Monday, October 19, 2020

BOOK REVIEW: Arabella by Georgette Heyer

 I can’t have a Regency Romance binge without including a novel by Georgette Heyer. This time, I chose Arabella.

Arabella Tallant is the eldest daughter of The Reverend Henry Tallant, a second son and hard-working vicar in northern England. The vicar and his wife are blessed with eight children. They are gentry and, while not exactly impoverished, eight children is too many to launch into society. Therefore, Mrs. Tallant has pinned her hopes on Arabella. If she marries well, she can help bring out her sisters and support her brothers’ careers. Mrs. Tallant’s old friend, Lady Bridlington, is Arabella’s godmother and has agreed to sponsor her debut in London during the Season.

Arabella is a sensible girl, fully aware that the family’s fortunes are dependent upon her making a good match. She’s excited by the opportunity but a little unnerved by all it entails. 

She is sent off to London with a chaperone. The journey will take several days, but it’s an adventure to Arabella. She’s enjoying herself until her coach breaks down. It’s cold and rainy and her chaperone has taken a chill. Rather than await the arrival of a rental coach from the next town, which will take hours, Arabella insists on seeking succor at a house she sees close by. Her father has taken in travelers in similar positions so she sees nothing untoward in the imposition.

The owner of the house is Mr. Robert Beaumaris, a “Nonpareil,” fabulously wealthy and a favorite of the ton. He is single and thus is constantly under siege by marriageable girls and matchmaking mothers. He assumes Arabella is another girl laying a trap for him and gives voice to the disparaging assumption to his companion, a charming young lord, when he thinks she’s out of earshot. She is not.

Infuriated, Arabella accepts his reluctant dinner invitation, during which she charms the young lord but gently snubs Beaumaris. This intrigues him since he’s never been snubbed. She also pretends to be a wealthy heiress escaping to London because she’s tired of the local fortune-hunters pursuing her. She wants to be in a place where no one knows of her wealth. (This is important for the plot, but for me, it was the weakest part of the story. She didn’t have to lie about an inheritance to make her snub of Beaumaris effective. It was a bit too contrived.)

At any rate, she reaches London. Her godmother sets about introducing her around. One of the men Lady Bridlington hopes will deign to notice Arabella is Mr. Beaumaris. It turns out that the man is so much in fashion that having him accept an invitation will make any party an instant success. If he will but pay a few moments attention to a girl, her position is immediately elevated. Beaumaris does all this AND takes her out driving. Arabella shortly become the most sought-after debutante of the Season. Unfortunately, Arabella learns her popularity also has something to do with rumors of her wealth, a rumor that she inadvertently started. This thwarts any chance of eventual success because any suitor will eventually find out she has no fortune.

Also, Lady Bridlington warns her not to take Beaumaris’ attention seriously. The man is a rake. And he is out of her league. Arabella takes the warning to heart.

Beaumaris is not exactly pursuing her. He is amusing himself with ensuring her success. At least, that’s what he tells himself. But he has guessed that she isn’t wealthy and he’s curious how she’ll extricate herself from the lie. He’s enchanted by her wholesomeness and by the fact that she is not taken in by his charm. She actually brushes him off!

Things take a turn for the serious when Arabella discovers some of the disadvantaged people (and animals) in London and refuses to look the other way. First she rescues a young chimney sweep and second, a mongrel dog, each time relying on Beaumaris to find places for them after her initial altruism runs up against reality. At this point, he falls hard for her. To his dismay, even though he believes she might feel the same, she won’t trust him enough to confess her original lie. Tangled in her own web, she refuses his proposal.

Things eventually sort out. That is, Beaumaris sorts them out. He is one of those superheroes of Regency Romance who is able to fix all problems by virtue of his good sense, steadiness of character, and gobs of money. And Arabella is the innocence and light he has been missing without realizing it until he finds it.

The story is sweet and fun. There is entertaining light banter. It’s all very innocent. Even Arabella’s brother’s descent into vice is easily remedied and works to good purpose. It’s silliness, but Heyer’s novels are like comfort food.

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