I'm sure I've said this before, but it's worth repeating--Georgette Heyer is one of my reliable go-to authors when I am in need of something light and entertaining. I know I can depend on her for a little escapism from the drudgeries of real life, so a while back when I was in need of just such a book I chose The Reluctant Widow to read. I'm hoping that along with the other books I have lined up for the month of July I can fit in a few more stragglers (like this one) that I had been enjoying until other books got in the way.
The Reluctant Widow is one of Heyer's lighthearted stories filled with more adventure and thrills than romance, though there is a touch of that, too. It's a case of mistaken identity when Elinor Rochdale boards a travelling coach bound, she thinks, for the Macclesfield home where she is to take up the post of governess. How many coaches could possibly be looking for "a young lady who had come down from London in answer to the advertisement"? Apparently more than one as she ends up instead at Highnoons in the library of a gentlemen with a "well-favored countenance" and of a "distinct air of good breeding" talking at very cross purposes.
Lord Edward Carlyon had hoped to engage a respectable female willing to marry his young (and very dissolute) cousin. Eustace Cheviot is disgraceful and unprincipled and has caused Ned, who served as his guardian, no end of trouble. With a fondness for brandy and a poor choice of friends his lifestyle is such that it cannot be sustained. The last thing Lord Carlyon wants is to inherit Eustace's estate, since tongues will likely set to wagging that he encouraged the excesses in order to get his hands on the estate. There is only one thing for it--Eustace must marry, which he agrees to in exchange for his debts being paid. It's decidedly not a governess that Lord Carlyon was looking for in his ad. And the job of wife is not what Elinor had in mind, but when Eustace Cheviot is fatally wounded (though accidentally) by none other than Ned's younger brother, Elinor ends up with far more than she bargained for.
Elinor Rochedale--of Feldenhall--is herself the daughter of a gentleman, but one who partook of unlucky speculation and the gaming table, came to ruin and then shot himself--all a little ignominious but not a stain on Elinor. She has a good name but not a penny to go with it and prefers to make her own way rather than be at the beck and call of relatives. As a woman of twenty-six she is unlikely to marry and has no wish to be a maiden aunt. Ned Carlyon has a certain charm and ability to talk people into doing things they'd prefer not to do. And perhaps this is just the way for Elinor to gain some semblance of independence. So a deathbed marriage is made.
Poor Eustace dies, Elinor will inherit, and all is as it should be. She must only wait out the sorting of the will, but no sooner is Eustace gone than strange things begin happening at Highnoons Hall. Unknown Frenchmen enter the house via secret passages, military documents that shouldn't be there are all of a sudden a hot commodity and then there is the disgraceful knowledge that Eustace must have been involved in treasonous behavior. And there are amusing bits too, like Elinor being trapped in a room all day by a guard dog who takes his job a little too seriously.
The Reluctant Widow is (for me anyway) one of Heyer's more memorable stories filled with wit and humor, a little mystery and lots of thrills. And I think Lord Carlyon and Elinor Rochedale are among my favorite Heyer characters--not in the least sentimental and more mature and serious. Elinor is smart and sharp-tongued and Carlyon filled with sardonic wit and a capable personality. I have two more Heyer novels lined up for July and August; Bath Tangle and Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle. I'm starting with Sylvester, but they both sound very appealing.
For a few more perspectives on the book check out JaneGS's guest post at Austenprose, and Ruth's review at Booktalk & More. The Reluctant Widow was made into a movie in 1950, but forgive me for not linking to it (you can watch it on Youtube) as it was apparently pretty abysmal and Heyer was very unhappy with the result, which is a pity as this would be a fun story to see on the big screen. Then again books are almost always better than the movie version, so better to leave it up to my own imagination.