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A Civil Contract

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by Georgette Heyer

Published 1961

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.

4/5.

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6 thoughts on “A Civil Contract

  1. I love Georgette Heyer. In general I always say I don’t read romances, but I always make an exception for her – I think as you say it’s because it’s not all love at first sight and breathless passion, but two people coming together because they’ve learned they can appreciate and depend on each other. And usually quite a lot of fun along the way…

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    • And by the way, review coming soon(ish… I seem to be, as always, quite behind on writing about books!), I just read “Indiscretion” by Jude Morgan… along the Heyer lines, just a delightful, witty romance without any of the awkward-tearing-each-other’s-clothes-off scenes that mangle so many Regency romances these days (::sighs::) But this one was wonderful, and if you enjoy Georgette Heyer, I think you would like this book as well. :-)

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      • Ah, someone else mentioned Jude Morgan to me in that same context ages ago and I’d forgotten – thanks for reminding me! I must investigate…

        Have you read his Shakespeare one? It’s beautiful and the relationship between Shakespeare and Ann Hathaway is handled brilliantly.

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      • This was the first of his novels that I have read, but I immediately went to Goodreads and wrote down all of his titles to find at the library! (Ah yes, so many books to read that I actually have an ongoing notebook of books to check out of the library…)

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