The Convenient Marriage
Read by Richard Armitage
Horatia Winwood is the youngest and the least attractive of the three Winwood sisters. She also has a stammer. But when the enigmatic and eminently eligible Earl of Rule offers for her oldest sister’s hand – a match that makes financial and social sense, but would break her heart – it is Horatia who takes matters into her own impetuous hands. Can she save her family’s fortune? Or is she courting disaster? Witty, charming, elegant and always delightful, Georgette Heyer – the undisputed Queen of Regency Romance – brings the whole period to life with deft precision and glorious characters.
Running Time: 5 h 07 m
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ISBN: 978-1-84379-441-7 Digital ISBN: 978-1-84379-442-4 Cat. no.: NA0022 Download size: 75 MB BISAC: FIC004000 Released: August 2010
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After his readings of Sylvester and Venetia, two of Heyer’s popular Regency romances, [Richard Armitage] has now recorded an abridged version of The Convenient Marriage for Naxos.
First published in 1934, just before Heyer embarked on the first of her Regency novels, The Convenient Marriage is set earlier than the Regency, in 1776. But like all of her historical romances, it’s witty and warm, well-researched, and tells an engaging, if predictable, story with her characteristic light touch.
It starts, unusually, with the marriage of the hero and heroine. 17-year-old Horatia Winwood (Horry), is short, plain, heavy-browed and has a stammer, while the 35-year-old Earl of Rule is handsome, experienced and wealthy. They make an unlikely couple, and as the title suggests, their union is one of convenience.
The novel actually begins with Rule just having offered for, and been accepted by, Elizabeth Winwood, the oldest and prettiest of the three Winwood sisters. But far from being pleased with such a catch, Lizzie is miserable. She’s in love with an impoverished lieutenant, Edward Heron, but knows she must marry money to save the family from the financial ruin threatened by the gambling and extravagances of their brother Pelham.
However, her youngest sister Horry, ever the pragmatist, sees a solution. She knows that Rule wants to marry into her distinguished family, knows that he does not love Lizzie, and therefore reasons that one Winwood sister will do him as well as another. So she goes to see him and offers herself as a wife in place of Lizzie. Young, naive and enthusiastic, she is delightfully candid with him, admitting that her family is ‘shockingly poor’, and that she is ‘not a beauty’. At first astonished by her proposal, Rule is eventually won over by her. She promises she will not interfere with his life, and he promises to become Heron’s patron so that he can marry Lizzie.
The story the novel tells is, of course, how this unlikely marriage of convenience turns into one based on mutual love. As the new Countess of Rule throws herself with enthusiasm into the pleasures offered by London society and her husband’s money, those who do not wish her well circle around her – the villainous Lord Lethbridge, an old enemy of Rule’s, Lady Massey, Rule’s mistress, and Crosby Delincourt, Rule’s heir if Horry does not provide him with sons. In spite of the scrapes that she gets herself into, the tolerance and kindness displayed by Rule towards his young wife reassure us that, duels, highwaymen and a missing brooch notwithstanding, a happy ending awaits us in the final chapter.
As with his previous audiobooks, Richard Armitage peoples this one with a variety of voices and accents. A heroine with a stammer (which he renders faithfully) could easily become irritating, but instead we’re presented with a captivating character, a girl of spirit whose faults stem merely from her youth and inexperience (the scene in which she proposes to Rule is a particular delight). He also catches Rule’s amused tolerance for Horry and her doings, and the languidness that masks a keen intelligence.
The supporting characters are equally well drawn, from upper class women (the Winwood sisters’ mother, Lady Winwood, and their gossipy cousin, Theresa Maulfrey) to lower class men (Hawkins the highwayman, and various servants). Equally enjoyable are his voices for Pelham, Horry’s spendthrift but good-hearted brother, Sir Roland Pommeroy, his friend and accomplice in his inept attempts to rescue her from one of her scrapes, and perhaps best of all, the ‘odious toad’ Crosby Delincourt.
As with Sylvester and Venetia, short pieces of chamber music between the chapters set the mood – in this case, excerpts from the piano trios of Louis Spohr.
Annette Gill, © RichardArmitageOnline.com, 2007–2010
I loved reading chapter two… but I loved, loved, loved hearing it! It makes such a great dramatic scene! Horatio’s awkwardness and Lord Rule’s graciousness and charm… I think it would be hard for anyone to listen to Richard Armitage perform that little scene without falling a little in love.
Most romance books are about courtship not marriage. Most leave the ‘happily ever after’ to your imagination. Of course, the couple stays together forever and after. We don’t see any differently. So it is interesting to see a romance novel concerned with the marriage – with what happens after the ‘I do.’
Listening to the novel (abridged though it may be) gave me a greater appreciation for Georgette Heyer. Why? While I’ve always appreciated Heyer’s dialogue – it being a chance for her characters to be witty, charming, or romantic – I appreciate it even more having heard it performed. The wit seems funnier. The action scenes even more dramatic. The love scenes even more romantic. I wouldn’t have thought it possible for one narrator to convey the chemistry between two characters – but with Armitage narrating it works really well.
Becky Laney, Becky’s Book Reviews
This delightful romp was made all the more enjoyable by this new audio recording by British stage and screen actor Richard Armitage. This is his third foray into Georgette Heyer for Naxos Audiobooks. His skill at unique characterization and resonant, velvetly voice transports the listener like Cinderella to the Ball. Unfortunately, once the story ends, so does the enchantment. My solution was to start it again. For me, a new audio recording combining fanciful storyteller Georgette Heyer and the sultry and seductive voice of Richard Armitage is like la petite mort. Hopefully they are not few and far between.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
What distinguishes Georgette Heyer from that other doyenne of romantic escapism, Barbara Cartland, is her intelligence. Her heroines aren’t silly, they’re charming. Horatia Winwood, for instance, the 17-year-old heroine of this delicious soufflé of a story set in 1776 only a few doors down from the unhappy Countess of Strathmore’s Grosvenor Square mansion, runs rings round all those tiresome Cartland airheads. Viscount Winwood, Horatia’s brother, has vast gambling debts. To save the family honour and her eldest sister Elizabeth from being, ahem, locked in a loveless marriage to the wealthy but intolerably ancient Earl of Rule, 35 (Lizzie is in love with a penniless soldier), Horatia offers herself as a substitute bride. It’s not much of a sacrifice. Personally I’d have had the languid, mocking, exquisite Lord Rule, with his scented coats and weary eyelids that ‘drooped over eyes that could become as keen as the brain behind’, if he were 105. Heyer makes you laugh and long to be in love all over again. I said she was intelligent.
Sue Arnold, The Guardian
Georgette Heyer’s writing is sometimes a delight and sometimes a little overwhelming since her attention to detail (both with language and customs of the Regency period) forces your brain to work a little harder to keep up. Horatia, the youngest sister of an impoverished but titled family, decides to offer herself in marriage to Lord Rule, in place of her older, more comely sister who is already in love with someone else. He’s chosen Horatia’s family for their connections rather than love or money, and agrees with Horatia’s deal even though she is just 17 and has a noticeable stammer.
Lord Rule and Horatio reach an agreement that neither will interfere in the other’s life but when Horatia befriends Rule’s enemy, Lord Lethbridge, the game begins. The Convenient Marriage actually steps over some lines that many of today’s romance readers draw in the proverbial sand. For instance, Rule has a mistress he does not give up at marriage. And hoydenish, outrageous Horatia steps over the boundaries set for young women of the ton a number of times – something I found amusing at first. That amusement faded as the story unfolded and I found myself becoming more annoyed by her shenanigans.
Lord and Lady Rule demonstrate with a passionate kiss at the end that all’s well that ends well. Don’t expect any more passion than that from Heyer, however. Although it was an abridged version, I suspect that Lady Rule remained untouched until after the story ended with that kiss.
Richard Armitage is a wonderful, deep-voiced narrator who is perfectly matched to Heyer’s prose and his heroes are truly to-die-for, baritone, and hunky sounding. He performs a variety of women’s voices, some stretching the limits of his voice, and in The Convenient Marriage, he treats us with a very entertaining ‘macaroni’ falsetto voice complete with lisp. Not having read the full story, I can’t say whether that is implied or actually written into the character, but let’s just say this particular dandy is voiced as someone who does not chase after women. Ever. Armitage did a credible stammer for Horatia all the way through – and wasn’t that annoying!
All in all, Richard Armitage provides a top-notch narration that makes The Convenient Marriage an above average listen for me.
Melinda, All About Romance
Normally, notes like this give warning of a plot point about to be discussed. But it is not giving too much away to say that in The Convenient Marriage, the impetuous heroine marries the saturnine and enigmatic hero. There are two reasons for this not being a great surprise. One is that it happens very early in the book, and so can hardly be said to be the climax. The other is that, to be blunt, surely the impetuous heroine marries the enigmatic hero in every romance; isn’t that what ‘romance’ means?
Yes and no. On the one hand, there is no point in pretending that Heyer’s 35 or so Regency romances have significantly differing plots. On the other, when in The Convenient Marriage Horry proposes to the Earl of Rule, it is a genuine surprise for several reasons, and just the kind to delightfully engross the reader, even as it makes Horatia’s mother reach for her vinaigrette. Heyer knew what she was doing; how to make each book sufficiently different to entertain, while satisfying the core requirements of the genre (one which she essentially invented) and allowing her to upset certain conventions. And her audience, then and now, loved it; because they knew what to expect, too, and were prepared to judge the books on those merits. They were, and are, in on the game.
It seems from this distance that Georgette Heyer emerged fully formed as the romantic novelist with a particular taste for the Regency period, so completely is she associated with it. But she wrote works that delved 700 years further back in English history; considered her magnum opus to be a three-part novel about the Lancasters; suppressed some of her contemporary novels; and wrote detective novels and thrillers too, as well as short stories. She was enormously successful (first print runs for a Heyer novel would be over 65,000), hard-working, aware of her responsibilities as a writer, professional, and dedicated. She was also averse to publicity. Her first great success was published during the General Strike, and was therefore free of any promotion at all. It went on to sell thousands, and she therefore decided that publicity was unnecessary for future writings. The Times did manage to persuade her to have a picture taken in 1970, but that was pretty much the extent of it. She regarded such self-aggrandisement with something approaching distaste, and her self-deprecation went so far that she once said: ‘I think myself I ought to be shot for writing such nonsense’; although she went on to acknowledge that it was also ‘good escapist literature … [and] very good fun’.
For a reader living
300 years after the
time in which the
books are set, they
bring it to vivid life
Her first book, The Black Moth (1921), was written as an entertainment for her haemophilic brother, but it was no great surprise that she was writing. Her father was himself an author who actively encouraged her; and she was close friends with authors Joanna Cannan and Carola Oman. It may not have been a surprise that she started writing, but once under way she never stopped. Her productivity was extraordinary, essentially a book a year for almost 50 years; her reputation being established quite early, with the huge success of These Old Shades (1926). By then, however, she had also published two contemporary, even experimental novels, and was to write two more. She was to suppress these (and one or two others) later in life. They dealt more directly with sex and death, two matters that Heyer was having to cope with herself at the time. Her father had died suddenly of a heart attack after a game of tennis with Heyer’s fiancé, George Ronald Rougier, in 1925, whom she married shortly afterwards.
Rougier was a mining engineer and his work took him and his new wife to Tanganyika in East Africa and then Macedonia. But he left the job and in 1929 set up a sports shop in Horsham; this in effect meant that Heyer was now the principal breadwinner in the family, and soon to be a mother. So she wrote. She wrote contemporary novels, a novel about William the Conqueror, Regency novels, crime novels… and she worked. She prepared detailed notebooks on all aspects of the time in which she set her books and had a huge collection of reference works, with the result that the scholarship and detail in her books is almost flawless (there is one error: in The Masqueraders she mistakes the opening of White’s club by one year – in her defence, in this instance she was writing just below the equator without any reference books to hand). In time, her husband became a barrister, and then a QC; but despite his success, she kept on writing, producing consistently popular books, avoiding the limelight, and in private being a charming, generous and amusing friend.
‘Regency Romances’, apart from being a slightly belittling title, is also somewhat inaccurate. The Regency proper only lasted between 1811 and 1820. Heyer’s historical romances cover some years before and after these times, with The Convenient Marriage, for example, set in 1776. It is a point Heyer knew better than anyone. The period detail, and her evident dedication to and pleasure in it, is one reason why her novels are so good. They sound and feel right. The fashions, the books, the entertainments, the social activities, the behaviour, the styles, the slang – they have authenticity, and for a reader living 300 years after the time in which the books are set, they bring it to vivid life. They also reveal slight but telling aspects of their time. The impact of extremely high-stakes gambling on upper-class families was so severe that Parliament introduced sanctions on certain card games because the losses could be so great. It was a serious malaise, and Heyer incorporates it into the fabric of The Convenient Marriage with the unobtrusive significance that marks much of her historicity. Even the title is a deliberate play on the dubious, rakish mores of the time.
There is another area where Heyer goes beyond her many rivals. If the basic plots of romances are generally interchangeable, Heyer nevertheless makes a point of not being clichéd. We might know the hero and heroine are to marry; but this is never just a woman giving herself up to a dominant man and being thrilled at the chance to be dependant. Heyer’s heroines aren’t simpering, and her heroes aren’t chauvinists. The types of love and marriage Heyer celebrates are those where the individuals make their choices for themselves, find shared happiness and can laugh both at themselves and with each other. This is perhaps her greatest strength, even above her sense of style, her dialogue and her detail. She is witty and knowing, not taking the book too seriously, but never underestimating it, either. As a result there is a current of intelligence and warmth running through her delightfully escapist romances in which the enigmatic hero marries the impetuous heroine.
Notes by Roy McMillan