Thursday, October 24, 2013

Civil Contract (1961)

Civil Contract. Georgette Heyer. 1961/2009. Harlequin. 432 pages. [Source: Library]

Three years ago when I first read A Civil Contract, I'm not sure I appreciated it as it deserves. The romance between this husband and wife is a bit more subtle and less spectacular than some of Heyer's other romances, the ones without formulaic marriage of conveniences. This sub-genre can be charming, stories where husband and wives marry for whatever reason and only long after saying I do is love discovered and cultivated. Other similar Heyer titles include A Convenient Marriage and April Lady. A Civil Contract differs mainly in the fact that the heroine, Jenny, is thoroughly sensible and intelligent. She is NOT silly or flighty or incapable of rational thought and feeling. She is not gullible and foolish. In other words, she is not annoying to spend time with! She is actually a comfortable heroine. I really liked her!!!

A Civil Contract highlights all the reasons I just love and adore Georgette Heyer. I love her characters. I love the main characters, the hero, Adam, and the heroine, Jenny. I love almost all of the minor characters. Readers get to meet so many family members and friends. I love the glimpses into society. A Civil Contract is oh-so-rich in historical detail. This is something that I completely failed to appreciate until I began reading nonfiction books on the Regency period. After reading adult biographies on Caroline, the Princess of Wales, and George IV (Prince of Wales, Prince Regent), and Princess Charlotte (their daughter), I could really appreciate Heyer even more. Little sentences here and there that ground the book in reality.
'I can't tell you how refreshing it is to encounter a female who doesn't fall into ecstasies at the mere mention of Byron's name!'
'Are you quizzing me?' she asked bluntly.
'Of course I'm not! I'm no great judge of poetry, but surely Lord Byron's verses are extraordinarily over-rated?'
'Well, that's what I think,' she replied. 'But I have for long been aware that, try as I may, I don't appreciate poetry as I should. I did make the greatest effort to read the Bride of Abydos, however.'
'Unavailing, I collect?'
She nodded, looking a little conscience-stricken. 'Yes, though I daresay I should have persevered if the library had not sent me a parcel containing two books which I most particularly wanted to read. I found I could no longer concentrate my mind, and so abandoned the attempt. And one was perfectly respectable!' she said defensively, adding, in response to his lifted eyebrows: 'Mr Southey's Life of Nelson: has it come in your way?'
'Ah, yes! That is a noble work, indeed!...But what Miss Chawleigh, was the other work--not so respectable!--which lured you away from Abydos?'
'Well, that one was a novel,' she confessed.
'A novel preferred to Lord Byron! Oh, Miss Chawleigh! exclaimed Mrs. Quarley-Bix archly.
'Yes, I did prefer it. In fact, I turned to it with the greatest relief, for it is all about quite ordinary, real persons, and not about pirate chiefs, or pashas, and nobody kills anyone in it. Besides, it was excessively diverting, just as I guessed it would be.' She glanced shyly at Adam, and said with a tiny stammer: 'It is by the author of Sense and Sensibility'... (62-3)
Nor did Jenny recall that when she first saw him she suffered a considerable disappointment. At the age of two-and-fifty little trace remained of the handsome Prince...over whose beauty elderly ladies still sighed. Jenny beheld a middle-aged gentleman of corpulent habit, on whose florid countenance dissipation was writ large. He was decidedly overdressed; his corsets creaked audibly; he drenched his person with scent; and, when in repose, his face wore a peevish expression. But whatever good fairy had attended his christening had bestowed upon him a gift which neither time nor excesses would ever cause to wither. He was an undutiful son, and a bad husband, an unkind father, an inconstant lover, and an uncertain friend, but he had a charm which won forgiveness from those whom he had injured, and endeared him to such chance-met persons as Jenny, or some young officer brought to him by Lord Bathurst with an important dispatch. He could disgust his intimates, but in his more public life his bearing was always right; he never said the wrong thing; and never permitted a private vexation to impair his affability. Unmistakably a Prince, he used very little ceremony, his manners, when he moved amongst the ton, being distinguished by a well-bred ease which did not wholly desert him even when, as sometimes happened, he arrived at some party in a sadly inebriated condition. His private manners were not so good; but no one who saw him, as Jenny did, at his mother's Drawing-room, could have believed him capable of lying to his greatest supporter, taking a crony to listen to his father's ravings, treating his only child with boorish roughness, or floundering like a lachrymose porpoise, at the feet of an embarrassed beauty. (131-2)

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Jessica Snell 7:55 PM  

This one is such a quiet, and quietly compelling, book. I didn't like it when I was younger, either, but when I reread it as an adult I found it quite moving.

Now I'm curious which your favorite is. :) When I was younger I couldn't get enough of "The Masqueraders", but now, though I still love that one, it's "Sylvester" that I find I can read again and again!

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