‘It was dusk when the London to Little Hampton stagecoach lurched into the village of Billingshurst, and a cold mist was beginning to creep knee-high over the dimly seen countryside. The coach drew up at an inn, and the steps were let down to enable a passenger to alight. A lady, soberly dressed in a drab-coloured pelisse and a round bonnet without a feather, descended on to the road’.
And then, by mistake, the lady stepped into the wrong carriage that carried her to the wrong destination- not an establishment that sought a governess, but, a decaying estate that once must have been grand. Her arrival at this estate, Highnoons, started with an odd interview to fill an odd post- to become the wife of the odious estate owner Mr. Eustace Cheviot. By midnight Miss Elinor Rochdale became a bride and by dawn she was a widow and the owner of Highnoons, an estate in debt up to the hilt. But, little did Elinor know that ownership of a debt-ridden estate is a trifle worry compared to the adventure she was soon going to be swept into. It was indeed an adventure that awaited our heroine- an adventure with an overbearing Lord Carlyon, a reckless Nicky, a vicious Francis Cheviot, French Spies, and Bonaparte.
Title: The Reluctant Widow
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publishing Date: October 2004, First published in 1939
Genre: Regency Romance
I had the pleasure of reading The Reluctant Widow, one of the lesser known and not-so-popular novels of Georgette Heyer, sometime back. I am glad to say that I found this book a refreshing take on the Regency Romance genre. Three elements that made this book stand out are the extraordinary writing style of Ms. Heyer (as always), the very likable cast of characters, and the refreshing plot line.
Ms. Heyer’s writing has always entranced me and the writing in The Reluctant Widow is no different. The writing is so good that while reading the book, I would stop every now and then to admire a paragraph or a sentence or an amusing usage of word. Moreover, readers get to read about a set of highly likable protagonists. I was quite happy to NOT find any rakes, libertines, Corinthians, harpies, and mistresses in this story. Our female lead, Ms. Elinor Rochdale, is a virtuous, hard-working, and confident young woman. Lord Edward Carlyon, our male lead, is a thorough gentleman whose only flaw is a substantial lack of sensibility. He is a man who treats even the most alarming and dangerous event as mere commonplace. Throughout the book, we find our hero and heroine at odds with each other leading to a lot of amusement. And then, there are Lord Carlyon’s brothers Nicky and John, two very nice gentlemen, but, quite opposite of each other. It was a delight to read the budding brother-sister relationship between Nicky and Elinor. Complementing our main cast of characters are Ms. Beccles, the kindly older governess friend of Elinor, and Bouncer, Nicky’s obedient dog, who entertains readers vastly.
The Reluctant Widow scores point for having a very refreshing plot line, where we find the characters coming together to solve the mystery of some stolen Government papers by French spies for Napoleon Bonaparte. Hidden in the plot line are secret staircases, secret hiding places, and secret adversaries, all of which make the book quite interesting to read. The only flaw I could detect in the story is the lack of romance. Although, this book is grouped under Regency Romance, there is hardly any romance in here. We do feel that Lord Carlyon and Elinor are gradually falling for each other, but, there isn’t anything actually romantic till the very final pages when the hero professes his love, in the most romantic fashion, to our heroine.
The Reluctant Widow is a must-read for all Georgette Heyer fans. Readers looking for a lot of romance might be disappointed, but, nonetheless the refreshing plot line is sure to make this book an enjoyable read.