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lba36149@bigpond.net.au

This was my first Heyer too, & I loved it. Elaine at Random Jottings had recommended it as it features a more subdued romance thatn some of GH's other books & I think that's what I loved about it. I'm not a teenager so the traditional Regency romance aspects of Heyer don't appeal to me at all & I don't have that love of her books because I didn't read her as a teenager. I have Lady of Quality lined up as my next Heyer because the heroine is nearly 30 & I like the sound of her. I thought the relationship between Adam & Jenny was so subtle & so well done. The gentle gradations of their growing respect & liking for each other were beautifully observed. I loved Jenny as a character, her practicality & just her plain common sense. The way she dealt with Julia's fainting fit at the party was masterly. A really lovely book.

Susie Vereker

Thank you, Cornflower, for suggesting yet another excellent read. I hadn't read Georgette Heyer since my teenage years and failed to realise what a good, serious writer she was, with, as you say, an almost magical sense of period. A marriage of convenience is always a popular plot line and I liked Adam, Jenny, and especially Jenny's father. Refreshing to have a perfect housekeeper as heroine, though sometimes her subservience to her husband grated. It probably wouldn't have done to readers in 1961 when A Civil Contract was published and when GH herself was nearly 60 (and often the breadwinner in her marriage, I gather, so she must have understood Jenny's scruples.)

You inspired me to look up GH's interesting life story. I see she was born in 1902. In regard to her meticulous research, here's a quote: 'In the interests of accuracy, Heyer once purchased a letter written by The Duke of Wellington so that she could precisely employ his style of writing. She claimed that every word attributed to Wellington in An Infamous Army was actually spoken or written by him in real life. Her knowledge of the period was so extensive that Heyer rarely mentioned dates explicitly in her books; instead, she situated the story by casually referring to major and minor events of the time.'

Barbara MacLeod

Thank you for introducing me to this author. It is good to try things on for size to see if they fit. I read it to the end ... but I'm afraid it goes back on the railing!

I found bits of the writing laborious. The dialogue was fine; it was the narrative sections where I felt I was stumbling along. The writing just did not flow. While this author may have a good ear for language of the period, I feel it is not matched by an equally good sense of (or should that be 'feel for'?) rhythm, i.e. the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line. She seems to like forceful consonant sounds and her sentences just aren't graceful.

To illustrate:
Jane Austin in Pride and Predjudice: "Elizabeth Bennet had been obliged, by the scarcity of gentlemen, to sit down for two dances; and during part of that time, Mr. Darcy had been standing near enough for her to overhear a conversation between him and Mr. Bingley, who came from the dance for a few minutes to press his friend to join it."

Georgette Heyer in A Civil Contract: "Mere rank was no passport to Almack's; and although the disappointed marvelled that anyone should covet a ticket to an assembly where no more stimulating beverage than orgeat could be got, and where nothing was danced but Scotch reels and country dances such disgruntled animadversions hoaxed no one."

Ros

I am so glad you enjoyed it, Karen. You have so many more Heyer treats ahead of you!

A Civil Contract is one of my favourites, mainly because of Jenny. So easy to identify with the shy, modest, plain, unromantic girl who secretly harbours a crush on her beautiful friend's dashing admirer. And then has to work through all the foreseen and unforeseen difficulties of making her reality come true. I love the way that each character develops through the book - Jenny as she learns to have confidence in her new world and in her marriage; Adam as he learns to value what he has more highly than what he was compelled to give up; Julia as she descends from the romantic to childish petulance.

The cast of secondary characters are delightful too - Jonathan Chawleigh, of course, but also Lydia and Brough, Adam's mother, Charlotte and Lambert, Rockhill, Julia's parents.

Something that Heyer always does well is humour. Here, I love the way that she uses that humour to signal the developing relationship between Adam and Jenny, (Lambert says...). In another of my favourite Heyers (Venetia), she makes the point that one can find sympathy in affliction even from people you positively dislike, but that a shared sense of humour is a true basis for friendship.

The last few pages of the book are an exercise in authorly restraint. There are no impassioned declarations of love, no one is swept off their feet, no urgent embraces. I don't know whether, if Heyer were writing today, her editor would have allowed her to end with such a mundane, prosaic declaration of love. But it's so much better the way she does it. We feel that what's between these two is real and lasting, built on a solid foundation of mutual affection and understanding. It would have been wholly out of character for Adam and Jenny to behave like the hero and heroine of any other romance novel. Giles Jonathan's tooth and the heifer calf are much more important, indeed.

Mr Cornflower

I may unwittingly irritate two sets of fans by saying that Heyer seems in some ways the female Patrick O'Brian; I should hasten to add that I intend to praise both of them. To write this sort of historical romance well is a lot harder than it looks. I greatly enjoyed it and will come back for more. Still, I would have enjoyed it even more if some-one had pushed the dreadful Julia under the wheels of a curricle - Brough had it right when obliquely congratulating Adam on his lucky escape.

Ros

At least with Heyer, Julia is not the heroine with whom we are all supposed to sympathise. Sadly, too many writers of imitation-Heyer Regency fiction model their heroines on Julia, rather than Jenny.

Barbara

The plot of A Civil Contract has obvious similarities with that of Sense and Sensibility. Julia is in the irritating Marianne role (how I agree with Mr Cornflower) and Jenny plays Elinor, claiming to have no ‘sensibility’ but being in love with Adam all along. I agree with Susie that Jenny appears too much of a doormat for the modern reader but in terms of an arranged marriage she does pretty well and deserves to. I don’t find Adam particularly admirable or charming. He prides himself on being a gentleman and in all exterior matters he behaves like one, yet he is quite cruel to Jenny on a couple of occasions and should never have spoken regretfully to Julia as he did, once he was married; some scenes are quite heartbreaking for Jenny’s admirers. (Cue his fanciers and defenders!) I certainly don’t agree that the book isn’t well written. It’s cleverly constructed and full of lively and amusing characters. It’s unusual for a Heyer ending to celebrate a love which is neither passionate nor romantic (no sudden ‘Darling, I’ve been so blind!’ from Adam) and the realism strengthens the novel. Jenny wins, so virtue triumphs!

Mary McCartney

I found the ending quite poignant in its domesticity. I did enjoy the book, much more than I'd expected, having read a surfeit of Heyer romances in my teenage years. Reading them back then I missed the period details - the war, the happenings in the Royal Family and the political upheavals. I found the dialogue more mannered and more irritating than I remembered although at times Heyer seems to cut free of the affectations of speech and it all runs along more pleasingly.

Mary McCartney

And Mr C is right: Julia should have been strangled at birth!

Ros

Aha!

I agree, actually, Adam is not perfect. There are times when he does hurt Jenny quite badly. But he is all the more realistic for those failings, I think. And I can't help feeling quite a lot of sympathy for him, having to swallow his pride so much and to abandon the dream that he had built up (which, I venture to suggest, was not wholly his fault, being the result of too much exposure to Julia Oversley while in an enfeebled state, and then fanned during the time of separation while he was back with the army). It would be strange if he did not find it hard, and if those feelings were not occasionally directed towards their most immediate object. And he works pretty hard to overcome them, for her sake. It's clear to me by the end of the book that he has developed a genuine affection, not only for Jenny, but also her father. He does behave as a gentleman, but what is most appealing to me about Adam, is that he has the emotions of a human being. The book is, I think, really about Adam and his transition into adulthood. It's a journey that I think he makes with significantly less fuss and with much greater success than many other people, real or Heyer (See Dominic Alastair.)

Juxtabook

This is one of my favourite Heyer novels. I love the mundane everydayness of friendship and family life that is celebrated and the subtle and realistic portrayal of the marriage, and of Adam's relations with his father-in-law, which is a lovely clash of cultures.

I particularly agree with Ros, "The book is, I think, really about Adam and his transition into adulthood." In someways it is more a coming of age work than a romance. This is Heyer at her best portraying marraige, friendships, sibling relations in a full and realistic way. Some of the supporting cast are charactures but the actual relationships are real enough. The whole ensemble helps to shape Adam from the rather institutionalised soldier, who is just a cog in a larger machine, to a man who can act as head of his house both financially and emotionally. Adam always was a gentleman, but now he is perhaps more of a 'man' in a grown-up sense. It is a tribute to Heyer that she makes a man of Adam by the unusual trick of moveing him from a masculine army setting to a domestic one; however unlikely it is the making of him.

Intellectualising about it aside I think it is just a lovely read. I think anyone about to get married should read this book. The sharing of burdens, the humour, and the sense of looking after each other is the best recipe for a happy marriage of which I can think.

ctussaud

What sprang to mind was the similarity between this fictional marriage, and the real one between Benjamin Disraeli and his wife, a rich widow some years his senior. In the 1830s Disraeli wrote, ”All my friends who married for love and beauty either beat their wives or live apart from them… I may commit many follies in life but I never intend to marry for love”. They became devoted to each other and in later years he teased her by saying that he had only married her for her money: her reply invariably was "but if you had to do it again, you'd do it for love". How easily those words would have fitted Jenny's lips.
I love the colourful argot, or 'cant', mainly copied from the lower orders, which the 'ton' adopted, and I propose immediately to replace the prosaic "you're looking well" for "you're in plump currant"!

Elaine

So glad that nearly everyone enjoyed this Heyer, my favourite. I read all of GH when a teenager and have adored them ever since (though her later ones are distressingly reliant on 'cant' and Regency slang and exclamation marks which can be irritating, but her middle period, of which this book is one was when she was in full flow.

When I first read this when it was published I was disappointed as I was expecting a dashing masterful hero and glam heroine and the usual Mr Darcy type hero. As the years went by and I became a bit more mature (I hope) I began to really appreciate A Civil Contract and began to feel a real fondness for Jenny whose quiet love for Adam had had to be kept hidden for so long. There is a character in one of GH's later novels, The Nonsesuch, called Tiffany who is spoiled and selfish and there are great similarities between her and Julia in this book.

The lack of dash which I missed as a teenager, I now love. The quiet ending when love has grown between Adam and Jenny is delightful "He did lover her, differently, but perhaps more enduringly"

Not glamorous or heart stopping but true.

Ros

Lady of Quality is almost the last book Heyer wrote and she was, to some extent, just going through the motions. If you haven't already started it, try Black Sheep instead - the plot is very similar, but the writing and the characterisation is much better.

Ros

Karen, I meant to make a recommendation of another Heyer to try next. I think you would enjoy Venetia very much indeed. A very different hero and heroine from Jenny and Adam but no less interesting and appealing.

Cornflower

Thankyou, Ros, that's very helpful.

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