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Laurel Ann Nattress
AustenProse, August 2010

The Convenient Marriage is one of Georgette Heyer’s more popular Georgian-era rom-com’s, and for good reason.  It has all the requisite winning elements: a wealthy and eligible hero, a young naïve heroine, greedy relatives, a scheming mistress and a revengeful rake.  Add in a duel, a sword fight, highway robbery, abduction, switched identities and scandalous behavior, and you are in for comedic high jinxes and uproarious plot twists.  As I laughed out loud at the preposterous plot machinations in the synopsis, I thought to myself, “How does Heyer do it? How can she take us on such an outrageously wild ride and make it believable?” I was soon to find out.

Handsome and elegant Marcus Drelincourt, Earl of Rule, is comfortable in his bachelorhood. At thirty-five his sister Lady Louisa Quain urges him to marry, suggesting the beautiful Elizabeth Winwood. She is from an aristocratic family of good pedigree but little fortune. With two unmarried younger sisters, prim Charlotte and impulsive Horatia, and their self-indulgent elder brother Pelham (about as much help to his family as a rainstorm at a picnic), she must marry well. Lady Winwood is thrilled when the Earl agrees to marry Elizabeth and save the family from destitution. Seventeen-year old Horatia is not. Presenting herself at the Earl’s doorstep she boldly offers herself to him in exchange for her elder sister who is in love with Lieutenant Edward Heron. Horry proposes a marriage of convenience to Lord Rule with the promise that she will not interfere with him after they are married. She does not bring much to the bargain. Not only is she poor, she does not possess her sister’s beauty, and  she stutters. Intrigued by this young, brave girl, he is tempted and soon sees the logic, agreeing to her proposal.

The new Countess of Rule wastes no time in becoming the sensation of the bon ton dressing to the nines, attending parties, the opera, gambling huge sums and getting into all sorts of scrapes while her husband continues to pay attentions to his mistress Lady Caroline Massey. With patience and fortitude, Lord Rule councils his stubborn young bride against excess and the dangerous liaisons of Baron Robert Lethbridge, a known rake with a history with the Drelincourt family.

Determined to teach her husband a lesson for his interference, she defies his wishes attending a masked ball. Escorted by Lethbridge, he sees their friendship as the perfect opportunity to ruin her reputation and punish Drelincourt for thwarting his elopement with his sister Louisa years before. Horry tempts Lethbridge with cards, bending his resistance by scandalously agreeing to offer a lock of her hair if he wins. Unbeknownst to Horry, her husband has followed her to the ball, overhears their conversation and intercedes by stepping on her dress and ripping it. While she is away he disposes of Lethbridge and exchanges his costume with his own. Returning, Horry loses badly at cards and must give Lethbridge/Rule his winnings. Penitent, she concedes the bet which is met with a stolen kiss. Furious, Horry rushes away running into Lady Caroline Massey who recognizes her. Certain that her husband’s mistress will reveal to him that his wife was at the ball, she confesses all to him first. The Earl in turn reveals his charade. Discovering that he has fallen in love with his wife, how will he court and convince her that love is much better than a marriage of convenience?

Heyer’s characterizations just sparkle and shine. This May/Decemeber relationship presents great opportunity for difference in opinion and blunder. If Horry had not been an impulsive, stubborn seventeen-year old there would have been little conflict and no story. Lord Rule’s patience in dealing with his teenage bride commanded respect, endearing us to him by opening up the possibility of the love relationship that we hope for.  This delightful romp was made all the more enjoyable by this new audio recording by British stage and screen actor Richard Armitage. This is his third foray into Georgette Heyer for Naxos Audiobooks. His skill at unique characterization and resonant, velvetly voice transports the listener like Cinderella to the Ball. Unfortunately, once the story ends, so does the enchantment. My solution was to start it again. For me, a new audio recording combining fanciful storyteller Georgette Heyer and the sultry and seductive voice of Richard Armitage is like la petite mort. Hopefully they are not few and far between.

© Becky Laney
Becky’s Book Reviews, August 2010

First sentence: “Lady Winwood being denied, the morning caller inquired with some anxiety for Miss Winwood, or, in fact, for any of the young ladies. In face of the rumour which had come to her ears it would be too provoking if all the Winwood ladies were to withhold themselves.”

Lord Rule wants to marry Miss Winwood—the eldest Winwood, Elizabeth. But. Elizabeth is in love with another man—a poorer man, a soldier named Edward Heron. Horatia Winwood is the youngest of three sisters. But she may prove to be the savior of her family. Hoping to save her sister heartache, Horatia comes up with a plan that will allow her sister her happily ever after. All the while saving her family from financial difficulties—due in part to her brother’s gambling habits. What if she were to marry Rule instead…

My thoughts on the book/audiobook:

Horatia does have a stammer. Especially when nervous, I wonder how other listeners will respond to it…will they be charmed by it like Rule or find it grating on the nerves?

I loved reading chapter two but I loved, loved, loved hearing it! It makes such a great dramatic scene! Horatio’s awkwardness and Lord Rule’s graciousness and charm…

‘Will you tell me how old you are?’
‘Does it matter?’ Horatia inquired forebodingly.
‘Yes, I think it does,’ said his lordship.
‘I was afraid it m-might,’ she said. ‘I am turned seventeen.’
‘Turned seventeen!’ repeated his lordship. ‘My dear, I couldn’t do it.’
‘I’m too young?’
‘Much too young, child.’
Horatia swallowed valiantly. ‘I shall grow older,’ she ventured. ‘I d-don’t want to p-press you, but I am thought to be quite sensible.’
‘Do you know how old I am?’ asked the Earl.
‘N-no, but my cousin, Mrs. M-Maulfrey, says you are not a d-day above thirty-five.’
‘Does not that seem a little old to you?’ he suggested.
‘Well, it is rather old, perhaps, b-but no one would think you as much,’ said Horatia kindly.
At that a laugh escaped him. ‘Thank you,’ he bowed. ‘But I think that thirty-five makes a poor husband for seventeen.’
‘P-pray do not give that a thought, sir!’ said Horatia earnestly. ‘I assure you, for my p-part I do not regard it at all. In f-fact, I think I should quite like to marry you.’
‘Would you?’ he said. ‘You do me a great honour, ma’am.’ (24–25)

I think it would be hard for anyone to listen to Richard Armitage perform that little scene without falling a little in love.

Most romance books are about courtship not marriage. Most leave the ‘happily ever after’ to your imagination. Of course, the couple stays together forever and after. We don’t see any differently. So it is interesting to see a romance novel concerned with the marriage—with what happens after the ‘I do.’

I appreciated the flaws of the characters. Most (if not all) of the characters are flawed: Horatia (Horry), Marcus (Lord Rule), Crosby (Rule’s cousin), Lord Robert Lethbridge (Rule’s long-time nemesis), Viscount Pelham Winwood (Horry’s brother), etc.

I loved Rule. I loved Pelham. I also really enjoyed Sir Roland. Was Lethbridge a good villain? I think so! He had just enough charm that you could understand why Horatia (and others) would want to think the best about him despite his reputation. As for our heroine, Horatia, I liked her. She was far from perfect. But she’s resourceful and spirited.

Listening to the novel (abridged though it may be) gave me a greater appreciation for Georgette Heyer. Why? While I’ve always appreciated Heyer’s dialogue—it being a chance for her characters to be witty, charming, or romantic—I appreciate it even more having heard it performed. The wit seems funnier. The action scenes even more dramatic. The love scenes even more romantic. I wouldn’t have thought it possible for one narrator to convey the chemistry between two characters—but with Armitage narrating it works really well.

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