Regency Turns 80 — The Convenient Marriage

Silhouettes of a man and woman in Regency dress against a background of the number 80

Romance author Lillian Marek discusses Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage in today’s article. This Georgian romance was published in 1934, just one year before Regency Buck, the very first Regency novel. The Convenient Marriage is Heyer’s first romance which involves a marriage of convenience, though it would not be her last. Like Lillian, do you enjoy romances which revolve around a marriage of convenience?

Please feel free to share your opinions in comments to this article.

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A lady in an ivory-colored Georgian gown leaning against a chair back while a young man kisses her on the cheek

The Convenient Marriage, published in 1934, is one of Georgette Heyer’s earliest books, with a Georgian rather than Regency setting. It employs my favorite trope—the marriage of convenience, as you might guess from the title. It is not, however, one of my favorite Heyer books.

The Earl of Rule has decided to marry one of the Winwood sister, making an appropriate family alliance, and plans to propose to Elizabeth, the eldest. She is resigned to accepting since her brother has, through gambling and other foolish behavior, pretty much impoverished the family. Her youngest sister, Horatia, knowing that Elizabeth is in love with a poor officer, goes to Rule and suggests that he marry her instead. And so he does.

Once married, the seventeen-year-old Horatia, known as Horry, has a lovely time spending money on grown-up clothes and gambling and flirting to such an extent that even her brother, Pelham, comments. Rule looks on and pays Pelham’s bills.

Enter Lord Lethbridge. He is an enemy of Rule’s and works his way into Horry’s friendship with the assistance of Lady Massey, Rule’s mistress. When Horry learns the reason for their enmity—Lethbridge tried to elope with Rule’s sister—she keeps her distance but Rule kidnaps her. She escapes by whacking him over the head with a poker and runs off, leaving behind a brooch that was torn off in the struggle. On her way home she encounters her brother and a friend of his, both of them quite drunk, and enlists their help in retrieving the brooch. They are unsuccessful but Rule’s jealous cousin, Drelincourt, picked it up and hopes to use it to drive a wedge between Rule and Horry.

Eventually, Rule retrieves the brooch, returns it to Horry, who discovers that he has known about her adventures all along and that he has broken with his mistress. They confess that they now love each other.

In addition to a wealth of detail about Georgian life and habits—gambling in particular—the book has a number of truly funny comic scenes, especially when Pelham and his equally foolish friend are attempting to retrieve the brooch.

I like almost everything about this book—except the hero and heroine.

My main problem is Horry. Yes, she is very young, and it is unreasonable to expect great maturity from a seventeen-year-old. But does she have to be quite so foolish? She is the grandmother of all those annoyingly feisty heroines who go charging ahead without bothering to figure out what’s going on. There are a number of nitwits like Horry in later Heyer books—Cherry in Charity Girl or Belinda in The Foundling—but they tend to be comic characters, not the heroine.

Then there is the age difference. Horry is seventeen and Rule is thirty-four. That is not in itself a problem. Heyer handles it very differently in Venetia. What bothers me here is their relationship which, even at the end, is more father-daughter than husband-wife. Instead of being in love with her, he seems amused by her the way one might be amused by a puppy.

But I do enjoy the marriage of convenience idea. I also liked it in Mary Balogh’s First Comes Marriage:

Hero plans to marry oldest sister to simplify life.   Check.

Younger sister, knowing older one loves another, offers herself instead.   Check.

Former friend of hero, now an enemy, tries to cause problems with assistance of hero’s mistress.   Check

Hero refuses to explain reason for enmity.   Check.

Heroine thinks hero is still in love with mistress.   Check.

Isn’t it amazing that a similar plot can produce entirely different books in different hands?

Lillian Marek was born and raised in New York City. At one time or another she has had most of the interesting but underpaid jobs available to English majors. After a few too many years in journalism, she decided she prefers fiction, where the good guys win and the bad guys get what they deserve. The first book in her Victorian Adventures series, Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures, was published last November. The second, Lady Emily’s Exotic Journey,will come out on August 4.

You can find Lillian online at:

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  1. Lillian:

    There are many subtle delights in this book, especially the scene where Horatia contracts marriage with Rule. I thought there was way too much Pelham in the book, and not enough of Rule and Horry together. He handles her beautifully in their conversations, and the reason he ends up loving her is because she actually does have integrity.

    I wanted Drelincort to be fully choked, and Lethbridge did not deserve to live after imperiling Horatia. The Rule/Lethbridge fight scene is very good, however, and compares with the Drelincourt/Pelham duel to make the D/P fight even more ludicrous.

    I think GH was constrained from showing the more intimate emotions of the major characters, especially the marriage bed, which is a great mystery in the book. I don’t think authors could be that explicit in the 1930s, and yet what is needed is some greater indication of Rule and Horry’s developing marital relationship.

    It does appear to have been quite a silly time for fashion. Giving patches names makes me laugh!

    1. Yes, he “handles her beautifully in their conversations,” and that’s pretty much my problem. He handles her, rather than talking to her or even explaining anything to her, and she continues to behave like an idiot. There’s no sense of equality here. I don’t mean political or social equality, but the kind of mental equality you find between most of Heyer’s heros and heroines.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed this book, and have always suspected that the card-playing scene was inspired by Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock.”

  3. This is actually one of my favorite GH books for different reasons. While Horry behaves foolishly in several occasions, I do not believe her to be really air headed. I see her as an unexperienced young wife who is in love with her husband but learning about his mistress, does not know how to handle the situation. She is hurt and torn between her promise to him not to interfere in his “business” and the love for him that is growing. The fact that in that era a wife would not complain about the husband infidelities (to avoid the scandal) doesn’t help at all. She does not have anyone to turn to, and because she is so young and all of a sudden has money and status she just goes with the flow and tries to have fun and make the best of it. Rule on the other end behaves like a man of his era at the beginning of the book. I was losing my patience with him from time to time but he redeems himself in the end. While I almost hated him for marrying and having a mistress at the same time, I like the way he turns around and changes. Under all the coolness and calm/lazy attitude he is very alert. My 2 favorite scenes in the book is 1st the cards game where Rule takes Lethbridge’s place without Horry knowing, and 2nd the duel between Rule and Lethbridge – both of them are brilliant. I believe GH pair these 2 characters beautifully. He is older and more calm and patient and has his own ways of dealing with issues (does not want Pelham’s help in his affairs) and she young and inexperienced and keeps him on his toes. :)) Another favorite part when Luiza, Rule’s sister, is asking him why he did not made Horry fall in love with him already, when he never had problems before with other ladies. There is sooo much in this book that I like!!!

  4. This is probably my least favorite Georgette Heyer. I have only read it once. Most of her other romances I have read multiple times and love. I may have to read it again sometime to see if it improves with another go round. 🙂

  5. inlove “A Convenient Marriage” always have. Fell in love with the Earl of Rule when I was about 15!

  6. I love this book! It’s always been one of my favorite Heyers, and quite possibly my favorite of her Georgians (some days it’s tied with “These Old Shades,” and some days it’s not.)

    For me, the main characters work, as does their relationship. For me, Horry is not the forerunner of Belinda, but of Kitten in “Friday’s Child” — an intelligent but inexperienced young lady thrust into adult life and the ton without sufficient preparation, and with bad advice. Comedy ensues. I love the way Heyer uses Horry’s ignorance to show the world to us — there is great comedy in this book, some of it broad, and some of it quite subtle. I feel like Heyer was very much riffing on Sheridan’s plays and likely Restoration comedies as well, but substituting a heroine who feels, who is vulnerable, and seeing what shakes loose. Quite fascinating.

    And the age thing doesn’t bother me at all! I think now that equal-aged (and equal-educated) relationships are the norm, we tend to see them as better, or even the only acceptable type…but Heyer came from an era where surely she had friends who married older men at a young age, and she’d have been familiar with the dynamic as few of us are. I think that just as in “Jane Eyre” and “Emma,” while one’s first impression might be that the partners not only begin but end unequal in power, the truth is far more complicated. Horry discovers her power over Rule by the end of the book, and we discover it too — though it’s actually pretty clear right at the beginning of the book to the reader!

    Maybe another reason the age thing works for me is that I was in college when I first read this. And I often felt about guys who had attained the very mature age of 25 the way Horry feels about Rule — “what could he see in me? — I’m so silly, so ignorant, and he knows so much!” — and yet I found those guys attractive, because they knew things, they did things, they were Men. So I totally got Horry’s mixture of emotions towards Rule.

    Oh, and the scene in chapter 14 with her drunken brother and his drunken friend when they encounter Horry (barely escaped from her kidnapper) alone on the street in the middle of the night is among the best of Heyer ever:

    “Very well, then,” said the Viscount, “tell me this: what’s my sister doing in Half Moon Street at two in the morning?”
    Horatia, who had listened impatiently to this interchange, gave his wrist a shake. “Oh, don’t stand there talking, P-Pel. I couldn’t help it, indeed I couldn’t! And I’m dreadfully afraid I’ve killed Lord Lethbridge!”
    “K-killed Lord Lethbridge,” shuddered Horatia.
    “Nonsense!” said the Viscount.
    “It isn’t nonsense! I hit him with a p-poker as hard as I could, and he f-fell and lay quite still.”
    “Where did you hit him?” demanded the Viscount.
    “On the head,” said Horatia.
    The Viscount looked at Sir Roland. “D’you suppose she killed him, Pom?”
    “Might have,” said Sir Roland judicially.
    “Lay you five to one she didn’t,” offered the Viscount.
    “Done!” said Sir Roland.
    “Tell you what,” said the Viscount suddenly. “I’m going to see.”
    Horatia caught him by the skirts of his coat. “No, you sh-shan’t! You’ve got to take me home!”
    “Oh, very well,” replied the Viscount, relinquishing his purpose. “But you’ve no business to go killing people with a poker at two in the morning. It ain’t genteel.”

    (The complete scene, with its beginning and end included, is even better than this small excerpt!)

    1. Yes, that scene with Pel and his friend is delightful screwball comedy, but I have to disagree with this:
      “I feel like Heyer was very much riffing on Sheridan’s plays and likely Restoration comedies as well, but substituting a heroine who feels, who is vulnerable, and seeing what shakes loose.”
      The basic plot in Restoration and early 18th century comedy is that the hero and heroine both want to end up in bed, but she wants to get married first. That kind of sex comedy requires the hero and heroine to be equally matched in intelligence if nothing else, otherwise she doesn’t have a chance. And I’m afraid I’m not convinced of Horry’s intelligence. A good heart, yes—she really cares about her family. But intelligent? I just don’t see it.

      1. Lilllian, perhaps I’ve read different plays than you? Certainly in Sheridan’s “The School for Scandal,” the situation of Lady Teazle (one of the two female protagonists) is similar to Horry’s situation: a young wife who is learning about the delightful and sometimes dangerous pleasures that London offers a wealthy lady of fashion. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Heyer was explicitly thinking of Lady Teazle when designing Horatia, with the major change being that Horry is a modern heroine, full of vulnerability and emotion, instead of the somewhat brittle and petulant Lady Teazle. (Lydia Languish in Sheridan’s “The Rivals” is also not exactly what I’d call a genius, but I expect scholarly opinion varies, as Lydia is so strange!)

        I think Horry’s situation is also similar to that of Margery Pinchwife in Wycherley’s “The Country Wife” — again, the naive young wife of a wealthy gentleman who’s enjoying the indulgences of London, and the indulgences offered include seduction. And Margery is an outright fool, as opposed to dear Horry.

        But in any case, we can agree to disagree! I’m always interested to hear other people’s takes on books…

      2. Oh, and as to Horry being intelligent: I think she’s intelligent in the mode of a comedy; in other words, she’s smarter than many of the other characters. Certainly smarter than her brother and his friend. 😉 I think she reminds me of Catherine Morland: intelligent and open, but young and naive.

  7. Thank you for your article, Lillian! The Convenient Marriage is one of Heyer’s books that I have come to enjoy more after successive rereading. However, it still isn’t one of my favorites. If there is a misunderstanding in a novel that could be solved with one sentence of honest communication and, instead, is used to drag the whole story all the way to the last page of the novel, I don’t find it entertaining. I find it frustrating.

  8. I like Convenient Marriage as it is farce and light-hearted. Horry has her charm and yes, if they communicated better none of the events would have happened and we would have no book. The same can be said of many traditional and non-trad regency/historical fiction novels. I don’t look for realism in this book, though I find Civil Contract quite believable and it is one of my favorites (least favorites: The Corinthian, Cousin Kate, Masqueraders).

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