THE RELUCTANT WIDOW
First Published 1946
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Elinor Rochdale was once a gentlewoman. Because of her father’s disgrace, she is now a governess, a servant in other people’s homes. On the way to her next job, Elinor takes the wrong carriage and finds herself a pawn in a strange plan. Much against her instincts, she marries a man on his deathbed, so that he can will his property to her and keep his hated former guardian from inheriting it.
Elinor, the widowed Mrs. Cheviot, now has the possibility of an income sufficient to make her independent. However, she and her friends learn from a gentlemanly housebreaker that her husband was passing war information to Napoleon’s government, information important enough to kill for. Elinor is caught in the middle of a desperate hunt by both sides for the lost document, and the only man who can save her is Lord Carlyon, her husband’s hated former guardian.
Readers of Georgette Heyer’s classic Regency novels would only be surprised if her characters were not as funny, elegant, mischievous, and charming as a kitten in a milk jug. Elinor, Carlyon, Carlyon’s wide-eyed, adventurous brother Nicky, Elinor’s own retired governess Becky, and their various visitors are all so entertainingly busy that the main cast seems much bigger than it is. By the time Francis Cheviot enters the scene, his dandyish airs and hypochondria deliciously blended with smooth menace, readers are all set to welcome him as part of the fun, no matter what his sinister purpose may be.
Georgette Heyer invented the Regency novel, and she is still unequaled in the genre for freshness and wit. THE RELUCTANT WIDOW is written in a style of sprightly dignity that keeps me in a bubbling good humor. Heyer’s meticulous research set a stage which has been used and reused many times since, by writers wishing to reach the audience she created for them. Among her dozens of Regency novels, THE RELUCTANT WIDOW is one of my favorites. I will bet you that you can’t read just one Georgette Heyer.
February 2004 Review
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