Grace A. Johnson
Review: The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer. That's new, isn't it? I usually stick to Christian romances, don't I? The ones written after 2009, most of the time. In fact, this is the first Georgian romance I've ever read, let alone blogged about.
So here we go.
The tale of how I came to want to read Ms. Heyer is indeed a long one, and since I have all the time in the world (not), I'll share it with y'all. It all started with Jane Austen. And, no, I don't mean reading Jane Austen (unfortunately, I don't do much of that); I mean, in the Regency romance world, it's Jane Austen's name, then Georgette Heyer.
Of course, my curiosity was piqued. I'd never heard of Georgette Heyer (this was about a year ago), but she--and her books--sounded extremely interesting. So, like my usual stalker self, I pulled her up on Wikipedia and Goodreads, then commenced to reading a wee bit about her and her works. Suffice it to say, nothing came of it. I had (aside from the library...more on that later) no way of (1) knowing that her books would be worth reading, despite popular opinion, which I'm known to not trust, and (2) retrieving any of them.
Well, then, about nine months later, I stumbled upon several copies of her mysteries at a local antique store and attempted to read them. Needless to say, I wasn't intrigued (I'm a romantic at heart, you know), so I looked into her romances.
Venetia stuck out at me like a sore thumb. It was apparently one of her best (if the Goodreads reviews are of any consolation, and they usually are), and so I set my sights upon it (I'd originally wanted to read These Old Shades, and I still do, since I have the sequel, Devil's Cub). Well, y'all know I'm a procrastinator. It takes me about 7 years to get around to do what I want to do, so we'll leave it at that.
All of her books are sitting in a list on my Pines account, though I'm seriously considering purchasing the great portion of them, so rest assured that I'm not stopping with The Convenient Marriage.
Moving on...this whole recounting of my boring life is, well, exceedingly boring.
I can thank my mother for banning me from my laptop one night, leaving me to do naught but read. And then I can thank my wonderful characters (Rina, to be precise) for staunching my flow of creativity and leaving me with a lot of time to read over the last few days. (I'm back on track now, though.)
The Convenient Marriage, of all the many, many, many books on my shelf, was the one I selected. I had an odd mix of low and high expectations. I expected it to be witty and romantic and intriguing, to say the least--but I also expected it to be confusing, full of language (not too far from the truth), and, well, just not my cup of tea.
How wrong was I!
To make this review concise (I'll also be posting it on Goodreads) I'm going to try the numbered list of pros and cons--again. I always end up diving into the deep "streams of consciousness" that disrupt any logical order or brief iteration of why I did/didn't enjoy a particular novel, so I'm going to try my absolute hardest to convey my vast array of emotions in a timely, legible manner.
Why I Loved The Convenient Marriage:
#1 It was a MOC (marriage of convenience). Obviously, due to the title, this story is about the loveless union of two parties for their mutual benefit. Quite possibly this is the very first example of the plot trope which has taken the romantic fiction world by storm. I cannot even begin to tell you how many MOC stories I have read over the years, but I can say that half--or more--of them are awfully cliched, undeveloped, and follow a set of rules/guidelines that no romance ever should. Of course, said guidelines differ between secular and Christian romance, with the former being more steamy and less about true love and the latter usually being downright boring. (Want the best of both worlds? I recommend Julie Lessman's novels and Karen Witemeyer's More Than Words Can Say!) TCM is neither. For part of the book, the romantic aspects between Horatia and Rule are pushed to the back burner, but it is by no means boring. It is the most historically accurate and realistic MOC story I have ever read! There is viable benefit for both parties and they quickly assume comfortable roles within their marriage. There is no need to expound upon why they have not consummated their marriage or why they did not marry for love--the reasons are rather evident. There is no overload of petty excuses, no nauseating instances of the heroine/hero making eyes at the other and then acting as though they hate them (so hypcritical), and absolutely no clichés at all--since any MOC clichés had yet to come into existence as of 1934, of course. Having fresh (if the 30s can be considered fresh) air breathed into one of my favorite (when done well) romantic plot tropes is fantastic.
#2 The heroine was normal. So, due to being written in 1934 (and by Georgette Heyer), Horatia Winwood is a typical Georgian young lady. She's strong-willed and stubborn and has a mind of her own without being 21st century--like pretty much every historical heroine in any genre is today. The authenticity of her character for her time period is admirable. In fact, I think I might like Georgians better than modern-day society. She gambles, she spends an outrageous amount of money on nonsensical things such as emerald-studded shoes, she proposes to the hero--I mean, what more could you ask for? She's the pinnacle of a strong female. And yet she possesses a selfless love and adoration for her older sisters, a gentle, childlike admiration for her husband, and carefully submits to authority. (She also stutters and is extremely self-conscious about her eyebrows and height--my kind of girl, y'all!) So, see? There's a way that you can be a strong woman and make your own decisions but still respect and be respected by men/authority and let go when you know that someone (or Someone) has a much better plan than you. And if you know how to weld a poker, than even better!
#3 The hero was thirty-five. Yes, I know that's probably a terrible reason to love a book, but I'm crazy about age differences. The bigger, the better. Weird, I know, but when your parents are nearly ten years apart and one set of great-grandparents were thirteen years apart, you come to see that marrying a guy much older than you is not a bad thing at all. Personally, I like the romances between older guys and younger girls, and most likely because the older hero is more experienced and mature. In other words, he may look like a heart-breaker, but by this point, he's too old and lazy to break any more--am I right? Well, that applies to the Earl of Rule. Being 18 years older than Horry, he often treats her in a more father-daughter manner--which is decidedly more tender than anything else, you know. He doesn't put up with nonsense--be it hers or Pelham's or Lethbridge's--but he knows how to handle stressful situations without making a fool of himself or being impulsive. Despite his reputation as a rake, he wasn't a bodice-ripper or a macho alpha male--and, for once, I appreciated that. I loved his character and his interactions with Horry, Pelham, and especially a certain one with Lethbridge. (Can I just say that it says a lot about a man's true character when he doesn't kill the guy who attempted to ravish his wife, and not for lack of opportunity? Some call it stupidity, I call it mercy.)
#4 It was hilarious! I never thought that I would ever laugh so much during a seemingly serious, intellectual novel about Georgian life. From the stomping of a certain flowered hat to a particular trio's escapades as highwaymen, I was laughing the entire time--and had to try to explain why to my family when I laughed maybe a wee bit too loudly. There is something about Heyer's no-nonsense, accessible writing style that made these totally outrageous instances so much more amusing. Speaking of which...
#5 The author's voice was incredible. I wasn't entirely sure I'd enjoy Heyer's prose. I'd read a couple pages of The Unfinished Clue several months ago, and nothing had stuck out to me except for (1) how many people were having affairs and (2) the language. But reading The Convenient Marriage, from page one to The End, was so enjoyable for me! Unlike Jane Austen (who was still a terrific writer, don't get me wrong), other 19th-20th century writers, and even Margaret Mitchell, Georgette Heyer's writing style is so relatable. She has a distinctive sophistication, a knowledgeable, worldly air about her voice, but without the confusing 300-word sentences and long paragraphs of description that bore the average reader. She's no-nonsense, like I said, focused, concentrated on plot, character, and a smooth, even flow that is never once stifled. She has the same intellectual and amusing dialogue as Austen, the same knowledge of and comfort in her world (be it the late 1700s, Regency London, or contemporary mysteries) as all good writers of the years past, and an approachable manner that makes it easy for both a young lady in the 1930s, my grandmother, and a teenage girl in the 2020s to feel at home.
Of course, there are many other variables, particularly about the story and characters (like Arnold, for instance; he was amazing) themselves, that intrigued me so, but the five above were the real kickers--the main reasons why I truly did enjoy this novel. There were only a few things I didn't like, however, that I'll make mention of now.
What I Didn't Like About The Convenient Marriage:
#1 The language. Now, don't give me that look. Yes, I knew there would be language--I was totally prepared for that and I don't dare judge, as (1) almost all historical novels have language and (2) Georgette Heyer never once proclaimed to be a clean-mouthed Christian of anything of the like and (3) it was realistic. (Not so sure about Pelham's use of ain't and 'em...seemed kind of Southern USA to me.) But, I didn't like it, and I'm taking the time to give all the mes (aka, first-time Heyer readers, Christian teenagers who stick to squeakier-than-squeaky-clean--minus Julie Lessman and Francine Rivers--fiction, and minors who may or may not have a mother or sister reading over their shoulder) a heads-up. There's language, y'all. Mostly British epithets--meaning, no, the constant use of devil didn't bother me because it's actually a euphemism for the h-word in the states. Of course, the h-word was only used once or twice, and the only other word used was the d-word and several variants. And misuse of God's name on many occasions. (To be honest, if it weren't for Pel, there wouldn't have been anything to complain about.) One thing, I will say, is that reading something from the 1930s or before, you don't have to worry about the s-word, f-word, crude language at all, or basically anything disturbing (unless, of course, you're reading erotica, which, yes, has existed since the early, early 1700s). Despite the language, I appreciate how clean it was otherwise. (And, yes, I tolerate drinking, snuffing, the hero having a mistress...more on that later...bloodshed, violence, attempted rape, etc., etc. Y'all remember this is me.)
#2 That horrid Massey creature. And I quote. So, this is not a knock against the book. This is a knock against the character. I thoroughly despised Caroline Massey. Lethbridge...eh. He was one thing. Massey was a whole 'nother. The hero having a mistress...ugh. I have a hard time with that--and not only have I read that before (looking at you, Rhett Butler), but I've done that before (not in anything I've yet published, but still...). No spoilers, but yes, I have books outlined in which the hero has a lover that is not the heroine for at least half of the book. But reading it is just so draining! It's so wrong!!! And, I mean, regardless of sexual immorality and adultery, it's just wrong. You can't do that in a romance, y'all! It'd be one thing if she were nice or something. But Caroline Massey--nice? Not on your life, buster! So, anyway, I hated Massey. I just did. Get over it. Fortunately for moi and Horry, she disappears off the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard from again.
In conclusion (I feel like I'm writing an essay), I have a lot of things that I loved about The Convenient Marriage. From Arnold and Pelham and Pom, to Lethbridge and Crosby, to Horry and Rule themselves--this novel was chock full of fun, engaging, sometimes slightly evil characters that I'll never forget. The story was so intriguing--not quite as romantic as I'd hoped, but so well-executed and hilarious that I just can't complain! I love the Georgian era. I love all of it--from the similar culture in the late 1600s (my own period) to the series of wars (from the Jacobite rebellions to the War of Spanish Succession to the Seven Years' War to the American Revolution) to the overall stupidity of some people. Granted, the foppishness of half of everyone does not compute with a girl who loves pirates (and I don't mean the gentleman ones), boxers (Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!), Tony Stark (RIP, bother), and rock music, but there's something about Macaronis then that are so different from guys acting like that today. I don't do fops today. Nope.
Long story short, I could have said a lot more. This is a ten-minute read and a full-fledged blog post, but I could've said more. I'll be posting the brief and concise numbered list on Goodreads and Amazon--probably with a different intro and conclusion, so maybe I can cram a few extra things into that, but I'll just leave it at this for now. I will definitely, without a doubt be reading so much more of Georgette Heyer. First, I'll read Venetia. Then, I'll read These Old Shades so that I can read Devil's Cub, then I'll read the two after that, then I'll read Sylvester. Then...we'll see! Anyway, I definitely recommend The Convenient Marriage and Georgette Heyer to anyone who loves a good (and funny) romance! Or, really, anyone who loves to read!