There’s nothing like sitting down with a book that you’ve read many times before. Hopefully, it’s been just long enough since the last reading, so everything seems fresh and interesting… even if you know exactly what is going to happen. Old books, like old friends, I love them dearly. And the longer you know them, the more you learn about them, and the better you understand them. This applies to both books and friends.
So, I picked up a new copy of an old favorite, by Georgette Heyer. Firstly, if you’re unfamiliar with Heyer, then you don’t know what you’re missing. Her writings followed in the footsteps of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, and Elizabeth Gaskell, and helped to define the Regency romance. If the term “Regencies” puts you off, please understand that Heyer came before all the rubbishy romances of today. Her books were romantic, hilarious, and clean! Georgette Heyer knew the truth, that a good romance did NOT require any bedroom scenes.
On a side note, she also wrote several historical fiction books about characters such as William the Conqueror, as well as several romances set in the Georgian period, and a bunch of mysteries. A prolific writer, whatever genre she wrote in, she was fantastic.
And so, I picked up my copy of The Civil Contract. A new copy, it had a foreword by a modern-day romance writer, which drew my attention. According to Jo Beverley, a civil contract is when two people enter into a marriage not of their choosing, for other reasons than love, and they only expect kindness and civility from it.
In The Civil Contract, Adam Deveril returns to England upon his father’s death, where he inherits not only his father’s title (Viscount Lynton), but his father’s phenomenal amount of debt. The debt is so great that even should he sell all of his assets, he will barely be able to provide for his mother and sisters. Because of his circumstances, he also has to put aside the love of Julia Oversley, as he can’t even afford to think of marriage.
Enter Jonathan Chawleigh, a rich, vulgar merchant, who wishes his daughter Jenny to marry into the aristocracy. Adam is horrified at the idea of marrying any but the woman he loves, but he is willing to sacrifice himself to save his family and his heritage. He marries Jenny, a quiet, plain, plump young woman, whose only aim is to make him comfortable, for she doesn’t dream of him ever loving her.
After all the trials and tribulations that accompany a marriage between perfect strangers, and plenty of Julia’s dramatics, as well, Adam comes to realize that he loves Jenny, and he is better off with her. And Jenny knows this is true, that he does love her, but she can’t help wonder if he loves her as much as he loved Julia. Finally, she realizes that this love is different. This love will last.
Jo Beverley asks the question of whether theirs is a true love, and states that people have argued over this question for years. Did they have a truly happy ending, if the heroine realizes her dream (that he would love her passionately, like he loved Julia) is an impractical one?
I have always wondered why this question even exists, because what I see in the story is that what Adam felt for Julia was passion, while what he felt for Jenny was love… real, true love.
Why do I think this? To quote what the wise man Greg Boone once said, “Passion will always look like love… it will ALWAYS look like love, but it isn’t. It’s a poor, sorry excuse for REAL love.”
The world believes love is a feeling, when actually, love is an action. Love is what you do, it’s what you show someone. If someone says that they love you, and then their actions don’t back up their words, do you believe them? No, of course not. Because the action IS the expression of their love, while the words… they’re just words. They’re words we like to hear, but not if they’re false.
In Julia Oversley’s world, it’s all about her. When the man she “loves” falls on hard times, does she stand by him? Well, she says she does, but she showers him with guilt over his behavior. However, his behavior is honorable, and her selfishness doesn’t allow her to see it. Then, when he marries Jenny, Miss Oversley is still unable to act in any other way but to cause Adam pain.
In Jenny’s world, she has married a man that she cares for, but knows that he can never love her. She is plain, plump, practical, and everything that the beautiful Julia is not. But what Jenny IS is everything that Adam NEEDS. She cares for him, sees that he is comfortable, takes an interest in what he does, and doesn’t enact any Cheltenham tragedies for his benefit. She ACTS out her love for him, and eventually he comes to love her in return.
What is love?
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” –1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)
Julia was always impatient, and often unkind to Adam. She wasn’t seeking his comfort, but her own. Jenny was always patient and kind, and she tried to not be envious of Adam’s first love. She always sought Adam’s comfort over her own, and held nothing against him. She loved, trusted, and believed in her husband, and so, eventually, her husband loved her in return.
I don’t believe in love at first sight. I do believe in attraction at first sight, however. But I’ve seen how love can grow between two people, how it can grow over time, out of friendship. So many people mistake attraction for love, and then marry that person, and regret it. I’m not saying I’d recommend every one go out and get an arranged marriage, but I think we should remember that as love is an action and you can CHOOSE to love someone, whether they’re lovable or not.
Don’t depend on passion to last you through life, when only real love will do that. And when you do find someone to love and marry, on the days when you don’t FEEL like loving them, CHOOSE to do it anyway.
I already believed this, but I think Adam, Jenny, and Julia can be a good example to learn from.