The Reluctant Widow

As this novel by Georgette Heyer opens, Elinor Rochdale is on her way to a new position as a governess, a position she was forced to take up because the various scandals surrounding her father’s death left her without any other resources. But a mix-up at the coach station puts her in an entirely different and unexpected position. It turns out that a gentleman named Ned Carlyon had advertised for a young woman to come a marry his cousin, Eustace Cheviot, and Elinor ends up at Mr. Cheviot’s estate.

Elinor, quite sensibly, recognizes that Ned’s plan to marry off his cousin to a stranger is ridiculous, but when Eustace gets into what appears to be a fatal fight, she decides, in spite of herself, that marrying this stranger who will die within hours, might not be such a bad thing to do. So, overnight, she is married and widowed and becomes the owner of a large, but crumbling estate.

The whole premise of the novel is, of course, ridiculous, but that’s part of the fun. Most of the plot involves Elinor trying to figure out the various plots surrounding her new property. There are a couple of break-ins, some gunfire, a hidden staircase, and possible spies for Napoleon. I had a good time with it overall, although the story did start to get repetitive after a while. And the resolution of the spy plot struck me as kind of odd, with family reputation being prized as much as actual justice and victory over France.

The book’s primary weakness is the romance itself. Elinor and Ned have a bantering sort of relationship that is clearly meant to indicate romantic chemistry, but there’s no sense that either of them sees the other as a potential love interest until the very end of the book. Ned’s brother Nicky gets a lot more attention in the story, as does Nicky’s dog, Bouncer. The Elinor/Bouncer relationship is by far the most interesting in the book.

So, on the whole, not top-tier Heyer, but amusing enough. Of the five Heyer novels I’ve read, I think Cotillion and A Civil Contract are at the top of the heap. This would sit in the middle, ahead of The Toll-Gate and Charity Girl. I have Sylvester on my shelf to read at some point and am always interested to hear what other people’s favorites are!

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7 Responses to The Reluctant Widow

  1. Rohan Maitzen says:

    I don’t think I’ve read this one, so thanks for the primer! I would probably vote for Venetia as my favourite, but I really enjoyed Cotillion and I love Devil’s Cub too.

  2. Harriet Welch says:

    This is one of my very favorite Heyer novels and I have found myself coming back to it over time. Yes, it has all the strained plot devices, but to me all the characters ring true.

    Hope you will enjoy Sylvester. It is also a favorite.

  3. Hi. I read most of her novels at one time, and I would recommend These Old Shades and it’s sequel, whose name I can’t recall, but whose young hero is the son of the couple from the first book. Enjoy!

  4. I really need to read some Heyer… soon… I hope.

  5. The Grand Sophy is at the top of my heap followed by Bath Tangle and Venetia. But there are no absolute failures though I found The Reluctant Widow one of her weakest. The Unknown Ajax is another one well worth reading. All great fun.

  6. Shruthi says:

    There is so much depth and power in your writing.

    Thank you for sharing this with us, it was a great read. I enjoyed the novel too. I am glad I found your review.
Wishing you all the very best in your future writings!!

    It would be great if you could skim through some of my stuff. Would live your valuable feedback on them.

  7. I’ve yet to read anything by Heyer, but I’d like to give her a try! A book with a fun relationship with a pet sounds delightful, although it is a shame the romance isn’t as good :)

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