21/07/2005

A Civil Contract (by Georgette Heyer)


Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite authors - my absolute favourite of light historical novels. I have all her books in this genre, and re-read them all every few years.

However this particular one ranked fairly low in my estimation when I first read it in my early twenties. The plot is about Adam Deveril, an officer in the British Army against Napoleon, who is called home after the death of his father. Adam becomes Lord Lynton, and he also faces ruin due to his father's unwise investments. He may even have to sell the family's stately home, Fontley. He also realises he cannot offer marriage to his sweetheart, Julia.

However Julia's father proposes a solution to his problems: that Adam should marry Jenny, the daughter of a wealthy nouveau riche 'Cit' - a businessman who has no title, but who wants Jenny to be accepted by upper class society and to move up in the world. After much discussion, Adam and Jenny agree to this, although Adam is still in love with Julia. Jenny, however, has been in love with Adam for some years although she does not reveal this.

Jenny turns out to be a comfortable, sensible person and Adam grows to like her very much. But there's no wild romance in this book, no dramatic action, no fast-paced ending. There's rather more war-talk than I like, and considerable everyday action which seems more like Jane Austen than Georgette Heyer in places, albeit more lively.

But every time I re-read this novel, I like it better. Reading it in the last few days, I found one or two sections extremely moving. I was aware of the author's amazing characterisation skills that brought not just Adam and Jenny but others of their family and friends alive in my mind. There's plenty of humour too: Jenny's father - a caricature, admittedly - is quite vulgar, yet extremely generous.

All in all, I now count this highly amongst my Heyer collection, and recommend it wholeheartedly.

You can also read another review, written after I re-read 'A Civil Contract' eight years later. 

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