Friday, March 25, 2011

Rediscovering books

A Civil Contract, Georgette Heyer

I originally read A Civil Contract with the Georgette Heyer listserv back in 1998.  It was my first time reading it, and it was through the list that I had found it and so many other Heyer books.  I've been reading Heyer's books for almost 30 years now, but before I got my first computer and internet connection back in 1996, my sister was the only other Heyer fan I knew.  Back then, her books could be hard to find, especially in a small Washington State town with only two bookstores.  In trying out my new computer, one of the first terms I put into an internet search engine was "Georgette Heyer."  That led me to the Heyer listserv (now on YahooGroups) and also opened up resources for finding Heyer's books.

Back in 1998, I didn't like A Civil Contract.  I remember finding it depressing, and I deliberately chose to give it away, thinking "I'll never want to read that one again."  And when it came up again for discussion on the list over the years, I didn't even follow the postings.  But this time was different.  We're coming to the end of a multi-year read of all Heyer's books, in the order of publication (which has brought some surprises, seeing where books fall in that order.  I knew ACC was a later book, but not that it was from 1962).  This read-through has changed my opinion of some books for the better, including The Foundling and Sprig Muslin.

The enthusiastic discussion this time made me think I needed to give ACC another try. After all, I've given Regency Buck at least three tries (and detested it each time, so that one has gone).  I had to order a new copy of ACC,because with all the new Sourcebook editions in bookstores, I couldn't find this one locally.  I'm glad I did.  This is one of Heyer's more unusual books, and as a portrait of a marriage it could be called "Austenesque," though the humor and the characters are much broader than in Austen's novels (maybe in the Juvenalia).  I remembered Mr Chawleigh, but I had forgotten the Dowager Countess, who is not as vulgar as Jenny's papa but in fact behaves just as badly.  If I had any sympathy for Julia at first reading, I certainly had none now, but Lydia is a delight, in contrast to other young sisters-in-law (Lettie in April Lady) who just add complications.  Yet despite the humor, it's a serious book - more along the lines of her suppressed moderns in some ways.  Yet it's set firmly in the Regency: as the book opens Adam has returned reluctantly from the Peninsula Campaign and the Battle of Waterloo plays a central role.  This is also, like The Foundling, one of Heyer's reverse books, with the male character impoverished and seeking his fortune through marriage.

Thirteen years later, I appreciate this book much more, and this copy will stay on my shelves.

The Heyer list on Yahoo Groups:

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Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!