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.