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The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

The Reluctant Widow (original 1946; edition 1969)

by Georgette Heyer

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1,289508,862 (3.88)1 / 142
Title:The Reluctant Widow
Authors:Georgette Heyer
Info:Pan Books (1969), Edition: New Impression, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer (1946)

  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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Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
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 |
The Reluctant Widow is one of Georgette Heyer's Regency Romances in which the progress of the romance is so subtle that it must be inferred while the comic adventure rolls on.

A cautionary tale in several Heyer books is that of the fools among the ton who manage to gamble and/or speculate away their entire fortunes. The dastards (cowards) would cap their folly by blowing their brains out, leaving their families to face the consequences. This time it's not just a piece of gossip. Elinor Rochdale grew up as the daughter of Tom Rochdale of Feldenhall, but has been making her living as a governess for six years.
Her latest employer is Mrs. Macclesfield, who hired her in London. Elinor has taken a coach to Billinghurst, in West Sussex, where she is to be met.

There is a misunderstanding that leads to a humorous conversation in chapter 2. Elinor is offered the job that the actual candidate chickened out of: marriage to a dissolute gentleman named Eustace Cheviot. Although our hero, the extremely practical Edward, Lord Carlyon, thinks a marriage in name only (no sex) would be preferable to being a governess, Elinor cannot agree.

Enter Carlyon's youngest brother, Nicky, frightened and agitated, with bad news about their cousin Eustace. Nicky is a somewhat naïve, immature, high-spirited lad sent down from his first term at Oxford University. When told to go back to the start, Nicky rattles on, only now and then showing his horror. I suspect that if it had been anyone but the loathed Eustace, Nicky wouldn't have recovered as quickly as he did.

In any case, Carlyon needs to have Eustace married to avoid a scandal and Elinor is at hand. From what little we see of Eustace in chapter 4, one might understand why Carlyon and his siblings aren't at all sorry to see their cousin dead. We meet only two more of said siblings in this book. John is the secretary to Lord Sidmouth at the Home Office, an important part of the British Government. This makes John handy to the plot because he knows about the McGuffin. Their sister Georgiana, Lady Flint, and her husband pay a brief visit in chapter 13. It seems to serve only as a clue that there really is a romance going on. (See her conversation with Carlyon at the chapter's end.)

Elinor is now the Widow Cheviot, sole possessor of the beautiful, if rundown, Highnoons estate -- and her late husband's many debts. As the book progresses, Elinor and her former governess, Miss Beccles, are trying to bring some order out of the mess. Nicky and his cross-bred lurcher/mastiff, Bouncer, are staying with them for protection.

Oh, yes, the ladies need protection. This book is set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Need I say more about the McGuffin than that it involves Wellington? Elinor is surprised by an intruder in the night. Her new home is later invaded by in-laws. The first one is Lord Bedlington, brother to Eustace's late father, Lionel Cheviot. Lord Bedlington is an Aide de Camp to Prinny (nickname for the Prince Regent, the future King George IV). Don't imagine that this means he's blessed with brains and good sense. He possesses neither. Fortunately for the Cheviots, his son Francis has plenty of both. Francis hides them under his pose as a consummate dandy of delicate health. Carlyon is not fooled, but everyone else is.

There's plenty of amusing dialog and misadventures before the McGuffin is found and all is straightened out. I dislike Carlyon's plans for Highnoons, but most of his advice seems sound. His best chapters are his conversation with Francis in chapter 19, and when he tries to convince Elinor he really wants to marry her in chapter 20.

NOTES (pop culture references, fictional and real name-dropping, character facts, and non-spoiler tips to help those who've read the book find things again):

Chapter 1:

a. Mrs. Macclesfield of Five Mile Ash interviewed Elinor at Fenton's Hotel.
Her son is seven years old. Look here for what Elinor has learned about being a governess in the last six years.

b. Highnoons is 12 miles from the coaching stop.

c. Some of the exterior and interior of Highnoons is described.

d. Carlyon is described. He has gray eyes.

e. Elinor is 26 years old.

d. Five Mile Ash is 16 or more miles east of Highnoons.

Chapter 2:

a. Carlyon tells Elinor about his guardianship of his cousin Eustace, whose father died when he was a baby. Eustace's mother was Carlyon mother's older sister. Carlyon was 26 when he became Eustace's guardian for five years, but his own father died when he was 18.

b. Highnoons belonged to Eustace and Carlyon's maternal grandfather.

c. Carlyon has three married younger sisters. The remaining younger brother not mentioned in my review is a member of Sir Rowland Hill's staff in the Peninsula. (That's General Hill. According to this source, he was highly regarded by Wellington, so bravo to the young brother: http://www.napoleonicwars.org/soldiers_hill.htm )

d. We learn why Carlyon wants Eustace to be married.

e. Enter blue-eyed, fair-haired, and tanned-cheek Nicky.

Chapter 3:

a. Nicky and his friend Keighley borrowed a performing bear, which led to Nicky being sent home for the rest of the term.

b. We learn a bit about Elinor's father's driving abilities.

c. Carlyon, too, is a member of the F. H. C. [Four Horse Club]

e. Elinor's middle name is 'Mary'.

f. Carlyon's signet ring is used for Elinor's wedding ring.

g. John shows up at the inn.

h. From John we learn that the military brother is Harry.

i. The Hall is a large, stone-built mansion.

j. Nicky is written as 'Nicholas Carlyon' here.

Chapter 5:

a. According to John, there's not an ounce of harm in Nicky, but he's too wild, plunging into scrapes.

b. Elinor's father's name was Tom

c. John heard that Francis Cheviot lost 5,000 pounds at Almack's last week. (According to this site, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/ , that would have been worth £169,800.00 in 2005. Today one pound is worth 1.22383 dollars. Today £169,800 is worth $138,744.76! Yikes!)

d. John tells Carlyon about the McGuffin and Carlyon tells him about a couple of scrapes from their childhood that Dr. Greenlaw had brought up.

e. Barrow, the butler at Highnoons, used to be a groom there.

Chapter 6:

a. We get some description of the countryside.

b. Highnoons is 200 years old.

c. Elinor jokes about standard features of gothic novels.

d. There's some more interior description of Highnoons.

e. The Yellow Room is made up for Elinor.

f. Mrs. Barrow was a housemaid at the Hall before she married Barrow.
They stayed for their late mistress's sake. (She was born on Carlyon's estate.)

g. The Carlyons' and Eustace's mothers' maiden name was Wincanton.

h. Look here for some gossip about the Cheviots and Carlyons.

i. The book-room is described. Elinor finds issues of the 'Lady's Magazine' and four classic novels: Tales of a Fashionable Life by Mrs. Maria Edgeworth, Thaddeus of Warsaw by Jane Porter, The School for Widows and The Old English Baron, both by Miss Clara Reeve. (I was looking up the plot of that last, and apparently Orlando and Monimia are characters from The Old Manor House by Charlotte Smith. Indeed, Monimia is described as Miss Smith's on the next page.)

j. There's a late-night visitor.

Chapter 7:

a. Barrow talks about a French friend of Eustace's cousin Francis.

b. Barrow names the local neighbors.

c. Nicky is the Hon. [Honorable] Nicholas Carlyon.

d. We are introduced to Bouncer.

e. Nicky asks for, and receives permission to call our heroine 'Cousin Elinor'.

f. Carlyon doesn't believe it, but there's a story that King Charles II hid at Highnoons after [the battle of] Worcester.

g. Nicky talks about a prank he, Harry, and their sister Gussie [Augusta] played on their governess who tended to swoon.

h. Nicky finds what he was searching for.

i. Eustace stole Harry's best fishing rod when they were boys.

j. Bouncer is ordered to guard Elinor.

Chapter 8:

a. Elinor reads the Turf Remembrancer. We learn which horse names she preferred.

b. Carlyon taught Nicky how to shoot when he was 12.

c. There's a more exciting night visit.

d. Mrs. Barrow's name is Martha.

Chapter 9:

a. Enter Miss Beccles, whom Elinor calls 'Becky'. (Lord Carlyon fetched her.)

b. Carlyon suspects the visitor was Louis De Castres.

c. This is where Carlyon suggests Elinor go to Chichester for an errand.

Chapter 10:

a. Miss Beccles has been given the bedchamber next to Elinor's. She talks about when her girl, Polly, told her Lord Carlyon had come to her place.

b. Carlyon has bought Elinor a wedding ring, so he gets his ring back.

c. A panada is 'a dish consisting of bread boiled to a pulp and flavored,' according to the Oxford Dictionaries.

d. If you want to get some idea of women's mourning clothes during the Regency period: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2009/05/16/regency-mourning/

e. Lord Bedlington comes calling. He is described.

Chapter 11:

a. How interesting that Lord Bedlington has come a day before he should have.

b. Francis Cheviot inherited his mother's fortune.

c. Lord Bedlington's recollections about Uncle Lionel are not what Carlyon remembers of him.

Chapter 12:

a. Try not to read the first part of this chapter while you're hungry.

b. Lord Bedlington doesn't agree with his old friend, Beau Brummell's, opinion of port.

c. Nicky found Eustace's old kite, among other things, in the attic.

d. Look here for the verdict at the Inquest.

e. This is the chapter that mentions an old remedy for removing stains from linen and another for getting rid of crickets.

f. Elinor and Carlyon have an exchange about smuggled brandy.

Chapter 13:

a. Enter Francis Cheviot and his valet, Crawley.

b. Carlyon and John enter with their married sister, Georgy [Georgiana], now Lady Flint, and her husband.

c. Georgy and Elinor discuss Francis (not to mention Carlyon).

Chapter 14:

a. Miss Beccles' attempt to protect them from Francis goes awry.

b. Francis tells Nicky that he sometimes ruins 20 cravats before he gets the folds right.

c. Mrs. Barrow is pleased to have two girls from the village and the gardener's wife to order about.

d. Eustace's funeral takes place.

e. Francis' grief is not for Eustace, but for a friend foully murdered. He gives the details. John reads aloud the notice in the 'Morning Post'.

f. Nicky reads aloud some items from the 'Advertizer'.

Chapter 15:

a. Elinor answers letters from two cousins and her least beloved uncle.

b. Nicky has a raw-boned hunter named Rufus, and Carlyon has some bays Nicky calls beautiful steppers.

c. Dr. Ratcliffe's Restorative Pork Jelly gets mentioned. http://www.heyerlist.org/notes/restorative-pork-jelly.html

d. Warned by one of her cousin's letters, Elinor writes to her Aunt Sophia.

Chapter 16: This is where Carlyon tells Nicky why that young man thinks he knows everything.

Chapter 17:

a. This is where Carlyon asks Mrs. Beccles what Mrs. Cheviot commonly replies when Becky assures her that he will be able to settle things.

b. Tsk. Nicky twice fell foul of Sir Matthew Kendal's keepers while he was hunting for Bouncer amongst the neighbor's preserves.

Chapter 18:

a. Elinor impresses her groom with her driving.

b. Highnoons is only seven miles from the Hall.

c. Lord Bathurst, according to John, is the person to whom the McGuffin must be instantly taken.

Chapter 19:

a. It sounds as if the Carlyons are having another nice dinner. According to Wikipedia, puits d'amour is ...'a French pastry with a hollow center (the well) stuffed with redcurrant jelly or raspberry jam; a later variation replaced the jam with vanilla pastry cream. The surface of the cake is sprinkled with confectioners' sugar or covered with caramel.'

b. Francis describes the 'improvements' his father made to Bedlington Manor.

c. Francis explains the most regrettable part of his efforts. A few pages later, he gives Carlyon a cold shiver down the spine.

Chapter 20: According to Carlyon, his sister Augusta is forever racketing about town, but his third sister, Elizabeth, Lady Hartlepool, has a pleasing sweetness of disposition.

The Reluctant Widow may not be one of Heyer's best, but it's still plenty of fun. I couldn't say how many times I've read it over the decades, but familiar as I was with the plot, I still reread it all in one day.

Cat lovers are out of luck.

Dog lovers may rejoice in an engaging and well-named Mastiff-Lurcher named Bouncer. ( )
  JalenV | Oct 26, 2016 |
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Garrett, CorneliusNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Knobloch, TomCover photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
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
"You are asking me to sell myself, to marry a dying man for the advantages it may bring me..."

Elinor Rochdale was married at midnight and a widow at dawn. Overnight she became heiress to a house of secrets and partner in a dangerous conspiracy to save a family name...

She took on the autocratic Lord Carlyon, his rash young brother Nicholas, and the sinister Francis Cheviot, to foil a dastardly plot by the agents of Bonaparte himself...
Haiku summary

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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