Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in April 2016 Part IV

What I Read in April 2016 Part IV . . .

A Civil ContractA Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer--Regency Romance

Adam Deveril of the Duke of Wellington's 52nd Regiment has only recently returned to active combat duty after being wounded when he learns of the tragic death of his father, Viscount, Lord Lynton of Lincolnshire. He is more shocked to learn that his father died in massive debt and their estate, Fontley Priory is mortgaged to the hilt. Adam has only one choice: sell. How can he sell his family home? Should he? He has a mother and two younger sisters to support. Even if Charlotte accepts her beloved Lambert (despite Mama's disapproval), there's still Lydia to support and dower. Sell he must. Adam's man of business proposes another solution: marry an heiress. The idea is repugnant to Adam. Though he is in love with the beautiful Julia Oversley, she is not the heiress he needs but neither can he offer marriage situated as he is on the brink of ruin. Julia's father, Lord Oversley, agrees with Wimmering that Adam should marry an heiress and he has just the woman in mind. Lord Oversley has an acquaintance, a friend you could say, in the City with a very nice daughter of marriageable age. When Adam first meets Jonathan Chawleigh he is aghast at the idea of having this larger than life man with a loud voice and poor taste in clothes as his relative, but Jonathan Chawleigh is a man used to getting his own way and before Adam can really object, he finds himself married to Chawleigh's only child, Jenny. He vaguely remembers Jenny as one of the satellites orbiting Julia aiding his recovery but he can't really recall anything about the woman. Jenny Chawleigh is neither beautiful nor a sparkling wit. She's dumpy and shy but she lacks the sensibility necessary for a grand romance and promises to do her best to make Adam happy.

This is Georgette Heyer's un-romance novel. It's completely different from anything else she ever wrote. It starts off very similar with the familiar old characters: the military hero, the drama queen Mama, the saintly sister, the hoydenish sister, the beautiful girlfriend and a proposed marriage of convenience. The beginning of the story moves very slowly. It took me longer than normal to read this book because the first half didn't really hold my interest. I found it a little too concerned with boring details about estate management, farming and domestic comfort. The last half of the book picks up and I couldn't put it down. I wasn't quite sure how it would all work out. The dust jacket describes this book as "a social comedy at its happiest." That is not how I would describe the novel. It has funny moments and happy moments but most of it is more sober and mature than Heyer's other novels. Here Heyer offers us a look at what she considers a successful marriage. There is some great commentary here and some lovely passages describing the characters' relationship.
The sense side of me really valued the novel for this interesting and realistic look at marriage but the sensibility side prefers the marriage plot romances.

Adam is a complicated character. He is the only surviving son which puts a great burden on him. He's lived with the knowledge of his father's hedonistic lifestyle his entire life but couldn't do anything to stop his father from ruining himself. Adam is first and foremost in his mind a soldier. His family's happiness and comfort has to take precedence over that and it's difficult for him to adjust. He's also very proud and his pride can make him prickly and sometimes even subtly cruel. I didn't like the way he treated Jenny at first but I know he was still grieving for his old life and too proud to admit he didn't know what he was doing and the situation was out of his control. I think this is the first time in Adam's adult life he has had to make decisions. In the army he did what he was told and make decisions based on what wouldn't get himself and his men killed. Transition to civilian life is tough for Adam. This really comes out at the end, on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo when he can't believe the world is going on much as it did before. I grew to like Adam a lot by the end of the novel. His character growth is amazing as he comes to terms with his situation and starts trying a little harder to be a good husband.

I really liked Jenny. I can relate to being dumpy, shy and sensible. I don't think she's a doormat as some people have criticized her. She does try hard to please Adam and be the "angel in the house" that was becoming the ideal. Jenny agreed to the marriage, so it was her choice. She knows not to expect romance. She's aware of Adam's feelings for Julia and how Julia considered Adam hers. Jenny has no illusions that her marriage will be the be all end all of romantic lobe stories. She takes the time to learn what Adam likes and how to make him happy. I think that is what a good partner does. They take an interest in the other's activities and interests. Jenny does have opinions and she knows how to get things done. She can be forceful when she wants and after bottling up all her emotions, she pops like a cork in a bottle and it all comes out! She is a much better wife for Adam than Julia. The one thing that bugged me about her was her excessive use of slang. I don't know where or how she picked it up but all the characters use the same slang and understand each other though they come from different backgrounds. It doesn't bother me in other books but because Jenny's father is nouveau riche (a "mushroom") and she's an only child, it didn't quite ring true.

Julia is not a character the sensible reader will like. She's not like Marianne Dashwood. Julia is a spoiled brat who thinks the universe revolves around her. She's used to having men fall in love with her and Adam is kind of different because he's a wounded war hero. She's romanticized him in her mind and also romanticized The Priory. Julia needs to be the shining star of her universe. She needs to be loved and adored while Adam just wants to be a comfortable farmer. Julia is a lot like the awful Tiffany in The Nonesuch but not quite as horrible. Julia's parents are aware of her faults and her father knows that as much as he loves his daughter, she would never make a good wife for Adam. In a way, I almost feel bad for Julia because her personality is not one that attracts young men to marriage and her story is kind of sad.

As always, Heyer populates her book with some quirky secondary characters. The largest being Jonathan Chawleigh. A "Cit," he's a businessman to the core who scrabbled his way up from nothing. He loves to throw money around and has horrendous taste but his heart is pure gold. He is a doting Papa and loves his only daughter. Though he wants a title for her and to have her accepted into society, it's for her mother's sake. It was her mother's dream and not Jonathan's. He wants nothing for himself except the happiness of his beloved daughter. He loves to lavish gifts on people because it makes him happy to make them happy. Or at least he hopes they'll be happy. He's not very good at choosing the right gifts but he means well. He doesn't understand Adam and Adam doesn't really understand Jonathan.

The next larger than life character is Adam's little sister Lydia. Not yet "out" she has a limited view of the real world. She's stuffed her head full of silly romances and gothic novels. She's so young and innocent she thinks sacrificing herself to marry an old man or becoming an actress is romantic. She has no conception of what treading the boards actually meant and how it would affect her family. Lydia adds a lot of comic relief to the novel. She's lively and fun and for some reason, Jenny really responds to the younger girl's enthusiasm. I love how loyal and kind Lydia is without being a boring goody goody like her sister Charlotte. Lydia's story is a coming of age plot where she comes to understand how real life marriages are messy and complicated and vastly different from the fairy tales she has imagined. Like Julia, Lydia is happy when someone pays attention to her, but unlike Julia she's not selfish or "puffed up on her own consequence." I loved her and wished she was in more of the novel.

Another character I loved and wished there was more of was Aunt Nasington. She reminded me of a Maggie Smith character and if the BBC and PBS want to team up to produce a series of Georgette Heyer adaptations, Maggie Smith would be the best choice for Adam's aunt. She comes on to direct the action, utter a bon mot and then she exits again. I also really liked Adam's friend Brough. He was funny and comes across as stupid when he isn't really. He's a loyal friend and a good brother.

Besides Julia, the one character I couldn't stand was Adam's mother. She's a lot like an older version of Julia. She makes mountains out of molehills and revers the memory of her late rakehell husband when he doesn't deserve it. She's selfish and manipulative. The Dowager Lady Lynton is a character type Georgette Heyer used in other novels.

Read this once you are past the starry eyed romantic stage of life. This is not a conventional romance or a conventional Heyer. It's not even The Convenient Marriage. It's different but I liked it more than I thought I would.

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