“You may depend upon it that I shall take care to be seen every now and then in your company, for I cannot be so sure of my credit as to run the risk of having it said that the Nonpareil has begun to find me a dead bore!”
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Arrow Books (Random House)
Date of Publication: 2004
There are many things to love about Georgette Heyer’s novels. Her wit, her accuracy in describing eras of the past, her characters. Even though she writes romances, her works have quality. They are not your usual “no plot, no originality, just sighing and swooning” romance novels. If they were, I would keep clear of them.
Arabella is a perfect example of Heyer’s mastery. The dialogues are witty, partly following the tradition set by Jane Austen – partly original Heyer humour.
“And if I may say so without offence, Painswick,” retorted Mr Beaumaris, “you are being foolish beyond permission! I will readily own that you keep my clothes in excellent order – I should not continue to bear with you, if you did not – and that the secret of imparting a gloss to my Hessians, which you so jealously guard, makes you not wholly undeserving of the extortionate wage I pay you; but if you imagine that I am unable to dress myself creditably without your assistance, your powers of self-deception must be greater than even I was aware of!”
Sometimes the plot is indeed a bit predictable, based on one’s expectations about a happy ending in case of a romance, but it doesn’t really destroy the reading experience, it rather enables one to pay attention to the language.
Love is naturally the main theme of the novel, but Arabella is about much more than that! It may not contain Dickensian descriptions yet it doesn’t lack attention for the social issues of the time. A climbing boy, an abused dog (one cannot help loving Ulysses), the dangers of gambling – these all appear in the story (their chief role, though, is to prove the kind-heartedness of the heroine and the hidden goodness of the hero).
Mr Beaumaris (and not Beaumarais, as I was originally tempted to pronounce it) is a typical Heyer hero: he is handsome, well-dressed, cynical and wealthy. Yet he is a gentleman (unlike Vidal in Devil’s Cub), and he definitely knows how to earn a woman’s gratitude: by withdrawing after being refused.
“He said gently: ‘I am not, I hope, such a coxcomb as to distress you by repeated solicitations, Miss Tallant, but you may believe that I am still of the same mind as I was when I made you an offer. If your sentiments should undergo a change, one word – one look! – would be sufficient to apprise me of it.’ She lifted her hand in a gesture imploring his silence. ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘I shall say no more on that head. But if you should stand in need of a friend at any time, let me assure you that you may depend upon me.’”
Arabella Tallant is not less likeable a character. Her fiery temper is adorable, her retorts amusing and her good heart enviable. Yet, and this is the only thing I shall ever say against her, she is rendered a bit too childish and weak in the end. Somehow Heyer’s independent, fiery females often seem insignificant beside the hero – not that I do not approve of a flattering image of Mr Beaumaris, but I would have Arabella less child-like and fallible.
“I hope, ma’am – indeed, I know! […] that not one of Papa’s children would pass by a fellow-creature in distress!’
Beside that, there are allusions to the inablity of foreigners. It should appear that they are unable to manage children and they dislike animals. While I’m quite sure that these statements are not true (I, for one, LOVE animals, and sadly enough, I am certain that I have not a drop of British blood in my veins), they made me smile, for they seemed to be so typically British remarks. (At least, having seen Yes, Minister and other British series would lead me to believe so.)
One more passage I enjoyed, was Arabella’s opinion over one of her suitors:
“He is the most odious little man, and seems to think he has only to persevere to make me receive his advances with complaisance!”
It reminded me of a type of man I’ve had the misfortune to encounter – the type I’d label as “Mr Collins incarnation.”
Anyway, I recommend Arabella to anyone who likes to read novels set during the Regency era (and I hope that some of you do, for there shall be some more reviews of Heyer novels 😉 ).
Have you read anything by Georgette Heyer? Or anything set in this era?
Feel free to leave a comment below.