Heyer, Georgette. The Convenient Marriage.

London: Heinemann, 1934.

This is one of the most unusual of Heyer’s Regency romances. For one thing, it’s not even set in the Regency period but a long generation earlier, during the 1770s. For another, the plot is much more sophisticated and the characters, both leading and supporting, are far more multidimensional. And there’s far less dependence on impenetrable sporting cant — except for the highwayman, of course, whose professional jargon confuses even some of the young gentlemen.

The story opens with negotiations between the Earl of Rule and the Dowager Viscountess of Winwood for the hand of her sweetly beautiful eldest daughter, Elizabeth (who is fifteen years Rule’s junior). Only Lizzie is downcast because she’s very much in love with young Lieut. Heron (newly returned from the war in America), whom she has known all her life. Still, the family needs money desperately, Rule is extremely wealthy, and an advantageous marriage is a daughter’s duty. But Lizzie has two younger sisters, including Horatia, only seventeen (with a monobrow and a stammer), who thinks she can fix things to everyone’s satisfaction by visiting the earl and offering herself to him as a wife in place of her reluctant sister. Rule accepts on the spot — and that’s really the only unconvincing moment in the plot. So Lizzie gets her lieutenant, Rule gets an even younger wife, and Horry gets a title and a very large allowance. Then (naturally) things get complicated. Rule’s presumptive heir heretofore has been his excessively foppish cousin, Mr. Crosby Drelincourt (“the Macaroni”), who has come to think of Rule’s fortune as almost rightfully his own — so he isn’t happy about the marriage and the prospect of other heirs. Rule also has a dedicated enemy of long standing in Lord Lethbridge, who will go to considerable lengths to embarrass the earl and cost him his prospects for a family by subverting his young and naïve wife. Heyer practically has Lethbridge twirling his mustaches as he plots the downfall of Lord and Lady Rule, but in no way is he a laughable villain. In fact, the author includes in the story a duel in deadly earnest, which is the only occasion for serious bloodshed that I can recall in any of her books.

The bride also has a brother, Pelham, the current Viscount Winwood, a likeable wastrel and gambler (which is one reason why the family has become so poor, but the whole family apparently is prone to the Fatal Tendency, including Horry) who, with the assistance of his friends and the now Capt. Heron, will do his best to come to his sister’s rescue, . . . if only he can stay sober long enough. And those efforts provide sixty-odd pages of an almost Marx Brothers style of careening, pall-mall comedy that is also quite unlike anything I can remember in any of the author’s other novels. This is one of Heyer’s most enjoyable books.

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