Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer


Such a good idea, Becky has set up a perpetual challenge for readers of Georgette Heyer's works, ideal for those of us who can't survive too long without a Heyer fix. Here is my first contribution.
Lady Winwood being denied, the morning caller inquired with some anxiety for Miss Winwood, or, in fact, for any of the young ladies.
For many, Heyer IS Regency, but this novel is set a little earlier, towards the end of the eighteenth century (1775 to be precise), when ladies of quality were wearing hoop
ed skirts and hair was dressed elaborately high with padding. Mrs Maulfrey, seen arriving at the home of Lady Winwood in the opening sentence, is wearing paniers à coudes wide enough to brush the banisters as she climbs the stairs. We can immediately tell that Mrs Maulfrey only thinks she is the height of fashion, since by that time such large paniers would not be normal day dress. A further example of the way in which Heyer judges her writing to a nicety is that the actual heroine, Horatio Winwood, is the last of the Winwood daughters to be introduced to the reader, in keeping with her position as the youngest, and barely out of the schoolroom. Miss Winwood – Elizabeth – is a Beauty, Charlotte is a bit of a termagant and Horatia (named for Mr Walpole) is almost plain (think Viola Bonham-Carter in a polonaise).

The plot is as follows: the Earl of Rule, urged on by his sister, who thinks at thirty-five it is time he got married, ha
s offered for the hand of Miss Winwood, who is greatly enamoured of the penniless (well, comparatively!) Mr Heron, a soldier. Turning him down is not to be thought of, however – the fortunes of the family are at stake, since the only son suffers from the Family Failing: his gambling debts are crippling, but a Good Marriage will save them. Miss Charlotte might do for a bride at a pinch, but she insists she will not leave Mama. No one would seriously consider Horatia, who is only seventeen. Nonetheless, she decides on the best course of action, and sets off (with her maid, you'll be relieved to hear, she isn't entirely reckless) to inform Lord Rule accordingly. She is candid about her failings – her lack of years, her eyebrows that won't arch (though she does have the family nose) and her stammer – but ventures that she is thought to be sensible, and she thinks they might get on if they don't interfere with each other.

It's unfortunate for Horry that Rule has a mistress, an old enemy, and an heir who would like to preserve his inheritance. Her brother Pelham, though well-meaning, has a knack of creating scandal rather than suppressing it, and Horry is soon enmeshed in a tangle which will bring her husband's disapproval down upon her head, and her attempts to extricate herself only seem to make matters worse. It is no help that Horry herself has rather succumbed to the family failing, and is an enthusiastic card player.

The Convenient Marriage dates from 1934, before Heyer
had entirely got into her stride, I feel. Horry isn't such a rounded character, or quite as much fun as, say, Sophia Stanton-Lacy in The Grand Sophy, or my own joint favourites, Frederica and Arabella, and the story lacks the delicious mayhem of these later books. This is not to detract from a thoroughly amusing read, with particularly good period detail in the wardrobe department – there are some lovely descriptions of the macaroni, Mr Drelincourt, while Pelham's friend Sir Roland Pommeroy sets the mould for some splendid best friends in later novels (notably Gil, Ferdy and George in Friday's Child, for which it serves as something of a dry run). It's not Heyer at the height of her abilities but, if you already love her work and haven't read it, do!

Finally, this picture by Louis Rolland Trinquesse dates from 1776, and shows costume of the period, although my Arrow edition of The Convenient Marriage (above) has well-chosen cover artwork,
a portrait of Penelope Lee Acton by George Romney, which nicely depicts the kind of dresses the Misses Winwood were wearing in the opening chapter: "morning toilets of worked muslin over slight hoops, with Tiffany sashes round their waists. Countrified, thought Mrs Maulfrey..."


Cross-posted at the Georgette Heyer Challenge.

10 comments:

  1. I've joined this challenge too, mainly because I've never read anything by Heyer. Which book would you recommend I read first?

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  2. Heavens, how I envy you - if you adore these books, and I do so hope you will, you have hours of pleasure to come. I think Friday's Child is one of the best, and would be a good place to start, or maybe The Nonesuch, Frederica or Arabella...or The Grand Sophy. I'd recommend starting with her mid-to-late period books and going back to the earlier ones when you're hooked, rather than the other way round.

    There's a good biography by Joan Aiken Hodge, The Private World of Georgette Heyer which Arrow publish as a companion to their reissues.

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  3. Many thanks - I'll see if the library has these. I do like biographies of writers, but maybe I'll wait until I've read a few of her books.

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  4. I had a friend at seondary school who was a real Heyer fan and always seemed to have one tucked into her satchel. Somehow, I seem to have missed out on her, like BooksPlease, so I'm glad of the recommendation for a starting point.

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  5. I just wanted you to know that I just got accepted to Almacks and I just received Barren Corn via interlibrary loan. I will be reading it after The Country Waif by George Sand.

    Judy-IntergalacticBookworm http://intergalacticbookworm.blogspot.com

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  6. I've borrowed both Friday's Child and The Private World of Georgette Heyer from the library. So now I can start reading!

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  7. See my blog for an award for you with thanks - www.booksplease.org

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  8. TT, I do hope you'll enjoy it.

    Bookworm, I'll be interested to hear what you think of Barren Corn. I nearly bought it recently, but it was quite expensive, so I didn't in the end.

    Booksplease, enjoy, and thank you very, very much for the award!

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  9. I have just really enjoyed re-reading Frederica. I like the Convenient Marriage very much too. When I was 14 I thought it was the last word in hilarious.

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  10. An enjoyable read The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and original, this book is going in by "to read" list.

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