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REVIEW: A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer

Dear Readers,

Sourcebooks is having a sale on Georgette Heyer ebooks this week (August 14-20), so I thought it would be a good time for another Heyer review. I noticed that A Civil Contract is one of the books on sale, and I’ve been wanting to write about it. Heyer fans really split on this book, as you can see in the comment thread to my review of Sprig Muslin. Ros said that it was a favorite of hers because “the love it depicts is more romantic than any whirlwind adventure. Real love is so often seen in the domestic and the mundane.” GrowlyCub, on the other hand, can’t get past “some of the truly unforgivable things Adam thinks and does … I don’t believe that Adam loves Jenny and all the doing is on her part, none of it on his.” I know where Growly is coming from, but I side with Ros on this, and I’ll try to show you why.

a civil contract Georgette HeyerCaptain Adam Deveril is forced to leave his regiment during the Spanish campaign because his father dies unexpectedly and Adam succeeds to the Viscountcy. The only surviving son, he has responsibility for his widowed mother, his two unmarried sisters, and the tenants and dependents of the family estate of Fontley Priory. Adam never wanted the title, but after his elder brother died in battle he knew it was inevitable. When he arrives home, he discovers that things are even worse than he thought. The estate is mortgaged to the hilt and the only way to save it is to marry money. Adam is in love with his beautiful, willful childhood neighbor and friend, Julia, but their hopes for marriage are doomed when Adam resolves to meet his obligations and provide secure futures for his family and everyone who depends on Fontley.

He’s short on time to fix the mess his father left behind, so Julia’s father introduces him to Jonathan Chawleigh, a wealthy merchant with a daughter of marriageable age. Chawleigh really wants an Earl or higher, but Jenny isn’t beautiful, so he settles for a mere Viscount. Chawleigh settles the estate’s pressing debts and mortgages in return for Adam’s promise that he will be a good husband and welcome Jenny into aristocratic society. For her part, Jenny has mixed feelings about entering that world, but she loves her father and she has a long-standing crush on Adam, whom she has known through her schoolfriend, Julia. Jenny has no expectations of more than civility and kindness from Adam, given his feelings for Julia, but she knows he can’t marry Julia and needs to marry money. So they are wed, with Adam knowing little about Jenny (she is shy and tongue-tied in his presence) and Jenny determined to give him a comfortable life.

More than perhaps any of Heyer’s novels, class issues are at the center of this story. The characters embody different class positions and attitudes, and the romance is shaped by class-driven demands and desires. Heyer depicts Adam as an essentially kind person who is uncomfortable with his snobbery toward the Chawleighs and fights it. Jenny, whose father has spared no expense in raising her as a lady, is well aware of how she and her father are perceived by Adam and his family:

“Whether you will like the fens in winter-time is another matter. Well, if you don’t, you must tell me so, or if you are bored to tears, which I’m afraid you may be. When is this absurd Grand Spectacle to take place?”

“On August 1st.”

“August? My dear girl, we shall find ourselves in a hurly-burly of—”

“Cits?” she suggested, as he broke off abruptly.

A slight flush betrayed him, but he made a quick recover. “Nothing so respectable! Jackstraws and counter-coxcombs! Does your father know of this project?”

Her eyes narrowed in a sudden smile. “That was a masterstroke!” she said disconcertingly. “Lord, do you think I don’t know Cits was on the tip of your tongue? Yes, Papa knows, and sees no objection. But if you don’t care for Lydia to go—”

The secondary characters reflect different attitudes toward class and status. Adam’s mother is horrified by Mr. Chawleigh’s vulgarity, but his sister Charlotte Lydia takes to him after her initial dislike of the marriage:

Mr Chawleigh, observing the merry look in Lydia’s eye, took an instant fancy to her, and bore down on her. She was not as beautiful as her sister, but what he called a big, handsome girl, with no nonsense about her. By way of breaking the ice he told her that he was downright ashamed of himself for having provided no smart beaux for her entertainment. “There’s only my Lord Brough to be split between you and Lizzie Tiverton, and that’s what I call a shabby way of doing things. Not but what there won’t be much splitting done, if his lordship’s got as much sense as I think he has!”

Lydia, who partook far more of her father’s robust character than her brother and sister, was not at all offended by this speech. No one like Mr Chawleigh had previously come in her way, but by the time the assembled guests sat down to the Gargantuan meal provided for them he and she were in a fair way to becoming fast friends; and several times her mother was pained to hear her spontaneous, schoolgirl’s laugh break from her. Lady Lynton, conducting herself throughout with impeccable, if chilly, civility, later took Lydia to task for laughing at Mr Chawleigh, and read her a lecture on the want of breeding she had shown in wounding his sensibilities.

But Mr Chawleigh’s sensibilities were not even grazed. His shrewd eyes twinkled at Lydia, and he presently told Lady Lynton that he didn’t know when he had taken more of a liking to a girl.

Similarly, Adam’s influential aunt, Lady Nassington, realizes the necessity of having Jenny accepted into the ton, and she sets about “turning her out like a woman of quality.”

In Jonathan Chawleigh, Heyer creates one of her most nuanced middle-class characters. Chawleigh is unabashedly vulgar and ambitious, but his ambitions are for his daughter. Heyer makes us feel how deeply Chawleigh would enjoy the aristocratic life he is buying for Jenny, but he never seeks it for himself. And he knows full well how his son-in-law regards him and his tastes. When he acquires a Chinese bowl that Adam admires, Chawleigh offers it to him:

“Doing you a favour to take such a treasure from you? My dear Mr Chawleigh, I could not!”

“Now don’t say that!” begged Mr Chawleigh. “You take it, and I’ll know I’ve hit on something which you do like, and that’ll give me more pleasure than what putting it into one of my cabinets would, for it’s something I was thinking I never would do. You don’t drive the curricle I had built, for you, nor—”

His cheeks burning, Adam interrupted: “I—I found my father’s curricle, almost new—! It seemed a pity—and I had a fancy to—”

“Ay, well, no need to colour up! Your taste don’t in general jump with mine. Lord, did you think I hadn’t twigged that? No, no, a Jack Pudding I may be, but no one’s ever called Jonathan Chawleigh a bleater!”

“Certainly I have not!” Adam said, trying to hide his discomfiture. “As for my not liking what you’ve given me, sir, ask Jenny if I wasn’t delighted with the shaving-stand you placed in my room!”

“That’s nothing! You take this bowl, my lord, and it will be something.”

The small and large tussles between Chawleigh and the Viscount are not always enjoyable to read, but over the course of the book they reach an understanding and respect for each other that is hard-earned but sincere. For me, their relationship is almost the best part of the book. But I have to say “almost,” because the best part is the character of Jenny. Jenny is unabashedly plain, middle-class, and unromantic. But the more I reread A Civil Contract, the more I like her. Heyer introduces her heroine utterly unsympathetically, and just in case she hasn’t conveyed her message adequately, she has Adam compare Jenny to Julia:

Uncharitable persons had been known to describe hers as a little squab figure. Adam was not a tall man, but her head only just topped his shoulder. There was a suggestion of squareness about her; she was already plump, and would probably become stout in later life. She was certainly not a beauty, but there was nothing in the least objectionable in her countenance. Her eyes were not large, but they were of a clear gray, well-opened (except when she was amused, when they narrowed to twinkling slits), and holding a look of grave reflection; her hair, elaborately crimped and curled, was mouse-coloured; she had a small, determined month, a button of a nose, and a complexion which would have been good could she but have overcome an unhappy tendency to blush fierily whenever she was embarrassed.

She was as unlike Miss Oversley as she could be. There was no brilliance in her eyes, no allure in her smile, no music in her flat-toned voice, and not the smallest suggestion of the ethereal either in her person or in her bearing. Where Julia seemed to float, she trod with a firm, brisk step; where Julia could be enchantingly arch she was invariably matter-of-fact. She enjoyed a joke, but did not always perceive that one had been made; and she looked as though she had more sense than sensibility.

No blinding flash of recognition struck Adam, but he was able to identify her with the commonplace girl whom he had too often found in Mount Street a year earlier.

Jenny becomes a bit better at styling her hair and wardrobe to be more flattering (with Aunt Nassington and Lydia’s help), but she never becomes anything more than “almost pretty.” She gives in to her father and to Adam over and over again, because she loves them. And yet, I cannot feel anything but respect for her. She knows what she’s doing, and she isn’t satisfied merely to marry Adam and bring him her dowry, she becomes his partner, most of all at his beloved Fontley, where Adam was at first afraid to see her:

She had none of the Dowager’s graciousness; she could never bring her tongue to utter the easy expressions of sympathy which would have won for her an instant popularity; but it was not long before it began to be realized that her brusque tongue concealed a far greater interest in the affairs of her lord’s people than the Dowager had ever felt. The sturdy common sense which made it easy for her to distinguish between the shiftless and the unfortunate might not win universal popularity for her, but it did win respect; she gave freely, but with discrimination; her advice was always practical; and if her blunt strictures were frequently unpalatable they left no one in any doubt that her ladyship was as shrewd as she could hold together.

I’ve now written nearly twice as many words as I usually do in a review, and I still haven’t talked about A Civil Contract as a romance. This is because the book is not “romantic” at all, in the normal way that we think about it. Adam and Jenny freely agree to their Marriage of Convenience, get to know each other with the ups and downs that process entails, and come out at the other end with a lot of respect, affection, and understanding for each other. Jenny deeply loves Adam, but Adam is still more appreciative and affectionate than anything. So how can it be satisfying to a romance reader?

For me, the satisfaction comes in my certainty that they will have a real, enduring HEA. Well, that and also the fact that Adam realizes that his beloved, beautiful Julia is basically going to turn into his mother as she ages. Now that is satisfying. But as insensitive and oblivious Adam has been to Jenny, by the end he’s stopped trying to convince himself it will be fine, because he realizes that in many ways he came out ahead.

I also think they’ll last because Adam is just not that interesting or adventurous as a person, which is a very good thing for the future of the Viscountcy. He and Jenny will bring the estate back into good health, treat their servants and tenants well, and raise children who will be a credit to them. Adam won’t stray because he’s more interested in agriculture and husbandry than he is in women and gambling and horses (unlike his father), and also because he is a very decent person. For her part, Jenny loves rural life far more than city life. It’s not an exciting ending. But it’s the life they want, and neither could have achieved it without the other. And by the end of the novel, even Adam has figured that out. We see it in his exchange with Julia:

“Oh, how much you have changed!” she exclaimed bitterly. “You had nobler ambitions once!”

“Well, it was certainly my ambition to command the Regiment one day,” he admitted, “but I don’t think I was ever as romantic as you believed me to be. Perhaps we never had time to learn to know each other very well, Julia.”

She did not answer. Footsteps were approaching, and a moment later the door opened, and Jenny came in, a letter in her hand. She said cheerfully: “I don’t mean to interrupt you, but one of Lambert’s servants has this instant ridden over, and you’ll want to know the news, Adam. Charlotte was safely delivered at eight o’clock this morning, and it’s a boy! Isn’t that capital? Hell be able to play with Giles! Lambert says—” She stopped, meeting Adam’s eyes, which were brimful of laughter, gave a gasp, and said unsteadily: “Now, Adam, for goodness’ sake—!” She saw that Julia was looking blankly from her to Adam, and said apologetically: “I beg pardon! It’s just a silly joke—not worth repeating!”

When a man is sharing inside jokes with his wife while the Great Lost Love of His Life stands there, befuddled, you know he’s over her.

There is so much more in the novel. I’ve only touched on the wonderful secondary characters, both above and below-stairs. The Battle of Waterloo plays a key role in the plot, and there is a very nice secondary romance for Lydia. I could also go on about how I think the conflict and eventual harmony between the aristocrats and the merchants reflects Heyer’s acknowledgement that the Cits she always snarked on were integral to the successful development of Britain and her empire. But I’ll stop and just tell you to go buy the book and read it. Grade: A-

~ Sunita

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Sunita has been reading romances since she ran out of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse and Chalet School books and graduated to Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Other old favorites include Mary Burchell, Betty Neels, Elsie Lee, and Edith Layton. Among current writers, she reads and rereads Anne Stuart, Tamara Allen, Jordan Castillo Price, Sarah Morgan, Marion Lennox, Josh Lanyon, and Susanna Kearsley.

104 Comments

  1. Tamara Morgan
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 10:40:58

    I initially read this one about ten years ago, when I first discovered Heyer and glommed her total backlist. And I hated it. Hated, hated, threw it against the wall, wanted to bleach it from my memory. I found it to be unromantic and depressing and vowed never to pick it up again.

    Of course, when the $2.99 deals hit this week, I gave in and decided to have another peek.

    And now? I consider it one of Heyer’s best. I don’t know if it was the re-read or the fact that I’ve aged, but I think the subtle layers and gradual growth of their affection is so much more powerful than a whirlwind romance.

    Funny how time changes things!

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  2. Carrie
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 11:16:59

    I also consider this one of Heyer’s best novels. I love her madcap adventures and humorous romances, but A Civil Contract has more depth and insight than most of her other works. Every time I read it there is a little pull in my heart, and I find myself wanting to get a glimpse of their future, which I think is exactly how you described it. Like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Adam will come to realize that true and enduring love is there with the partner he has shared all of life’s ups and downs with.

    Venetia, although not as obviously poignant, also has some great insights and lessons is accepting a person for who they are instead of who who you might want them to be.

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  3. Tracy
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 11:27:10

    Venetia was my first ever Heyer (I was babysitting, and I was given free rein in the bookcases — she was an English Lit professor, he was a History professor), but A Civil Contract has always been my favorite. I think possibly it’s because the affection between them grew so slowly, and because of all the heroines, I think I’ve always found Jenny the most approachable. She’s someone I can see going to when everything seems to be going wrong; the kind of person who’ll pat you on the back while you cry, then hand you a tissue (well, a handkerchief; a nice, solid, white, big MANLY one) and say “How can I help?” She and Frederica… So many of the others were fun to read, but FAR to headstrong and high-strung to be comfortable friends.

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  4. Jayne
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 11:46:49

    Thanks for this lovely review, Sunita. I always enjoying reading what your insights into Heyer.

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  5. Ros
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 11:56:18

    Well, you already know I’m on your side with this! Great review. I think your point about Adam being unromantic is a very good one. He and Jenny are actually very well matched – they are both very practical people who will be content with a well-ordered household and estate and a family to fill it. For me, the final scenes of the book do a very good job of showing the sort of happiness they will have together. The fact that they can share jokes tells me how well they understand and appreciate each other. I know Jenny has her moment of angst as she lets go of her romantic dream, but to me that’s about realising she isn’t married to a fairytale hero, she’s married to a real man who she loves despite all his faults and flaws. That’s why I think this is a book that appeals to slightly older readers – I didn’t love it when I first read it in my late teens. It’s not a fairytale romance, it’s more realistic than that. It recognises that the dreams we have wouldn’t always make us happy in reality, and that lasting happiness can be found in the mundane.

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  6. Sunita
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:07:42

    Thanks everyone! I think that this novel is more likely to appeal to readers who are slightly older, but also to readers who come into it understanding that it’s an outlier in the genre. It’s a real MOC, as opposed to a romance-trope MOC, and that takes a bit of mental adjustment.

    I read it in my teens and liked it even then, but I think that’s in part because I knew a number of relatives and family friends who were in arranged marriages, and they were happy. The book gave me a window into how that could come about, and I appreciated that.

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  7. Isobel Carr
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:08:09

    I’m with Growlycub. I found this book so utterly depressing I excised it from my library. I don’t see how you can describe this as a book with an HEA. It’s nothing of the kind IMO. A marriage with love on one side and grudging respect on the other is the opposite of a happy ending for me. It’s a recipe for disaster and for great tragedy.

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  8. Sunita
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:15:09

    @Isobel Carr: But that’s where we differ: I don’t think it’s grudging respect. I think it’s genuine respect and affection at the end.

    But that’s in part because I think that Adam displaces his own self-revulsion at marrying for money on to Jenny in the earlier stages. He thinks they’re both marrying for money. When he realizes her feelings are deeper, his attitude changes. He’s still angry that he’s been placed in this position, but he understands better that she did it for love (of him and her father).

    Fontley is key to the process. He realizes that it’s not just her money that will revive Fontley, it’s *her’, in a way Julia never would.

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  9. SonomaLass
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:18:10

    I just re-read this one (although I had completely forgotten the first reading until I checked my Goodreads shelves). The first time, my reaction was very similar to yours here. This time, while I really liked it, my dissatisfactions were to do with the romance. Part of that is because I read it shortly after Sherry Thomas’s Ravishing the Heiress, which has a very similar premise but with main characters who (spoiler?) manage to achieve actual romantic love, not just comfortable domesticity. I enjoyed A Civil Contract in the same way that I enjoy some of Jane Austen’s novels that don’t read as “romance” to me.

    In thinking about it, part of what Thomas did that Heyer didn’t (couldn’t) is use the characters sexual relationship as a dimension of what they were feeling for each other. It’s obvious that Heyer’s characters are sexually active, but it’s never even hinted at, so it’s hard to even read between the lines to figure out if either/both are sexually satisfied, and with Jenny’s complete lack of experience and Adam’s “revulsion” for her physical appearance in much of the book, that’s a stumbling block for me. Yes, he gets her pregnant; at that point in the relationship it feels like duty sex has occurred on both parts, and I wasn’t convinced as a reader that would change. (Adam being “not that interesting or adventurous” doesn’t really bode well for poor Jenny in that regard, either.)

    For me the ending was bittersweet. Yes, they are likely to have a good life together, because they have both given up on the idea of romantic love to settle for friendship, comfort and compatibility. As I said, I enjoyed the book, but it didn’t satisfy my need for romance, which can grow out of friendship, comfort and compatibility, but I didn’t see that foreshadowed here, especially from Jenny’s point of view.

    The secondary characters and the very specific historical events (that actually impact the events of the novel) were definite strengths, as well as some of Heyer’s best exploration of imperfect men and women, making mistakes with people they care about and trying to figure out how to apologize/make amends/do better. And the lack of “happy ever afterglow” was a refreshing change from some recent historical romance reads, where it’s not just the main characters but EVERYBODY (except maybe a 2D villain) who is dancing and singing at the end.

    Thanks for taking the extra words to write a review that does this book justice. Reading other people’s responses (here and on Twitter) is wonderful; what a great example of the different impact a strong book can have on different readers (or in my case, the same reader four years later).

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  10. Ros
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:18:33

    @Sunita: “Fontley is key to the process. He realizes that it’s not just her money that will revive Fontley, it’s *her’, in a way Julia never would. ”

    Yes! Which is why all the compliments about her as a housekeeper are so much more significant than they seem. It’s not just that she knows he likes macaroons, it’s that she will be a positive asset to the thing which is most important to him. When she reads the farming books, he starts to take her seriously. They will be a real partnership, recognising each other’s strengths and welcoming each other’s advice and support.

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  11. Las
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:30:06

    I have never read Heyer. Years ago I got it into my head that her books sounded boring (I blame the covers and the “traditional regency” label) and no one has been able to convince me otherwise. But I love MOC stories, and I’m a sucker for practical, unromantic people falling in love. I might try this one.

    The description reminds me of Rose Lerner’s In for a Penny. There’s a lot I liked about it, but it lost a lot of steam near the end.

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  12. Isobel Carr
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:34:35

    ***Yes, they are likely to have a good life together, because they have both given up on the idea of romantic love to settle for friendship, comfort and compatibility.***

    THIS is what I find so depressing about the book.

    ***Yes! Which is why all the compliments about her as a housekeeper are so much more significant than they seem. It’s not just that she knows he likes macaroons, it’s that she will be a positive asset to the thing which is most important to him.***

    Yes, rather like a favorite gun dog who anticipates your commands. Ugh.

    The whole book just seems to be saying that plain girls without breeding should just be happy to take what crumbs they can get. Jenny doesn’t deserve a true HEA the way all of Heyer’s beautiful heroines did. And the sadder part is that Heyer made Jenny smart enough to understand she wasn’t loved.

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  13. Tamara
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:42:09

    Oh, I want to read this one! Thank you.

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  14. Isobel Carr
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:42:27

    @Las: I’m a sucker for those things too. The problem with ACC is that they don’t fall in love. They settle for “content” without our ever being shown that there’s hope for actual “love” (affection, admiration, sure, but not love). This book is unique in this among Heyer’s oeuvre, and I really wouldn’t recommend it as a good introduction. If you like MOC with LOVE, try April Lady or The Convenient Marriage first.

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  15. GrowlyCub
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:43:49

    I’ve said all kinds of things on twitter already, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say that I cannot imagine anything worse than being in a relationship where one party loves and the other only says they love you back when you prompt them, but at most feels contentment that you don’t bother them with your thoughts when they eat breakfast.

    If Jenny had come into the relationship pining for somebody else or completely uninvolved, I think it could have been a successful MoC, but the inequality of class and emotional commitment makes it an impossibility for me to consider this book a romance as it lacks a HEA.

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  16. Courtney Milan
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:46:34

    Put me firmly in the “hated it” camp, and oddly enough, because I agree with the statement that Jenny made the book. I loved her as a character and so utterly hated what happened to her.

    Yes, he learns to respect her, but I felt that his respect for her was something like the respect he might have for a truly valued housekeeper or a bailiff. “You are vastly superior at meeting my needs than most of the people I have encountered” just doesn’t make an HEA for me. A “partnership” where one person is doing 90% of meeting the needs of the other is not a partnership. This book sickened me because she was presented as the one who needed to win him over, when SHE was the one doing all the work.

    After all that, I’m supposed to be satisfied because he feels mild affection and respect for her after how many years? I felt like in order to buy into the HEA, I had to buy into the assumption that he really was better than her by virtue of his birth. There is no other way that you can see his mild actions and his tepid regard on par with what Jenny does and feels for him. This is a book about class distinctions, but I did not see it as a book about overcoming them. It’s a book that reinforces them.

    I can see how others would enjoy this, but this was a no, a no, and a hell no for me.

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  17. Verns
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:46:58

    Thank you so much for the insightful review and for everybody’s helpful comments. I’m very fond of A Civil Contract and re-read it recently but, perhaps perversely, I think I enjoyed it more as a teenager than I do now as a middle-aged woman. Back then, I loved the fact that the heroine of the book was not the glamorous, fascinating Julia, but the prosaic, plain Jenny. It gave hope to all us Plain Janes!

    But the book was written in pre-feminist 1961, and of course is of its time. So I think it is my post-feminist self that struggles with Jenny’s desire to please Adam and ensure that he is comfortable, at whatever cost. She reads the Regency equivalent of junk mail at the breakfast table because she knows that if she doesn’t occupy herself with something, Adam will feel honour bound to talk to her and he dislikes conversation at breakfast. She is the ultimate in self-sacrificial complaisance, which, to do him justice, Adam knows and deprecates.

    So while I agree that Jenny is a better wife for Adam than Julia would have been, and certainly better for Fontley, I’m not convinced that, by the end of the book, the balance of power has shifted at all. She still gives: he still takes.

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  18. carmen webster buxton
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 12:50:49

    Yes, yes, yes to all of this! Count me with Ros and Sunita! I just re-read this, too, because of the $1.99 deal, and I would disagree that Adam acts badly towards Jenny. Yes, he is revolted by her father’s (and occasionally her) actions, but I think Heyer was being authentic. As you say, this was a class-conscious society and that is how an aristocrat would have felt. The fact that he is aware of the irony inherent in resenting the wealth that saved his family is not lost on him, and although he may not control his reactions entirely, he is never condescending to Jenny or her father. In a way, this story is a lot like a a Jane Austen subplot expanded, an arranged marriage that works out as well as can be expected.

    I loved Mr. Chawleigh as a character because he was so larger than life and yet so human; showing him ranting angrily but also crying when Jenny was in labor was a wonderful illustration of his inner self. And (spoiler here) Adam does, at the end, tell Jenny he loves her. He also realizes that Julia had a side that he had never seen and mostly he was in love with the way she looked. I think this book is actually a lot more true to its time than many Heyer stories. It’s certainly not a traditional romantic ending, but when you write that many books, you probably want some variations. I know I do.

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  19. Kate Pearce
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:04:34

    Put me in the love it camp. :)
    I think it is also interesting to note that the British view of a ‘romance’ novel isn’t quite the same as the American one, so this type of ending is more common in British books than American ones. Maybe we Brits are happy to settle for less? (LOL) because as a Brit who grew up with that tradition, the ending didn’t bother me at all.
    I like to write books like this myself with slightly more realistic characters and grittier relationships and sometimes my readers don’t like that as much as I do. :)
    I do think he will come to love her because I think that love can evolve in different ways and ultimately come to mean the same thing.

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  20. GrowlyCub
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:07:29

    @Kate Pearce:

    Well, I’m German, a people who seem to be known for super pragmatism, and I don’t think it’s a HEA. So, not sure it’s an American/Brit dichotomy. Also, every other Heyer Regency has a HEA, so that theory seems not quite supported.

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  21. Karen G
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:13:29

    Great review! Like you, I read this as a teen and was intensely disappointed at the lack of romance. Just read it again a few weeks ago and found myself really enjoying it. Many of Georgette Heyer’s other romances are light, frothy, and entertaining, but this had a realism and truth to it that really drew me in this time. After all, people in arranged marriages don’t always fall madly in love with each other, do they? I did note that you mentioned the wrong sister in your review though…you said it was Charlotte and then had several paragraphs from the book that were about Lydia (you did mean Lydia, I’m pretty sure). Just for accuracy’s sake. :^)

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  22. Sunita
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:16:37

    @Karen G: Yes, I did, thank you for catching that! I got a heads-up earlier but I’m on the phone and I’m not sure I can edit the post without screwing something up.

    But yes, definitely Lydia, NOT Charlotte!

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  23. Elisabeth
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:28:33

    @SonomaLass: I remember reading several years ago – I think in Jane Aiken Hodge’s biography, in fact – that Georgette Heyer regarded the sexual aspect of marriage as not being particularly worthy of comment. It is a part of marriage, it happens, so what? In April Lady, Helen is reassured that her mother did not conceive immediately either. It is clear that the Rules in the Convenient Marriage have a sexual relationship, but nothing is made of it, etc, so ‘duty sex’ as you put it wouldn’t have been as issue for her.
    Like many others, I first read this in my teens and didn’t really enjoy it. It was only as I grew older that I began to appreciate the subtle nuances of the development of the relationships between the various characters.
    I DO think this is a HEA romance, a steadily growing and enduring one, rather than wild and passionate.

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  24. Elizabeth J.
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:34:56

    It’s been a while since I’ve read this one, but I’m working my way through my Heyer collection now. One thing I can say from my current perspective, though, is that there is a kind of bittersweet joy in doing what you can for someone you love, even when you know that person doesn’t love you. Maybe the hope of inspiring love is always there, too. But sometimes it’s just satisfying to provide a meal that you know the other person loves or to provide a drama-free sanctuary from the stresses of everyday life. Or maybe I’m just projecting onto Jenny a bit too much . . .

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  25. Connie Onnie
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:35:13

    I just discovered Heyer and have been devouring them as fast as I can! I only finished A Civil Contract a few days ago. For my part I loved it, yes it was different but so satisfying! As you said “Well, that and also the fact that Adam realizes that his beloved, beautiful Julia is basically going to turn into his mother as she ages. Now that is satisfying. ” My thoughts exactly. My only wish is that I wished for more.

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  26. Janet W
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:40:37

    Let me try again … I lost my comment somehow. It is a romance for me, a partnership of love and respect. You don’t often with Heyer get to see a couple years later but contrast Adam and Jenny with the couple in Regency Buck when we meet them at Waterloo years later. Not to say Judith isn’t happy, but she seems less mature than Jenny in many ways, particularly in conversation with her husband.

    For an engagement of convenience, there’s always Cotillion. Massively well-suited couple. Friday’s Child is a MOC that runs into a lot of difficulty. It takes Gil and his aunt to save the day–Heyer, ever the realist, here reminding the reader that love is not enough. Success within the confines of society is essential for marital happiness–or it is in Heyer’s world. Can we judge Adam and Jenny through modern eyes? Of course we can but I don’t think it’s a fair way to assess them. Their meeting of eyes and shared humour and sensibilities at the end is more than the feeling a man would have for his bailiff or a woman for her housekeeper — they are a couple and they are building their private world together. I foresee good times ahead for them.

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  27. Sunita
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:41:11

    I think SonomaLass’s comparison of ACC with the Sherry Thomas book is really helpful, because without the sexual dimension we’ve come to expect in romance novels, it requires the reader to incorporate her own connection rather than see it from the author. I agree with Elisabeth, though, that the absence of explanation doesn’t necessarily mean that their sex is duty sex. I would also argue that dull in and out of bed (or not dull in both cases) are not nearly as highly correlated as we might expect.

    This is such a great conversation. I absolutely can see why readers who love romance and other Heyer novels dislike this book or find it depressing.

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  28. Las
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:59:28

    @Isobel Carr: I’ll look into those two. I don’t necessarily mind the idea of the characters not being completely in love by the end but unrequited love is a trope that never works for me, and judging by the comments it sounds like the difference in the h/h feelings for each other is pronounced.

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  29. Isobel Carr
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:16:19

    ***there is a kind of bittersweet joy in doing what you can for someone you love, even when you know that person doesn’t love you.***

    Whereas all I can think is how bitter and empty this would leave you after years and years of doing it … mostly what we get is Adam overcoming his disgust, shame, and outright loathing to reach acceptance of the bargain he’s made. He’s happy to have a rich wife who leaves him in peace at the breakfast table. Be still my heart.

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  30. Elisabeth
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:39:47

    @Isobel Carr:
    In the beginning, perhaps there is an element of that, but you don’t seem to see how his feelings gradually change over the period of the book – 18 months or so? If at the end of the book, he still felt the same way, then I would agree with you, but he doesn’t.
    I don’t believe that a HEA has to have them constantly ripping their knickers off and leaping into bed with each other, as most modern so-called romances seem to infer (even if they wore them, which they didn’t). The shared goals and small joys of just everyday living can be just as satisfying, even if in a different way.

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  31. Susan Houston
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:41:45

    I reread “A Civil Contract” every other year or so, because after years of reading Heyer, I find it one of her strongest books. It has a realism and a reality to it that is a refreshing change. Whenever a woman is valued and loved for her talents, personality and character, it is a win-win for me. I find myself encouraged and hopeful when I read this book, because it faces the painful fact that all too many of us look like Jenny, and are unlikely to find ourselves loved for our appearance, which is all too predictable in romance fiction. I would far rather have a romance where the failings of each person are acknowledged and recognized by them, yet they can take the next step of accepting those failings and finding love for the other.

    I would say that “A Civil Contract” is the most LIKELY HEA I’ve ever come across… because they both started with lowered expectations, and have found to their happiness that they have a spouse & situation better than they had initially expected. They will still be happy and content decades later, while Mr. Beaumaris may find his Arabella hasn’t gotten any smarter, and Venetia’s Damerel may well fall back off the wagon. If Adam had married Julia instead of Jenny, he would have been sick to death of her within a year, and the fact that he realizes that and knows he’s escaped from a far worse marriage is far more hopeful for their future.

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  32. Tracy
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:56:59

    I just went back and reread the last chapter of A Civil Contract, and I have to say one of the things that struck me was how easy and even playful Adam and Jenny were in their interactions with each other. She felt comfortable enough to gently tease; he made seeing her and explaining his absence a priority, and was willing to go into detail with her about the whole situation. To me, that doesn’t speak of a passionless (or even one-sided) relationship — it speaks of true, mutual feelings. Jenny seemed to me to be the type that, if what she were doing is only giving, with no return, to be much less animated, less likely to simply walk in to a room where she knew Adam was speaking with Julia without knocking first…

    The problem, of course, is that Heyer does draw a curtain across at a certain point, so the things that might give us clues as to their admittedly less-than-impetuous feelings are not visible to us. That doesn’t mean they’re not there, of course — we simply aren’t privy to them.

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  33. Elisabeth
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:59:11

    @Susan Houston: I wish I had said that! I absolutely agree with you.

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  34. carmen webster buxton
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:02:27

    Wow, this is such a great illustration of the fact that there is no book that everyone likes. I would love to write something that still aroused such strong feelings in readers more than 50 years after I wrote it! One reason I love Heyer is that she wrote so damn many books, she accounts for almost every kind of hero and heroine. I like some stories more than others, but the characters all feel like real people to me–not perfect, not always likable, but very real.

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  35. GrowlyCub
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:06:19

    @Elisabeth:

    No, they do not change, the breakfast scene is at the very end of the book. I don’t think anybody here has been talking about Jenny and Adam having sex all the time; I certainly haven’t. I talked about seeing a couple which is so unequal in their feelings for each other, that I’m depressed just thinking about them.

    Adam has everything he could ever want *and* he gets to keep mooning in a secret part of his heart for Julia. Jenny has nothing except a demanding, persnickety husband who very very occasionally throws her a crumb of affection for which she is (expected to be) pathetically grateful.

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  36. Ros
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:08:26

    @carmen webster buxton: I was just thinking how lovely it is to be able to have this discussion, with strong opinions on both sides, without it sliding into any of the drama we’ve seen all too often lately.

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  37. Isobel Carr
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:35:51

    @Elisabeth: I see his feelings of disgust retreat and I see them form a friendly alliance, but I see nothing in the book about his feeling any kind of love for her. Would you (or anyone who does) please point out the bits I’m missing? I just re-read the ending to be sure I wasn’t forgetting something and I don’t see that I was.

    @Ros: I don’t see anyone being uncivil. I see people clearly not disagreeing on what takes place on the page.

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  38. Ros
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:45:12

    @Isobel Carr: That’s what I see too. That’s why I’m enjoying the discussion. Isn’t that what I said?

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  39. Anne
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:52:10

    @Isobel Carr:

    Why do you believe that all these beautiful heroines had a HEA and not much more likely a HFN which would not last once their beauty left them?

    I always have the opposite reaction. To me the “beautiful heroines” are obviously just objects of lust and given Regency and Victorian mores they would be – with 30 and after 4-5 children – left alone at home while the lordship of a husband bonked the 10-15 years younger mistress or demi-rep. That was what actually happened and I can’t put that aside.

    Whereas someone like Adam and Jenny I see as having a sizable enough chance to make it into comfortable old age as companions and friends with a bit of extra thrown in. That is ultimately more I’d see any of the beautiful heroines get, it would be more than the reality of the average woman of nobility at the time, after her beauty and allure has left her and it is even quite a bit more than what the average modern woman has, who tends to be going through a bitter divorce at around that time in her life…

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  40. Joanna Chambers
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:57:20

    I love this book, but I love it as a novel, not as a romance. For me, it’s bittersweet. Adam and Jenny will be happy, but they don’t have a romantic HEA. Yes, it’s more true to life. Yes, in many ways it’s a better sketch of a successful marriage. And yet, it never feels like Adam’s feelings for Jenny ever match hers for him and that always makes me feel a little sad, even though I know Jenny is content and secure.

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  41. Ros
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 16:06:38

    @Isobel Carr: Here’s what I see:

    A growing physical attraction (“She was fondly watching the child, and it struck Adam that he had never seen her appear to better advantage.” p335 in my copy)

    The shared sense of humour (Lambert says, and lots of other moments).

    The concern for her wellbeing (Throughout, but growing deeper towards the end. For instance, after his mother makes grand plans for Lydia’s party, Adam seeks Jenny out in private and asks if she is sure she wants to go ahead. He puts her wishes above those of his family.)

    A growing regard for her opinions (“Jenny rarely talked about the war at all, but when she did mention it she showed, he thought, a great deal of good sense.” p346 in my copy).

    A growing desire for intimacy (Visiting her in bed for a chat, coming to her bedroom to see her the morning he arrives back at Fontley too late for the party). It matters to him that he share things with her.

    The realisation that he is not very romantic at all. (“I don’t think I was ever as romantic as you believed me to be. Perhaps we never had time to learn to know each other very well.” p388). I think that shows how little Adam has come to value the feelings he had for Julia and how he has learned to know Jenny and value that sort of love much more. When he says later that Julia was only a boy’s impractical dream, it’s clear that he no longer wants that dream. He wants real life, and that means Jenny.

    It takes Jenny’s prompt for him to even think whether the money has come too late. If he really didn’t love her (and especially if he still had a thing for Julia) I would have expected that to be his first thought and one that made him resent Jenny even more.

    His eyes show warmth and tenderness, though not an ardent flame when he looks at Jenny at the end. Warmth and tenderness strike me as things you can feel for someone you love. It’s not always about the ardent flame of lust, which is what his eyes showed when he looked at Julia. He doesn’t love Jenny the way he wanted Julia, but to me that’s because he’s grown up a lot over the course of the book. He loves her in a more measured way, certainly, but in a way that will last because it is based on reality, not on an imagined dream.

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  42. Ros
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 16:34:45

    Also, wasn’t this one of the choices for this month’s DA bookclub? It’s generating a lot more discussion than Last Night’s Scandal!

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  43. Carolyn
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 16:47:09

    Completely agree with Ros, I couldn’t say it better. I was impressed when I first read this book in my teens and my feelings haven’t changed.

    I also remember thinking ‘thank God Adam came to his senses’ regarding Julia. Someone en alt all the time would have driven him nuts.

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  44. Isobel Carr
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 16:47:49

    @Anne: We’re not talking real world here where beauty fades, and people cheat, and some fall out of love, we’re talking about ROMANCE NOVELS. All of Heyer’s beautiful heroines get some kind of admission of love. Jenny doesn’t.

    @Ros: I see all of that as him learning to accept her, but not to love her. I guess I just don’t read into it the way some of you do (or what I read in and infer are very different).

    In the end, I’m just in the same place as GrowlyCub and Courtney Milan; I feel like Jenny got the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

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  45. Isobel Carr
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 16:50:18

    And mind you I say this as an author who almost never actually writes an “I love you” scene into her own books, because I often find they sound false. So I don’t know what else to say. This book depresses me. Greatly. So I’m going to go read something that doesn’t.

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  46. Elisabeth
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 16:52:29

    I would also add to that list Adam’s concern when their son was born. He was far more interested in seeing her than their newborn son.

    Isobel – I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. Perhaps we just have different ideas on what constitutes a romance.

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  47. Ros
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 16:59:49

    @Isobel Carr: I think that’s what’s so interesting about the discussion. I can’t think of many other books where readers are so divided on whether the couple are in love by the end or not. All I can say is that I’d be happy to be loved the way Adam loves Jenny, but clearly that’s not what everyone wants from a relationship.

    Also, she does get an admission of love. The question is how honest that is and/or what sort of love it implies. But he does tell her he loves her very much.

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  48. Sheri Cobb South
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 17:49:49

    I first (and last!) read this many years ago as a teenager, and hated, Hated, HATED it! After reading this review, I’m tempted to give it another try. I think I’ll look for a library copy, though, instead of spending my money on it, in case my feelings haven’t changed. FWIW, I collect first-edition Heyers, and it’s telling that this is one of the very few (along with a couple of the very early “contemporary” titles) that I never chose to track down.

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  49. Leslie
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 18:22:34

    I am surprised at the comments of those who “loathe” A Civil Contract. I first read this book and Pride and Prejudice back to back when I was fifteen and confined to bed for two weeks. Both books made a huge impact upon me, I felt changed after the experience.
    I think ACC was written in the true spirit of HEA. Regency England was so class conscious, that any aristocrat who married as Adam did would feel the sting in compromising his values. Losing Julia the “object of his desire” in order to save his heritage was heartbreaking.
    We see the fortune hunter trope often in historicals, remember Devil’s Winter by Lisa Kleypas?
    Is it because Jenny is plain and not a gorgeous goddess? Is that why it’s hard to believe Adam could fall in love with her?
    I liked that Heyer didn’t transform Jenny into a stunner when she is taken in hand by Lydia and the Aunt. Her lack of physical beauty made her all the more attractive, people loved and admired Jenny for herself not for her looks.
    Adam’s journey is so riddled with difficulty, his personal shame, his father-in-law’s interference, his father’s debts, the loss of his military life, and the lack of confidence he feels from others and about himself when trying to deal with his role as head of his family. Reading him coming to terms with his choices and situation was compelling.
    I loved, loved this book. Jenny’s quiet grace in dealing with everyone is remarkable. She is a true Regency Heroine, her growth, her willingness to marry a man whom she had loved from a far knowing what she knew about him was courageous. She knew what she was getting into, she would be an asset to Adam and a comfortable wife, it was a good start. There would be no emotional drama, unlike Julia who was selfish, spoiled and beautifully cruel in her suffering. I loved the way everything unfolded.
    To me this is a perfect book, it is not as romantic or as comic as some of her other novels, but it is more true to British mores of the day than anything that I’ve read lately. People married for different reasons in the 19th century, despite what we read in the “sexy” regency novels written by contemporary authors. Please don’t get me wrong it’s all good just not very realistic. Unbelievable as it would be in the 19th century I still enjoy the delicious fantasy of a duke marrying a dressmaker or an actress, but mostly I prefer the realism of a governess marrying a man of business in order to get off the streets. It’s about finding love in unusual circumstances. ACC is very realistic, Adam does what he does in order to survive and maintain a way of life, it is sometimes disheartening, but ultimately he finds his HEA. A Jane Austen sort of ending: everyone gets what they deserve.
    I disagree with the bailiff remarks about Jenny. It’s true that she was a suberb housewife, but I believe Adam values and loves Jenny before the awful scene with Julia at the end of the book. Julia’s behavior just furthers the stark realization of the loss of his boyhood ideal to the joy of the future with Jenny and his children. It all becomes clear in a moment.
    Bittersweet.
    The supporting characters are also wonderful. Mr. Chawleigh, his brassy noveau riche crassness. The Aunt who is his aristocratic equal. The sisters and mother, everyone is so well written.
    You know, so many times I’ve read a novel written in the last ten years and I think wait a minute Georgette Heyer wrote this fifty or sixty years ago ( I am not suggesting plagiarism).
    She was amazing and she is in a class all by herself. It’s great people are still reading and talking about her books. Thanks Sunita for the terrific post.
    Happy Birthday Georgette!

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  50. Janet W
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 18:32:14

    Re all this superb housewife stuff — and I agree — I would say Jenny was a superb chatelaine. She truly brought a house back to life. It was Adam and her father Jonathan though who had an artistic sensibility: think back to the dinner when Jenny described her father’s Chinese treasures. She didn’t have an artist’s or a collector’s love for them but her husband and father did. This is not to denigrate her talents because in her own way, she was truly gifted (and determined).

    Did no one notice how much she was like Adam’s grandmother — and how he was following in the footsteps of his land-loving grandfather. They had so much in common, particularly when they were left alone at Fontley.

    I tweeted this but it’s worth noting: Julia offered Adam carte blanche before she got married. Let’s not worry about whether or not it was genuine or could have/would have happened. The point is, Adam turned her down flat because he knew Jenny would not recover from it. He does give to Jenny, at cost to himself, even though it does seem often like he’s all take take take.

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  51. Lady Wesley
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 18:37:09

    Thank you, Sunita, for a lovely review, and thanks to all the commenters for so eloquently expressing your opinions. What a marvelous compliment to Georgette Heyer to see that, fifity years on, her books are still read, analyzed, and debated.

    I quite enjoyed this book — Mr. Chawleigh has got to be one of Heyer’s greatest characters — and find the ending more true to historical reality than most regency romances. After all of the horrible marriages we read about in HR, Jenny and Adam’s life sounds quite satisfying.

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  52. Marianne McA
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 18:38:09

    @ Sheri Cobb South – I hated it as a teenager too, and was surprised a couple of years ago to find out it had become a good read. I can’t think of another Heyer book that’s happened with (perhaps one day I’ll grow old enough to enjoy Cousin Kate.) It’s definitely worth another try.

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  53. Leslie
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 18:40:53

    @Ros: Yes! I was disappointed it was out voted.

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  54. carmen webster buxton
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 19:00:26

    One of the wonderful things about the Kindle is you can highlight passages and then copy your and paste your highlights. I love it when I post book reviews, and now I can quote this passage near the end of the book:

    He took her face between his hands, turning it up, and looking down at her for a moment before he kissed her. ‘I do love you, Jenny,’ he said gently. ‘Very much indeed – and I couldn’t do without you. You are a part of my life. Julia was never that – only a boy’s impractical dream!’

    I have to admit when I was twenty-five I probably found that scene less than satisfying, but now at the age of (cough, cough) I find it very suggestive of happiness in Adam and Jenny’s future. But I think it illustrates my earlier point that not everyone likes the same thing. In some cases, the same person at different ages doesn’t even like the same thing!

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  55. Wahoo Suze
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 19:50:33

    I read this one just at the age when I was first realizing that the women in romance novels had options, but the real women in the times (more or less) depicted in the novels often did not. ACC had a happy ending for me, because I was becoming aware that in the real world, Jenny could have ended up married to an abusive scumwad, or stuck with in-laws from hell, and there would have been very little she could have done about it. Adam could have lost everything, had his family scattered to the winds, and committed suicide in some form. I loved that they both took what could have been a bad, sad situation, and found a way to be happy with each other.

    It’s not the glamourous, magical Secretary Marries Billionaire aspect of romances (which I also enjoy), but it’s a kind of quiet triumph of the mundane. Jenny won’t ever become the darling of the ton and be the favourite hostess of the glitterati, but she’ll have a stable home with a prosperous future, and (barring some bad luck) healthy children.

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  56. GrowlyCub
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 21:03:05

    I find it fascinating that several people said they thought that they could appreciate the ending/whole concept of ACC better as older women. My experience is the exact opposite. I loved it as a teen and later during many, many rereads and it was in my top 5 until a couple of years ago, when I listened to it on audio and just couldn’t escape the words Heyer actually uses when Adam thinks about Jenny.

    I’m 41 now, for what it’s worth. :)

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  57. Diana
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 22:25:57

    Some really great comments. I’ve always enjoyed this book, but I don’t regard it as a romance novel. I never really believed that Adam loved Jenny the way that she loved him — which is fine and interesting even, but…not really the romance I’m looking for when I read this genre. I do agree with the people who say that Adam came to respect Jenny in the way that you would respect a valuable, amusing, competent employee. And I’m not so sure I agree with the fact that Adam is over Julia, as there’s a line towards the very, very end that implied that while he was annoyed with Julia right now, he’d get over it and probably still idealize and “love” her as the years continued (super depressing, imo).

    It’s a YMMV situation, though, as other commenters have demonstrated. You definitely know it’s a book with depth when there’s such room for rich interpretation.

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  58. Ducky
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 22:26:23

    It’s a well-written book but I could never get past the heroine being such a pleasing doormat to the hero and him being disgusted by her. Made me feel bad. The book left me with the impression that only beautiful and aristocratic people deserve to be loved. All the other Heyer books I read had glamorous aristos as heroes and heroines and they of course got the passion and the declaration of love and the traditional HEA.

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  59. Kim van Rijn
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 23:03:34

    I can’t remember how old I was when I first read this book (probably in my teens or early twenties)…but in common with several other people and the comments they left it was my least favorite Heyer too. I really disliked it and it made me angry and sad both. I’m now in my mid-fifties. These days, Cotillion (which used to be my second least favorite) is one of my top ten Heyer favs. And while AAC isn’t in the top ten favs, I no longer hate it. I’ve come to see it as a very realistic depiction of life and how some things turn out.

    As a mature reader, I can see how miserable Julia would have made Adam. And I think, although he may carry a small torch for her, Adam too realizes he’s had a lucky escape in not marrying Julia. Even though Julia and Adam (especially Julia) may not completely see it, they both have ended up married to partners who can (and do) make them happier than they would have been if they had married each other.

    Although it not a favorite Heyer of mine, I do find it a satisfying story.

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  60. Anne
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 23:06:11

    @Isobel Carr:

    I have ceased listening to/reading fairy tales in early childhood, I believe around age 2 or 3, I ceased believing in Santa around age 4 and I never believed in fairy tale love even as a teenager of 13. “Pretty Woman” was and is, to me, a very laughable movie. So, no, I am quite incapable of losing myself in any fairy tale aspect of romance, it’s the one I find the biggest hurdle in modern Romance novels. Particularly when readers clamor for strong, self-determined realistic heroines at the same time.What for realistic heroines (like for instance Jenny who for once really is both strong and realistic) when you ram the lid down on them by insisting on a fairytale plot and ending? This is why I find so few currently written romances readable.

    @Leslie: You sum it up quite perfectly for me!

    I read A Civil Contract as a teenager and already then loved it, but ever since I re-read it a couple of months ago together with some Austen and Jane Eyre, I discovered I love it as much if not more now with the experiences of several decades at my back.

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  61. Leslie
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 23:51:50

    @GrowlyCub: What about Mr. Darcy’s behavior towards Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice? He is a most beloved hero yet he was such a snob in the first half of the book. He grows emotionally, is forgiven and becomes worthy of Elizabeth. We love him despite his pride, despite his abominable behavior. What is so different about Adam’s pride and prejudices? Do we forgive Darcy, because he is rich and marrys the impoverished Elizabeth despite her background. Is Adam not forgiven for his early thoughts and words, because he desperately needs a fortune and marrys Jenny for hers? Jane Bennett doesn’t believe Lizzy could love Darcy after all that has happened and Lizzy must work hard to convince her. Remember the quip about loving Darcy when she first saw Pemberley? It’s interesting to compare the novels, they’re different and similiar at the same time.
    Reading these two books for my first time back to back is one of my greatest reading experiences.
    I love Heyer’s comic books like The Toll Gate, The Grand Sophy, Unknown Ajax and Frederica, but ACC will always be my favorite, it was my first.

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  62. Sunita
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 00:14:23

    Oh my goodness, I am so enjoying this discussion. The commenters at DA are just awesome.

    I think the divergent views readers have illustrate two points really well.First, what we as readers bring to the experience greatly affects the way we think of, experience, and enjoy a story. If any book demonstrates that reading involves an interaction between the reader and the text, this one does.

    And second, anyone who says that romantic fiction can’t generate interesting, thoughtful conversations and analyses needs their head examined.

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  63. Evangeline Holland
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 00:15:20

    @Janet W: Re all this superb housewife stuff — and I agree — I would say Jenny was a superb chatelaine. She truly brought a house back to life.

    This remark reminds me of Amanda Vickery’s documentary Behind Closed Doors, where in Georgian England, a home and a wife who knew how to run it was the ultimate comfort–and desire–of a gentleman.

    I’m a sucker for MOC plots, but I’ve had bad luck with Heyer, whom I discovered early in my romance reading days. I found what I did read dry and scholarly, but I might try this.

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  64. Leslie
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 00:26:19

    @Sunita: I am so enjoying this thread, so many thoughtful comments. I hope you will do this again with another Heyer. It would be great to chose a book of hers for a future DA book club.

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  65. Kaetrin
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 02:52:41

    What a fascinating discussion. I haven’t read any full length Heyer. I’ve listened to the abridged audiobooks narrated by the superb Richard Armitage, but that’s it. The review but even more so, the comments make me want to read ACC to see which camp I’d fall into.

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  66. Susan
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 03:13:40

    Thank you, Sunita, for a truly wonderful review! Your thoughts plus the comments have made this a terrific post.

    ACC was the second Heyer I read, some 25 years or so after the first. I had mixed feelings about it that first time, and knew I’d need to come back to it someday, which I did about a year ago. I enjoyed it much more the second time ’round, but it was definitely a bittersweet read. I agree that it’s more helpful to approach ACC as a novel than a romance novel so you can appreciate it for what it is rather than be disappointed by what it isn’t.

    I’m glad to see the love for Mr. Chawleigh. Instead of some broad Dickensian-type caricature, Heyer made him nuanced and realistic. He–and Lydia–were highlights of the book. OTH, I will say that, satisfying as it was in some respects, I think Heyer took the easy way out with Julia. I would have enjoyed the added complexity of having her remain Adam’s unattainable ideal. (But maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.)

    After this discussion, I think I need to pull a Heyer out of the pile after I finish my current book.

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  67. etv13
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 04:25:12

    I just wanted to say, yes, this is an outlier in some ways, but Jenny isn’t the only Heyer heroine who isn’t beautiful, nor is this the only one of Heyer’s books that isn’t Romantic with a capital “R.” Sylvester ends with the hero’s mother thinking her son and Phoebe Marlow may not be happy, but they certainly won’t be bored. The Foundling’s heroine isn’t a beauty (though she is an aristocrat), and the love story aspect of that book is mainly missing. Rather, it’s a coming-of-age story about Gilly finding his own strenghts, with the “romance” a secondary, or even tertiary element. Sprig Muslin is similar, and again, I don’t think the heroine is a beauty. Drusilla Morville isn’t a beauty either, and while she comes from a very old family, she doesn’t have a lot of money or a title.

    One thing I think is intersting about Heyer’s portrayal of Jenny is Jenny’s dialect. I don’t think any other Heyer heroine uses the grammatical constructs Jenny uses, though there are many aristocratic male characters who do. Also, to me, she speaks a lot like Jack Aubrey, who is definitely gentry, but male.

    All in all, while I wouldn’t say A Civil Contract is my favorite Heyer, I can see that it may well be her best-written book. And I do love the housekeeping details, the developing relationship between Adam and Mr. Chawleigh, and the very tense and exciting sequence where Adam risks every penny he can beg, borrow or scrape up on Wellington. It’s kind of like the movie Apollo 13, where the creator manages to build the tension even though you know what historically happened.

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  68. GrowlyCub
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 08:22:39

    @carmen webster buxton:

    And actually that’s the one scene that proves to me conclusively that his feelings for her are no more than tepid; if you love somebody you don’t have to say ‘I *do* love you’. That in and of itself speaks volumes to me and the fact that he just can’t help bringing up his loss of Julia…

    @Leslie:

    That assumes that I like P&P and/or consider it a rom, which I don’t. The fact that we see not a single scene from Adam’s POV that shows him considering his love for Jenny, when we spent plenty of time in his head, is damning for me. It all comes down to whether you feel the text shows satisfactorily what Adam’s feelings are for Jenny.

    And this discussion has shown that while we all read the same words, we interpret them very differently.

    @etv13:

    It’s true that not all of Heyer’s heroines are beautiful, but if they aren’t, they are aristos, part of the ‘in’ crowd. I’m interested to see you mention Sprig Muslin as a not really rom-focused book and while I cannot totally disagree with you on structural grounds, it’s one of my favorite Heyer titles and I find the romance very satisfactory. Readers sure are weird beasts. :)

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  69. Sunita
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 09:18:38

    @GrowlyCub: By no means are all Heyer’s heroines either from the aristocracy or part of whatever would comprise an “in” crowd in that era. Hero Wantage comes most immediately to mind. But there are others.

    Thanks, etv13, for the reminders of the non-beautiful heroines. In addition, Horatia had a stammer, Phoebe was described as tanned and somewhat plain, Sarah Thane was too tall, and so on. Compared to authors today, Heyer was much freer to write heroines who were somewhat closer to normal in looks and intelligence.

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  70. Anna Cowan
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 09:21:05

    @Susan Houston: I’ve not read the book, but I had to comment at the idea of a “likely HEA”. All us romance readers deal with the fantasy aspect of romance – but I don’t think heart-stopping love makes for an UNlikely HEA. I’ve only been married four years, but I still love my husband so much it makes me blush sometimes. (And we also have a pretty quiet, nice domestic life.)

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  71. Anna Cowan
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 09:36:28

    @Las: yes! I immediately thought of In For A Penny, too. I loved the same slow-build romance in that, and was even a tiny bit worried towards the end that we wouldn’t get the full HEA. I gotta say, I don’t mind my HEA being REALLY obvious :-) (though like @Isobel Carr I’m a bit leery of the “I love you” scene)

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  72. GrowlyCub
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 10:17:18

    @Sunita:

    I guess it depends on what you consider the in-crowd. Hero, while impoverished, is from a good family as are the other heroines you mentioned as plain. If I’ve forgotten a Heyer heroine that is like Jenny who got an unquestionable HEA, please remind me.

    However, I thought we were using the terms as shortcuts to describe how Jenny differs from those Heyer heroines who got an unreserved declaration of love. She’s not only plain but she induces a feeling of revulsion in her husband and she’s totally socially inferior to him. I thought the point of the original poster was that there are no other heroines described that way.

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  73. yvonne
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 10:26:00

    Interesting discussion! A Civil Contract isn’t exactly on my Top 10 Heyer favorites list but don’t think it at all depressing. To me it’s not romance in the sexy/steamy/sensibility genre but rather a tale of personal growth. Adam is emotionally very young at the beginning of the book, but slowly grows into his role as a mature adult, with an adults responsibilities. As he grows, his dream infatuation with Julia runs its course, while the reality of Jenny’s truly lovable character takes its place. They become friends.

    As to when Adam telling Jenny “I do love you,” it’s her and not himself he’s trying to convince! And who can blame Jenny for being hesitant in believing?

    It’s not a complete HEA at the end of the book – that must come later. But they’re friends, which I for one consider indispensable for a good marriage; they have shared goals, interests and sense of humor. So there are strong hints that they WILL be happy with each other and make a success of life.

    Having said that, I found the book in spots a bit slow and it’s certainly not a romance in the modern interpretation of the word. Still, it’s a good book and worth reading.

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  74. willaful
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 10:26:55

    Ths discussion has made me think of Edith Layton’s last book, A Bride for His Convenience. I found it unsatisfying because it started off similarly to ACC, with a hero who has to marry “beneath him” and is quite disgusted by the idea, but then almost instantly morphs into a perfect gentleman who never feels any sense of snobbery. Adam’s progression is far more well drawn and plausible.

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  75. Sunita
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 10:34:35

    @GrowlyCub: I think at this point we’re talking past each other. I’m happy to agree to disagree.

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  76. Courtney Milan
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 10:37:50

    @Leslie:

    The difference in my mind between Darcy and Adam is that Darcy made up for his behavior–made up for it by going so far as to dealing with Wickham, who he hated for extremely personal reasons to make Elizabeth happy.

    I could have loved this book if I had seen some similar expression from Adam. But all I get from him is, “Waah, poor aristocratic me, I guess I’ll settle down with my wife for some specimen of love.” Is it realistic? Sure. But where Darcy truly overcomes questions of class as it relates to Elizabeth, and where I believe that he does not see her as unequal to him by the end of the book, I never get the sense that Adam sees Jenny as an equal. Even at the end. He respects her. He may even feel tepid love towards her. But she’s still the one doing all the work in the relationship, and he’s still the one doing all the accepting.

    That just exhausts me to think about it.

    Like I said much earlier, I can see how others could love this book–I felt like this book was one good ending away from a book I could adore. I just hated the actual ending SO MUCH. Jenny was so amazing that it hurt me on an almost physical level that she never got the grand partnership that so many other Heyer heroines did.

    So I grant all of the pro-ACC commenters everything they’re saying: the characters are beautifully drawn, the book is well-written, the situation is realistic, and it’s probably more accurate that someone who marries for money will never quite achieve an equal relationship with their lower-class but wealthier spouse.

    Despite all that, this book gets, from me, the very special hatred that is reserved for a book that I feel has betrayed me. I can’t love a heroine the way I loved Jenny and then be happy when she settles for less than I believe she deserves.

    At the end of the book, no matter how many places you point to that show that Adam is coming around to affection, the truth is that Jenny works harder to make Adam happy than Adam works to make Jenny happy. I HATE THAT.

    This is undoubtedly a very, very good book–but I still hated it.

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  77. Jewell
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 11:19:07

    I remember that the first time I read A Civil Contract, I was expecting a typical romance. The book was marketed in exactly the same way as Heyer’s other novels, with a similar cover, and a blurb in similar tones (I have the 2005 Arrow Books version), and the same quotes from other authors. So I was slightly disappointed at the ending – mainly because of the expectation that marketing created in me.

    But having re-read it several times, I think it’s probably her best book (but not necessarily my favourite), and I’ve come to enjoy & love it for what it is – a novel of Regency times, not a romance. If I recommend it to people, I always say that it doesn’t have the feel of many of Heyer’s other novels and that I don’t think it is really a romance, just to prepare them. :)

    That said I do feel Adam comes to love Jenny, and for herself and her character, not just what she does for him. What he doesn’t feel for her is a grand all-encompassing passion. He never realises that underneath her practical exterior Jenny has as romantic a heart as anyone (partly because Jenny goes to great lengths to hide it from him), and would actually rather like to be the object of said grand passion. That’s where the end feels bittersweet to me.

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  78. Leslie
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 11:49:22

    @Courtney Milan: It seems to me women have always had to work harder in their marital reletionships. I do see your point. I just read it differently.

    Your last line made an impression upon me. That feeling of frustration, the book is well written, bestseller or raved about, but I HATE it! I always try to reread a book like that and more than often I still hate it.
    Cheers!

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  79. carmen webster buxton
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 12:00:35

    I think the key to much (but not all) of this debate is the comment about reader expectations. If you expect a book to have an HEA and it doesn’t, you will feel betrayed. I once read a murder mystery where the reader finds out the killer early on but the detective never solved the crime and I was ready to throw the book in the fire if one had been handy (can’t do THAT with a Kindle!). But obviously, that’s not all of it because the definition of an HEA (or even the possibility of one) seems to vary a lot.

    Still, it’s so much more civilized than so many Internet disagreements. It’s actually kind of fun to disagree when there’s no name-calling!

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  80. Isobel Carr
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 12:06:26

    I think I’ve reached an entirely new level of love for Courtney…

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  81. Miranda Neville
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 12:58:24

    Great discussion. Amazingly, I don’t violently disagree with anyone. ACC is a terrific book and a somewhat unsatisfying romance. It’s not one of my favorite Heyers but certainly not at the bottom. I agree with everyone who points out the importance of the house. (I’m a big fan of what Janet W. calls the Martha Stewart trope).

    What the novel lacks is a big moment of realization for Adam, a dramatic choice that proves to Jenny – and the reader – that she comes first. I’m sure this was deliberate on Heyer’s part. It’s a late novel, IIRC, and she was always pretty dismissive of her romances. Would probably have called them bodice rippers if the term existed. In ACC she forces the reader to make the leap of faith – or not. Personally, I have no doubt that given the choice between saving Jenny or Julia from sudden death, Adam would chose the former (probably with some cool rationalization) but Heyer doesn’t give us the satisfaction. Instead all we get is “I’m rich now and didn’t need the rich wife but that’s OK.”

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  82. willaful
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 13:25:30

    @Miranda Neville: Yes, excellent point. We do see Jenny ill, but there isn’t a… what do they call it? That pivotal moment of despair in a romance that’s often associated with illness or tragedy.

    I think Adam would save Jenny as well She’s part of the overall everything he chose — family, home.

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  83. Marianne McA
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 13:33:19

    I typed up a comment earlier, but I think the internet has eaten it. I was thinking about the discussion last night, and trying to work out if I’d have felt differently if the romance had been the other way round.
    In the only book I can remember reading which had a similar ending, but with the roles reversed, the ending really worked for me, even though the book as a whole was a very mixed bag.
    I think that was partly just that I was genuinely surprised at the resolution, and that’s always a bit special – but I do wonder if on some shallow level I find it more palatable when it’s the hero who is in love despite the fact that his wife still imagines she’s in love with another man.

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  84. GrowlyCub
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 13:50:39

    @Marianne McA: Oh, title, please? Curious!

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  85. Isobel Carr
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 13:51:40

    The leap of faith aspect really nails it. Either you make it, or you don’t. I need more on the page, not being the trusting sort …

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  86. Anne
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 14:16:23

    @carmen webster buxton:

    Yes, that’s probably as important. I don’t care which type of HEA a book has, I am actually satisfied as long as the main characters are not dead at the end of the story and experience a moment or two of respite with each other. A HFN and a vague one at that is all I want, and even if an author gives me a negative ending which grows organically from the story itself I can accept that as well. That (death at the end or staying separated for now) is what I would call bittersweet.

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  87. FD
    Aug 18, 2012 @ 18:10:23

    I also loved this as a teenager, adored the ‘realism’ of it. I don’t now. I see Jenny doing all the work and Adam being fond of her, loving her in a vague way perhaps; but I don’t see that love lasting if he was the one having to put the hard work in. And even if Jenny does seem content and happy to have it that way (and I completely concede that it’s a beautifully drawn portrait of someone who is happy with self abnegation) as a romance, like Courtney above, it makes me want to spit tacks. So I put the quotes around realism above because I think it’s a realistic portrait of a reasonably happy marriage, largely because Jenny would never really have expected anything more, but as a romance? If that’s realism, I’d take fantasy and singledom anyway.

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  88. etv13
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 04:37:31

    My views on this may be colored by the fact that, just today, I quit reading a “Romance with a capital R” out of disgust at the shallow incompetence of the portrayals of both hero and heroine. I’d so much rather have a hero like Adam, who is a reasonable facsimile of a flawed but likeable human being, than a badly drawn alpha hero, and certainly a heroine like Jenny than any heroine who wants to be like a guy and fight with a sword, except she’s so very happy to have an orgasm it puts everything else out of her mind, including what a complete boorish asshole the hero is. Heyer is just so much more subtle and stylish than what frequently passes for “romance.” (Yeah, you kids! Yes you! Get off my lawn!)

    Growly Cub: I think a lot of Heyer’s aristocratic heroines didn’t really feel, subjectively, that they had a lot more going for them than Jenny did. (Indeed, I think Jenny is always absolutely confident that she’s a rich man’s daughter and a more-than-competent housekeeper. Compare her to the unnamed narrator of Rebecca, for example, and you’ll see what I mean. Jenny is way out ahead of the second Mrs. deWinter in terms of self-confidence. And Adam is, in my view, a way better husband than Max.) Lady Hester and Lady Harriet and Henrietta whats-her-name in Charity Girl, and Phoebe Marlow — they’re all unquestionably aristocrats, but that doesn’t mean they’re any more self-confident or certain that they deserve to be loved than Jenny. Mary Challoner has a more self-confident temperament than Jenny, maybe, but she’s not a great beauty either (and she does turn out to be stout in middle-age, as is predicted for Jenny) and her mother’s side of the family is at least as vulgar as the Chawleighs, but she gets a very romantic HEA — although we also see in An Infamous Army that her children and grandchildren aren’t all uniformly happy or admirable.

    Does Arabella actually understand that she’s beautiful and that her beauty potentially gives her power? Venetia, I think, knows she’s beautiful, and also knows that it doesn’t really count for all that much in terms of getting her what she wants (she’s twenty-six, and still living in the country and expecting nothing better than going to Cambridge with Aubrey to keep house for him). I think we’re supposed to understand as readers that Pen Creed, with her big blue eyes and guinea gold hair, is beautiful, but on the other hand, she seems to be perfectly happy to act like a schoolboy, and just about everyone but Richard sees her that way. Kitty in Cotillion is an heiress only to the (very dubious) extent that Mr. Penicuik can be counted on, and her birth is questionable. (Her French cousin is a chevalier d’industrie, after all.) In sum, I just don’t think Jenny is all that much of an outlier among Heyer heroines.

    I think a lot of Heyer’s romances fit into a kind of Pride and Prejudice mold, where a fine young woman who’s intelligent and attractive, but not a great beauty, ends up with a very rich and aristocratic man. That’s the pattern of Sprig Muslin, and The Nonesuch, and Frederica, and Devil’s Cub, and Sylvester, and The Quiet Gentleman and several others. And that fits with our general expectations that a man should supply both the money and the status. In A Civil Contract, Adam has the status, but Jenny has the money, and that runs against the Cinderella-story pattern of what I’ve called “Romance with a capital R.” But isn’t it interesting that we seem to be happier with complete inequality, where the hero has the status and the money and the social and cultural power of being a man, than we are with a story where the balance of power is more balanced?

    And am I the only person who finds it a little bit suspicious that Elizabeth only comes to appreciate Darcy when she’s seen what a very fine house he owns? Do we think it’s only fair if she’s married him for his money and his house because he had so much going for him in the first place? Because obviously he loves her to distraction — to the point of overlooking her appalling family and going to great lengths to help them for her sake — and that’s romantic, and all, but what is he getting from her? Is it really much more than what Jenny is getting from Adam?

    But maybe I’m assuming too much, and you don’t like Pride and Prejudice either. And for sure, while we’ve co-opted it for the Regency genre, it isn’t a “romance” in the sense that even Heyer novels are romances. It’s both more satirical, and more morally serious.

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  89. Leslie
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 13:02:18

    @etv13: WOW! That was good!

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  90. chris booklover
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 14:31:04

    @etv13: I second Leslie’s comment. You have asked some extremely interesting questions that are rarely addressed.

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  91. Anne
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 16:04:50

    @etv13: I agree with the other two here. Very eloquent, very on the spot.

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  92. Marianne McA
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 16:27:18

    @GrowlyCub – Happy Sinner by Elizabeth Hamilton Herbert.
    It’s ancient, and I searched for and imported a used copy solely because it was blurbed in the back of another ancient M&B, and the blurb was irresistible:

    (sic)

    ‘This is the story of a family – and of Sally who was loved by three out of the four brothers of the family. Sally, who was never cut out to be a flippant woman; a girl without poise, or ambition, or problems; a girl, who was loved by three men and who thought she loved only one of them because his love was of the spirit, and carried her among the stars. But all the time she liked to order loaves of bread, and to count the laundry and to look under the radiators for dust, and so she disovered she was never intended to love anybody but her husband.
    And this is the story of John, who ran the family – someone always runs every family – a prodigal son, a beloved wastrel. John’s charm was an octopus that drew everyone toward him: so wonderful and so conscious of it – who could make his entire family sit up and beg.
    And, too, it is the story of Mrs. Fletcher, the perfect mother for tenderness and domesticity, at whom her four sons could swear and throw things without disturbing her complacent adoration, but who never for a minute understood any one of them.’

    I think it was the octopus that sold it to me. And who doesn’t hope for a heroine who enjoys looking under her radiators?
    Wasn’t – surprise! – a great book, so I don’t recommend it, but the ending genuinely surprised me, so I forgave it all it’s sins. Would you like a flavour of the denouement?

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  93. Stephanie
    Aug 20, 2012 @ 12:02:17

    Have to confess that I don’t care for this one either. Yes, there’s much to admire in terms of craft and the realistic depiction of a marriage of convenience. But at the end, I was left dissatisfied, as if I’d eaten a meal that had addressed my hunger but just hadn’t tasted very good.

    Admittedly, one of my pet peeves is the hero/heroine pining for the wrong person when the right person is standing right in front of him/her. And that’s a huge element of ACC. Yes, Adam and Jenny achieve a comfortable, companionable marriage and a measure of content that will likely endure over a long life together. But Adam takes too long to realize that Jenny is the right person for him and Julia the wrong one, even though many of his friends can see what a disaster Adam and Julia would be as a married couple. And my heart sank when Jenny acknowledged to herself at the end that Adam would likely continue to idealize Julia, even after he’d seen firsthand what a spoiled brat she could be. He doesn’t have to hate her, but does she have to be permanently enshrined in his heart?

    And Jenny does all the work in that relationship, while Adam glooms about, saying all the right things but resenting his circumstances too much to do more than the minimum to keep the marriage afloat. He’s a decent enough guy, a dutiful son, and a loving brother, but I found him too self-involved and oblivious to be worth all the effort Jenny expends to make him comfortable, when he gives so little in return.

    And the continual snobbery, while authentic, still sets my teeth on edge because, like Adam’s preoccupation with Julia, it goes on far too long. I also got tired of being in Adam’s head and reading phrases like “his plain little wife,” “his commonplace little wife,” “his dull little wife” over and over again. I got the point the first five or six times, thank you very much.

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  94. Nancy
    Sep 03, 2012 @ 10:56:25

    I suppose I am a little late coming to the party.
    Some very eloquent comments have already been written so I am not sure what, if anything, there is to be added. Regardless…

    Like a few other commenters, this is not one of my favourites, but it has moved up over the years. I think of the story as poignant, although the description used by others as bittersweet, is more apt, perhaps. What is kind of amusing is that Julia’s romance is more the typical focus of a Regency romance and it is in the background here, while home/family interactions area more at the forefront, farming and other mundanity. Except for the Waterloo events, the main drama is the emotional journey of Jenny and Adam, individually and together. And, of the two, Adam has a further distance to go and, to give him credit, he makes distinct headway.

    Jenny knows what she wants and is willing to make that sacrifice, although we all know that the actual cost of what we are willing to sacrifice is often greater than we thought it would be. Finding a way to live that does not requiring tip-toeing around the icon of Julia and building a home at Fontley is much more complicated for Jenny than perhaps brides in other MOC books. She loves Adam from the start (in her own romanticized way), isn’t repelled by him or hate him, nor forced into it to save her honour or whatever. She also has a devoted and overbearing father, however well-meaning.

    If Adam were more open and congenial, like his sister Lydia, this would have been an entirely different story. However, for Adam, his natural reticence (and awareness of his position, to some degree, also his being thin-skinned, a human but not heroic trait), his loss of control of his own destiny (let alone the well-being and futures of his mother and sisters for whom he is responsible), and his lost love, are barriers to his relationship with Jenny. In a way, to my mind, while Adam is focused initially on paying back his father-in-law, the money is a significant impediment to developing feelings for Jenny (and getting over Julia). Even though he has the position and the property, he is powerless in many ways and that inequity does make him more sensitive to any reminders of that (and possible source of some of his repulsion, as he did seem to have some self-loathing). The fact that when he finally is in a position to pay back his father-in-law he chooses not too, is telling. He has shown that he isn’t ineffectual (to himself) and is now able to be a partner and not beholden to his father-in-law, but that also impacts his relationship with his wife. Perhaps the author does not go into that mental progression, but it seems a natural outcome to the emotional journey he has been through.

    The scene at the end, with Julia, Adam is free of his infatuation and able to acknowledge that Julia would not have been conducive to his peace of mind. Perhaps the sense of financial independence allows him to re-evaluate his nostalgia and to see beyond the corrosive, coercive beginning to his marriage to Jenny, to see what had proven to be a gift of fate (even if he does keep a corner of his heart for his first love, don’t most of us?).

    To me this was the beginning of Adam and Jenny’s story, that she may always be plain, but will likely become dearer and more deeply loved. And maybe that is not a bad thing to end up with after such a bumpy start… besides most (am I jaded?) relationships that start with much more passion don’t seem to get to the ripened fruit that Adam and Jenny will have.

    But, then again, I am reading into it MY idea of romance.

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  95. Sunita
    Sep 03, 2012 @ 11:59:22

    Late but great comments!

    To me this was the beginning of Adam and Jenny’s story, that she may always be plain, but will likely become dearer and more deeply loved. And maybe that is not a bad thing to end up with after such a bumpy start… besides most (am I jaded?) relationships that start with much more passion don’t seem to get to the ripened fruit that Adam and Jenny will have.

    I think many of us who like the book see it this way.

    But, then again, I am reading into it MY idea of romance.

    I think that’s true for all of us, and something about this particular storyline (and these characters) highlights the variation in how we conceptualize and read romance.

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  96. Nancy
    Sep 03, 2012 @ 12:46:24

    Yes, and that is the definition of art, right? That each person puts into and takes out of it – so that the significance and the impact is created by the viewer or the listener or the reader. How any particular piece of art resonates with each person is as individual as they are, the interaction of experience and personality, the function of personal values and social mores.

    When you think about the variability, what a wonder any of us can agree on anything – but there is room on the spectrum for all of us… even when sometimes to ourselves and under our breath we say “are you serious? that was crap!” :-)

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  97. KC
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 17:05:26

    Late to this board, but what a great discussion! I think there is so much truth in the comment that we bring a little of our own romantic expectations to the story.

    I loved the book because I these two characters are so inherently decent. I wanted things to work out for them.

    I enjoyed the realism with which Adam had to confront and overcome his prejudices. In fact, my interpretation of their relationship is based solely on what Adam thinks and does. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place and yet, he always behaves as kindly as he can and tries not to show his wife how unhappy he is. At first, he feels only obligation and responsibility and, sadly, a sense of revulsion about the situation–and Jenny–that many readers apparently never can forgive. But, as Jenny struggles with her pregnancy, he begins to show real signs of affection–he overrides her father’s demands and takes her home to the country where, for the first time, he makes her truly she feels she belongs and is welcome. I loved it when he rejected Julia’s idea of a post marriage relationship, putting Jenny’s feelings before his. For me, when he is able to accept a gift (the bowl) bought with Chawleigh money with appreciation, when he no longer needs to pay off the mortgages, when he begins to delight in his wife’s sense of humor, wants to share the details of the day with her, and takes pleasure in the picture of Jenny holding his son, it is obvious he has really changed and well on his way to loving his wife dearly. So, for me, his “I do love you” is said to reassure Jenny, not himself.

    I love it that Heyer doesn’t spell it out, but I think all the signs point to a very romantic devotion.

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  98. Sunita
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 22:18:36

    @KC: When he tells Julia at the end that he doesn’t think he was ever as romantic as she (and at one point he) thought he was, I took that to me that he wasn’t schoolboy-romantic. For Julia that precluded romantic with a capital R, but like you, I think it meant Adam had discovered a different and more enduring type.

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  99. Shinjinee
    Jan 22, 2013 @ 20:06:21

    @etv13:
    @etv and @Ros: I really liked your analyses.

    I first read ACC in my teens and it has continued to be a favorite. Not my top Heyer – that is Cotillion for all sorts of sentimental reasons, but still among my top 5 (the ones I would tote along with me every where I relocated). You are right to point out the power inequality (as well as status inequality) that exists in almost every Georgette Heyer (including the detective novels). It is rare that the heroine is rich and has status in her own right or a measure of power in her own right. And you are right about Adam providing the social status and title and Jenny the money. BTW, I think that Dinah Brown has also written about a marriage of convenience to a City heiress; Joan Wolf has covered marriages to an American Duchess in the eponymous traditional Regency and also in Golden Girl. Compare the Deverills (Viscount and Viscountess Lynton) to the far unhappier marriage of the Marlboroughs (Sunny and Consuelo). She also did so much for Blenheim and was so unhappy in her marriage, partly because she had been in love with another man.

    I agree with other readers that ACC is less romance-y as in with the hero and heroine wildly in love in the book and at the end of the book. But it is realistic, and like etv, I suppose I compare it to Jane Austen. Marriages between peers and City “Cit” heiresses did happen, and this book is a rare fictional portrayal of how such marriages might have worked out provided that both partners were sincere and committed to their marriage vows. (The 1st Duke of Beaufort’s eldest son married the heiress Rebecca Child in the later Restoration years circa 1681; I always wonder how that marriage worked out in real life).

    And the comment about Elizabeth and Pemberley was just brilliant! Yes, she had partly changed her opinions about Darcy after reading his letter. But I think when she went to Pemberley (after spending some time at Rosings some months earlier) she realized just what marrying Darcy meant. I think Elizabeth married Darcy because of changed affections – partly out of gratitude for his helping Lydia (and Wickham!), partly out of a desire to be at Pemberley (and to stick Lady Catherine in the eye!). Did she marry Darcy only because of Pemberley? I don’t think so, but I am always willing to read well-written fan fiction where she meets Darcy again after Pemberley and BEFORE Lydia elopes. (But that is another story and I digress).

    What-ifs for Adam and Jenny? Yes, his feelings as related in the novel about Jenny sound hurtful, but he never vocalizes it to anyone, including himself. IIRC, he always defends her, even if at first he is unwilling to take her to Fontley. What if he had taken her to Fontley earlier, before returning her to the Chawley-modernized townhouse? I think his feelings about Jenny started to change at Fontley, when he realized that she shared his interests and ambitions for Fontley. He might not love her back then, but especially when she was pregnant, he was concerned about her – far more concerned than say Sherry in A Friday’s Child (who is simply thoughtless!).

    If I think of real HEAs that are possible for Heyer couples, I would rank Adam and Jenny at the top. Also, for different reasons,
    1) Sir Waldo and Ancilla (despite the stupid MIS) in THE NONESUCH,
    2) the Marquess of Alverstoke and Frederica in FREDERICA (I also LOVE this book, in my top 5),
    3) Lady Serena and the Marquess of Rotherham in BATH TANGLE (of nearly equal social status and wealth, and both similarly dominating figures),
    4) Sylvester (duke of Salford) and Hon Phoebe Marlow in SYLVESTER (both also likely to fight all through their marriage, rather like Serena and Ivo Rotherham)
    5) Charles and Sophy in THE GRAND SOPHY (a bit like Serena and Rotherham)
    and
    6) Freddy and Kitty in COTILLION (love the book and the couple and nearly all the characters)
    7) Hugo and Anthea in THE UNKNOWN AJAX ( a very different look at classes, where Hugo is quite confident in his own background, but perhaps his patrilineal background makes the difference).
    Interestingly, nearly all these couples are similar in age and values and have shared interests. Others include Sir Gareth and Lady Hester in SPRIG MUSLIN (rather like ACC in many ways, except that she is not a City and not an heiress; he thought he was in love with Clarissa until the end), Gilly and Lady whats her name (a family-arranged betrothal) in CHARITY GIRL, or Desford and Henrietta (who grew up close to each other) in THE FOUNDLING. I’m not sure about Gervase Frant, Earl of St Erth and Drusilla Morville (THE QUIET GENTLEMAN) because I don’t buy the Earl’s growing attraction. As a mystery it works beautifully, but there are hardly any signs of *HIS* attraction to her. I fear that he essentially married her a) because she ran the Castle well (a la Jenny in ACC), and b) to spite his stepmother the Dowager Countess.

    I don’t think that many of the highly or wildly romantic couples will have a HEA ending. Sherry is just too immature and Hero too young and naive in FRIDAY’s CHILD, and I fear for them financially. I can see them being forced to decamp to Paris to live more cheaply, although he is beginning to realize that he can’t spend spend spend.

    I have really mixed feelings about the Alastairs. TOS – a seriously unequal couple in age, vice and experience and I detest the class-ridden plot. But I think a mutual infatuation might ensure what passes for an HEA ending. I read DC before TOS and I could never shake off Leonie’s comments about and plans for Mary before she met Mary in France. DC – a delightful book and a great read for when you are sick, but not one that makes for a comfortable marriage. And thanks to whoever pointed out that Mary grew stout in her middle to old age. I guess what spoils DC for me is AIA (AN INFAMOUS ARMY) – both the muddled up timeline (to put it politely) and the knowledge that in effect Dominic and Mary’s children (not grandchildren if we correct the timeline) turned out so badly. (Two of them eventually married for love, but I just can’t like any of them, compared to Rupert’s insouciant charm in TOS and DC, and Lady Fanny as a flighty young matron and as a marriage-minded mother in DC). AIA is one of my least-read novels.

    Sorry for nattering along!
    Shinjinee

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  100. kate
    Jan 25, 2013 @ 12:14:16

    I just finished listening to the book and reading this interesting thread. I found the characters compelling and realistic, and book itself quite poignent and sad, but for me the ending didn’t preclude the idea of a HEA and the possibility of Adam returning Jenny’s feelings in the future. I think that the timeline of the book while longer than many in the genre was too short for Adam to complete the journey from mourning the loss of Julia to really loving Jenny. After all, he married Jenny a few weeks after he first learned that he would have to give up Julia correct? He was still deep in the mourning/shock process the first time Julia visits him at home after the marriage and she sings ‘their song’ for him. At that point he silently shakes his head at Julia when she asks if he can ever find happiness in the future. I haven’t double checked with the historical events but it seems like Giles was born within the first year of marriage and the book ends a few months after.

    I do believe that the seeds of a happy marriage and not just ‘settling comfortably’ are there at the end because of the shared enthusiasms and sense of humor and the fact that Adam is seeking Jenny out as a friend, I just don’t think there has been enough time for Adam to really step back from the idea of Julia and he’s just a day out from finally feeling free from the economic dependence which was humilitating, revolting, and disempowering to him — which he tended to unfairly project onto Jenny a few times.

    I agree with some commentators that if Jenny’s summation of Adam’s feelings and his final I ‘do’ love you was the shape their relationship was likely to remain, for me it would be a tradgedy, not a romance. But I think a ‘five years later’ with a continuing evolution on Adam’s part (and Jenny continuing to speak up forthrightly and show more of her own personal feelings toward Adam — she didn’t dare tell anyone that she really did love him until during her pregnancy), a HEA is possible.

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  101. Laurel
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 21:56:14

    Heyer put some clues in the book, for readers to notice the subtle changes in Adam’s feelings toward Jenny:

    - he refers to her as “my dear” because he _doesn’t_ love her (while she, loving him, never utters an endearment)… but toward the end of the book, he (unconsciously, I assume) switches to “my love”. A tiny, but shocking, change.

    - sulking from a quarrel with Jenny, he lops withered blooms from rose bushes. I take this to mean that his love for Julia has withered and died, and will be replaced by a flourishing love for Jenny. I’m delighted that this happens when he’s resentful, rather than when he’s feeling affectionate: an unconscious transfer of loyalties.

    - Heyer indicates the emotional importance of the characters’ sexual relations by having Julia react with horror to the news that Jenny is pregnant. The intensity of Julia’s response lets the reader know that this is a big deal. I find this oblique reference more powerful than if Heyer had addressed the issue directly in scenes in which Adam and Jenny appear.

    …By saying this stuff out loud, have I spoiled the book for anybody?

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  102. Sunita
    Mar 09, 2013 @ 23:55:42

    @Laurel: No, not at all! Those are great insights. Thanks for commenting!

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  103. nancy
    Mar 10, 2013 @ 08:25:15

    I have to admit I don’t know that those things ever registered with me. I will be re-reading this soon and will keep your comments in mind.

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  104. elle
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 18:56:53

    I came to this thread because I had just read A Civil Contract and – well let me see if I can articulate the reasons behind my distressing flip-flopping on whether the ending satisfied or disappointed. (It seems I felt both, but how could I have?)

    I’m all for the MOC trope; it is one of my stand-bys, and in fact Sherry Thomas’s Ravishing the Heiress is among my top romance reads ever. What I love about it is the idea of true, passionate/romantic love coming later in the relationship, in time gradually growing out of decidedly unloving beginnings, be it meh or friendship or outright disgust/hatred. I love reading the transition, the internal struggle, the evolving realization, the capitulation, the confession.

    In some ways I see this process transpiring in Adam – I buy it, yes, I made that “leap of faith” (as some put it earlier in the comments), that Adam grew to have deep feelings for “his” Jenny (“I am much better off with my Jenny”, and, “I do love you Jenny…very much indeed. And I couldn’t do without you. You are a part of my life.”); deep feelings borne from respect, appreciation, affection and concern, friendship, a common life with common dreams. Certainly this is a different kind of love, a more enduring kind, as Jenny surmised in the end. The HEA satisfies.

    At the cognitive level.

    At the emotional level, it disappoints. The best romances (for me) are the ones where I end up clutching the book to my chest. And the book need not be a genre romance novel even, nor should it be sexual or passionate necessarily. I particularly love the quiet type of romances, with little fanfare, but the heart and depth – they are there. I read ACC right after Longbourn, for example, and while Longbourn is far from being a genre romance (and in fact has many elements of “convenience” and “settling for”) the love of James and Sarah was palpable in a brief, stolen glance.

    So there, my conundrum. I KNOW it – that Adam and Jenny have their happy ever after – but how I wish I felt, felt, FELT more of it.

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