Friday, November 20, 2009

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

I had reasonably high expectations for The Reluctant Widow since it was described as a mystery and (subtle) romance in the style of Jane Austen. But I was sadly disappointed. It's been a while since I've read any of Jane Austen's novels (though that is being remedied with Northanger Abbey next on my list), but I don't remember finding her characters so annoying or her use of adjectives so limited.

Elinor Rochdale has accepted her dull and tedious life as a governess, but when she gets in the wrong coach on the way to her next place of employment, she finds herself in the middle of a complicated web of family problems and secrets. Instead of a governess position, she is mistaken for a advertised bride, and after much persuasion agrees to marry Eustace, an unsavory character who only marries her on his deathbed to spite his cousin, Lord Carlyon, though he was actually playing into Lord Carlyon's plans to rid himself of an encumbering inheritance. So within a few hours of her marriage, Elinor is a widow, a very reluctant widow.

'But I do not want to be a widow!' declared Elinor.
'I am afraid it is now too late in the day to alter that,' said Carlyon.
'Besides, if you had known my cousin better you would have wanted
to be a widow,' Nicky [Carlyon's younger brother] assured her. (72)
At first I enjoyed the exchange of wit and touch of sarcasm that permeates the dialogue, but soon Elinor's whining got annoying. She rages against everything in her lot, seeming to forget that she had plenty of opportunity to refuse the marriage. She doesn't want to wear mourning clothes; she doesn't want to manage the estate she has inherited; she doesn't like the relatives who come to call. And she declares everything to be "odious" - that odious man, that odious dog, that odious boy, that odious old man. You would think a governess might have had a larger vocabulary! (I do realize that governesses were generally compelled to take up their occupation by lack of fortune rather than innate ability or education, but still, there are more ways to describe one's dislike than with the word "odious.")

In reading the introduction to Northanger Abbey, I was struck by the definition of a novel as a story in which the characters develop, maturing intellectually, psychologically, or spiritually over the course of the book. Unfortunately, Ms. Heyer seems not have been instructed in the fine art of novel writing, and I found it very unsatisfying that Elinor railed against most everything throughout the story, only to fall into the arms of one of those "odious" men at the end. I suppose some might argue that she was only angry and outspoken to cover her insecurities and true affections, but quite honestly, her character didn't have enough depth for me to make that conclusion.

I should note that I found two redeeming qualities. First, the mystery element at least made the plot interesting even if the solution was fairly obvious and easy to solve. Second, it was a quick read, making it easy to check another book off my TBR Challenge list.

If you love Georgette Heyer novels, I apologize for my lack of enthusiasm. Maybe you could recommend another one that I might like better, or maybe I'll just stick with Jane Austen and other classics.

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