Early this month, a lingering illness drove me to my keeper shelf, from which I pulled out—an old $.95 paperback edition of Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract. As I read, I started thinking about a question I’m often asked by readers—Where do you get your ideas?
Heyer leaves clear clues about her sources, one of which is my own favorite source—Jane Austen! Heyer has the heroine of her book read Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and prefer that novel to more “romantic” works by other writers. Jenny Chawleigh prefers Austen because Austen writes about “quite ordinary, real persons and not about pirate chiefs, or pashas, and nobody kills anyone.”
I, too, write “Austen-inspired” romance, and what I mean by that is exactly what Heyer does. Heyer, uses the same elements that Austen uses to tell a story of her own—sisters, difficult parents, marrying for love or money, and opposing personality types.
And Heyer writes about the most fundamental decisions Austen characters have to make—how to behave toward family and friends in difficult circumstances!
In A Civil Contract two school friends, sisters of a kind, fall in love with the same penniless young lord. One of the two, Julia, has the “sensibility” prized by Marianne Dashwood in Austen’s novel. She’s full of romantic ideas, assumes that her perfect match is a man who thinks exactly as she does, has very little practicality, and feels herself to be most genuine when she’s under the sway of her emotions. The other young woman, Jenny, is an "Elinor," who has a firm step and does not allow herself any flights of emotion or fancy, but who loves deeply, irrevocably, and silently—only asking to promote the real happiness of the man she loves even if he loves another.
The core of the novel is the exploration of each woman’s relationship to Captain Adam Deveril, a viscount and a wounded hero of the Peninsular War, who returns to England upon his father’s death to discover himself financially ruined. He now knows that he can never marry his first love, Julia. To marry for love would be to ruin himself, his prospective bride, and his youngest sister, and to lose forever the estate he calls home.
He “sacrifices” himself to wed plain Jenny because her father is a rich merchant willing to help Adam recover financially in exchange for elevating Jenny into highest society. Adam accepts the bargain with no expectation of ever loving his plain, plump, prosaic wife. But the plot keeps bringing Adam, Julia, and Jenny together in ways that let Adam see the difference between an unselfish love that only desires the other person’s happiness and a selfish love that desires one’s own emotional gratification.
The love story between Adam and Jenny unfolds exactly where all of Austen’s love stories unfold—not on a desert island or a pirate ship—but in the midst of family and friends. And that’s just where I like to put my lovers, too. Read on to hear about a giveaway.
My Austen-inspired romance, The Loner, takes the elements of Austen’s most romantic novel Persuasion, and translates them into a contemporary California setting. Will Sloan is my “Captain Wentworth,” a former nobody, now a new billionaire. He is back in L.A., land of palm-lined drives and fiery sunsets. His friends urge him to jump into the hot L.A. dating scene, but a chance encounter at a school reunion revives a powerful past love. He’s never forgotten Annie James, but blames her for turning down his youthful proposal. This time around, he swears he’ll do the walking out. Annie James is my “Anne Elliot.” Her sisters despair that Annie will ever find a husband, but this time around when Will sees Annie interacting with family and friends, he recognizes her spirit and the toughness under her sweet exterior and finds her irresistible.
I’d love to send a print copy of The Loner to one lucky commenter, so tell me about a favorite from your keeper shelf or a favorite Austen book of yours.