Although Georgette Heyer usually makes her heroines stunningly beautiful, even the less attractive ones have some refinement, elegance or intelligence that reconciles you to them, but in A Civil Contract the heroine has no such qualities - and yet, you can't help but like her. Jenny is plump, plain, short, with a square face and has no idea how to act in high society, but throughout the novel we see her acting for others. Not in a sacrificing sort of way, but with true interest in others and with an honesty other characters seem to lack (I was even annoyed at Adam, the hero, many times). Adam himself realizes her worth but can't help but be disgusted by her vulgar father and the position he is forced into: he must marry for money to save his estate from ruin, and in the process he has to give up the woman he loves. I didn't have much sympathy for him (maybe that was unnatural of me)!
I found this novel much better than Venetia or The Unknown Ajax, because of the simplicity and truthfulness portrayed in matters of love. Jenny is under no illusion when she marries Adam - she knows he doesn't love her, but she can't help it if she is in love with him! The knowledge that she is plain and commonplace doesn't hurt as much as the truth of Adam's feelings both towards her and Julia, the woman he really loves. She tries to hide herself behind the wall of insensibility, but for how long can anyone bear indifference from the person they love? Jenny finds it harder and harder to hide her true feelings, and the novel didn't end on a high note (as I had half hoped) but in the more comfortable knowledge that they bore each other a sustaining and long lasting love. And given that I was disappointed, I still enjoyed the novel. I was just the slightest bit disappointed in the hero; something which has never happened in a Georgette Heyer novel before!!