18/02/2008

The Convenient Marriage (by Georgette Heyer)

The historical novels by Georgette Heyer are my comfort reading, ideal to help me relax after a busy week. I try to re-read them all every four or five years - I find that's long enough apart that I can enjoy them afresh, even though (inevitably) I remember some of the plot.

I last read 'The Convenient Marriage' in 2002. I re-read it in the past few days. It's not a long book, and with all Heyer's novels I find them difficult to put down after I've started them. Even on the fourth or fifth re-read!

It's the story of young Horatia - known as Horry - the youngest of the three Winwood daughters. She is seventeen, but mature for her years despite being rather naive - as was only natural for unmarried girls in the period when the story is set, the 'Age of Elegance' (approximately 18th century).

Horry is determined and practical, but she also has a soft heart. As the novel opens, her oldest sister Lizzie has received an offer of marriage from the Earl of Rule - a rather wild-living man in his mid-thirties who she barely knows. It's a very good match from a worldly point of view, since Rule is very rich. Since there is also a brother (Pelham) who is a gambler, and very expensive, it's important that one of the daughters marry a wealthy man.

However Lizzie is in love with Edward Heron, an army man - well-born, but not particularly well-off. And the middle sister, Charlotte, is determined to remain single and look after their widowed mother into her old age. So Horry decides to offer herself to Rule as an alternative to Lizzie. There's a very amusing scene when she talks about making a sacrifice for the sake of her sisters... and Rule is shown to have a quick sense of humour, appreciating the absurdity of the situation.

But he wants to marry into a good family - if he must marry at all - and Horry rather charms him with her innocence, insisting that theirs will be a marriage of convenience and that she will not interfere with him in any way.

Naturally all is not plain sailing - there are misunderstandings, upsets, and inevitable clashes between these two people with strong temperaments. There are also those who want to cause trouble between them - the Earl of Rule's mistress, for instance, and his current heir. And there's a growing attraction between the Earl and Horatia as they learn to live with each other.

'The Convenient Marriage' is fast-paced, with plenty of ironic humour and some excellent characters. The morals of London at the time might shock some traditional readers - gambling, promiscuity and heavy drinking are a natural part of life amongst the upper classes, as is duelling at the least provocation. But Georgette Heyer only touches on the seedier side of life, without anything to make me squeamish.

All in all, a good light read for anyone who wants a historical novel with superb characterisation. It was first published in 1934 and seems to have remained almost continuously in print. Definitely recommended.

1 comment:

david santos said...

Heelo, Sue!
Thanks for posting and have a good week.