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on 21 November 2017
As ever -should anyone care to comment on my review, may I use the comments for the purposes of my ongoing research into the role of historical novels and escapism in women's consciousness? Thank you.
I ought to begin by saying something positive.
Well, apart from Heyer's usual excessive use of exclamation marks, the grammar is very good, as in fact, is true of most of the writers of that era. The writing style flows well. This was a now late middle aged and confident author who knew her target audience and was veering from her usual style of heroine.
This one is stout and her supposed earthiness is meant to reflect her farming ancestry. She manages to combine being phlegmatic and unimaginative with being madly in love with Adam. I could see his why he might appeal to many readers as a good natured, unassuming, High Tory young officer left with a limp from his militery action. The heroine's devotion is cleverly depicted as it is gradually made obvious even to him.
As usual, painstaking research has gone into depicting the lifestyles of the priviliged. Those who enjoy those sort of details - and obviously, many do - will be impressed.
As for the rest - well, it couldn't hold my interest, but I think a lot of readers will enjoy this new sort of heroine and this slowly developing affection between hero and heroine. Usually, detest the author's assumptions though I do, I find some bits funny, but I didn't find this one amusing.
I didn't dislike it as I did 'The Talisman Ring', 'Venetia' or, worst of all, 'Devil's Cub'. Still, I found both the hero and heroine uninteresting.
The high drama of the story is meant to be when Adam stands to lose money on the Stock Exchange by refusing to believe in the British Army's defeat.
The approach with its make believe Regency did exasperate me, as ever. This one, like 'The Unknown Ajax' pretends to attack snobbery, whilst upholding the status quo. Jenny is never so happy as when she is driving past the villagers and acknowledging their obescience. You can see why she is terrified as at the thought of 'a Jacobin republic' being resumed in France on Napoleon 's escape: what if the ideas spread, and the villagers ceased to tug their forelocks at her over here?
It is also seems to suggest sexual desire is frivilous, and sexual activity should be viewed as a grim duty to be endured in order to make babies. The hero has been given an artificially simplified choice between a silly sexually attractive woman and one who offers no allure but a comfortable home with his favourite cakes for tea. If it was indicated that while Jenny was not pretty, the hero found her attractive anyway, that would be sweet, but that wasn't the impression with which I was left.
Well, the biography I read makes it clear the author was notoriously indifferent to what she no doubt called 'that sort of thing'.
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Adam, Viscount Lynton, returns from fighting in Wellington's army on the death of his father to find he has been left nothing but debts. He faces selling the family estate of Fontley which he dreads doing because of the effect it would have on his widowed mother and sisters - Lydia and Charlotte. His own hopes of wedding the lovely Julia Overseley are also dashed. But Julia's father suggests a way out of his dire financial situation to Adam - marriage to a wealthy business man's daughter. Jonathan Chawleigh - it is clear from our first meeting with him - is not one of the fashionable set. He has a heart of gold but he is vulgar. His daughter, Jenny, isn't beautiful but she is pleasant if shy and quiet and Adam agrees to the match as his only way out of the financial straits in which he finds himself.

What follows is the story of how the marriage develops from its unpromising beginnings into something strong and healthy. Adam suffers agonies at the expensive gifts showered on him and must come to terms with being beholden to his father in law. How he copes with the situations and how Jenny reconciles her own impossible dreams with reality is a fascinating story. It is not high romance but it is all the better in my opinion for its basis in everyday reality.

This book is one of Heyer's most skilfully written novels though it is not one of her most popular. I think it is one of the best. The dialogue and characters are excellently drawn and you would recognise all of them if they walked into a room. The ebullient Lydia - who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mr Chawleigh; Jenny with her quiet ways and excellent domestic skills; Adam with his perfect manners and love of the ridiculous; Julia who fancies herself deep in love with Adam and droops around the place having hysterics; the redoubtable older women - Lady Nassington and Lady Overseley. Every single character, however minor, is memorable. The historical background of the lead up to the Battle of Waterloo and the uneasy peace which preceded it is well drawn. The last 40 pages are as exciting as any epic romance and much more grounded in reality.

If you have felt this book to be disappointing in the past do give it another try. You need to throw off 21st century views of love and marriage and look at the story from the culture and society of the early 19th century. Arranged marriages between impoverished aristocrats and the daughters of wealthy businessmen were far from unusual and love could be found in unexpected people and situations. My all time favourite of Heyer's historical novels.
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on 15 November 2016
Georgette Heyer never ceased to enthrall me from the time I first read all her books in this genre. As a romantic young teen I loved all the strong, handsome men paired with pretty, feisty heroines - then I read 'A Civil Contract' and was so upset! At that age I had no concept of life and what it throws at you, and how you deal with it. Rereading it [many times] as an adult, one sees how the author dealt with this different situation realistically in this novel - a young, handsome war hero returning to a diminished inheritance, which means that he must put aside plans to marry his first love, a beautiful, sparkling debutante. Enter Mr. Chawleigh, a Cit with more money than he knows what to do with, but who wants the best for his daughter in terms of marrying 'up'; she is plain, awkward, outspoken, gruff but has loved Adam from afar, knowing that it is a hopeless, unrequited love. They marry, and the way the story unfolds is a real treat - both Adam and Jenny have to come to an accommodation for living together in the most trying of circumstances but somehow these two forge an alliance based on mutual regard and growing affection on Adam's part.

There are little views of Jenny's attention to small details which demonstrate her desire to make her husband comfortable, such as having Adam's favourite macaroons baked daily while he is away from home - he, of course, simply assumes that it is a lucky coincidence that they are available for him on the day that he does return! Adam's inability to fully comprehend what it is that upsets Jenny [her love for him, which she hides except in practical terms]. The irritating, lovable Mr. Chawleigh, who has a heart of gold, but is so beneath the circles that Adam is used to moving in that he cannot at first accept him, and Jenny's fear that her beloved father will be exposed to ridicule because of his manner.

At the end, there is contentment and growing love between the couple - Adam finally sees his first love, Julia, for the self-centred girl that she is, but the reader thinks he will always have a place in his heart for her. Jenny accepts that Adam loves her, but her anguished cry in her head, which she cannot articulate 'do you love me as much as you loved her?' is heart-wrenching. One feels that they will have a growing, abiding love, but not the romantic high passion one dreams of when very young.

I urge anyone to read everything written by this author in this genre [I have never tried her thrillers] - there are screwball comedies, mysteries, very young love, mature love and a whole host of reading feasts including her excellent historical novels, amongst which are 'the Spanish Bride' and 'the Conqueror', exhaustively researched for historical accuracy but presented in a readable, informative manner. I am constantly searching for writers in this genre who might compare, but truthfully, there is no comparison - which is not to say that there aren't other authors in the genre who write very well - but they aren't Georgette Heyer!
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on 30 August 2014
I am a huge fan of Georgette Heyer, but I could not like this book. Having to marry a wealthy Cit's daughter in order to keep his family estate and provide for his mother and sister, Lydia, Adam Deveril, the new Viscount Lynton, must let his beautiful, Julia Oversley, go to another man and suffer through a tedious marriage to Jenny Chawleigh, daughter of a very rich man who wanted a title for his daughter. Don't misunderstand - Adam is the perfect gentleman and treats Jenny very well, with the exception of being occasionally repulsed by her looks, her demeanor and his constant mental comparison to the totally shallow Julia. Although he did value Jenny as a person, he was unable to see past Julia's looks, his infatuation with her and every time they were alone, they continued to give one another expressions both in word and looks that revealed their feelings of love for one another. Shame. On. Them.

Jenny, on the other hand, knew that Adam didn't love her, knew that he loved her friend Julia but also knew Julia's father would never have consented to Julia's marriage to Adam due to his financial state. Jenny knew the only way to help Adam was to agree to marry him and allow her father to broker a settlement which would enable Adam to hold onto his estate. Jenny made the promise to Adam that she would not have expectations from him but would endeavor to run his home and make sure he was comfortable, which she did.

If things had wound down sooner toward some romance with Jenny, I could have handled the story very well. Instead, it wasn't until the last ten pages of the book that Adam saw Julia for the selfish child she was and finally told Jenny he loved her. But, never once throughout all the book when Jenny expressed her concerns about her lack of beauty, sensitivity, etc., did Adam give her any consideration due her to help her self-esteem relative to her looks. This was difficult for me because this is vital to a woman' self-esteem.

Lastly, I got sick and tired of reading about the last days of the war between England and France. The only thing worse was to hear the lengthy conversations between Mr. Chawleigh and Adam - continual jawing by Mr. Chawleigh about anything and everything. Ugh! Adam was gracious to his father-in-law. Never let it be said that Adam was anything but gracious in his behavior to everyone. He just didn't show passion - hardly at all - except when he was perusing the woman he thought he loved - the pale, beautiful, shallow Julia. Needless to say, this greatly affected the pleasure of my reading.

Again, had Ms. Heyer given even the last 25 pages over to an acceptable resolution of harmony, love and acknowledgement of physical attraction to Adam and Jenny, I could have borne it. As it is, I am just a tad frustrated and do I dare say, just a little angry at myself that I spent the afternoon reading this book about a man who was repulsed by his wife's looks.
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on 1 February 2011
One of my very favourite Heyers - and one of her most profound. How will Adam (handsome, aristocratic, kind and touchy) and Jenny (plain, middle class and practical) get on in their marriage - arranged to save Adam's estates, and (though he doesn't know it) because Jenny is secretly in love with him? Will they ever find common ground and build a relationship? Will his Caro Lamb-esque first love get in the way - as she so plainly intends to do?
I sympathise with readers who find it lacks a little of the high romance of some of Heyer's other novels - but it must never be forgotten that all her novels are based on the attractions of solid worth - even if most of her heroines are also raging beauties! Here she makes the lesson more explicit by making Jenny plain, and forcing a marriage on the couple before they well know each other. But the result is the same - worth ultimately calls to and is recognised by worth.
I come back to this book because of the very real picture it paints of the quiet joys of marriage - the shared jokes that can be exchanged in the gleam of an eye ("Lambert says ..."), the overwhelming fascinations (uncomprehended by ones friends and family) of a shared daily routine, the pleasure of quiet evenings, or an unepxectedly early returning spouse. These joys, so lovingly described, bring a smile to my face again and again.
And also - Jenny is an object lesson in reminding us that a smiling face and interest in one's spouse's affairs are greater producers of domestic felicity than any amount of money, romatic sighings or witty remarks ...
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on 25 November 2009
I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Civil Contract, it is a very good novel and I heartily recommend it but this is a depressing romance story if it can be called romance at all. The characters are so well developed that I got truly involved in their stories, finding Jenny worth of much compassion and Adam worth of a thorough kicking in the back-side.
Jenny Chawleigh is one of the most vulnerable heroines of Heyer's novels, in spite of being very wealthy and having something which most heyer lead characters lack: a father who loves her and looks after her. She is shy and not pretty, but not ugly either, and she is extremely generous and kind. Excessively so and I wished Heyer had given her more spirit to put her husband in his place. Adam, who would have ended up totally ruined and losing his beloved country home of Fontley (the only thing he apparently cares for) despises her, doesn't want to see her as the mistress of Fontely and finds her repugnant, especially by comparison to the divine Julia.
This paragon of selfishness and self-centeredness does Jenny and her father the huge favour and honour of letting him (Adam) not have to sell his lands and his house in Grosvenor Sq, of allowing his father-in-law to refurbish it in spite of all this hurting his ego and his extremely delicate and sensitive emotions. He makes Jenny feel guilty for this, and Jenny spends half the novel fearing his fits of the sullens whenever something doesn't please him: he dislikes conversation during breakfast, he likes his tea a certain way, and his things in a certain order and he doesn't want to use the gifts his father in law gives them. So Jenny makes him comfortable in every way and in the end we find that being a doormat pays off because Adam at last recognises that he sort-a-kind-a loves his wife after all and is probably better off with her than with Julia. Adam's imposible love is a beautiful, empty-headed aristocratic girl given to fits of hysterics and drama, who would have made his life miserable, and him her's from day one.
I so wish Heyer had written, just as she did with Black Sheep and Lady of Quality, or Convenient Marriage/April Lady, a similar novel to this, but with a Sophy Stanton-Lacy instead of a Jenny Chawleigh to give Adam his due!
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on 10 November 2009
"A Civil Contract" is an "anti-romantic" novel which has a very different tone to Heyer's other Regency tales, containing moments of near tragedy as well as high comedy, and unusually for Heyer, one in which she makes some oblique but nevertheless stringent criticisms of the aristocratic caste she usually holds up as her ideal.

Adam Lynton's family represent the worst traits of the elite class of the early nineteenth century: they are effete, spendthrift and backward-looking, have neglected their property and land to the point of ruin and despise vulgar involvement in "trade". The physically delicate and emotionally squeamish Adam is forced to accept a marriage of convenience to save his widowed mother and unmarried sisters from bankruptcy. He is repulsed by his enormously wealthy and sucessful father-in-law and is entirely blind to his good qualities. Adam is obsessed with his childhood sweetheart Julia, an hysterical, manipulative and deeply narcissistic young aristocrat, whom even her own relatives feel would make him an unsuitable wife.

Plain, shy Jenny is fully aware that her husband is in love with another woman and only married her for her money. But she is already secretly and hopelessly in love with Adam and says: "I married him because it was the only thing I could do for him". Adam gradually overcomes his prejudices regarding her lower-caste origins and by the end of the story has learned to care for and appreciate his wife, who repairs and renovates his beloved ancestral home and estate (with her father's despised money of course) and gives him an heir. Adam is a hard character to warm to, although Heyer presents him a gentle and charming he also appears rather passive-agressive and somewhat precious at times. His sulky and occasionally selfish and unfeeling behaviour is thrown into sharp contrast by that of his his robust and warm-hearted sister Lydia (who comes to love Jenny and her father dearly) and his terrifyingly forthright Great Aunt Nassington who becomes Jenny's mentor.

I rank "A Civil Contract" as one of my personal favourites, mainly because it reveals depths to Heyer's writing which are not always apparent in her more light-hearted novels. We get glimpses into the middle-class Regency worlds of commerce and business and the industrial revolutions in industry, agriculture and technology; areas that Heyer normally leaves well alone. It is also the only novel which portrays Heyer's actual real-life belief that a pragmatic, practical, companionable relationship with mutual shared interests and responsibilities, not one based solely on romantic attraction, is the bedrock of a successful marriage.
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on 7 March 2008
This is indeed a well written book as most of other Heyer Books are and it does tell us a part of real life in all its nakedness. ýt is all about what one must do what one must not one wants. But unfortunately I could not make myself love or even esteem the hero and the heroine in the least. Despite he acts as the victim who sacrifices himself, he is but selfish. He accepts help as a necessity from a man whom he calls as a vulgar and consecutively torment his daughter with all his vanity. It was only after he gained his own money through his own means that he softened against her and her father. Where would they be if he had not? I detest him more when I learned that the heroine was pregnant despite the passionate love he declared for another and the disgust against his wife. And I pitied the heroine because she betraied her friend, married her lover taking the advantage of his deadlock, a man whom she knew was marrying her for money and who would for sure never love heroine in the way he did the other. So I also think her as a selfishbeing because it -was her wants all that mattered even though it seemed the reverse. She married him because she wanted him. ıt was for him the marriage was a necessity not for her! What honourable woman could digest to be defeceated as she was, knowing that he married her but for her money. She did everything in her power just to please him and make him love her. But she wanted him so desperately that she endured anything that was to come from him, even to accept to see forever the shadow of another woman in his eyes. And at the end it was his esteem but not his love, as it belonged to another, all that she obtained.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 16 February 2017
I really enjoyed this Georgette Heyer novel.

I have a soft-spot for stories about arranged marriages, and this was amusing and compelling at the same time. I really liked the setting on the Lincolnshire Fens; this is one of those stories where the setting is a character. As Adam Deverill says, 'you have to be born on the Fens to love them,' and having some Fen blood myself I know what he means.

I loved the hilarious Jonathan Chawleigh, Adam's father-in-law, and in particular, Heyer's faultless knowledge of the period - not just the fashions and rather empty pursuits of the ton, but also the terrifying progress of the war that should perhaps have been called WW1, a century before the one we think of now. In many Regency novels, the war is left out; although it was fought abroad to me this is a bit like writing a WWII with nothing but descriptions of men wearing trilby hats and girls in turban headscarves.

There is humour, pace, pathos, great characterisation and in-depth knowledge in this story.

Romantic, sensual writing but no explicit sex.
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on 3 March 2001
I have read all Miss Heyer's books many times, and though this is not my favourite, I think it is her best. All the characters are fully rounded and utterly believable, from Adam's languid mother to the magnificent Mr Chawleigh. The scenes in which Adam gambles his whole fortune on the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo are wonderfully realised. No soft-focus romance this; you finish it with an aching heart.
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