A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

From the desk of Elaine Simpson Long: 

I was 15 when I first read A Civil Contract and I remember being slightly disappointed at the lack of a dashing alpha male hero with matching heroine, but now that I am older and wiser, I find this Georgette Heyer to be a deeply and quietly satisfying book.  It is the story of a marriage of convenience in which Adam Deveril will marry a rich heiress, save his family from ruin and in so doing, discover a satisfaction and happiness in his married life which he did not expect to find.

Adam is home from the Peninsular Wars and in love with the beautiful Julia Oversely, but when he learns of the state of his family’s finances he withdraws his suit.  It is Julia’s father, honouring Adam’s action, who suggests an arranged marriage.  He knows Jonathan Chawleigh, a hugely wealthy man in the city, who is eager to ally his daughter with a member of the ton and is willing to pay handsomely to gain a position in society for his daughter.  Initially revolted and repulsed by the scheme, Adam realises he has no choice but to agree in order to save Fontley and provide for his family.

Jenny has always loved Adam, as a friend of Julia she had accepted her position as the satellite in Julia’s starry wake, and knows that Adam is unaware of her existence and does not love her.  She also knows that his family dislike the match and deem her an unworthy wife for a Deveril, but she makes her position clear to Adam’s sister, Lydia: “You love him don’t you? This isn’t what you wished.  I only want to tell you that he’ll be comfortable. I’ll see to that. You don’t think it signifies but it does. Men like to be comfortable. Well he will be – that’s all”

I love the growing relationship between Adam and Jenny and her journey into the heart of his family, but there is one character in A Civil Contract who is pure delight, a figure who would fit beautifully into Fielding’s Tom Jones or Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, and that is Jenny’s father Jonathan Chawleigh:

Mr Chawleigh was a middle aged man, whose powerful frame was clad in an old fashioned suit of snuff coloured broadcloth…he favoured a mode that had been for many years worn by respectable tradesmen and a country squires…his coat was full skirted, and he wore knee breaches with stockings and square toed shoes embellished with steel buckles…..his waistcoat relieved the general drabness of his raiment with broad, alternating stripes of grass green and gold “

A larger than life, warm hearted, no nonsense figure, Mr Chawleigh is my favourite character in all Heyer.  He practically takes over this story and is, indeed, at its very centre.  The plot line, simple as it is, needs the embellishment of his humour, his sometimes overbearing ways, his generosity of heart and his love for his only child Jenny.  Without him this book would be a worthy read, but would lack sparkle and zest.  He is wonderful and I, a Dickens fan of many years, would go so far as to say he is worthy to stand alongside Mr Pickwick for sheer fun and joi de vivre.

And of course, we have a happy ending.   Adam comes to realise Jenny’s worth  “He did love her, differently but perhaps more enduringly and he had grown to depend on her.  She thought they would have many years of quiet content; never reaching the heights, but living together in deepening friendship and comfort”.

4 out of 5 Stars


  • A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer
  • Sourcebooks Casablanca (November 1, 2011)
  • Trade paperback & eBook (432) pages
  • ISBN: 978-1402238772
  • Genre: Regency Romance, Historical Romance


We received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks Casablanca © 2011; text Elaine Simpson Long © 2010, austenprose.com. Updated 15 March 2022.

38 thoughts on “A Civil Contract, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

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  1. This one has been on my wish list for some time now. I’m fascinated by the plot, but one reason Ms. Heyer’s novels are so wonderful is the character development. I can’t wait to meet Mr. Chawleigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I always find this such a comforting, satisfying book with the way the characters evolve. In fact, it was one of only two books (both Heyer’s) that I took with me when I had to stay in hospital for a week last year. Nothing makes you forget your surroundings like Mr Chawleigh and his awful interior decorating!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, this sounds so sweet! I’ve heard Richard Armitage reads the latest audiobook version; is that right? I wish my library would order it!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is indeed a very different Heyer – and yes, I agree that one has to be am older reader to fully appreciate it. I think it would not be taken up by any editor today as a romance – there’s no hot passion, and the hero truly loves another woman for most of the book! And in the end, the love is about “comfort” and “dependency” – which isn’t everyone’s first thought when one thinks “romance”. However, it is a lovely story, and I would like to think that many people were probably like Adam and Jenny. For a similar story with slightly more passion, you could read Winston Graham’s Poldark and Demelza. Thanks for this lovely review of A Civil Contract. I would love to have my own copy after long last!


    1. I agree with everything you’ve written, thank you, msaggie. The “Poldark” saga comparison is absolutely spot-on! Thank you to Elaine for your wonderful review and your description of Mr. Chawleigh, and his contributions (“sparkle and zest” — perfect!) to this lovely story.

      As a woman “of a certain age,” I highly recommend this novel, but as other have said, it is very different from GH’s other “romances.” Don’t expect that here, and you’ll enjoy this poignant love story.


  5. This was my very first Heyer book, and it will always be my favorite. It is definitely different from the rest of hers that I’ve read…in fact, it’s different from most romance novels I’ve ever read by anyone. But I found it incredibly satisfying, because I can truly see Adam and Jenny’s mutual happiness lasting long into old age. I don’t think that would have happened had he been able to marry Julia, whose selfish nature and need to receive love (without necessarily giving back in equal measure) are not qualities that help to maintain a strong relationship.


  6. I am piqued by your review. This does sound different from other Heyer books… And I do like it when the silently devoted ‘best friend’ of the leading lady gets the guy in the end. =)

    Can’t wait to make the acquaintance of Mr. Chawleigh. Another memorable secondary character by Heyer, which I always look for!


  7. I was very young (high school, probably) when I first picked up this one – and promptly put it down again. Being older (much!) and wiser, I need to try it again.


  8. I’m one of those who did not care for this book when I read it in my early 20s–but now I truly appreciate it more!


  9. This is one of my top five (or so) Heyers. I love it because there is no malice in it. The characters are all kind and decent (even the beautiful but tiresome Julia). Even Adam’s very expensive and difficult mother loves babies, after all.

    Another character who adds sparkle and zest to the story is Adam’s sister Lydia. She is the first one to really hit it off with Mr. Chawleigh, and the two of them get along like a house on fire! It takes Adam almost till the end of the book to come to appreciate his father-in-law. Another wonderful character is Adam’s aunt Lady Nassington – who is a match for Mr. Chawleigh. And who could forget Adam’s friend Brough? Or the Marquis of Rockhill? They are all wonderful – not a dud among them!

    I love the scene where Julia faints and Jenny takes over with calm good sense. “I’ve never fainted myself, but when we were at school together Miss Oversley was forever doing it.” And the scene where Jenny compels Julia to go out driving with her. And the one where Mr. Chawleigh outmanoeuvers Adam’s mother over Lydia’s visit. And where

    My favourite scene of all is where Adam acts on Mr. Chawleigh’s advice to sell his Funds due to a panic in the City. Wonderful! There’s lots that’s fun and funny in this book, but the growing love (“Lambert says!”) between Adam and Jenny is best of all.


  10. IMHO this novel is to Georgette Heyer what Mansfield Park is to Jane Austen, so I understand perfectly why it might not appeal to all young readers. It has a great deal of realism and at times one cannot feel fully satisfied with the just comfortable -not at all passionate- relationship that is portrayed. Yet, on subsequential readings one learns to appreciate it.

    Of course I agree with Elaine that Mr. Chawleigh is one of the greatest comic characters created by Heyer. On the comedy, once one gets to know the characters we can appreciate the private joke about “Lambert says…” LOL.

    One final comment, only at the very beginning the plot could have seemed to go similar to The Convenient Marriage, however, the twist is given very early as it is the male and head of the family in financial distress who contracts the marriage of convenience, not the youngest daughter. And this youngest daughter, Lydia, although a secondary character is also an charming character as her ‘predecessor’ Horry Winwood.


  11. I agree that this book is probably best understood by women of a certain age. I admit to being frustrated by the disappointment of our hero but Julia’s character being revealed made me glad for Adam.

    I loved the tension created at the end of the book by the financial crisis and Mr. Chalwleigh’s unique ability to be of help.


  12. I loved the first Heyer book I read, but was afraid that they would all be the same. A Civil Contract was the second of her books I read, and I was officially hooked after that. I loved the characters of Jenny and Mr. Chawleigh, and the realism of the story. I’m still reading through “new” Heyers and I haven’t been disappointed yet.


  13. When I first read this, I was disappointed like many others when I first read this, at a much younger age. This is one that you need a little life experience to appreciate fully, but when Adam tells Jenny what he’s realized about Julia, and she knows how he feels, it’s worth it.

    Mr. Chawleigh’s peacocks! and the bathroom! oh, yeah! I also find it interesting how other people realize the truth before Jenny does. Definitely worth reading, and a great review here. I’m so glad the take wasn’t one I’ve heard before, “Threre’s no romance!” Oh, but there is.


  14. I’m intrigued that the characters seem to depart from the typical Heyer hero/heroine. The ending is also a departure from the usual. I’d like to read this story to see how the relationship between Adam and Jenny develops.


  15. The idea of coming to admire and value (if not completely fall in love with) a completely unexpected person appeals to a romantic like myself. Sometimes the person who we come to appreciate the most has been before us all along, but we were too blinded by unachievable desires to see what should have been so clear.


  16. This sounds like a perfect book to curl up with on a rainy day. It’s interesting to have the man be in need of a convenient marriage for a change. I look forward to reading A Civil Contract. Great review and comments!


  17. although I am certainly ‘of a certain age’, I still don’t like this book nearly as well as others. I dislike that although Adam does come to value Jenny, I never thought it was much of a passionate love. More like a brother or best friend. Maybe in the long run, not a bad thing. It just always seemed unfair to me that Jenny never got a passionate love, and Adam was so blase about it. Like he is saying, what? I moved on a long time ago, but never mentioned it to her. As if it weren’t very important.


  18. Thanks for the review. I am intrigued by the character of Chawleigh. He seems such a wonderful man and I’d like to read more of him.


  19. I love the review and the comments about this book. I like to read books where the hero and heroine are married, I can relate to them more than most. Adam, Jenny, Julai and Mr. Chawleigh seem to be very insteresting characters.


  20. Thank you for all your lovely comments about my favourite Heyer. I note that many of you agree that read when one was young it was slightly disappointing, but read as mature wise or unwise older ladies, we appreciate it more.

    I adore Mr Chawleigh – underneath all that bluster is a kind hearted man who truly loves his daughter and he grows to value Adam as well.

    I now feel after all this that I must go and read it again!


  21. I’ve always been intrigued by this one, despite the fact that it is not – as my friends have warned me – “typical Heyer.” I’m going to be a good boy and save it for later, after I have met all the Sophys and Vidals of her fiction, but after this review I definitely continue to be intrigued. Moreso, because I recently finished Friday’s Child, and while the setup of the two books sound very similar, of course it doesn’t go beyond that….


  22. This was my first Heyer and I loved it even when I was 12 years old. Only now I understand the depth of Jenny’s love for Adam, and I didn’t catch the hints about Julia’s character until I was older myself.

    I love all the characters. Lydia and Brough and the gentle humour in all the scenes with Adam’s mother. Charlotte and Lambert and the peacocks. The servants, the tenants and Jenny’s problems in adjusting to her new position. Martha Pinhoe! Miss Poolstock! Lady and Lord Oversley and Charles – by Jove, they stand in front of my eyes as though I had visited them yesterday, the whole dramatis personae.

    Fontley seems to be a wonderful place. And Jenny is without a doubt my favorite Heyer heroine. A good housewife, a devoted wife, plain and a bit given to overload jewels. And anything but boring.

    If you didn’t read this book yet, I’m jealous for the wonderful time you will have meeting them.

    And Mr Chawleigh – I love him!


  23. I have to admit that I’ve been afraid to pick this one up. I’ve been told that its very different from Heyers usual light-hearted books. While I don’t mind reading more complex and deeper issues, I always turn to a Heyer novel when I need a good laugh. But reading the review and the comments here make me think that I need to suck it up and read it :)


  24. This isn’t just my favorite Heyer novel, it’s my all time favorite book. I’ve read it so many times my copy is held together with hope and duct tape.

    The story has such a sweetness as Adam emotionally moves from his emotionally needy but beautiful fantasy girl Julia to the practical, comfortable and loving Jenny.

    I personally love the added background of the unfolding events in Europe and how Adam finds himself disconnected from most of the society people around him and longing to be back on the battlefield. Heyer such is a master at taking her readers to a time and place that the reader feels swept up in anxiety of London as they wait to see if Wellington has won or lost at Waterloo.


  25. I just finished rereading this (again)-and it is probably one of my favorites. It shows the positives of a quiet, enduring love based in friendshop and caring for and wanting to learn about each other.


  26. I’ve stumbled across this review a year later and just had to comment :-)

    I’ve read a dozen Heyer books now, and this one is my favorite. It’s one of my favorite books of any genre. I don’t fit the stereotype, as I’m only in my late 20s. However, I’m very strongly of the opinion that love is a choice and actions (like 1 Corinthians 13) and not flittery-fluttery feelings, so maybe that comes into play. I love the commitment they both show to their marriage and their determination to be the best spouses that they can be.


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