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.

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 18-Jan-13 23:43:42

Almost certainly Sudeley Museum of Childhood? DS2 panicked half way up that chimney and DH had to follow him and rescue him - I did wonder if either would be seen again!

LeonieDeSainteVire Fri 18-Jan-13 23:45:26

Aargh, Sudbury not Sudeley, which is a different place altogether.

mackerella Sat 19-Jan-13 00:29:18

Couple more good euphemisms for pregnancy, and then I'll shut up about it! Meg Buckhaven (Cotillion) is "expecting an interesting event in the autumn", and Abigail Wendover's sister is just about to "present Sir Francis with a fourth ^petit paquet^" - not sure I'd want to use the latter phrase, though, as it manages to be both twee and obscure!

thewhistler Sat 19-Jan-13 00:31:59

Mackerella, yes, but an interesting thought. But what about The Daisy Chain, IIRC?

MooncupGoddess Sat 19-Jan-13 14:37:08

What about The Daisy Chain, thewhistler? Are we talking coy 19th-century references to pregnancy or attitudes to social reform, both of which I seem to remember make an appearance?

I had vaguely thought Arabella was a bit anachronistic in her social concerns - I think of that sort of thing beginning in a big way in the 1830s (cf Oliver Twist, then Mary Barton a few years later). In fact though it turns out there was a major parliamentary report about the awful conditions of chimney sweeps and the dangers to the boys' health in 1817, which is about when Arabella is set - and perhaps explains her knowledge of the related laws which she quotes to Grimes. (I imagine her father would have read about the report in the newspaper and discussed it at the dinner table for the improvement of his offsprings' social consciences.)

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimney_sweep

mackerella - if a celebrity doctor advises you to follow a strict Reducing Regime, just say no, OK?

mackerella Sat 19-Jan-13 16:16:36

Certainly not, mooncup, if "reducing" here is meant as the opposite of "increasing" (eek)! If not, then be assured that I shall lose the baby weight by fashionably banting - I believe Byron used to eat boiled potatoes and vinegar for this purpose.

mackerella Sat 19-Jan-13 16:23:24

Oh, diet fail there, as Wikipedia tells me that Banting's Letter on Corpulence wasn't published until the 1860s. It will have to be the Reducing Regime, then!

MooncupGoddess Sat 19-Jan-13 17:23:52

Ah yes, it's Venetia's aunt who is following Byron's boiled potato and vinegar diet, isn't it. Ugh!!

I think Dr Croft's advice is aimed at not putting on too much weight in pregnancy... I just remember that poor Jenny has to survive on a piece of toast all day, faints as a result and has to be revived by having burning feathers waved under her nose. We can have a good chat about Regency attitudes towards pregnancy when A Civil Contract comes round.

thewhistler Sun 20-Jan-13 13:59:53

Mooncup, it was the social reform side. Have just bought it on kindle so will reread. Had forgotten refs to pregnancy.

Have also just bought the annals of allmacks, any one read? And a book about the Georgian princesses.

edam Sun 20-Jan-13 14:14:43

Leonie, thanks for remind me, it was indeed Sudbury. Arf at your dh having to climb up - although I'm glad to know there's enough room for grown ups to rescue small children!

Can anyone recommend good books that fellow Heyer fans might enjoy? Obv. no-one else can write regency romances like Georgette so I'm not looking for them. But a sort of Amazon 'people who bought X also bought Y' thing?

If anyone enjoys detective fiction (thinking of Heyer's sideline) then there's a newish series set in Norfolk with an archaeologist heroine that I'm enjoying. By Elly Griffiths and pub. by Quercus. A Room Full of Bones is one, think the first might have been The House At Sea's End.

edam Sun 20-Jan-13 14:15:16

remindING darn phone!

LeonieDeSainteVire Sun 20-Jan-13 15:23:25

It was Dr Croft's reducing diet that may have killed Princess Charlotte and her baby IIRC. I think that's why GH has him in Civil Contract. Although I think Charlotte had a very big baby so maybe it was something like gestational diabetes (I'm making wild guesses here!). However, starving pregnant women is clearly not a good thing.

I'm interested in the issue of when the dire situation of chimney sweeps became public knowledge. When Arabella rescues Jemmy, Lord Fleetwood says 'Shocking brutes, some of these chimney-sweeps! Ought to be sent to gaol!' thus implying the onditions in which these boys worked were common knowledge even if they didn't cause much lost sleep! However, that could of course be anachronistic, as has been said GH was writing from a time when everyone knew going up chimneys to be bad! But although the chimney sweepers act which banned climbing boys wasn't passed until 1875 it seems clear that at least some people had been trying to regulate or stop the practise for the previous 100 years.

Edam, I think the Sudbury chimney is somewhat more generous than the real thing!

Good books that GH fans like. Hmm, be interesting if there's a pattern, I do like other historical books but struggle with most other historical fiction as it tends to be a bit silly. My favourite book of last year (other than GH!) was the Venetia Murray one recommended on these threads, can't remember the title, something to do with High Society.

thewhistler Sun 20-Jan-13 17:33:01

I loved Anya Seton (was it)'s Katherine about John of Gaunt's mistress and third wife, Dunnett's Lymond series, and the DK Brosters, the Flight of the Heron, the gleam in the north, and the weepy The dark mile.

Doubtless all dated, though there is a group of MNrs who are Lymond fans.

I also think.Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time is a fine work.

On chimney sweepers, there was that terrible story, true but can't recall how to find it, of the little boy who was stolen and then came down in his own house to be recognised and rescued.why terrible I don't know as it has a happy ending, but so scary.

I also read Bernard Cornwell and Philippa Gregory. Once you've read Heyer, accurate period detail matters enormously.

I read one Regency novel where the heroine "tucked into" a breakfast of "blueberry pancakes and freshly squeezed orange juice". In London, in 1810. No she fucking didn't. IIRC I threw the book across the room before returning it to the library and expunging the author's name from my brain. angry

mackerella Sun 20-Jan-13 22:19:08

I've read some dire Regency novels, and they just serve to show how different Georgette Heyer is from the rest of them! In fact, my bedtime Kindle reading at the moment is this, which is pretty pants - real Mills & Boon stuff, full of cringeworthy romantic cliches and slightly anachronistic language. It's much better than most but still not a patch on GH. I only bought it because it was in the Twelve Days of Kindle sale, and I'd previously read Mr Darcy's Diary by the same author, and remembered it as being mildly amusing - but I think I must have misremembered!

Re the blueberry pancakes and freshly squeezed orange juice: I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss things that sound ludicrously anachronistic (although I'm not sure about these particular items). 10 years ago, the British Museum had an exhibition called (I think) London 1753, which gave a full social history of London in, er, 1753. Among the displays were contemporary menus and shipping import records that showed a brisk trade in olives, spaghetti and parmesan cheese - not necessarily what you imagine John Bull eating at home!

In Cranford, which was set somewhat later but was on tv while I was reading the execrable novel, a single orange was a major plot point as a luxury item, eaten whole with ceremony. The idea of squeezing half a dozen as a drink for a private breakfast would have been just nuts.

Blueberries weren't even introduced into the UK until a century later, and they wouldn't have been imported from America fresh.

So I'm pretty sure about those particular items. Pancakes less specifically I would probably have raised an eyebrow at but been able to ignore; but such a demonstrably ludicrous anachronism, on top of hugely unlikely language and derisory plot, was The Last Straw.

Like I say, spoilt by Heyer, Cornwell et al. who do serious amounts of research and only give detail if it is backed up by contemporary sources. wink

edam Sun 20-Jan-13 23:06:49

Interesting suggestions. Anyone who's interested in social history might like an exhibition that's coming up at the Foundling Museum shortly - looking at the tokens mothers left for their children. Seems the buttons and keepsakes weren't actually keepsakes but were tokens of identity, to be used if the mother ever had the opportunity to claim her child- that's why they stayed in the possession of the Foundling Museum rather than being given to the children.

Leonie grin yes indeed, I meant 'the fake chimney at Sudbury is big enough', I don't imagine real 18th Century and earlier chimneys were big enough for adults to climb!

MooncupGoddess Sun 20-Jan-13 23:46:13

Ah, I've seen some of those tokens in an earlier Foundling Museum exhibition. They are terribly moving, even to a flint-hearted cynic like me.

Last night I found myself in the Tom Cribb pub off Haymarket - scene of Cribb's boxing saloon, where so many of our heros drop in for a bout with Jackson and are described as 'stripping to advantage' or some similarly snigger-worthy phrase. There is lots of boxing memorabilia - all rather fun.

I have really enjoyed M M Bennetts - two books set during the Napolonic wars and both, I think, well researched and true to the time. Of Honest Fame is a spy drama and May 1812 is more domestically set and with more of a romance edge - but nothing, thank the Lord, like the gawd-awful AMerican Regency stuff.

The other author I like, although more fluffy than M M Bennetts is Stella Riley who has republished her stuff for Kindle. She has a good touch for her historical period and the relationship elements aren't the main focus of the novels.
The Marigold Chain is mid 17th century, A Splendid Defiance is Cavalier & Roundheads whilst The Parfit Knight and The Mesalliance are more traditional Heyer territory - albeit Georgian rather than Regency.

LeonieDeSainteVire Mon 21-Jan-13 19:35:57

I shall add the Foundling Museum and the Tom Cribb pub to my list of places to visit if I ever make it to the metropolis minus small fry.

Which reminds me, I'm visiting Bath soon without said small fry, which GH places must I be sure not to miss? (DH is gonna love me!)

RillaBlythe Mon 21-Jan-13 20:49:59

has anyone mentioned Aristocrats by Stella Tillyard? It's not fiction but it is incredibly readable. In getting that link I saw she has written a novel set during the Peninsular War that I might try.

thewhistler Tue 22-Jan-13 15:17:36

Leonie, if you get to the Great Wen, look in st the now horrid gift shop at the top of the Haymarket which used to be Freyburg and Tryers until 20 years ago, where worth did not get his snuff but others did. And there is a site on the blackfriars road where mrndoza was based. But the Burlington arcade is really the best.

Gosh. Well, obv the pump room and the slipper bath. You can see the latter from the wonderful la run so inexpensive spa, Thermae.

Royal crescent, Laura place and I think camden place. Stand on the bridge.

Oh my. To be without fry.

thewhistler Tue 22-Jan-13 15:20:07

Rilla, I found it fascinating and infuriating. But yes, v readable. Was it her or who was it who did a biog of Georgiana Duchess if Devonshire? That was ok too. And someone else the Brummell one.

LeonieDeSainteVire Tue 22-Jan-13 16:22:16

The slipper bath confused thewhistler? Don't know about that?

I enjoyed the Arisocrats too, years since I read it though. Amanda Foreman wrote Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire which I much enjoyed but the film less so. I also really liked Alison Weir's Eleanor of Aquitaine and slightly less so her biography of Katherine Swynford (but nothing can touch Anya Seton's romantic effort) she's very prolific but I haven't read any other of hers.

I read long ago all Anya Seton's novels, they vary a lot but are all entertaining. I also enjoyed Sharon Penman, and Dorothy Dunnett, but not the Lymond ones, the other series. Found them very lengthy and convoluted though! In my teens I read a lot of very romantic and silly historical fiction which I wouldn't touch now but Katherine remains a favourite along with one about Lucy Walters, Charles II's first mistress but the title escapes me now.

LeonieDeSainteVire Tue 22-Jan-13 16:27:48

The Lucy Walters/Waters book is The Child From The Sea by Elizabeth Goudge of all people! I love Elizabeth Goudge though! It is fiction rather than history though but GH and EG must be pretty much contemporaneous so an interesting comparison maybe?

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