Book Review: A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer

 

Can the wrong bride become the perfect wife?

Adam Deveril, the new Viscount Lynton, is madly in love with the beautiful Julia Oversley. But he has returned from the Peninsular War to find his family on the brink of ruin and his ancestral home mortgaged to the hilt. He has little choice when he is introduced to Mr. Jonathan Chawleigh, a City man of apparently unlimited wealth and no social ambitions for himself-but with his eyes firmly fixed on a suitable match for his only daughter, the quiet and decidedly plain Jenny Chawleigh.

Another great addition to my Georgette Heyer library! Considering that I only read this amazing author for the first time last year, I’ve quickly become a fan.

A Civil Contract is quite fun. Poor Adam, whose father the Fifth Viscount was a gambler and a flagrant spender, is left to deal with overpowering debts upon his father’s death. The family faces financial ruin, including the lost of their beloved country home. What’s more, there is no possible way for Adam to marry his beloved Julia, as he has no means to support her, and even if she claims to be ready to live with Adam in poverty, would never be allowed by her parents to do so.

For a titled gentleman with money problems, there’s really just one acceptable solution: He must marry an heiress. Jenny Chawleigh is the respectable daughter of a very rich merchant whose only aim in life is to see his beloved girl elevated into the upper crust of society. Mr. Chawleigh is able to settle the Lynton debts, and Adam is able to provide Jenny with a title. They’re a mismatched pair, but Jenny’s sweetness and calm competence pave the way for the two of them to begin their married life together.

Of course, Adam never quite gets over his passion for Julia, but Jenny is clever enough to be able to take the drama out of the foiled romance, and she and Adam settle into a pleasant and companionable relationship. It takes the course of the novel for Adam and Jenny to truly develop into a strong couple, but it’s oodles of fun to see them getting there.

The novel contrasts the drama of young, ardent love with the steadiness and support of more mature married affection, and comes down decidedly on the side of the latter. While it irked me that Adam never actually contradicts Jenny when she says she’s not pretty, he treats her with respect, with appreciation, and with affection. Over time, it’s their shared interests, their little jokes, and their alignment in the important things that show that they’re actually well suited after all.

There are plenty of funny moments, especially all the scenes of Adam and Mr. Chawleigh butting heads. Jenny’s father is crass and blunt, but he’s mad about his daughter, and shows his love by buying her the best of everything, even when the best is gaudy, over the top, and simply not what truly elegant people would do. Adam is dignified, born and bred to the upper crust, and it’s constantly amusing to see his reactions to Mr. Chawleigh’s effusiveness. (The bathtub he installs for Jenny is hilarious — I won’t say more than that, but you really need to read about it to appreciate it.)

I love Heyer’s Regency romances, with their depictions of the social classes and the minutiae involved in playing the games of the nobility and gentry. The only downside for me in A Civil Contract were the overlong descriptions of the war against Napoleon — yes, the war is very much on Adam’s mind and has an impact on his fortunes, but I had a hard time keeping my mind from wandering whenever we strayed back into politics and war news.

Of course, if you’ve read and enjoyed other books by Georgette Heyer, this is another excellent one to pick up. It’s sweet and entertaining, and I found it refreshing to read a Heyer book with such a simple and unpretentious heroine.

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The details:

Title: A Civil Contract
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: 1961
Length: 422 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

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