The Original Marriage of Convenience: The Convenient Marriage

After a complex book exchange (and some trading) at a meeting of romance writers, one of my gifts was a copy of Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage. At first glance, it appeared to be a standard Regency romance.

The Earl of Rule is obligated to marry, and has selected Lady Elizabeth to be his bride. She has agreed. Given her family’s finances, she has little choice. However, Elizabeth loves another, a gentleman, but poor (relatively). Her youngest sister, Horatia, proposes (literally) that Rule marry her in place of her sister, and Rule is sufficiently intrigued to agree.

Then I checked the copyright date: 1934. The reason for a foreword, in this edition, became clear. Romance writer Jo Beverley writes about her discovery of this book in the 1960s, and places it in the contexts of Heyer’s works and the romance genre. According to Beverly, this was a ground-breaking book, Regency in tone but set in the Georgian period, without Gothic elements or a menacing hero. Beverly’s introduction was, for me, a great review of the elements and categories of historicals.

Is it worth reading for any reason other than being ground-breaking? Yes. A historical is not going to become dated. A few terms were odd, such as the use of abigail to refer to a servant. However, there are sometimes odd terms in recently written historicals. Two plot points stood out: First, part of the marriage arrangement Horatia proposes is that she will not interfere with her husband’s life. Thus Lord Rule continues with a mistress for some time while married, before his affections begin to shift. I’m sure I’ve seen this before, but not so casually. Second, although the couple go on a honeymoon, there’s nothing said about whether the marriage is consummated. I’m inclined to think it is not.

This is a sweet story, about the growth of an affectionate love between a couple forced to be together. Horatia is young and impulsive, Rule is older and sedate. It’s a case of opposites attract, though the age difference (17 and 35) leaves me a little uneasy. Perhaps it is authentic to the period, though the characters themselves comment on it. Both are thoughtful and practical – as in most opposites attract stories, the opposites are superficial. Horatia is considered no great beauty, and stutters, characteristics that Rule finds endearing and the reader finds reassuring (at least this reader does).  The plot is complicated by a scheme to ruin Horatia’s reputation, launched by an enemy of Rule. There are intrigues, action sequences, some humour, and a large number of secondary characters, all contributing to a solid read. Most of the romances I read I pass on to others, using a local free library, but this one is a keeper, both for reference and re-reading.