dialogue, peppered with Regency slang, which I love in her work. There are some funny scenes too, especially whenever one of Cherry’s disreputable family members makes an appearance. Despite this, though, Charity Girl has not become a favourite Heyer. I liked Desford, but he isn’t a particularly strong or memorable hero, and instead of having so much focus on his search for Cherry’s family, I would have preferred more time spent on his interactions with Cherry and Hetta. I couldn’t tell, at first, which of them was going to be his love interest and, when it eventually became clear, I didn’t feel that I’d seen enough of them on the page together.
Still, I didn’t think this was a bad book at all, so I don’t want to sound too negative about it. I have just started to read the other Heyer novel on my library pile – The Black Moth – and am so far finding it very different from this one!