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A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
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A Civil Contract (original 1961; edition 2009)

by Georgette Heyer

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1,154457,054 (3.98)106
Member:SharonGoforth
Title:A Civil Contract
Authors:Georgette Heyer
Info:HQN Books (2009), Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:fiction, 20th century, english, novel, regency, georgette heyer

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A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer (1961)

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I am going to gush.

I've read a lot of Georgette Heyer - as the originator of the regency romance, she is a hugely influential author. She is a talented, careful writer with a flair for comedy, and some of her best books are also some of her funniest.

A Civil Contract is a departure from her usual formula, and it knocked my socks off. It begins with Adam Deveril being forced to return home from his position in the Army, as his spendthrift father has unexpectedly died in a riding accident, and he has inherited Fontley, the rapidly deteriorating family seat, and a whole pile of debt incurred by his improvident parent. I'm sure he intended to remake the family fortunes, if he could step away from the gaming table/horse races long enough to stop losing money, but whatevs, dad. Way to go.

Adam is most definitely not cut from same cloth as his father, though they may share a tailor. He is a clear-eyed realist with some actual scruples, and it becomes apparent that Fontley is going to have to be sold to pay for the debts left behind when dad kicked off the mortal coil. His business manager is relieved to note that Adam doesn't seem to have many illusions about winning back the family fortunes on the turn of a card, but isn't thrilled to see the family seat go out of the family, and suggests that Adam look about for an heiress to marry.

Adam, on the other hand, is deeply infatuated with the sylph-like Julia Oversley, this year's most popular and sought after debutante. And Julia reciprocates these affections. He realizes that he can't marry Julia, given that once Fontley is sold he will quite literally not even have a pot to pee in, but in the interests of love, he is going to sacrifice himself on the altar of bachelorhood.

And then he meets Jonathan Chawleigh, a wealthy Cit whose made his fortune in trade. Here there be cashflow. Chawleigh has no illusions about Adam being likely to fall in love with his daughter, the ordinary Jenny, but that's all right with him. He wants Jenny to marry into a social class to which he himself will never gain entry. While he was hoping for an Earl, Adam, a mere Viscount, will do.

He meets Jenny. Small, a bit plump, with a short neck, she is no Julia. But they get on, a bit, and agree to marry.

"He was obliged to master an impulse to retreat, and to tell himself that her acceptance of the proposed match was no more coldblooded than his own.

He was quite as pale as she, and he replied, in a strained voice: ‘Miss Chawleigh, if you feel that you could bear it I shall count myself fortunate. I won’t offer you false coin. To make the sort of protestations natural to this occasion would be to insult you, but you may believe me sincere when I say that if you do me the honour to marry me I shall try to make you happy.’

She got up. ‘I shall be. Don’t think of that! I don’t wish you to try to – Only to be comfortable! I hope I can make you so: I’ll do my best. And you’ll tell me what you wish me to do – or if I do something you don’t like – won’t you?’"

And so it begins. They marry, and try to make a life together.

There are several times in this book where my heart just broke for Jenny. She is obviously in love with Adam - she had been friendly with Julia and had met him while he danced attendance on her much prettier friend. But she is wise beyond her years, and realizes that while she cannot compete with Julia in looks or fairylike appeal, she is married to him, and Julia is not. She sets out to make a place for herself the only way she knows how: by becoming the mistress of Fontley, by not complaining if he is late, by making sure he has his tea how he likes it. If this sounds like Jenny is masquerading as a Golden Retriever, well, I can understand that. But that's not how it felt. It felt wise. And generous.

And, in the end, Jenny shows herself to be a better person, and a better wife, than the immature and self-centered Julia would have been. Speaking to Julia as she makes the claim that it is Jenny who has gained the most as a result of the marriage, Adam says:

"He did not answer for a moment, and then he said gently: ‘I owe Jenny a great deal, you know. She studies all the time to please me, never herself. Our marriage – isn’t always easy, for either of us, but she tries to make it so, and behaves more generously than I do. Given her so much! You know better than to say that, my dear! I had nothing to give her but a title – and I wonder sometimes if she sets any more store by that than you would."

Finally, charmingly, convincingly, Adam falls in love with "his Jenny," not in the infatuated way that a callow youth loves a lovely girl, but with gentle and real commitment:

"Yet, after all, Jenny thought that she had been granted more than she had hoped for when she had married him. He did love her: differently, but perhaps more enduringly; and he had grown to depend on her. She thought that they would have many years of quiet content: never reaching the heights, but living together in comfort and deepening friendship. Well, you can’t have it both ways, she thought, and I couldn’t live in alt all the time, so I daresay I’m better off as things are."

And so, Heyer convinces me that, in the end, they will be a truly happy couple. Adam will fondly remember his brief but passionate love for Julia. But he will always come home to Jenny, because she, as it turns out, is the love of his life.

"After all, life was not made up of moments of exaltation, but of quite ordinary, everyday things." ( )
  moonlight_reads | Dec 11, 2016 |
Called home from his military service upon the death of his father, Adam Deveril, the new Lord Lynton, is appalled to discover he must deal with the late Viscount's astronomical debts---debts which will demand the selling of Fontley, the Deveril family estate in Lincolnshire. When his attorney tentatively suggests that he might "marry money", Adam recoils from the idea---not least because of his tacit understanding with the beautiful Julia Oversley. Recognising that his circumstances forbid their marriage, Adam calls upon Lord Oversley to explain himself, and must endure a painful parting scene with Julia. To his further discomfort, Adam finds Lord Oversley offering the same advice as his attorney; warning him too that once Fontley is gone he will never get it back, and arguing that his duty to his widowed mother and two sisters requires his self-sacrifice. Deeply reluctant but finally resigned, Adam agrees to a marriage of convenience with Jenny Chawleigh, the daughter of the uncultured but wealthy businessman, Jonathan Chawleigh; exchanging his title and social position for Mr Chawleigh's fortune... This 1961 novel by Georgette Heyer is one of her longest and most serious works---and certainly her most divisive. Eschewing her usual humour and deftly handled romance, Heyer instead offers a much more realistic portrait of how marriages were made amongst the aristocracy in the early 19th century. This diversion from her usual approach is one that does not appeal to all readers, with A Civil Contract provoking a great deal of resentment for, in particular, its refusal to manufacture a fairy-tale ending for its characters; although I would argue that they find more happiness than was was usually the case in reality, in this sort of situation. This is a novel with both depth and complexity. It is also unusual for its type in that, at the outset, the marriage of convenience is shown from the man's point of view. In this, Heyer recognises how important it is that the reader understands what Adam suffers under the triple blow of his father's death, his discovery of the debt, and his renunciation of Julia---because otherwise, we could hardly excuse his initial attitude to the plain, shy Jenny: a deep, instinctive resentment exacerbated by both Adam's in-bred class snobbery and his sense of his own powerlessness under the suffocating generosity of Mr Chawleigh---who may well be this novel's real triumph: crass and insensitive - "a vulgarian", as his unappreciative son-in-law labels him; yet at the same time shrewd and kind, and devoted to his only child: we appreciate his good qualities even as we understand why he sometimes drives Adam to the edge of madness. But despite Heyer's care in delineating Adam's state of mind, the reader's sympathies will certainly be with Jenny, as she suppresses her own feelings and tries to be the wife that Adam needs, if not wants, and strives to fulfil the duties of her new and unfamiliar position. (Is there anyone who doesn't agree with Mr Chawleigh when he tells Adam that she's too good for him?) A Civil Contract unfolds over a longer timeframe than most of Heyer's novels, about eighteen months, during which time the apparently ill-matched couple struggles towards a better understanding of each other and a comfortable life together. The passing of time is felt not only in the birth of Adam and Jenny's child (another Heyer first), but in the subplot of Adam's younger sister, the delightful Lydia, who makes her debut and later becomes engaged; and in Adam's monitoring of the military situation in Europe, as the conflict moves inexorably towards the Battle of Waterloo: an event that will mark the beginning of a new phase of the Lyntons' marriage...

Looking over his water-logged acres, Adam thought: I still have Fontley. Then, as he thought how much it would cost to bring his neglected land to prosperity, depression surged up in him again... Still, he had at least made a start, and very fortunate he was to have been able to build even two new cottages, when less than a year before he had faced the prospect of being forced to sell Fontley. That had seemed to him the worst thing that could befall him; he had thought that no sacrifice would be too great that would save his home. He had been offered the means to do it, and he had accepted the offer of his own will; and to indulge now in nostalgic yearnings was foolish and contemptible. One could never have everything one wanted in this world, and he, after all, had been granted a great deal: Fontley, and a wife who desired only to make him happy. His heart would never leap at the sight of her; there was no magic in their dealings; but she was kind, and comfortable, and he had grown to be fond of her---so fond, he realised, that if, by the wave of a wand he could cause her to disappear he would not wave it. Enchantment had vanished from the world; his life was not romantic, but practical, and Jenny had become a part of it.
4 vote lyzard | Oct 11, 2016 |
A Civil Contract is a rather different kind of historical romance than we usually expect from Heyer. Instead of a determined heroine driving the hero crazy, we have a hero giving up his great love to enter into a marriage of convenience after his father's death reveals that his family is facing ruin. Adam has nothing to offer but his title, while Jenny has lots of money and a father who wants to see her marry a title. And what a father he is, driving Adam crazy with his meddling and "surprises". But little by little things begin to thaw between the two of them. Adam manages to lose some of his resentment and Jenny learns to make her way in her new world. All of which would be much easier if his previous love could keep her emotions under control.

Like I said, this is different from your average Heyer: much more melancholic and almost a downer at times. It's a book about being content with what you have, instead of aspiring for the heights. But when it comes to the everyday realities of life, it can be quite beautiful. So don't come into to it looking for the next The Grand Sophy or Frederica, because it is absolutely nothing like. But if you want a quieter romance, this may be for you. ( )
  inge87 | Aug 5, 2016 |
Adam Deveril is a captain in the British Army, fighting under the Duke of Wellington in France, in the waning days of the first Napoleonic War. Shortly before Napoleon abdicates and peace is declared, Lynton is forced to sell out and return home. His father, Viscount Lynton, has died in a hunting accident and left a severely debt-ridden and mortgage-encumbered estate, along with two young daughters who need husbands and a wife to whom the word 'economy' is unknown.

Deveril's financial advisor and others urge him to consider marrying a rich merchant's daughter to ensure his family's future, but he had earlier fallen in love with a beautiful young noblewoman and can't imagine life with anyone else. It doesn't take long for him to realize that he has no choice, and so in short order he winds up married to Jenny Chawleigh, a shy, plain, plump young woman whose father is both the richest man in London and a vulgarian whose blunt ways set Adam's teeth on edge.

This is Heyer, so we know there will be a happy ending. But it's not the one you might have expected at the outset, and there's much less of the author's trademark slang-soaked slapstick along the way. A Civil Contract presents a view of the aristocracy and the merchant class of Regency London that virtually none of her other books do, and it's deeply satisfying to see familiar character types from different angles. The hero is not perfect, and neither is the heroine, but the author's plotting and personality profiles are as close to perfection as she ever got, in my opinion. Enthusiastically recommended. ( )
3 vote rosalita | Jul 10, 2016 |
Adam's a snob and not worth it. ( )
  Helenliz | May 30, 2016 |
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The library at Fontley Priory, like most of the principal apartments in the sprawling building, looked to the south-east, commanding a prospect of informal gardens and a plantation of poplars, which acted as a wind-break and screened from view the monotony of the fen beyond.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099474441, Paperback)

Adam Deveril, a hero of Salamanca, returns from the Peninsula War to find his family on the brink of ruin and the broad acres of his ancestral home mortgaged to the hilt.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:53 -0400)

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Adam Deveril, the Viscount Lynton, returns from the Peninsular War to find his family on the brink of ruin and the broad acres of his ancestral home mortgaged. He soon realises that the drastic measure of marriage is the only answer.

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