Having heard so much about Georgette Heyer, I wanted to read a bona fide Regency romance by her. I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought that this book is one decidedly odd romance. A Civil Contract tells the story of a marriage of convenience. There’s romance in it but it shows a practical side of romance that gradually grows with time. It is a little bit heartbreaking, as well as heartwarming.
Captain Adam Deveril, now Lord Lynton, returns to his ancestral home from the war when his father unexpectedly dies and finds himself amidst a mountain of debt left by his profligate father. He has to break up with Julia Oversley -the beautiful, vivacious girl he loves, because of his unfortunate circumstances. He decides to sell his estate and other valuable assets, but that will leave him with negligible funds to take care of his mother and two sisters. His financial advisor suggests him to marry an heiress. Adam finds the idea disgusting.
Julia’s father, Lord Oversley also advises him to save his land and home by marrying someone with money. Oversley introduces him to an impressively rich, good-natured, pretentious businessman Mr. Chawleigh, wishes his shy and plain daughter Jenny to marry a man with a title. When Adam’s teenage sister Lydia talks about marrying an old man for his money to save the family estate Fontley, that’s the last straw. Adam reluctantly agrees to the marriage of convenience. Adam’s mortgages and debts are taken care of and Chawleigh gives the couple enough money to take care of their needs.
Adam is kind to Jenny, but he resents her father showering them with extravagant gifts. He still loves Julia, who never fails to let him know that she’s still painfully in love with him. Jenny tries to make the best of their marriage by being a kind and dutiful wife but it’s quite difficult given her situation. Adam and Jenny are two kind people who try to make the best of their loveless marriage. Love blossoms but it’s not the passionate love that makes the heart skip a beat. It’s rather the kind of love which develops out of comfort, kindness, commitment and getting accustomed to each other.
Georgette Heyer explores the ingredients to a successful marriage through the relationship of Adam and Jenny. Adam and Jenny are interesting characters but Mr. Jonathan Chawleigh is a masterpiece who adds the required element of humour in the novel. Lydia is enchanting and Adam’s annoying mother and overbearing aunt are a lot of fun and offer a glimpse into the high society of the era. The narrative is set at the time of the premature celebrations that followed the initial defeat of Napoleon in 1814. The historical detail is conveyed in an unforced manner and provides an unexpected twist to the tale.
In short, this is a simple, heartwarming tale which reminds the readers that “After all, life was not made up of moments of exaltation, but of quite ordinary, everyday things.”
Title: A Civil Contract
Originally published: 1961
Author: Georgette Heyer
Genre: Regency era, Romance
Page Count: 384
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