Review 1773: A Civil Contract

Remembering back quite a few years to the last time I read A Civil Contract, I didn’t classify it as a favorite Heyer. As I was younger then and more romantic, I was disappointed in its plain and prosaic heroine. Now that I am more mature, I look at it with completely different eyes.

Adam Deveril is a dashing captain who has been serving in the Peninsular wars when he is abruptly called home because his father unexpectedly died. This death makes Adam Lord Lynton and leaves him heir to a huge amount of debt. Although the family has never been wealthy, Adam has had no idea just how his father’s spending habits and mismanagement have put the estate into debt.

Adam thinks there is no solution but to put his townhouse and the family estate on the market. Being a proud man, he ignores his businessman’s recommendation to look for a wealthy bride.

Adam also feels obliged to inform Lord Oversly of the state of affairs, since Adam had been hoping to wed his beautiful daughter, Julia. Oversly acknowledges that Adam can no longer be considered eligible to marry Julia but remarks that he and Julia probably aren’t well suited anyway. However, both Adam and Julia are heart-broken.

Oversly says he thinks he can help Adam. Soon, Adam is surprised to receive a visit from Jonathan Chawleigh, a wealthy but vulgar businessman. Chawleigh suggests that Adam’s financial problems can be solved if only he would marry Chawleigh’s daughter Jenny.

Adam’s pride does not permit him to consider this offer, but he agrees to meet Jenny. He finds her plain, plump, and matter-of-fact as well as poorly dressed. He does not even realize he has met her before, for she is a schoolfriend of Julia’s. Almost against his will, he marries her.

Maybe I’m giving away too much, but this is the story of how a young man learns to throw away his romantic illusions and begin to appreciate his thoughtful, supportive, affectionate wife. Thus, its intent is a little more serious than most of Heyer’s novels, and it also has a great deal to say, off and on, about the state of Europe at the time.

I had to laugh, because this time through I found myself impatient with Adam and Julia’s romantic yearnings and appreciated Jenny’s good qualities and hidden heartache a good deal more. The book is also not lacking in Heyer’s usual amusing dialogue, although most of it is between other characters than the two main ones.

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7 thoughts on “Review 1773: A Civil Contract

  1. historicalfictionisfiction December 23, 2021 / 12:33 pm

    Absolutely couldn’t agree more. I reread and reread this book very lately, and it’s become one my favorite Heyers, right up there with Cotillion and The Unknown Ajax.

    A Civil Contract, along with An Infamous Army, show Heyer’s chops as an historian, I think. These two historical fiction novels are NOT fiction, for a change. A Civil Contract gives, it seems to me, a very realistic picture of what an arranged marriage could look like. Jenny is so very real–not a poster girl for the perfect, beautiful, charming, merry-eyed heroine that features so prominently in many of Heyer’s book (most of whom I love, BTW). And Adam’s reactions to her–and to her father–seem as if they could be very possible.

    I just felt that Heyer really thought about how two reasonable adults might have approached such a situation. I mean, not ALL the couples in the past treated each badly, had affairs, and so on. SOME of them had to get along reasonably well.

    Julia, the beauty, was so shallow. I really got tired of her histrionics (she reminded me of Tiffany in The Nonesuch) and was thrilled when Adam finally saw her for what she was.

    • whatmeread December 23, 2021 / 2:05 pm

      I agree with everything you said. I will have to revisit some of Heyer’s straight historical novels like An Infamous Army or My Lord John, because I always considered them less good than the others for their relative lack of humor. I think I would think differently now.

  2. Liz Dexter December 23, 2021 / 3:38 pm

    It’s fascinating how our perceptions of books change as we re-read them, isn’t it?! I was surprised in my last re-reading of Iris Murdoch to find I was the same age or older than most of the main protagonists, and when I first read Heyer I must have looked up to her heroines as older women; now I look at them in an aunty-like way!

  3. thecontentreader December 26, 2021 / 8:22 am

    A Georgette Heyer book can be enjoyed all the time. This sounds like a good one.

    • whatmeread December 26, 2021 / 1:08 pm

      Yes, I reread them every few years.

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