The Reluctant Widow: Georgette Heyer book club part 14(50 Posts)
I had thought that this was one of my favourites, so I had been looking forward to curling up with it again.
I was disappointed. Carlyon is a shadow - a two-dimensional placeholder. He has a certain Avon-ish omnipotence/omniscience but without the character.
Elinor is fine, but again not a patch on her successors eg Abby Wendover, Ancilla Trent, etc. For an experienced governess she seems incapable of initiative, being rather feebly directed by Carlyon, Miss Beccles and even the Hon Nicky in turn.
The lost letter plot is a bit Talisman Ring, and oh how we cringed last time. This is better, but the convenient deaths are tedious, and far too much happens offstage, so to speak. GH "tells" us too much, instead of "showing". Poor.
Bouncer is a mitigating factor, of course. I love his guarding Elinor where she has to be brought food and drink and things to do. Also Nicky's disdain for Francis who prefers cats...
Any other saving graces? I wait to be convinced.
I read this one quite late, and it didn't compare well to the ones I'd read before.
I agree the lost letter plot is v ropey (essentially, someone says 'oh there is an important memorandum missing from the Ministry' and everyone assumes immediately that it must be something to do with Eustace). And the wrapping up at the end is full of holes too.
I've also always been irrationally annoyed by the last few pages - Carlyon and Elinor get into his curricle, he starts driving, then he proposes and there is loverlike chat and a snog - but the text never mentions anything about their actual surroundings again. Is Carlyon driving while snogging? We need to know.
However, I am fond of Elinor, who is actually very intrepid in difficult circumstances. In my younger days I thought she was rather a wuss, but actually her reaction is much more realistic than a more gung-ho approach would have been. Also, she is very funny, and a lot of the time she is just exaggerating for comic effect and to wind up Carlyon.
Oh yes, her exasperated sarcasm and his unmoved deflection of it is funny.
Also, Reluctant Widow is unusual in that Elinor actually has a job. She is genuinely penniless and works hard in the unrewarding toil of governessing to keep herself alive, having decided to make her own way in life rather than scrounge off her horrible relations.
This makes her significantly more emotionally mature than a lot of Heyer heroines, I'd argue, and there is also a great scene where Carlyon shows that he genuinely understands what life as a governess involves and how hard it is. Most of the time I agree with Horry that he's two-dimensional; but that scene really does redeem him.
I like him, it's just frustrating that 90% of the novel happens without him. Even when he is in the building he tends to be in the wrong bloody room.
Yes, there's something slightly empty about TRW compared to a lot of the other novels. I think it suffers from a lack of fully realised female characters - Heyer wants to make it a mystery novel, and writes in more men so that there is more of a range of professional, action and travel possibilities to play with; but since it is still a romance, she has a female character who stays still in the hollow centre, while men come and go telling her where the plot has got to. It's insulting how little effort she puts into Mrs Beccles, and in many of the other novels Mrs Macclesfield would have had a part, and Georgy Flint would have had more than one scene.
It's one of the depressing things about Heyer that she despised her own success in writing romantic comedies, and always hankered after success in murder mysteries and histories, which she's not nearly as good at.
IMO it has the same feel as Cousin Kate. Neither is high on my list to re-read.
I think I agree with Joan, GH's skills really lie in the light romantic comedies full of fantastic period detail and with her characters. Her books which follow those lines (Fridays Child for instance) we all love and crucially haven't dated. Her mystery/romance novels just aren't as good and I think they have dated. Tbh I doubt they'd still be in print if it wasn't for the GH name.
So TRW, I like the characters, Elinor's exasperated (but not really) comments, Nicky's puppyish enthusiasm, Francis' exaggerated foppishness, Bouncer of course! Carlyon is a little too perfect, there's no warmth there. And the story is far fetched, secret stairs - its all a bit Enid Blyton IMO! (but at least there isn't a necklace!)
Re the end scene, it's not a curricle, it's a carriage, they are both sitting in the back. So no problem. The bit that makes me laugh (and I don't think it's meant to) is when he says something like 'you must know I have fallen in love with you' and she says 'no, not at all' - that is not a romantic exchange and a sign I think that GH hasn't quite nailed it with this one.
I forgot to say that my big niggle with this is that I can't work out how to pronounce Carlyon.
It bothers me. I don't mind finding out my comfortable guess was wrong (Wrotham/root-em, for example) but I mentally stick on Carlyon every flipping time. Jury please!
Carl - yun (like onion but with a carl!) I think, (or like Carlton but with a y)
Haven't yet reread but I had always assumed Car lion.
Bouncer is the best bit that I recall. Nicky is irritating and not a patch on other enthusiastic young men, Perry etc. Elinor not nearly so amusing as Miss Trent. Car lion (aka Jaguar?) Okish. And I find her depictions of evil gay men, Basil and Francis, irritating.
It had a dark cover, my copy, and somehow u associate it with gloom.
I really like this book! It isn't anything like the others, except perhaps The Talisman Ring for plot, but not for atmosphere. I like Elinor. She feels very realistic to me: worrying about her future being realistic about what it involves, being extremely annoyed at having someone else tell her what to do when she has been in charge of her own life. And although she is clearly (I think) over-egging her nerves, it would be likely that she would be nervous and want the secret door nailed shut after Nicky gets shot! She's not one of GH's teenage innocents with no grasp of the seriousness of the situation. She is a responsible adult!
Carlyon is exceedingly boring though. I suppose as an alternative to being a governess he is an improvement!
Francis turning out to be a good guy is very unbelievable. Though I love the silver tassels to preserve the mourning touch!
Francis is hardly a good guy (he does stab de Castres after all) but almost certainly psychotic - cold-blooded murderer laid up with a head cold.
For me, the problem lies in the set up. The whole explanation of why Carlyun is trying to procure Eustace a wife and why Eustace goes for it and how ELinor is rail-roaded into it is weak, weak, weak.
Once you get past that, I am quite enjoying it. Elinor has a nice dry sense of humour and her comments are very tongue-in-cheek. I like how much she enjoys Nicky and finds him funny. She is play-acting most of the time, very like Sarah Thane, and I like her practicality. Which returns me to the weakness of the set-up - I just don't think she'd ever be inveigled into marrying Eustace. Unless we are supposed to believe that she is already subliminally falling for Carlyun and is willing to please him - which I think is mawkish.
I am only half way through so haven't yet got reacquainted with Francis but I remember him being quite a chilling baddie. Doesn't he pull a sword stick on Bouncer in a rather nasty fashion?
I don't think Elinor would have married Eustace as per the original set up, I think she only agreed because he was obviously on the point of death. It's is still a bit unlikely unless she felt she was wholly in Carlyon's power by that point, which she was although obviously he's a good guy and wouldn't have taken advantage of her.
Francis is very cold, totally driven by self interest even to the point of murder. In fact he reminds me of Avon somewhat, totally ruthless character hidden under a foppish facade, GH uses that type of character a few times but only in Avon is he the 'hero'. He (Francis) is slightly pantomime but that's partly as a result of the setting, surrounded by wholesome, healthy, honest chaps. If you stuck him in the Masqueraders he wouldn't seem out of place.
Except that we are repeatedly told that everyone is under Carlyon's spell - family, servants, locals. I agree about the comparisons to Avon: the charisma and enigma is the same, and also the unshakeable loyalty. If Leon(ie) can trust and adore Avon within seconds, why can't Elinor trust and adore Carlyon?
Actually given Elinor's lonely and impoverished career as a governess, I can absolutely see why she'd marry the dying Eustace. Even the small amount of inheritance involved would change her life.
But - I don't get why Eustace is willing to marry Elinor. The whole thing about him being desperate to hack off Carlyon doesn't make sense, especially given that he knows Carlyon has procured Elinor anyway.
I don't think Carlyon has Avon's charisma though I think he inspires the loyalty and affection through being a thoroughly decent chap. Whereas Avon does it through his personality, because he is not a decent chap!
I believe in Eustace marrying Elinor, he knows he's going to die, knows if he does unmarried then Carlyon gets his estate, this is the only thing he can do to thwart him. I think there's a suggestion of instability in his character too, ie that bizarre behaviour might not be out of place.
I haven't read this in ages - to the extent that I genuinely couldn't remember whether Francis was the villain he appears to be or a heavily disguised hero, whereas in fact of course he's neither, which is why the incident with the clock confused me. I eventually worked out that it's the opposite plot to Regency Buck - with the bumbling father as the culprit rather than the smooth young son. Carlyon is a bit like Worth as well.
I did enjoy this one - I like Nicky and Bouncer and Elinor, and I adore Frances - his line that "just because I have a tendency to colds and prefer cars to dogs doesn't mean I'm a Bonapartist spy" is a classic. He reminds me of the three "probably gay" young men in her contemporary mysteries - one of whom is the murderer and one of whom marries our heroine.
But as a romance it's a complete non-starter. I think Heyer needed to go back and insert about twenty pages of character stuff to make it more convincing, but even then we wouldn't believe that Carlyon would leave her alone with an armed French spy on the loose would we? And surely he should be a leeetle more upset/guilty about her being bashed on the head like that.
Francis was a good guy in the end, if a very cold-hearted one. He did it for patriotism as well as saving family face. Admittedly he still isn't a nice person.... But the murder was because it was better for Louis de Castres' family, wasn't it? As well as keeping everything as quiet as possible and self interest (the family name).
A bad deed for good reasons - but frighteningly cold-blooded.
I can't quite pin down what I feel about this one: if I'm thinking about it, I don't find the plot particularly compelling, and I just don't believe in the romance between Elinor and Carlyon. It's nearly all 'ooh he's so annoying', then, 'oh, go on then' right at the end. It just all feels a bit... tacked together. It wouldn't be one of the ones I'd automatically go to if I needed a fix, but while I'm reading it, it passes a couple of hours very enjoyably.
For me, I think it's because the relationship aspect feels weak to me that the book doesn't work as well as others. I read GH to get a bit of romantic sparring and mutual attraction, and what I'm getting is one of her detective novels moved 200 years backwards.*
*I quite like the detective novels though - at least the lower orders aren't there just for comic relief for once.
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.