Romance author, Jane Ashford, shares her first experience with Georgette Heyer as a young woman, an experience with which many of us can relate. She goes on to discuss The Reluctant Widow, one of Heyer’s Regencies which include a bit of mystery and Heyer’s influence on her own work as a romance author.
Please feel free to share your views about this book in comments to this article.
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Stepping into the Wrong Carriage — The Reluctant Widow
One fateful day many years ago, I was grazing the shelves of my small town public library, back where there weren’t any book jackets. I scanned the rows of dun-colored spines looking for interesting titles. I pulled one down to investigate further. And I found Georgette Heyer.
I’m not sure which of her books it was that first time. I do know that as soon as I started reading, I fell in love — with her heros, her writing style, her humor, her rich casts of characters, the wit and sophistication of the Regency society she so wonderfully portrayed. My teenage self longed to make a dazzling debut at Almack’s.
I also found a source of inspiration and aspiration, because my not-so-secret ambition was to become a writer myself. And in Heyer I found storytelling approaches and techniques that I wanted to emulate.
First, her stories are fun. Most have a touch of screwball comedy, and any number of laugh aloud moments. In The Reluctant Widow, this begins with the premise itself. Distressed gentlewoman Elinor Rochdale, arriving from London, gets into the wrong carriage in a Sussex village. On arrival she finds, not the sour woman who hired her as a governess, but the attractive, persuasive Lord Carlyon. Somehow caught up in his outrageous plans, she finds herself married to a dying rake, about to inherit a pile of trouble. The stage is set for many humorous exchanges between the two of them. An irrepressible dog and a charmingly silly younger brother add to the antics.
Heyer’s tales also have an essential humanity. Many of her heroes win their brides, and our hearts, by showing kindness. Lord Carlyon treats Elinor’s impoverished former governess with the courtesy due a duchess. He foresees Elinor’s practical needs and makes sure they’re fulfilled. He cares deeply for his family and watches out for them. Conversely, villainy in a Heyer novel tends to stem from selfishness. The Reluctant Widow’s Lord Bedlington betrays his country out of greed. His son and nephew, the younger Cheviots, think only of themselves — the one ruinously indulgent, the other coldly ruthless.
Finally, I liked the way that true love is a process in Heyer’s books. Of course, we can all be rendered breathless by an incredibly handsome, gloriously built, fashionably dressed, extremely rich, insanely witty stranger. But, for Heyer and for me, physical attraction does not a true match make. Elinor is rather dazzled by the top-of-the-trees Carlyon, but she doesn’t just melt into a puddle of lust. Far from it, she challenges him at every turn. The pair has to learn about each other before they find their happy ending.
I still re-read Heyer for all the things she does so well, and I find new and different joys in her books as I grow older.
I’ll leave you with my discovery that there was a film adaptation of The Reluctant Widow in 1950. The reviews were NOT good. The poster may give some hints as to why.
You can find Jane Ashford at:
Web site: http://www.janeashford.com/