[DWJ] Heyer, *A Civil Contract*

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Wed Jan 3 06:53:12 EST 2007

>> On Tue, 2 Jan 2007, minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:
>> |>
>> |>Well, there's _A Civil Contract_, which is pretty horrible.
>> |
>> |It's not a Wromance, I agree; but don't you find the fact that Adam
>> |hasn't married the appalling cow he was infatuated with, and that he and
>> |his wife are obviously going to be happy together even if they aren't
>> |living in a perpetual white heat of adolescence, comforting in its own
>> |way?

deborah wrote:
>> Yes, I hated ACC until I realized that it wasn't a romance novel.
>> Once I read it as a novel instead of a romance, I loved it.

and Farah exclaimed:
>Not a romance? It's the most intensely romantic book in her entire
>ouevre. I never recommend it for a "first Heyer"  but it's far and
>away my favourite. It's a romance of the every day, yes, but that's
>what gives it its power. You *know* that this marriage, of all the
>ones we've seen, will grow more loving by the day, and that by the
>time they are in old age they will radiate love and create a loving
>space all around them. Their children will respect them, their
>grandchildren adore them.

What I meant was that it's not a *Wromance*.  Sorry, I was a bit confusing.
That's a crib from elsewhere: the Cavaliers were summed up as "wrong but
wromantic" in 1066aaT, and I use wromantic to suggest a frame of mind that
allows people to get away with anything so long as they have long curly
hair and give an impression of romantic behaviour.  Heyer doesn't really
write wromances at all, and on the few occasions she tries I think it
doesn't come off very well.

People find *Regency Buck* wromantic, for instance, but I can't get
enthusiastic about a book whose "hero" starts by bundling a girl he doesn't
know (and thinks is of low rank so he can get away with it) into his
carriage on a lonely country road and driving off with her, and later says
that if they were ever to be married he would beat her.  (I'm the wrong
generation to find that sort of thing sexy, I suppose: I just find him
unpleasant.)  In *The Talisman Ring* the wromantic couple who are having a
melodrama are not as important in the end as the prosaic pair who laugh
together.  And so on.

A lot of what Heyer does, and probably the reason she is head-and-shoulders
above the likes of Barbara Cartland, is mild subversion of wromance, in
fact.  In *Cotillion*, Freddy Standen remarks that the Young Lochinvar
"sounds to him like a dashed loose-screw", and in various other books
people say that "that sort of thing is all right in a book but it wouldn't
do in real life" -- there are no secret passages in Berkeley Square! -- and
that behaving like someone in a novel from the circulating libraries is Bad
Ton.  In *Frederica* the "sensitive" and wromantic Charis is shown as being
an ass throughout, and her "love-at-first-sight" affair is made mock of.

The wromantic Julia who dotes on the idea of ghostly cavaliers in the
Priory ruins in *A Civil Contract* and faints to order in a wromantic way
is so obviously awful that one couldn't possibly think of her as the
heroine: Heyer has no time for that sort of silly carry-on.  Prosaic little
Jenny, who loves Adam so much that she marries him knowing that it's the
only thing she can do for him -- give him her money -- in spite of his not
loving her and that being a constant pain to her for the foreseeable
future, is Heyer's idea of really romantic.

If somebody in Heyer prefers the novels of Jane Austen to the long poems of
Byron, the reader can safely assume that Heyer means that person to be
sympathetic (and Jenny does).  Heyer's at her best when she's writing about
practical folk whose feet are fairly firmly on the ground, because she
herself cannot take wromantical flights very seriously.

The other thing, particularly in her later work, is that the attraction
between hero and heroine is that they want to share a joke rather than that
they want to share a bed.  Heyer is interested in the marriage of true
minds far more than in sex, I feel, and in an age that seems obsessed with
sex I find her work refreshing.  I am certain, like Farah, that at least as
far as Heyer is concerned Adam and Jenny will have a successful marriage.
I know it from the moment at which Adam notices that Jenny has a sense of
humour: "Oh, but, Adam, *Lambert* says..."  It begins to seem likely when
Jenny takes the trouble to notice what Adam likes for breakfast, and makes
sure he gets it!

Or that's my take on Heyer's work, anyhow.

(Heyer *cannot* write medieval!  She gets the language hideously wrong, and
she ignores religion completely, and it's *dreadful*.  She was right to
leave *My Lord John* unpublished during her lifetime, and I personally
think it would have done no harm for it to stay that way.)


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