When the young hero of this book, Lord Sherry, offers marriage to the beautiful Miss Milborne, she refuses his suit. In a fit of pique and plagued by debts – he can’t gain control of his inheritance unless he is married – Sherry offers for Hero, a seventeen-year-old poor cousin of his neighbors. He had known her all his life and although he doesn’t love her he is fond of her, while Hero adores him. For her, this marriage is a solution to all her problems.
But being a married lady and suddenly belonging to the ton doesn’t cure Hero of her innocence and naivety. Never prepared by her cousin to enter the Polite World, she gets into one scrape after another out of ignorance, mostly by following Sherry’s example. Now the reckless Sherry has to think for two and keep in mind all the unspoken rules of propriety, if he is to extricate Hero from all the predicaments she is falling into.
This comedy of manners and characters is frilly and empty-headed but it’s a pleasure to read. We see Hero growing from an artless girl to a woman in love, and Sherry maturing almost against his will. Their adventures are as small as their intellects, as their most abiding fear is being considered ‘bookish’, but their emotional development is deep and recognizable. We have all been there at one point or another in our lives.
Heyer is the only writer I know who makes a silly person sympathetic. All the characters in this book are silly and act silly, but it only inspires good-hearted chuckles in me.
The writing is good, humorous and sophisticated, much more clever that the characters it depicts. One of the more interesting facets of this novel is the plentiful and elaborate cant, whenever Sherry’s tiger Jason comes on the scene. The boy is a compulsive thief, but he gives everything he steals back to his master, whenever Sherry demands it.
I could only guess what Jason was saying at any given moment but I didn’t doubt the authenticity of his speech. I wonder where Heyer learned such proficiency in cant. Are there special dictionaries? Classes at universities? Textbooks? Is the patois of London thieves still alive today?
One of Jason’s expressions sticks in my head – to be “nibbled to death by ducks.” What a terrible fate!
Overall impression – escapism of the best kind. You know it’s all nonsense but you keep reading just to have fun. It’s interesting to note that the novel was published in 1944. The war is still on. People go hungry. Deprivations rise. Male relatives die on the front lines. And it the middle of all this horror comes this book about a bunch of ridiculous fools bumbling along their absurd exploits. The best gift Heyer could make to the ravaged by war England.
A word new to me:
Shibboleth – a catchword or a test word