by Georgette Heyer
If you would like to read a book on how to be a good wife, this is it. Jenny, a rich young heiress, marries a poor but titled young man, as a business arrangement rather than a love match. Indeed, the young man, Lynton, is in love with another woman, Julia. But he sets aside his feelings for the sake of practicality–his father, a gambler by nature, drained the family coffers dry before his death. With a mother and sister to provide for, Lynton accepts the proposal of Jenny’s father–money in exchange for Jenny’s launch into genteel society.
Jenny, however, has secretly loved Lynton for some time, and is determined, not to make him love her, but to make him a good wife. And that, I think, is why I enjoyed this book. Jenny’s motives are pure. She marries Lynton, and works hard to learn his ways and to please him, not because she has any yearning for a title or to attend exclusive parties (indeed, she finds that her life is happiest at Lynton’s family estate in the country), but because she simply loves Lynton and wishes his life to be happy and comfortable.
Lynton, it is only fair to say, treats Jenny very well. Although he does not love her in a romantic way, he is always kind and patient, grateful for her efforts. At one point in the story, he runs into Julia at a party. She suggests that, since she is also to be married, that Lynton and she could engage in a extra-marital relationship, a common enough happenstance in a time where love matches were the exception and not the rule. But Lynton refuses this tempting offer, determined to do right by Jenny, to treat her with the respect and honor that she, as his wife, deserves.
Heyer’s books are always happy in the ending, so it is no giveaway to say that Lynton comes to appreciate and love Jenny, and to realize that Julia’s fastidious and expensive temperament would never have suited him. Jenny’s practical and sincere affection, not only for Lynton, but for Lynton’s home and lifestyle, make her a superior wife for Lynton in every way.
While some may deride this book for being dull, and Jenny being a little too housewifely, I found it to be refreshing. While a long-term relationship can (and usually is) founded on passionate love, endurance comes from something deeper and steadier. Lynton and Jenny discover that, and while there is never a moment where they leap into each other’s arms and embrace passionately, they do come to realize that a large part of a happy marriage is comfortable companionship and shared work and interests. While this book may not get a very high grade from the romantics, I think that this couple has a far better chance of a still being happily and contentedly married in fifty years than most fictional couples.