REVIEW: The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer
Horatia Winwood is simply helping her family
When the Earl of Rule proposes marriage to her sister Lizzie, Horatia offers herself instead. Her sister is already in love with someone else, and Horatia is willing to sacrifice herself for her family’s happiness. Everyone knows she’s no beauty, but she’ll do her best to keep out of the Earl’s way and make him a good wife. And then the Earl’s archenemy, Sir Robert, sets out to ruin her reputation…
The Earl of Rule has found just the wife he wants
Unbeknownst to Horatia, the Earl is enchanted by her. There’s simply no way he’s going to let her get into trouble. Overcoming some misguided help from Horatia’s harebrained brother and a hired highwayman, the Earl routs his old enemy, and wins over his young wife, gifting her with a love that she never thought she could expect.
As I said in my reviews of “The Talisman Ring” and “Powder and Patch,” I love Heyer’s Georgian novels. Love, love, love powdered wigs, panier skirts, and small swords. Toss in a duel and a visit to Vauxhall Gardens and I’m in heaven.
“The Convenient Marriage” takes place during the mid 1770s fairly soon after the Battle of Bunker Hill. The Winwood sisters are gathered in their London household when a gossip seeking cousin arrives to sniff out more news regarding the marriage of the eldest Miss Winwood – the beautiful Elizabeth. Miss Charlotte Winwood is also lovely, having both the Winwood Nose and golden blonde hair but youngest sister Horatia – known to her family as Horry – is much shorter, stammers and has dark hair and heavy brows. She does, however, have the Nose.
Elizabeth has received a splendid offer of marriage from the older Earl of Rule (the poor man is pushing 35) which thrills her mama – the settlements, my dear! – but leaves Lizzie desolate. Almost since the cradle, she and neighbor Edward Heron (“a personable young man, and looked very well in his scarlet regimentals.”) have been in love but Edward is merely a lieutenant in the 10th Foot on leave to heal his wounds from the War in America. With the Winwood family in financial straights due to their (now deceased) father’s gambling combined with their brother’s inclination to the same (both having the same bad luck), the family daughters must Marry Well. There’s no way mama will turn down rich Rule (‘A house in Grosvenor Square, and Meering, which I am told is quite superb, the park seven miles about, and three lodge-gates!’) for Edward.
Horry, seeing Lizzie’s and Edward’s distress but determination to Do What is Best, says “stuff” and goes about fixing the problem in a straightforward way that astounds the Earl. Honestly, I’m having to restrain myself in quoting the whole scene between Horry and Rule. It’s delicious.
She gripped her hands together, and drew a deep breath. ‘It is because of L-Lizzie – my sister. You have offered for her, haven’t you?’
Slightly taken aback, the Earl bowed. Horatia said in a rush: ‘C-could you – would you m-mind very much – having m-me instead?’
The Earl was seated in a chair opposite to her, absently swinging his eyeglass, his gaze fixed on her face in an expression of courteous interest. The eyeglass stopped swinging suddenly, and was allowed to fall. Horatia, looking anxiously across at him, saw a rather startled frown in his eyes, and hurried on: ‘Of c-course I know it ought to be Charlotte, for she is the elder, but she said nothing would induce her to m-marry you.’
His lips quivered. ‘In that case,’ he said, ‘it is fortunate that I did not solicit the honour of Miss Charlotte’s hand in marriage.’
‘Yes,’ agreed Horatia. ‘I am sorry to have to say it, but I am afraid Charlotte shrinks from the idea of m-making such a sacrifice, even for L-Lizzie’s sake.’ Rule’s shoulders shook slightly. ‘Have I said s-something I shouldn’t?’ inquired Horatia doubtfully.
‘On the contrary,’ he replied. ‘Your conversation is most salutary, Miss Winwood.’
‘You are laughing at me,’ said Horatia accusingly. ‘I d-daresay you think I am very stupid, sir, but indeed, it is most serious.’
‘I think you are delightful,’ said Rule.
Keep that last remark of Rule’s in mind for the rest of the book. It’s here, I do believe, that he starts to fall for Horry which, considering what he has to put up with from her and her family for the rest of the book, is a Very Good Thing.
And just like that, Rule agrees to switch his courtship from Lizzie to Horry who is ready to be the family Sacrifice. Horry also finagles Rule into sponsoring Edward for his captaincy in exchange for which she promises not to impinge on Rule as this is to be a marriage of convenience. After resorting to her ever present bottle of vinaigrette due to the shock of how Horry managed all this, Lady Winwood can “bask in the envy of her acquaintances” due to the triumph of having married off two daughters in one Season.
Ramshackle brother Pelham arrives home for Horry’s wedding and immediately makes Rule feel like one of the family by borrowing money from him. Well, he needs a smart turnout for his sister’s wedding, right? Despite Society’s astonishment at the marriage of a 17 year old – oh, I forgot to mention that? – to a 35 year old, Horry and Rule soon settle into married life. She runs up huge bills and he pays them. She takes the ton by storm and he seems delighted about it. Pelham asks for money and Rule gives it to him. And Horry does not hang on Rule or try to manage his life. Instead she does just as she promises and leaves him to do what he will. Though his long term mistress immediately begins to see much less of him.
Ah but there are two other people, along with Lady Massey, who are Less Than Pleased with the marriage. Mr Crosby Drelincourt, who up until now has been Rule’s heir, and Lord Lethbridge, who dislikes Rule for reasons the Polite World doesn’t know but would love to, share feelings of – shall we say – discontent about it. It’s Lizzie who opines to Edward that she hopes Rule is patient with Horry and come to love her.
Thus is the stage set for marriage, jealousy, revenge, gossip, gorgeous clothes, dyed and scented wigs, a duel, bribery, diamond stitched shoes that pinch, lost heirlooms, defense with a fireplace poker, deceased great-aunts, a highwayman with enormous mufflers, post chaises, another duel, a Handel oratorio and a midnight rendezvous. I can’t describe the last fourth of the book because it’s too complex yet screamingly funny. Pelham and his friend Pom are not ones you want concocting a scheme to help you out – though Horry seems delighted about their plans. But then she is still 17.
Yes, about that. Horry does do some silly things along the way but in ways she’s like a kid in a candy store and yes, well, 17 years old. The opening scene of the book shows that the Winwoods appear to be living in straightened circumstances so when she marries a rich guy, I can understand if she enjoys her new material world. She also never really had a Season or had been introduced slowly to Society so it’s no wonder she loves her new Parisian wardrobe and also gets taken in a little by nefarious types. I think thought that by the end, she is headed down the right path and I don’t mean the one at Vauxhall.
Rule is the strong, silent type who seems sleepy but who sees more and understands more of what he sees than most people think. He manages Horry with aplomb and indulges her at every turn. Heyer seemed to delight in this type of hero and Rule is a great example. He also can’t help but have a great deal of fun at the expense of those who mistakenly think they’re pulling one over on him.
There are two duels with lots of fencing terminology but beyond that, I love how Heyer manages to convey what the duelists are thinking during the fight. Crosby is terrified while Lethbridge is filled with long held rage and determined to finally best his enemy. The first duel is also terrifically funny yet conveys how terrifying these must have been as those about to participate come closer to the moment of “en garde.”
There are some troublesome things about the book – mostly being the age difference but there’s also a brief hint of the “blood” stuff Heyer loved. Since it actually turns out to be a predilection for gambling – okay not that this is that much better – instead of “blood will tell superiority” nonsense I can deal with it.
But the “tie up all the loose ends” of me wants to know what happened to Lethbridge and mincing Macaroni Crosby. I would also dearly love to see Pel snagged by some equally rambunctious hellion. B+