Since I came back from holiday I have been very busy, helping out at an Autumn Fair in Leicestershire, meetings regarding my upcoming project with Life Coaching, have just had a weekend in Harwich attending, as an observer, a training course for same and in between I have read the Slater biography of Dickens which was magnificent, but I felt I needed a rest and to let the brain go into relax mode. Well, under those circs it is either a DL Sayers or an Agatha Christie or a Georgette Heyer and hawk eyed visitors will have spotted down the left hand column of the screen, a series of little pics of books I have read by this wonderful author in the last seven days.
I have loved them all once more, but I am going to focus on one - A Civil Contract. I first read this when I was about 15 and was slightly disappointed (not now that I am older and less romantic.....). No dashing alpha males in this one with a lively spirited dashing heroine to match. Adam Deveril is home from the Peninsular Wars following the unexpected death of his father and finds that the family are on the verge of ruin and he may be forced to sell his beloved family home, Fontley. When on leave earlier in the year recovering from a wound sustained in battle, he had met Julia Oversely, the Season's beauty, and they fell in love. Lurking in the background was Julia's old school friend, Jenny Chawleigh, totally unnoticed but who we learn later has also fallen in love with Adam.
It is Julia's father, who honours Adam's withdrawal from his courtship of his daughter, who comes up with the idea of the Civil Contract. He knows Jenny's father, 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 for it. Initially revolted and repulsed by the scheme, Adam realises he has no choice in order to save Fontley and provide for his family and so they marry.
I did wonder when recently re-reading this title if Georgette Heyer had read Sense and Sensibility and had Marianne and Elinor Dashwood in mind when it came to the portrayal of Julia and Jenny. Julia is definitely all sensibility, fainting when she meets Adam at a party shortly after his marriage and nearly causing a scandal, she is spoiled and selfish, though totally unaware of this and, as with Marianne, she ends up marrying an older man, the Marquis of Rockhill (a Colonel Brandon figure) who surrounds her with luxury and whose two step daughters adore their new mama and dote on her. It is slowly borne in on Adam that perhaps he has been mistaken in Julia's character:
"She was telling his mother how nervous she had been when Rockhill had taken her to meet his children, making a droll story out of it. Such an ordeal it had been! but they positively killed her with kindness, she was becoming odiously spoiled...... Listening to this Adam remembered the words she had once spoken to him 'I must be loved, I can't live if I am not loved'. The thought flashed through his mind that she was basking in adulation..."
She is also beautifully summed up by another character, Brough, Adam's close friend: "I daresay she'll cut an excellent dash but she ain't my notion of a comfortable wife. Never any saying where you'll find her. Might leave her up in the attics and come home to find her in the cellar"
Jenny is the Elinor Dashwood character - quiet, loyal, accepting of her position as the satellite in Julia's starry wake, and then the chance of being married to the man she has secretly loved falls into her lap. She knows his family dislike the match, deem her an unworthy wife for Adam, she knows he does not love her 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"......Lydia embraced Adam 'I don't hate her, I don't"
I am enormously fond of Jenny Chawleigh as I was fond of Elinor Dashwood and find Julia Oversely as irritating as I did Marianne Dashwood when she was having the vapours and causing her family no end of trouble and pain and of course in the end, Adam comes to realise her worth and truly loves her. "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".
I love the simple, almost home like, ending to this book and the 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 a 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 favored 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. The most hen hearted members of the dandy set would have died at the stake rather than have work such a garment, but it was certainly magnificent. So was the diamond pin stuck into Mr Chawleigh's neck cloth and the emerald ring on his finger"
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 the centre of it all. The plot line, simple as it is, needs the embellishment of his humour, 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 a magnificent character 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.
I do love this book. Just saying that in case you have not realised that yet. First published in 1961 with Georgette Heyer at the top of her form. Her later books had, to use one of her Regency phrases, 'a sad falling off' and were rather careless in plot lines with an over use of cant and slang, but this is good writing and shows that the author is not just a silly romantic novelist, which is how she was viewed by her fellow authors and the public her entire life. (I always get annoyed to find Georgette Heyer shelved next to the Mills and Boon in my local library) She was upset at this, but became resigned to it, gently mocking her own work. She does herself a disservice. Here is a quote from another one of her books:
"The nuptials of her youngest born had proved to be too much for Lady Winwood's delicate constitution....she withdrew with her two remaining daughters to the fastness of Winwood and there built up her shattered nervous system on a diet of eggs and cream and paregoric draughts, and the contemplation of the Marriage Settlement"
The Divine Jane herself could not have put it any better.