|This is the edition I have; I don't think the dress is quite right for 1815, but not a bad effort!|
Jenny's father, Jonathan Chawleigh, a Cit, provides broad comedy, but much of the story is about the sometimes painful process that the couple must undergo in adapting to each other, and Heyer does it beautifully. Here they are in the carriage together after their wedding breakfast:
"I'm not the wife you wished for, but I'll do my possible to behave as I should. You'll be wanting an heir, and I hope I shall give you one. I should like to have children, and the sooner the better. But that's for you to decide." She stopped, tightly folding her lips, and turned away her face, to look out of the window; but after a few moments, during which he tried to think of something, anything, to say to her, she spoke again, saying in a conversational tone: "This is a new thing for me, you know: to be going to stay in the country...."A little later we see Jenny's determination to make it work. Adam becomes aware that:
Jenny was sometimes shy, but never shrinking. The trend of her mind was practical; she entered into married life in a business-like way; and almost immediately presented the appearance of a wife of several years' standing.Her concern for his comfort is paramount, but they come from very different backgrounds and she doesn't always immediately understand him, despite her best efforts. She does see that her father's generosity can be overbearing and that he has a tendency to trample on Adam's sensibilities without meaning to. She has, too, to deal with her long-suffering mother-in-law: Lady Lynton plays the role of martyr with much resignation and lots of protestations, never a care for her own comfort - even my own mother-in-law never managed to be self-effacing to quite so much effect - while Adam's aunt, Lady Nassington provides a lovely bracing contrast, being one of those indomitable females who always speaks her mind. But there's even more to contend with: Adam's first love, Julia, all fine feelings and vapours, is set to "make a cake of herself", swooning in public and making it absolutely clear to the ton that she's still in love with him, if she's not prevented. It falls, of course, to the practical Jenny to find a solution.
The Napoleonic War provides a background throughout the novel. I've mentioned Heyer's research already, and you can pick up quite a bit of history from her books. It's said that An Infamous Army is so insightful about Wellington's campaign that it was used as a text at Sandhurst, the British military college. I don't know whether that's really true, but I do know that Heyer had a vast collection of over 1000 books relating to her research. The books are all firmly located in the period: it's easy in A Civil Contract because the Battle of Waterloo takes place towards the end of the book, but you can have fun working out in which year a particular book is set (near the beginning of this one I was trying to date it from the building of Russell Square in London). I bookmarked this quote, both for its insight into the period and for its resonances with modern-day life:
...he thought no time could have been more ill-chosen for festivity than the present. He did not say so: his brief sojourn in London had made him realize that between the soldier and the civilian there was a gulf too wide to be bridged. It had been no hardship to cut his visit short. The season was in full swing: the looming struggle across the Channel seemed to be of no more importance to the ton than a threatened scandal, and was less discussed. To a man who had spent nearly all his adult life in hard campaigning it was incomprehensible that people should care so little that they could go on dancing, flirting, and planning entertainments to eclipse those given by their social rivals when the fate of Europe was in the balance.I suppose, if I were to make a criticism, it would be that the main strand of the story is fairly familiar territory and that Heyer had covered it all 10 years before, but I think myself that many of the later books are as good as the earlier ones: Frederica and Cousin Kate were still to come when A Civil Contract appeared and, on the whole, if you like her, you'll suspend your critical faculties for the duration.
Finally, I thought we could have a brief look at covers over the years. Blogger won't let me arrange them very aesthetically, but here we are:
|I like this, but it looks Victorian, not Regency: the hair is worn too low|
|This one works rather well, I think, although it's the edition I complained is badly edited|
|This looks more like I imagine Jenny|
|Could anything be more unsuitable?|
|This is probably my favourite: like Lizzie Bennet, let's focus on the acres the heroine will acquire|