A lush life filled with doting servants, meddling relatives and life on a grand estate hasn’t been quite so joyous for the Duke of Sale. After the death of his parents at a very young age, Adolphus — called Gilly — was taken under the wing of Lord Lionel, his uncle, and placed under constant care. Gilly was a sickly child, held constantly under the care of his many caretakers and always under someone’s surveillance.
Gilly’s life becomes a steady stream of boredom, particularly after his cousin and good friend Gideon is no longer nearby. Left alone with his meddlesome uncle, Gilly longs for a world with less restrictions and more adventure. His daydreams frequently turn to the life of “Mr. Dash of Nowhere In Particular,” a gentleman who is free to roam about the countryside and do as he pleases with no one waiting up for him and demanding to know his whereabouts. Now in his mid-twenties, Gilly simply longs to be free.
After his cousin Matthew finds himself in a very precarious situation in regard to the attentions of a young lady, Gilly decides his life could use a little more autonomy — and sets about dealing with a man who is trying to blackmail his family and their good name. It’s on this journey away from London that he encounters Tom, a young man who’s run away from home, and he suddenly finds himself someone else’s caretaker for the first time in his life. After young Belinda — the titular “foundling” — turns their traveling party into three, Gilly must provide for the teenagers and try to take care of himself — particularly after a certain unsavory character gets on his trail . . .
Georgette Heyer’s The Foundling is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story revolving around the oppressive nature of the English upperclasses and the young duke who decided to walk away from it. While things don’t quite work out the way Gilly would have guessed, they certainly take him on an interesting journey.
From the beginning, I felt for the duke and could feel my own annoyance at the bevy of people constantly bombarding him with questions — all seemingly to do with ensuring his own happiness and comfort. But the fact that they couldn’t understand how annoying it was to be picked at, prodded and questioned constantly was frustrating! I also wished they could begin to understand that Gilly had, before their own eyes, grown into a man — and was a man capable of making his own decisions. Lord Lionel constantly undermined his nephew’s authority, though he didn’t see it that way. Surely anyone in that situation would long to step out of his skin and become “Mr. Dash of Nowhere In Particular.”
What fell flat for me was my lack of emotional connection to anyone other than Gilly. I likedd his cousin Gideon, Captain Ware, but didn’t feel particularly attached to him — other than when I desperately wanted him to swoop in and save his cousin from trouble. The novel lacked an impetus for me to keep reading, as I knew that surely nothing tragic would befall the characters . . . and what I really, really wanted here was a love story. We do meet Lady Harriet, the young woman to whom Gilly awkwardly proposes marriage, but I wanted to see much more of a dynamic between them.
Overall, I think maybe my expectations were set too high for this work of historical fiction — after reading Heyer’s The Grand Sophy a few months back, I was expecting more of a romance than I found in The Foundling (pun intended!). But that’s my own fault — and there is definitely plenty to love about Heyer’s work. Lovers of Regency England and historical fiction will find plenty to enjoy in this novel; her witty dialogue, impeccable descriptions and well-drawn characters are what keep me engaged as a reader. And like my beloved Jane Austen, Heyer’s social commentary add a different dimension to a novel already filled to brimming with relevant historical details!
3.5 out of 5!