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The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

The Reluctant Widow (1946)

by Georgette Heyer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,309519,054 (3.88)1 / 152
  1. 20
    The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer (konallis)
    konallis: Both novels combine romance and social comedy with most nefarious goings-on; _The Talisman Ring_ is the more comedy-oriented and farcical of the two.

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The reason I find Georgette Heyer a pleasure to read is simple: Her heroines are fools, her heroes are saturnine, and everyone around them makes me snort with laughter. When the leads are on stage alone or, ever so rarely, together, things get tedious fast. When the wagtail young male or the mischievous schoolgirl arrive trailing clouds of knowing innocence tinged with bombast, I am a happy man indeed.

Recovering from a recent re-descent into viral hell, I was so wretched I couldn't keep track of anything with stories in it. I was on a 24/7 diet of Sir David Attenborough. An estimable man, no one could say otherwise, but there are only so many whale flukes and nematodes and iridescent comb jellies I can look at before a hunger for story kindles. I fetched up in front of the tree-book TBR because basta with the blue light, scanned a few shelves, turned a corner and...

Looka tha'!

These decade-old trade paper Heyer reissues were a delightful idea on Sourcebooks's part, as they clearly determined to make them aesthetically in tune with the topic of Regency. This cover image tugged my sadly disused smile muscles into stiff but sincere action. I want to sit next to the lady and listen to what her clear, unsparing eyes have seen in her untrammelable mouth's widest, loudest Pronouncements. The gent in the embrasure will, no doubt, perceive that I pose no threat to what he quite clearly regards as His Woman.

To page one...and into a gloomy destination where a young governess alights from the stage and is gratefully whisked into a crested-doored coach by an attentive coachman, her trunks stowed aloft, and she bowls comfortably swathed in rugs to a scene of the most sparkling-wine-esque cross-purposes mistaken-identity repartee deliciousness. In four pages, the quite absurd plot is laid out. As I am not a Heyer-naive reader, I know that the "plot" will indeed unfold, in a cloud of exclamation marks, exactly following these lines; I also know that the ostensible plot will in no way get in the way of Heyer's seeming addiction to hiking her skirts and making an Olympic-speed dash into the weeds. The heroine, a hard-done-by daughter to a profligate father, tends towards the dudgeony end of Heyer's ladies. Lord Carlyon, her nemesis, tends towards the Mark II or rude-because-he-can-be end of her capable, masterful gentlemen. They will do swimmingly together.

Come now, no one alive is so naive as to not know that the hero and heroine will, in due course, end up together. Heyer. Regency. If-Then.

It is the supporting characters and the more interesting secondary plots that will make a Heyer reader for life of the casual peruser of this story. Or it will so irk and chafe on the unsusceptible-to-heightened-whimsical-language as to cause them ever after to shudder and glower at the sound of her name. They are equally valid responses, and greatly to be preferred to a bland indifference towards the read. Which latter response I am at a loss to conjure a possessor of, in all honesty, as this is a type and a level of prose that can induce panther-screeching fury or rapturous coos more readily than the oatmeal-farina-porridge stuff one finds so readily in all categories of writing.

At any rate, I was launched in the proper boat and heading to the destination I was expecting to reach with some alarums and excursions in the middle. With a great deal of pleasure I met young Nicholas Carlyon, murderer of intended bridegroom Eustace Cheviot, and his hound Bouncer. Why worry about Eustace, he needed killing, and besides it was really an accident (mostly) and Eustace really did bring the whole miserable incident on himself. At any rate, Author Heyer was at the time this book was being written in the middle 1940s was the mother of a teenaged boy, and it shows. Nicky is a perfect late-adolescent young man of good breeding and simple nobility. He despises all that is brummagem, he embraces pashes without exercising his nascent capacity for perspective *before* acting, he loves easily and fiercely...you've met him. You're probably related to him or wearing his slightly wrinkled skin yourownself.

Nicky's tidings set the marquee plot, marrying Miss Elinor Rochdale to Mr. Eustace Cheviot to cause the latter's estate entire to pass away from sorely overtaxed Lord Carlyon's unwilling grasp, into high gear. There is no time for frail sensibilities to quail at the mercenary nature of this cold-blooded scheme that verges on the disreputable. Miss Rochdale, having been diverted all unknowing from the grasp of a dreadful fate in the household of one Mrs. Macclesfield, really has no realistic option but to fall in with this bizarre proposal and submit to her fate. She puts up a vigorous rear-guard action, it is true, but one isn't entirely persuaded that she isn't in fact a smidgin relieved to allow Carlyon to take the reins of her future in his capable hands:
"You must not think that you will be lonely...{f}or we shall come and visit you."
She thanked {Nicky}, but turned once more to Carlyon. "And what is to be done about Mrs Macclesfield?' she asked.
"It is very uncivil of us, no doubt, but I am inclined to think that we shall do best to let Mrs Macclesfield pass out of our lives without embarking on explanations which cannot be other than awkward," he replied.
Soon enough the Widow Cheviot and her eager young protector Nicky, together with Bouncer, are up to silliness and goofiness and there's a so-totally-filmable drawing-room farce among the three of them that had me in stitches and...
...not one word I can say will convince you to sign on for this somewhat creaky ride if you don't like the quote above, or get all riled up at the abominable gender politics. If you do like the quote and accept that gender politics was utterly abominable 200 years ago, get the book.

That creakiness, let me say, is largely in the odd choice Author Heyer made of keeping the hero and heroine out of each other's company for most of the book. They speak more about than to each other. Also the inevitable heartfelt nuptials are barely even hinted at, with the most halfhearted proposal scene I've ever read!

I was very not-amused with the revolting dandyish behavior of Francis Cheviot, cousin to the Carlyons on one side of the family and to the late Eustace Cheviot on the other. At first I suspected Author Heyer was coding homophobia, and almost certainly she was on some level, but I realized quite quickly that the character's Exquisiteness was utterly period and I am projecting back onto his mannerisms a meaning they didn't convey to Regency people. The Carlyon men did not like Francis's foppishness because they do not share his interest in appearances, manners, etc etc. The 1940s audience would likely have read Author Heyer's words as properly homophobic, I am persuaded, but I know nothing of the lady's opinions about the subject and do know she was a meticulous researcher, so I'll go with her creating the disagreeable Exquisite without a double entendre.

I was very pleased as well with Author Heyer's resolution to the strange and sad espionage plot. On every front, this secondary-to-the-love-story aspect was entertaining and energetic. The resolution she crafted gave each character touched by it a believable reaction to and benefit from it.

I mentioned a filmable drawing-room farce scene. I was astounded to learn that only TWO of Heyer's novels were filmed! This one, made in 1950 as The Inheritance (in the USA), was...well...not great. Not awful, just not great. It needed a lead couple with chemistry and the one in the film gave every appearance of having met while quarreling over a parking space at the studio. What a sparkling thing a *good* film of this would be! ( )
  richardderus | Feb 2, 2019 |
I have not reviewed the list of Ms. Heyer's book publishing dates or the dates of her mysteries, but I wonder if this book wasn't her first attempt to write a mystery, while also having a romantic turn. Certainly, this book is far less madcap than her other books. I definitely enjoyed it, but it was not as funny, and the constant railing at Lord Carlyon by Elinor became tedious and unnecessary. Nicky and his dog were a matched set and fun to read. All-in-all a good read. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Jun 7, 2018 |
Classic Heyer romance in a rather Gothic set of circumstances. The Napoleonic spy was a poorly developed plot, however. Since Heyer has established her authority on this era of military French history, the novel could have been much more compelling as an intrigue / espionage theme. I tired of Elinor's complaints of misuse and Ned Carlyon's high-handedness. ( )
  SandyAMcPherson | Nov 7, 2017 |
I still love this story. I re-read whenever I need cheering up. ( )
  ClareRhoden | Nov 4, 2017 |
I got a bit tired of Elinor repeating, "You have used me shamefully!", while Lord Carlyon deflected all her complaints with a smile and the voice of reason. Not as good as Frederica, The Grand Sophy or Cotillion. Still, I've never read a Heyer I could classify as bad. Entertaining for the few days I was reading it. ( )
  booksandscones | Sep 2, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Georgette Heyerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Andriessen, J.F.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chabrian, DebbyCover Artsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donkersloot, PietCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garrett, CorneliusNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garrett, CorneliusNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Knobloch, TomCover photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was dark when the London to Littlehampton stagecoach lurched into the village of Billingshurst, and a cold mist was beginning to creep knee-high over the dimly seen countryside.
[Elinor has learned that Carlyon put about that she'd been secretly betrothed to his odious cousin, Eustace Cheviot, and she objects. Nicky Carlyon suddenly realizes that Elinor is a widow.]

'But I do not want to be a widow!' declared Elinor.

'I'm afraid it is now too late in the day to alter that,' said Carlyon.

'Besides, if you had known my cousin better, you would have wanted to be a widow,' Nicky assured her. (chapter 5)
'…Only consider, cousin! A man who must needs come creeping into a house by a secret stair can be up to no good!”

“Very true. There is a want of openness about such behaviour that strikes one forcibly, and makes me at least disinclined to pursue the acquaintance.' (chapter 7)
Bouncer, recognizing a well-wisher, got up, and thrust his cold, wet nose under her [Miss Beccles'] hand, assuming as he did so the soulful expression of a dog who takes but a benevolent interest in cats, livestock, and stray visitors. (chapter 9)
[Elinor arguing with Carlyon]

'I dare say you would not be in the least moved if you came to-morrow and found us all lying dead in our beds!' she said bitterly.

'On the contrary, I should be a good deal surprised.' (chapter 10)
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Book description
A fateful mistake... Stepping into the wrong carriage at a Sussex village, Elinor Rochdale is swept up in a thrilling and dangerous adventure. Elinor is rather surprised that her prospective employer is quite rich, and more so at tile decayed grandeur of the house to which she is transported. Elinor thought she was entering Highnoons as a governess, but Eduard Carlyon, the handsomely fashionable gentleman who carefully interviewed her obviously needed no governess. Carlyon was seeking a wife-not for himself, but for his young cousin, Eustace Cheviot, the dissipated and profligate owner of the ruined estate, who now lay on his deathbed. Surprised and repulsed as she was by this strange proposal, Elinor was nevertheless unable to resist Carlyon and his mystifying plans. Ned persuades Elinor to marry his cousin as a simple business arrangement.

A momentous decision... And so in the short span of a few hours would-be governess became a bride - and a widow almost as soon as the ring is on her finger. Even as she assumed the duties of mistress of Highnoons, even as she tried to solve the puzzle that placed her in this unusual situation, Elinor found herself inextricably- drawn to Ned Carlyon, the aloof, caustic man who treated her with nothing more than cousinly respect - the last thing that spirited Elinor wanted.... As partner in a secret conspiracy to save a family's name she finds herself embroiled with uninvited guests, housebreakers, missing government papers, an Napoleonic spy ring, and a shocking murder. And mysterious conspirator Lord Carlyon won't let her leave....
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0061001554, Paperback)

Georgette Heyer is best known for her witty and charming Regency romances, but she is also responsible for a handful of mystery novels. On occasion, mystery would find its way into her romances, embroiling her well-born heroes and heroines in adventures that were alternately chilling and hilarious. In The Reluctant Widow, Eleanor Rochdale, a young woman of good birth but straitened circumstances, sets out to accept a position as a governess and ends up plunged into a tangle of foreign intrigue instead.

Eleanor's adventure begins when she inadvertently mistakes the carriage waiting at the coach stop for one sent by her prospective employer, Mrs. Macclesfield. She finds herself carried to the estate of one Ned Carlyon, whom Eleanor mistakes for Mr. Macclesfield. Carlyon, meanwhile, believes Eleanor to be the young woman he hired to marry his dying cousin, Eustace Cheviot, in order to avoid inheriting Cheviot's estate himself. Somehow, Eleanor is talked into marrying Eustace on his deathbed and thus becomes a wealthy widow almost as soon as the ring is on her finger. What starts out as a simple business arrangement soon becomes much more complicated as housebreakers, uninvited guests, a shocking murder, missing government papers, and a dog named Bouncer all contribute to this lively, frequently hilarious tale of mistaken identities, foreign espionage, and unexpected love set during the Napoleonic Wars.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:21 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"When Elinor Rochdale boards the wrong coach, she ends up not at her prospective employer's home but at the estate of Eustace Cheviot, a dissipated and ruined young man on the verge of death. His cousin, Mr Ned Carlyon, persuades Elinor to marry Eustace as a simple business arrangement. By morning, Elinor is a rich widow, but finds herself embroiled with an international spy ring, housebreakers, uninvited guests, and murder. And Mr Carlyon won't let her leave ..."--Publisher's website.… (more)

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