Heyer for Beginners — The Reluctant Widow (1946)

Well, this one was not quite up to the Regency standard set by Friday’s Child, for me, but I still enjoyed its adventurous spirit, and the frustrated — and often frustrating — repartee between Elinor, the reluctant widow of the title, and Lord Carlyon, the man who made her so.

The Marriage of Convenience trope is a popular one in romance, of course, and Heyer has used it to great effect in the past, but it is very interesting to see it used here in a very different way.

If nothing else, this one gets high marks for originality. In that regard, anyway. (See below.)

I also quite enjoyed the farcical Gothic-esque mystery plot, with Elinor drawn into a dastardly cousin-in-law’s dreadful plot, and with her new house — which she earned through a hasty marriage to a dying man, more power to her — seemingly overrun with visitors at all hours of the day and night.

Her tangles with Carlyon are reminiscent of Max and Deb in Faro’s Daughter, the way he is so dictatorial and unfair while she is so determined and unfazed. Carlyon’s young brother, the delightful Nicky, and his dog Bouncer quite steal the show, and the smooth, silk-clad villain is the most sinister and compelling since The Talisman Ring‘s similarly related Pink of the Ton.

There are also some missing government papers. Because of course there are.

In all, this one is… pretty good. It’s… it’s alright. Not the best, not the funniest, definitely not the most romantic, since Elinor and Carlyon spend most of the book not actually talking to each other or even in the same house, let alone the same room. But it is a thoroughly enjoyable, if largely forgettable, story that I am perfectly happy to have read, and would read again.

Why on earth this should be the only English-language film adaptation of Heyer’s work — back in 1950 — I do not at all know. According to our Rachel in Heyer Society, that film is… not as bad as you might think it is.

I’m off to watch it now. I’ll let you know if I agree.


Maura Tan was born in Zanzibar, grew up in Morocco and lives in Singapore, where she is currently studying for her third degree in Contemporary Literature—when not writing reviews for Romantic Intentions Quarterly and eating her bodyweight in durian.