I didn’t remember The Reluctant Widow as well as I thought I did. There was still a lot to like about it, but the heavyhandedness of the male protagonist really got on my nerves this time through. The plot: Elinor Rochdale has to work as a governess due to her father’s death after gambling away his money. Travelling to a remote place to take up a new post, she accidentally gets into the wrong carriage and finds herself entangled in the affairs of the Carlyon and Cheviot families. Ned Carlyon advertised for a woman to marry his cousin Eustace Cheviot so that he, Ned, won’t have to inherit Eustace’s land — the woman didn’t turn up, only Elinor. This is further complicated by Ned’s brother accidentally stabbing Eustace, precipitating the need for immediate action, which Ned takes by more or less bodily carrying Elinor off to marry Eustace. In theory, she’s given an opportunity to consent, but he’s so heavyhanded I don’t know if I could say no. Or acquiese without it being partly due to fear and embarrassment.
It’s not that Ned seems like a bad guy, by and large, except for his overall insistence that he is right. There is some delightful interaction between him and Elinor, and also between him and his brothers; it is hilarious, and one can see why he is liked at the same time as finding it rather maddening. That personality is all that spoils this book for me — Elinor would be a stronger character in herself if not set against Ned, and if the narrative didn’t prove Ned right over and over again.
Overall it’s a fun mystery and a fun romance, a heck of a romp, but gah, Ned’s personality.
If you’ve read a couple of Heyer’s books, you know what to expect. You recognise the character types as they appear — the charmingly innocent heroine, the dishonourable but charming villain, the various prototypes for her heroes… Friday’s Child is of the “marriage of convenience” school, in which Lord Sheringham marries a childhood friend, Hero, more or less on a whim to spite his family. She’s loved him all along, of course, while he is monumentally unaware of having any feelings towards any woman, and certainly doesn’t expect to love his wife (though being a noble Heyer male, he will of course do his duty toward her).
As ever, it’s the detail and Heyer’s wit that carry a story that could be formulaic. I both laughed and cried at Friday’s Child, I’ll confess, sometimes at more or less the same scene. Sherry’s friends and their loyalty to him and to Hero are both funny and endearing, pretty much all the time; there’s something very pathetic about Hero’s adoration of Sherry, and the way he treats her (being angry with her for behaving exactly as he’s told her is right), which is funny in some scenes and just terribly sad in others. I forget which friend of mine has noted that Heyer is one of the few writers who can make a rather silly character one you sympathise with and root for, when you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to stand them at all. This is definitely true with pretty much all the characters here.
Ultimately, it’s not a deep novel of great philosophical worth, and it’s not the best of Heyer’s work in terms of originality or flair either. But it’s fun and it made me happy.
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017
I’ve been a fan of Heyer’s Regency romances and adventures for a while now, so when I saw this was ‘Read Now’ on Netgalley, I confess I pounced. It’s actually the collection Pistols for Two (which I hadn’t read yet) but with three extra stories from early in Heyer’s career.
While Heyer’s short stories aren’t precisely what I like in a short story — something with a twist, something maybe a little unpredictable, something packed into as small a space as possible — they’re fun little stories, very much like her longer works but compressed. The same types of hero and heroine, the same sorts of love scene and the same sort of happy ending abound, along with Heyer’s usual wit. If you enjoy the banter between her characters and the sparkle of her writing, all of that is in evidence here. If I had to call the collection anything, I might call it Miniatures!
If you don’t love Heyer’s work, well, this won’t be for you. It’s very much typical of her, and she doesn’t have the space to make her heroes and heroines distinctive. And if you’ve never tried Heyer, well, I’d start with The Talisman Ring instead, if I were you.
This book somewhat ran into one of the problems I have with fiction that includes humour: I’m bad at being embarrassed, and get second-hand embarrassment for characters I like. There’s obviously a lot of scope for embarrassment in a book which features twin protagonists who pretend to be one another, and the muddle they get themselves into when they do this as adults in order to cover for each other. Or, really, Kit covers for his brother who is mostly absent, and really doesn’t deserve such devotion.
It’s generally charming, particularly the bond between Kit and his mother. She’s hopeless, but loveable as well, and while I’m not quite sure how anyone could put up with her from a distance, far too able to see her flaws, I’m sure that in person she would be completely charming. The romance is so-so; this is one of the books where I rather wish there’d been more attention paid to the romantic heroine (though plenty of attention is paid to Kit’s mother, which balances that). There were also some cringy lines that read unpleasantly for the modern reader, but there’s also a lot of fun — the whole relationship between Amabel and Ripple, for instance.
It all works out fairly predictably and easily, but it’s fun while it lasts and I didn’t get too embarrassed on everyone’s behalves, which was a plus. It was definitely a worthy distraction from fretting over my rabbit at the time, too (in consequence of the idiot biting through a cable and electrocuting himself — he’s 100% fine now).
I don’t normally get along with cases of instantaneous love, but some authors can make me go along with it. Heyer is one of them, and this mystery/romance works well. Both the male and female lead are capable and likeable, and they treat each other with respect (unlike in, say, Faro’s Daughter). All in all, it’s an appealing combination, and Heyer shows off her research in her use of thieves’ cant and dialect. If your favourite Heyer novels tend to be the ones with mysterious highwaymen, capricious noblemen who don’t mind pretending to be commoners, etc, then it’s definitely one for you — more like The Talisman Ring than The Grand Sophy.
The only problem for me was that I’m not very knowledgeable about period-appropriate dialects and thieves’ cant. Some of it I didn’t follow very well, and at times it does hinder you in understanding exactly how a certain character gave themselves away, etc. But for the most part, it becomes obvious if you keep reading.
Heyer writes with humour and flair, as ever, and the afternoon I spent devouring this was well worth it.
I spent an unfortunate amount of this wincing with secondhand embarrassment about the misunderstandings between the two main characters. Their adversarial behaviour is pretty delightful, until you think seriously about how horribly Ravenscar is treating Deb, and without real evidence that she’s actually doing anything he suspects her of. I mean, she doesn’t do much to dissuade him after his first misapprehension, but still, the things he calls her — and then at the end to suddenly declare that they’re in love! It’s a bit too sudden to me; particularly as we don’t get much from Ravenscar’s point of view that explains his softening towards Deb.
The side plot with Adrian and Phoebe, though, is pretty adorable.
It’s fun, but more fun if you try not to think about it too much, perhaps. Especially on the subject of the fond aunt, who despite the fondness, keeps suggesting various odious things to Deb to pay off their debts — we’re told she’s doting, but she seems to have bad judgement and worse taste when it comes to how she should treat her niece.
The best thing about this book is Deb’s stubbornness, her sense of honour, and her insistence that she won’t be cowed.
A Civil Contract is quite unlike Heyer’s other novels, because the romance is understated and, indeed, there isn’t much romance at all, at least not in the same sense. It’s a much more practical novel, dealing with the realities of life: more or less arranged marriages, marriages of convenience, unsuitable matches… The most entertaining thing about it is the clash between the aristocratic main character and his father-in-law, Mr Chawleigh. In fact, Mr Chawleigh quite steals the show on a number of occasions.
Jenny is one of Heyer’s better-realised heroines in one sense: she is practical, not very subtle, and devoted from the start to making her new husband comfortable and happy. Of course, that’s a stereotype too, and one which readers may well find less engaging than the sharp back-and-forth of Heyer’s Sophy (for one example). Still, Jenny clearly knows her own mind and does not regret things, although she does have human feelings — wishful thinking, some jealousy, etc, etc. I find her interesting because she’s so untypical of Heyer — a cosy little homemaker! And one with whom we sympathise, even though I did feel that Julia’s flaws were somewhat overdone, in a sort of ‘well, if Julia’s too nice then Jenny isn’t going to come into her own at all’ sort of way.
Really, A Civil Contract is about marriage, not about courting (like The Convenient Marriage, which has some similarities, though not in the characters); it’s about a quieter sort of love, not a grand passion. It’s about making the best of things, and about having a partner who you can rely on. Adam finally realises that that’s what he has in Jenny, and that’s lovely: the way his snobbishness initially gets in the way is annoying, but he learns.
As someone in a nearly eleven-year relationship (not to mention someone who feels no sexual attraction at all), this is in many ways more true of my experience, and it’s nice to see it in a romance novel (of sorts; I think this is less clearly romance than some of Heyer’s others, but if we divide her work into historicals, romances and mysteries… this seems to fit most into the romance section, being too recent in date for the historicals and clearly not a mystery). It might be fun to have a passionate doomed love for someone, but what matters is whether you can work together, work things out together, communicate. Jenny and Adam do model that, as each learns to discuss things with the other and share their lives.
In other ways, A Civil Contract is interesting because of the background of the French Revolution, the perspective of Adam as a former soldier, and the class mixing which happens as a result of the marriage. There are some very entertaining characters, including some very determined and headstrong women who are very different to Jenny, but still positive. (Lady Nassington is one; Lady Oversley is another, in a way; and of course, Lydia.)
All in all, this isn’t one of the more adventurous stories, like The Talisman Ring, and neither is the romance one with tension or too much worry about how it’s going to work out. It is, for the most part, fairly comfortable — though I wonder if perhaps it would have been less so in more class-conscious times. (Says the daughter of a working class man and a upper-middle-class woman, whose families cordially, and sometimes not so cordially, hated each other!)
The Black Moth was Heyer’s first novel, and it does show, but it’s still pretty fun. She hasn’t figured out what to do with her heroines yet, and that’s very obvious: Diana Beauleigh is rather colourless and lacking in the kind of witty repartee that really makes some of Heyer’s other heroines. Indeed, she’s more just a love interest and much less a heroine. Despite Diana and Jack seeming like the main pair, the one the plot was working toward, I was more interested in the spoilt Lavinia and her husband Richard. Of course, Lavinia is an annoying character, whiny and, well, as I said, spoilt. But the way she and Richard come to realise how fond they are of each other, and the way their relationship (and Lavinia herself) grows is a delight — especially since it doesn’t involve Lavinia changing, as such. She’s still spoilt, it’s just that she knows it, and she and Richard are fond of each other anyway.
The whole bit about Richard cheating at cards and Jack taking the disgrace is a bit bizarre to a modern reader — especially with Tracy Belmanoir’s exploits, including trying to abduct a woman, being just dismissed as foibles. I don’t know enough about the period to know if Heyer leaned a bit too hard on that plot aspect: it feels like it, but of course, times have changed.
Jack himself is fun: loyal, self-deprecating, quite capable of being kind or cutting. Adaptable. He’s a bit spoilt himself: you gotta love the part where he complains about the humiliation of having had to earn his own living! But again, things were different then.
For a first novel, The Black Moth is definitely not too bad. It has its weaknesses, and the dialogue was a particular weak point at times (it felt like Heyer tried too hard to reproduce natural ways of speaking, in some scenes, which was tough reading), but it’s fun and no wonder Heyer got off to a flying start.
Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, Jennifer Kloester
If you ever feel like, as a writer, feeling like you’re a hack who doesn’t even write that fast, I do suggest you read this biography of Georgette Heyer — or just take a look at her publishing history. Holy wow. She started early and kept on going and going and going, producing books which people love to this day almost right up to her death. And yeah, she had a formula for the Regency books, in a way, but they still remained full of wit and humour which makes each one feel fresh, and she did venture beyond those bounds: she wrote a medieval historical novel, contemporary romances, short stories, a novel which is still used as an example for her portrayal of the battle of Waterloo…
She was a versatile, accomplished and prolific author. I feel like she’d have got on with modern writers like Kameron Hurley in her outlook (though not, goodness me, politically or morally) on writing as a job, and one where she had to keep to deadlines, pay attention to her income, and constantly stay ahead of debt and the Tax Man. She may have loved it and it may have been a craft to her, and I think that is apparent, but it was also work and she took it seriously, using it to support her family.
The personality of Heyer is a little elusive because she was a notoriously private person, giving no interviews. On the other hand, there is a wealth of letters written by her available, including some she wrote to fans and to her agent, so her personality shines through there: self-deprecating in a very proper British way, but proud of her work and her research where merited; conscientious about her commitments; blunt and to the point about her likes and dislikes, even when she’s trying to support a friend.
There is quite a bit of repetition on these points, including a recurring theme of Heyer claiming that she doesn’t write well in adversity, and Kloester pointing out that she does. There’s a bit of repetition about her deep relationship with her husband (and the fact that it was not especially physical). But overall it’s an interesting biography which shines a bit of light on Heyer, and has made me scribble some of her works down in my list to read soon. Something about knowing the context in which she wrote them and the feelings she had about them makes them more intriguing. And oh, Heyer, how dare you not just adore The Taliman Ring? It’s so much fun!
The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer Originally reviewed 8th August, 2013
Hah! This isn’t my favourite Georgette Heyer novel, but I think it might have made me laugh the most so far. God, what a cast of characters, and how ridiculous they all are — Sophy is fantastic, with her matchmaking and her provoking ways and her complete disregard for propriety. I loved the relationship between her and Charles — the last few chapters made me positively hoot with laughter.
I’m sure that people who would never like this genre won’t be convinced by this, but I think I’m being brought to get over my original feelings by Heyer’s work. It’s well written, well paced, and hilariously funny: Sophy’s matchmaking rather pokes fun at the genre, I think: she seems to consider people’s lives as though they’re in a novel and figures out what they would/could do if they were fictional. I half-wanted her to carry everything off, and half-wanted everything to end in a magnificent tangle that would teach her a lesson.
As with Mary Stewart’s work, I wrinkled my nose a little at the potential for cousin-marrying and all that sort of thing, but given the setting, it makes perfect sense.