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.

LadyDamerel Wed 16-Jan-13 23:32:11

I do think he's a decent cove; selfish, bored, over-indulged and cynical but Arabella rescues him from all that.

I think a lot of her heroes are like that, and it's the heroines who make them fulfil their potential of being 'good men'.

I agree with Casey's point that it's Arabella's expectations of him that force him to change. She isn't doing it deliberately, or even consciously, but her upbringing makes her goodness so inate that he can't help but respond in kind.

It's not very far into their acquaintance that he regrets his game of making her the rage of London and starts to harbour genuine feelings for her. At their meeting at Almacks which is only their second or third meeting in London he is dancing with her, finding her shyness amusing because it is an unusual trait among the ladies of his acquaintance, and says something to make her laugh. That did make her look up, and quickly too, her face breaking into laughter. She looked so lovely, and her big eyes met his with such a frank, ingenuous expression in them that he was aware of a stir of something in his heart that was not mere amusement. He does try and suppress the feelings but her influence begins to change him relatively quickly.

That's the lovely bit about "Yes, they are nice buttons" because she's staring at his chest "minding her steps" in her First Ever Waltz, is that the bit?

Unusually GH doesn't have any hand-wringing over the age gap like she usually does. I think Arabella is 17 and Beaumaris 30 - typical, but usually there's a long "he is soooooo old" / "she is sooooo young" bit.

I think GH has woken up to the realism of non-age-matched marriages of the period. A man wasn't established enough to propose until he was 25-30, say, whereas we learn that a woman is practically on the shelf by her second Season, let alone third. A 17/30 marriage would have been more likely than a 25/26.

LadyD - go to bed! wink grin

thewhistler Thu 17-Jan-13 22:19:10

Which year was it set in, Horatia? I've recently been reading Hague's biography of Wilberforce and it is interesting to see how society changes around and because of him, which Arabella would have been part of.

mackerella Thu 17-Jan-13 22:49:28

Hello all, I'm a bit late to the thread, but that's because I've got a raging ear infection and have been sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. Fortunately, it's being treated with high-dose antibiotics rather than by "stuffing a roasted onion into the afflicted orifice" grin

I'm still re-reading so hope to come back later with some more cogent comments. In the meantime, here are a few random thoughts:

I agree with those who think Beaumaris is being chivalrous rather than unkind during the lemonade trick. Presumably it would do rather more harm to Arabella's reputation than to his if she were known to have been drunk and barely chaperoned in the house of such a notorious womaniser - I mean, he has spent his whole adult life being pursued by Paphians and high flyers (and assumes at first that Arabella is one of them), so it would be no skin off his nose if she got hideously intoxicated on his champagne. In fact, he recognises her artlessness (and the deception?) very early on and goes to some pains to spare her further discomfort. If he's guilty of anything, I would say it is leading her on to make more and more outrageous claims just for his own amusement.

The point about absent mothers is an interesting one, and I think it goes deeper than GH just avoiding a plot killer. Somebody (Tony Tanner?) has written about the lack of alive/sensible mothers in Jane Austen's novels, and the moral implications of that for her heroines. The motherless young girl is quite a common trope in fiction of the period, and I think it is meant to tap into a number of contemporary preoccupations - about morality, education, female emancipation, rationality, etc. In an age when few women received any formal education and were instead taught by their mothers, it must have been especially important that those mothers were both available (neither dead like Anne Elliot's/Emma Woodhouse's mothers, nor distracted by the demands of caring for so many children like Catherine Morland's/Fanny Price's mothers) and capable (not ninnyhammers like Mrs Bennet and Mrs Dashwood). So many novels of this period show a young girl learning to become a woman - learning to think for herself and form her own (moral and social) judgements without prejudice - and I think that many of GH's heroines should also be seen in that context.

The point about the social concern is interesting too. Somehow, GH manages to give Arabella a social conscience without making her seem priggish - which is quite clever when you consider the dreary religiosity of so many Victorian heroines! It also seems to me from Victorian novels that this sort of concern with 'reform' was often associated with a rather low-church (lower middle class?) sort of person, although I don't get that impression from Arabella. I may be talking bollocks here, though, so please feel free to correct me! grin

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 18-Jan-13 13:45:13

Also coming a bit late to this, partly because I've been reading the novels so fast that when we get to discuss them I have to go back and reread bits to remind myself of points!

Firstly, although I always really liked this one, like MooncupGoddess I found the deception and the possibility she might be caught out so excruciating that I struggled to reread it. However, now I'm older I just don't mind it so much. I still find it quite shocking to realise just how easily Arabella could have been socially ruined had her lies come out.

My favourite bits are the very early chapters with the family, and again like MooncupGoddess I just love the scene when they are going through the clothes 'Well, it was very like a sack to be sure'. I find it a particularly well drawn portrait considering GH had no experience personally of either a large family or of sisters and yet there's a lot of warmth there.

And I agree with everything LadyD says about Robert and his motivations so I won't repeat it!

Regarding the absent mothers theme. I think it is a common literary device in order to give the character freedom of thought and action that they might not otherwise have had. I think it's also worth pointing out that many women did die young, pre modern medicine, mainly through childbirth, so probably more people grew up without parents than we would expect now.

I don't know enough about the nineteenth century social reformers to comment usefully on it but I would like to know more.

MooncupGoddess Fri 18-Jan-13 14:29:51

Bad luck re the ear infection, mackerella. Are you following Sir Hugh Thane's example in The Talisman Ring and retiring to bed with a hot toddy?

V interesting comments re motherless heroines. Most of GH's heroines seem to be working out life by themselves (albeit in Arabella's case with the aid of supporting epistles from back home) and several of them engage in behaviour that is borderline 'fast' or socially risky (e.g. Judith Taverner, Phoebe with her novel writing, Barbara Childe of course) that they just wouldn't get away with if they had a mother on hand watching out for them. There are certainly parallels with Emma Woodhouse in particular here... snubbing Miss Bates is essentially the Austen equivalent of racing to Brighton in an open curricle. So being motherless allows not just more plot latitude but more depth of character development.

Venetia of course is the classic GH novel when it comes to mother issues and it will be fun to discuss that in due course.

Would be interesting to think about attitudes to social reform in the late 18th/early 19th centuries as opposed to the Victorian worthiness we are so familiar with. The Becky scene in Arabella is very similar to the Becky scene in A Little Princess... in fact I wonder if GH was subconsciously influenced by Frances Hodgson Burnett here. Will think further.

CaseyShraeger Fri 18-Jan-13 17:09:19

mackarella, are you planning to go down with mumps when we cover The Grand Sophy ? Your dedication to evoking the atmosphere of the book is laudable...

mackerella Fri 18-Jan-13 19:45:14

...and it's just as well I missed out on the discussion of Friday's Child, otherwise I might have come down with the measles, like Isabella! Incidentally, it's notable how physically robust many of the heroines are, and how illness or indisposition is seen as primarily tiresome (all those younger brothers with broken limbs) or embarrassing (aforementioned measles and mumps). Habitual invalids are portrayed as malingerers, although many of the heroines make sensible nurses when someone is really ill.

I'd love a hot toddy, MooncupGoddess but fear that I shall have to decline as I am in an interesting condition (increasing? What's the right GH phrase?)

"promising condition"

Adam laughs at Jenny for saying she is "increasing" so I think it must be bourgeois.

And congratulations!

And congratulations!

And congratulations!

blush

::blames phone::

(is it triplets though?)

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 18-Jan-13 20:38:16

I like 'in a delicate situation' myself. They use that in Venetia IIRC. But I think 'increasing' is OK too - I seem to think GH used it about herself in a letter when she was pregnant. And Letty uses it in April Lady too in a very funny passage when she is moaning about her cousin going on about pregnancy 'You would suppose no one had ever before been in her situation'. I think we can all recognise that feeling! The most obscure phrase though has to be Dysart asking Nell 'you haven't sprained your ankle, have you?' which she, unsurprisingly takes literally. I wonder where GH got that little euphemism from.

RillaBlythe Fri 18-Jan-13 20:43:11

Hello!

LadyIsabella pointed me in the direction of this thread - I think I saw one of the earlier ones.

I read Arabella specially to come along smile It was one of my first GH, & still one of my favourite. I must be lacking in sensibility as it never really concerned me that she might be caught out in her lies, although thinking about it now it would indeed be absolute social ruin.

I'm another one who likes Beaumaris & thinks that he is a good catch. Re-reading it now I was surprised that he is only 30 - there is so much emphasis on his age & wisdom, & I suppose when I read it as an early teen 30 did seem terribly old. Not so now! I also really like the lively family scenes - GH does them very well, like in Grand Sophy & the teenage bickering in The Corinthian.

I also appreciate the fact that Beaumaris isn't one of GH's cruel & masterful heroes (like Vidal! Or the one in Regency Buck). They make me a bit uncomfortable when I read them as an adult feminist but I still fancy the pants off Vidal

Interesting about the social reform. I love Arabella in the chimney sweep scene - doesn't she say "I will not be silenced!"?. I agree with the comment about priggishness. I can think of literary depictions of 19th century reformers as boring do-gooders like the Jellabys in Bleak House, but I am not sure I can think of earlier depictions... Hmm. Of course GH is writing under the influence of our decided opinion that sending small boys up chimneys is Not Good. I always think of Blake's London when I read Arabella, because we get scenes of London poverty that we don't get in all of her books.

thewhistler Fri 18-Jan-13 20:57:10

Congratulations too. Hot toddy without the spirits is,quite nice though, 1 measure fruit juice of choice, honey, nutmeg, ginger which is the important bit to fight infection, and boiling water. Not up to Richard Wyndham's punch but not bad.

Umm, I agree about absent mothers, but disagree that Mrs Morland is really one, I think she is just forced into that to make an academic pattern.

It is pretty useless to talk about high it low church at this period because we are pre Puseyite reform. What we do have is Wesley and the non conformists, and many of them were indeed the industrialists and in some of agricultural areas though less the ones she mainly deals with, as less on large estates where they would have been expected to go to the local church and pay its tithes.

Jenny's father I would have expected to be a non conformist, especially with a name like Jonathan.

I think it's less the wording than how Jenny tells him that Adam finds funny. She is so bald in her statements, poor Jenny. She does not have the elegance of the upper classes.

Point taken about Jenny and Adam. You mean he is objecting to the "well, if you must know..." bit grin

Posted too soon.

::waves at Rilla ::

thewhistler Fri 18-Jan-13 22:44:54

Yes, absolutely, as opposed to whispering a little secret or saying with amusement and pride that he might have an heir.

thewhistler Fri 18-Jan-13 22:47:05

Rilla, welcome. BTW, I've always wanted a bronze green hat like hers.

thewhistler Fri 18-Jan-13 23:08:37

I sent a contribution on social reform in novels but it got lost. IIRC, really up to the victorians it was expressed either in the utopian novel, Rasselas or Candide, or via Ly Catherine de Burgh taken seriously, or the glimpses in the racier picaresque novels, tom Jones, Fanny hill etc. Mind you, I found Sir Charles Grandison so boring I never finished it. So might have missed things there. There are a couple of early RC novels but they are more about religious choices than social reform.

And so it was down to Hogarth in the arts earlier and Wedgwood in the applied arts, with Wilberforce and idc Cobbett.

One of the things I don't like about Arabella is the implied speech, which seems coy and GH hardly ever uses. That bit quoted above about and goodness it was like a sack rings false with the rest of the narrative standpoint and is less successful imv.

Once again, it has got a good aged person. Beaumaris's grandmother would have got on well with TTR's Silvester.

thewhistler Fri 18-Jan-13 23:09:53

Indirect not implied. Blast.brain and phone at odds.

mackerella Fri 18-Jan-13 23:18:40

Um, the comment about social reform being linked with low church people came from me, specifically in relation to Victorian (rather than Georgian/Regency) fiction - sorry if I've muddied the waters by introducing irrelevant thoughts blush. I was thinking about later social problem/condition of England/industrial novels, but those of course present a much more thoroughly worked out thesis than is intended in Arabella (where her social conscience is intended to show her character in a more appealing light to the readers of 1949 - who all took it for granted, presumably, that small boys shouldn't be forced up chimneys, so would consequently think that she was a good egg).

mackerella Fri 18-Jan-13 23:24:22

Sorry, appallingly confused sentences there blushblush and a massive x-post because I type so slowly on my phone!

edam Fri 18-Jan-13 23:27:40

ds absolutely refused to go up the chimney of the National Trust house we visited that had re-created one especially for small children to try out. I was most disappointed. Youth of today, huh, far too mollycoddled for their own good etc. etc. etc.

(Can't remember which house it was, I'm afraid, but I think it was Staffordshire and it might have something to do with Lord Lichfield.)

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