Arabella: Georgette Heyer Book Club no. 16

(106 Posts)

What a glorious romp this is.

From the beginning we are told again and again how deliriously beautiful Arabella is, although in the end of course it is her character and vivacity Beaumaris falls for. We get the classic "oh I thought you'd be bored" when she's forgotten to pretend to be jaded (do any of GH's heroines remember?!) but Arabella's USP is her Heythrom heritage and good deeds - which remind me of Patience in the Nonesuch, FWIW.

I love the descriptions of family life - Heyer really throws herself into this. 11yo Harry "who had abandoned knot making in favour of trying to stand on his head, overbalanced at this moment, and fell into a heap on the floor, together with a chair, Sophia's workbox, and a handscreen, which Margaret had been painting. Beyond begging him not to be such an ape, none of his sisters censured his conduct." - and when Bertram decides to fight Harry: " 'Not in here!' shrieked his sisters with one accustomed voice."

It's just so true to life!

I have trouble reading the last quarter or so of Arabella because I find Bertram's predicament and extrication very uncomfortable. I know it's realistic, and the real-life stories of men's bankrupting their families at the gaming tables are many and horrific, so I can't bear to read it. He's eighteen and so cocksure and it's just excruciating.

Mrs Tallant is fabulous too. Although she is in the same position as eg Mrs Bennet in P&P, she is sharp and tactful and worldly. She taps up her rich brother-in-law shamelessly but sneakily, and carefully hides from the Vicar anything that would make her life complicated or which would upset or discompose him. I love the descriptions of how they are going to deceive him because his good nature and forgiveness depresses them so much ::takes notes for future reference::.

I wonder how realistic Beaumaris' descriptions are of how he is beset by fortune hunters. Of course there were more hopeful mamas and daughters than rich men (and more hopeful "financially embarrassed" men than rich women) but did GH make up the twisted ankles etc or did she find them described somewhere and shoehorn them in?

I learned about tight yellow breeches recently, which became very telling in this book. Bertram is very careful of his at the beginning; Beaumaris is far more careless of his later on and casually remarks that they are knitted. Tight yellow breeches were absolutely de rigueur but notoriously difficult or even impossible to wash. Knitwear was a brand new innovation. Once your yellow pants were grubby, or baggy, you had to throw them out, so they were a definite show of wealth.

Beaumaris shows well in the book but we see glimpses that he can be an utter arsehole. The champagne/lemonade trick is shown by Miss Blackburn and Lord Fleetwood's responses to be underhand and unkind, and when Bertram comes to play too deep Beaumaris considers utterly destroying Bertram's reputation and standing by refusing to play with him. And he could have insisted on the redemption of the vowels (assuming the other player had been over 21) which would have utterly ruined that other player but just paid for a few more pairs of yellow buckskins.

The amounts of money are quite interesting. A hundred pounds is so much to Bertram that he expects a couple of weeks in London on it, even with a few new items of clothing; fifty pounds is Arabella's entire spending money for the season, and she still has ten guineas to give to Bertram; but Bertram loses six hundred guineas in a few hours' play... Insanity.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Wed 16-Jan-13 15:26:44

Ooh, lots to think about there. I agree that Arabella shows realistically the fantastic sums staked in cards in the period. Wealthy men did indeed bankrupt themselves at a very young age, and the sums involved are pretty stark.

I'd defend Beaumaris against charges of unkindness though - he's capricious, but not mean. The champagne is the whim of a moment - when he realises that it was a mistake he introduces lemonade to rescue Arabella - it's bizarre, but it's not unkind. And he agonises over what's the kindest thing to do with Bertram - and decides that exposing him to horrific losses and then letting him off privately will be kinder than public humiliation. He could be forgiven for exasperatedly thinking that it would serve Bertram right if he were humiliated, for being such an idiot - I think that myself, and I agree that I find Bertram's predicament excruciating.

I think him capable of cruelty because he considers it. His mischief level is high, and his power is substantial. It makes one wonder how many other times he had been thoughtlessly cruel.

Unusually for a Heyer hero, I don't remotely fancy him. I didn't fancy Sale last week but he isn't a conventional Heyer hero. Is Beaumaris unloveable, or is it just me? We know more about him than Carlyon, for example, whom I liked.

LadyIsabellaWrotham Wed 16-Jan-13 16:42:05

I think he just considers the options available to him and dismisses the ones which would cause a scene as impossible. He thinks it will do Bertram good to stew on his debts overnight to teach him a lesson, which is hardheaded but probably correct.

I think he's rather attractive - I love the dandelion, and his interaction with Ulysses is very loveable.

Ulysses is a triumph - how could I have omitted him from my OP? Rather funnier to have a monologue addressed to a dog, particularly in one scene where a servant is PHSL nearby.

thewhistler Wed 16-Jan-13 17:36:45

I used not to like Arabella as a teenager but am v fond of it now. Other than The nonsuch it is really the only one that seriously deals with the social problems, and Beaumaris's transformation comes when he realises Arabella has serious morals, "something that should be discussed in every Christian lady's drawingroom". It has more religion in it too, with the letter describing going to church.

I love Beaumaris for his sense of humour, recently used his response to Poodle Byng, and Horace is his favourite poet which is a way to my heart. But I don't find him attractive in the same way I find Avon and Damerel, perhaps because he is not enough of a rake to begin with. And I do find him condescending to Arabella in the final scene, especially when he is talking about her family and her mother not being surprised about what was happening.

It is the humour that makes.it a real favourite.

I love the humour in Arabella's response to "don't let Master Robert keep you out of your bed". The idea of his prissy Aunt Caroline knitting his unmentionables is great. Ulysses is a triumph. I'm not so keen on Leaky Peg because it seems to be trying too hard, but there is humour in Arabella's responses to Beaumaris' offer to take Jemmy, " what will you do with him?" And saying it is right not to tell untruths to children , when it is just about horses' colours. There is a whisper of humour in how Arabella is described, more than about other heroines who are usually played straight. GH knows she is absurd but is.fundamentally a very attractive young woman.

I also enjoy the awful younger sister, with an earache. I just don't have much patience with the sub plot.

I love the family scenes.

MooncupGoddess Wed 16-Jan-13 18:04:02

In my younger days I couldn't bear Arabella, because I found her lie to Beaumaris about having a fortune followed by her terror of being found out too painful. I am less sensitive now though and like thewhistler am v fond of it.

Lady Bridlington is a classic GH character with her apparently kind but actually selfish sensitivity to other people's suffering. Lord Bridlington and his pompous self-satisfaction also familiar (isn't he reused as that very tedious chap in The Grand Sophy?).

Beaumaris is supposed to be an arse to begin with but actually (unlike Horatia!) I don't think that comes across in the text at all. He's a bit petulant to begin with but no worse, and melts very quickly when exposed to Arabella's charms and natural goodness. Arabella is a delight, of course, and the only GH character I can think of with two living and functional parents. (Charles Rivenhall has two living parents, but his father is totally useless - can anyone think of any others?)

Surely the parents don't count if they're absent for the vast, vast majority of the novel? Parents are always absent in literature. To quote pulp fiction, Ana Steele is away from hers; Hogwarts is a boarding school with dreadful staff:pupil ratios; Bella lives with her frequently absent father. Adults who might actually helpfully give one advice are plot killers!

I think perhaps my non-fancying of Beaumaris and my observation of his bad character (before reform) are related, but I don't know which is the chicken and which the egg, and I don't believe he is actually reformed. I think he will continue to he cutting and witty and it will take all Arabella's moralising to rein him in.

HumphreyCobbler Wed 16-Jan-13 19:32:44

I don't fancy him either. I like the fact that he is clever though, and don't find him too mean a character to like.

I too love the scenes of family life, and I regret GH doesn't show us the visit Beaumaris made to the household (although I realise it would spoil the reveal).

The bit I don't like it the scene at the beginning where the deception about the inheritance begins, I find it painful!

I think Freddie Standon's parents are both around..... Lord & Lady Isherwood / Iverwood - whatever their title is.

<makes mental note to return with something more useful to add to the deabte>

thewhistler Wed 16-Jan-13 21:46:06

And how about Vidal? Admittedly they are not written to as much as Arabella's mother, but they are around.

thewhistler Wed 16-Jan-13 21:50:44

I think Beaumaris transformed by Arabella will become Sir Waldo. She won't put up with any nonsense from boys or men, because she has been trained to deal with her brothers.

Does any one else like the bit where they go through the.attic? As do Elinor and miss Beccles. I love that bit, shades of dressing up boxes.

This was my very first GH book that I read years ago & it's still one of my favourites.

I love the 'it was beyond laughter so they sat respectfully silent' line, me & my brother use it frequently!

LadyDamerel Wed 16-Jan-13 22:00:55

The champagne/lemonade trick is shown by Miss Blackburn and Lord Fleetwood's responses to be underhand and unkind. I have always read this as chivalry on his part. He's realised Arabella is not used to it, so for her sake he changes it, rather than letting her become drunk but Miss Blackburn and Lord Fleetwood don't have the same perspicacity.

Will go and read the rest now! Just wanted to post that thought before I forgot it.

MooncupGoddess Wed 16-Jan-13 22:02:59

Lord and Lady Legerwood! Of course, and Justin and Leonie obviously. And I seem to recall Drusilla's parents are alive but off being literary with William Godwin et al. Maybe there are more than I thought.

I love the attic section with the grey hair powder and the lustring sack. I'm sure we've all been through our parents' old clothes (1970s atrocities in my case) and laughed at them.

yes, that's always how I've read it, how is it unkind and underhand?

LadyDamerel Wed 16-Jan-13 22:13:42

I also don't think he considers destroying Bertram's reputation, I think he is in a quandary because he knows Bertram is in trouble and wants to prevent him from getting in any deeper but the only way of doing that is to refuse to let him play, with the consequences you mention. I see it as him wanting to help Bertram but just not being able to see how, without humiliating him.

I'm going to re-read those two scenes now, just to see if my affection for Beaumaris is blinding me to his faults...

CaseyShraeger Wed 16-Jan-13 22:41:28

Yes, what LadyDamerel says. It's not that he's sitting there thinking "Now, shall I destroy Bertram's reputation...?" but rather "How the hell am I going to stop him bankrupting himself and his family?" -- and the option that would most easily and quickly curtail his losses but humiliate him in public is quickly dismissed. And what she says about the champagne, too -- far from showing cruelty I've always taken that as the first sign that Beaumaris has a kind heart under the necessary froideur .

LadyDamerel Wed 16-Jan-13 22:43:39

Right, after the overheard conversation between Mr Beaumaris and Lord Fleetwood and Arabella's fib that she was an heiress, Mr Beaumaris looks at her through his quizzing glass in an attempt to quell her. Arabella lifts her chin and stares straight back, which surprises Beaumaris because girls/women were usually more coquettish in their response to him.

But Mr Beaumaris saw that there was a decidedly militant sparkle in this lady's eye, and his interest, at first tickled, was now fairly caught. Even that early on in their acquaintance, he's seeing beyond her outward beauty to the personality underneath and realises that there is something there which is beyond the ordinary.

The lines that stand out for me in the champagne incident are: Arabella, having already cast discretion to the winds, allowed her glass to be filled and sipped her way distastefully through it. It had a pleasantly exhilarating effect on her then Arabella, embarking recklessly on her second glass of champagne...

A man of the town like Beaumaris would have spotted quite quickly that she was becoming tipsy and he is sparing her that. It appears that Miss Blackburn realises that because she found herself unable to form a correct judgement of her host. To be plunged from a conviction that he was truly gentlemanlike (his hospitality of them) to a shocked realisation that he was nothing but a coxcomb, (after his ridiculous conversation with Fleetwood) and then back again, quite overset the poor little lady. So she is recognising that he's done it from a sense of chivalry, not malice.

I suspect Fleetwood is just too dim to realise why, but at least he has the common sense to stay quiet - Beaumaris is glaring at him so he doesn't blurt anything out and embarrass Arabella.

Personally I love Beaumaris. I love the way he is with Arabella, how he takes on Jem and then Ulysses despite the acquisition of both being against his better judgement. I think his eternal hope of her telling him the truth of her own volition is endearing and his visit to the Parsonage, his rescue of Bertram and his taking Arabella to his grandmother's is all further evidence of his all round loveliness! I think he is developed much more than her previous heroes; we hear his 'voice' a lot more than we have of many of the earlier novels.

For me, that is why her straightforward romances work much better, because she has time and space to develop all the characters in detail, rather than them taking a back seat to the mystery.

Ah, ok. I missed the "and back again" <irony> although so does Arabella. She lifts her chin at him again next time he offers her a drink.

So our conclusion is that all a good poor girl needs is a rich man with the potential to be good; and all a rich-and-famous man needs is a girl who doesn't know who he is? hmm

CaseyShraeger Wed 16-Jan-13 22:57:00

I don't think it's that she doesn't know who he is so much as that she expects him to be kind and good-hearted (although I suppose that's not knowing who he is in a way), and so he rises to her expectations, and at the same time Arabella rises to (although also subverts) the expectations implicit in being the toast of society (which Beaumaris has finagled her into). Perhaps the conclusion is that being taken out of your comfort zone can be character-building?

MooncupGoddess Wed 16-Jan-13 22:57:19

Yes, I agree with all Lady Damerel's interpretations there. Also about readers seeing a lot of the action through Mr Beaumaris' eyes (as we do through Gilly's eyes in The Foundling). It really humanises the heroes.

edam Wed 16-Jan-13 23:08:56

oh, I'm glad the thread has shown Robert is A Good Egg because I am very fond of him. I do think he's a decent cove; selfish, bored, over-indulged and cynical but Arabella rescues him from all that.

I do like the nods to social history and morality - rescuing the poor chimney sweep's boy. And Poodle Byng - very pleasing use of a real person as a character.

I often think Heyer is more interested in, and has considerably more affection for, young men/boys than 'romance' - she draws Bertram and his ilk so well. Also shows in her detective fiction.

The chimney sweep won us a pub quiz once.

The tie breaker question was something about what year had it been made illegal to send sweeps up chimneys; I'd been reading Arabella that week and guessed by adding ten years to the date it is set; we won a bottle of good wine.

::fond memories::

LadyDamerel Wed 16-Jan-13 23:16:46

The Nonesuch Club Incident definitely shows him in a good light, imo. He sees Bertram and Chuffy walk in but everyone in the room is either involved in the faro game over which he is presiding or playing hazard. The only one who isn't is Lord Petersham who is deep in thought and won't be of any use. Damn Petersham! Thought Mr Beaumaris, on the horns of a dilemma. Fleetwood and Warkworth then look to Beaumaris to see what he is going to do about these two unknowns. One blighting word from him, and the stranger would have nothing to do but bow himself out with what dignity he could muster. There was the rub: the boy would be unbearably humiliated, and one could not trust that young fool, Wivenhoe, to smooth over the rebuff. He would be far more likely to kick up a dust over the exclusion of one of his friends, placing the unhappy Bertram in a still more intolerable position.

His concern all the way through that paragraph appears to be for Bertram's position and how he can best serve him. The way the humiliation is described as 'unbearable'; that Wivenhoe would make it more 'intolerable'; the use of 'there was the rub'; it would be an easy thing for him to do but he doesn't like what the consequences of it would be on Bertram so he has to make a split second decision.

As the play begins he starts to realise the extent of Bertram's troubles and wonders what possessed Wivenhoe to bring him to such a high rolling club, then he faces another dilemma of whether or not to accept Bertram's vowels, which he does; again, to spare Bertram any embarrassment.

He then has the third quandary of what to do about the vowels. He wants to tell Bertram that he knows they are meaningless the only use I have for his vowels is as shaving papers, but knows Bertram won't accept that so he allows him to think that he is expecting them to be paid.

Besides, the fright may do him the world of good - he knows Bertram is, at heart, a good boy. He knows from Arabella's actions that they have been raised with strict morals and and firm sense of right and wrong and he is hoping that fear will stop Bertram from going any further down the path he is on.

All of it just tells me that he has Bertram's interests most to heart and he is doing his best to extricate him from the situation he is in with as little damage to Bertram as possible.

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