The Convenient Marriage (audiobook)
Richard Armitage reads his third Georgette Heyer audiobook for Naxos AudioBooks, released in August 2010.
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. Seventeen year old Horatia Winwood (Horry), is short, plain, heavy-browed and has a stammer, while the thirty five 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.
The audiobook is on four CDs, with a total running time of just over five hours. It can be ordered directly from Naxos AudioBooks, either on CD or as a download. The CDs can also be ordered from Amazon UK, Amazon Canada and The Book Depository.
Sue Arnold reviewed the recording in The Guardian (14th August). She didn't comment on Richard's reading of the novel, but said of the author, "What distinguishes Georgette Heyer from that other doyenne of romantic escapism, Barbara Cartland, is her intelligence. Her heroines aren't silly, they're charming.... Heyer makes you laugh and long to be in love all over again."
More information about Georgette Heyer can be found on the Sylvester page.
The Convenient Marriage at the Naxos AudioBooks website, including links to buy the audiobook on CD or as a download, a short essay on Heyer and the novel by Roy McMillan, and also the Richard Armitage interview and excerpt from the audiobook mentioned above.
Extract from The Convenient Marriage (novel)
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