A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer (1961)

A Civil Contract is quite different from Heyer’s usual style – at least in the books I’ve read so far. There’s no dashing, arrogant and wealthy hero to be won by a beautiful woman with no fortune. He is, instead, a twenty-six year old man facing a ruinous future. Captain Adam Deveril sells out of his Regiment in France after hearing of the sudden death of his father Lord Lynton and returns to England to assist his mother and his two younger sisters, now that he is the head of the family. 

Lord Lynton’s man of business, Mr. Wimmering, reveals the sad state of affairs of the family estate and Adam’s response is that he will sell the ancestral home to clear his father’s debts. Wimmering is aghast and suggests a different solution. 

‘Such unhappy situations as this are not of such rare occurrence as one could wish, my lord,’ said Mr. Wimmering, intently scrutinizing his fingers. ‘I could tell you of cases within my own experience where the sadly fallen fortunes of a noble house have been resuscitated by a judicious alliance.’

‘Good God, are you suggesting I should marry an heiress?’ Adam demanded.

‘It has frequently been done, my lord.’

‘I daresay it has, but you mustn’t expect me to do it, I’m afraid,’ returned Adam. ‘I don’t think I’m acquainted with any heiress, and I’m sure I shouldn’t be regarded as an eligible suitor.’

Adam had formed an attachment to Julia Oversley, an ‘accredited Beauty’ when he was last in England recuperating from a wound in his leg, but there had been no betrothal and now marriage was out of the question. Although Julia’s father thought very highly of Adam, he didn’t think the two were well-suited, plus he didn’t want his daughter marrying a man with such little prospects. Julia had plenty of other admirers.

Adam does end up marrying for money but his wife, plain Jenny Chawleigh, the only daughter of a wealthy widowed merchant, loves him while knowing that he still has strong feelings for Julia. How Jenny handles this and cultivates a deep friendship with Adam is at the heart of this story.

Adam and Julia’s relationship had never really developed to the point where they really knew each other. Julia was in love with a romantic ideal which thrived on imagination and Adam was surprised to discover that the beautiful Julia behaved at times like a spoilt child.

‘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.’

This is a bittersweet novel that has more depth than Heyer’s other more romantic and humorous books, although A Civil Contract is quite funny in places. I’ve noticed that friendship plays a large part in Heyer’s novels. Adam has a good friend from his army days, Brough, who remarks towards the end of the book,

‘I used to count you the unluckiest fellow of my acquaintance, Dev, but I’ve been thinking lately that you ain’t.’

“Good God, I never was! They used to say that I’d as many lucky escapes as Harry Smith!’

‘Shouldn’t be at all surprised: I’ve seen one of ‘em myself,’ Brough said cryptically.

A Civil Contract is set during the Napoleonic Wars and Adam had fought under Wellington at the Battle of Salamanca. Napoleon’s abdication, his exile to Elba and his subsequent escape occurs after Adam’s return to England which adds interest to the story. A very enjoyable read that celebrates friendship and the ordinary, everyday things in marriage.

On a side note – do publishers ever read the books they print? The cover of my copy above just doesn’t fit the story…

Linking to the 2023 Historical Fiction Challenge

3 thoughts on “A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer (1961)

  1. Pingback: March Blether | journey & destination

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