Friday, September 26, 2014
A Civil Contract - Georgette Heyer
Adam Deveril had always been army mad, and though he’s the heir to his father, the Viscount Lynton, his father (an associate of the Prince Regent’s, and if you know your history, you know what kind of men he liked to hang out with) never really bothered to teach him anything about running an estate. And so, when the elder Viscount is killed in a hunting accident, Adam is summoned back from the front, and quickly discovers that his father has run the estate into ruin.
Both his man of business and Lord Oversley, a good friend, recommend that Adam marry an heiress, which is the only way he’ll be able to keep his family home, and support his mother and two sisters. The problem is, Adam is in love with Oversley’s daughter, Julia, but knows he can never support her. It also happens that Oversley knows one of the richest men in London – Jonathan Chawleigh, a trademan born, who has decided that his daughter, and sole heir, should be a Lady. Jenny Chawleigh is a shy woman, certainly no beauty, but she went to school with Julia, and has met Adam, and knows that he will treat her well. And so they’re married.
My first Heyer book was The Convenient Marriage, which is also one of her earlier books. That one is a sprightly little romance, between two people from the same social strata, and is all around fun. A Civil Contract is one of her later books, and though the theme is the same, it’s very different. Jenny is from a very different background than her husband, and knows he loves another woman. Adam has to deal with that love of Julia, and also finding a way to not resent what Jenny’s money has brought to his life. It’s a much more nuanced story, and I really loved it. Adam and Jenny do eventually come to a very comfortable marriage, where they do both love each other, but it’s work, and made the story ring so much more true because of it.
The side characters are where you can see Heyer’s more typical sprightly writing come through. Jenny’s father is hilarious, and Adam’s sister Lydia runs in the direction of a different Lydia, but with enough decorum to not allow her to make terrible mistakes. (Heyer also mentions Jane Austen books twice in this novel – Jenny’s a fan. I’ll admit I loved that.)