I’ve been seeing Georgette Heyer’s name everywhere, usually in connection to them good ol’ days of romance. I’ve never wanted to read her—until I read The Fiction Class by Susan Breen, in which the narrator is named after a heroine of a Heyer novel. And so I immediately put Arabella on my To-Read list. Ah, reading begets reading.
When the Classics Circuit sent out a call for participants to the Heyer tour, I figured this was as good a time as any to try the author out.
The novel opens in a rather Austen-ish, Alcott-ish setting: the family by the hearth, all familial and loving and tittering and good-natured squabbling all around. Of course there’s a ball of some kind. Of course they are talking about arrangements. Of course my eyes glazed over several times. Heh. The Tallants are not that well-off, and so when Arabella’s godmother sends for her to be a companion—complete with a debut to society—it’s good fortune indeed. And then our Arabella meets Mr. Beaumaris, and a comedy of errors ensues. Not to mention a romance borne out of the threat of Big Scandal. [And that was my pathetic excuse for a synopsis. Me and summaries, we don't get along. Anyhoo.]
The first several pages of the story made me reluctant to keep on with the story. It seems I don’t have patience for the set-up of the not-quite-poor country miss preparing for her venture into society. But it’s with the introduction of Mr. Beaumaris that Arabella as character is formed.
It’s classic meet-up: Arabella’s coach meets with an accident and she seeks shelter with the estate of Mr. Beaumaris (er, hunting-box, or whatever). Of course, Mr. Beaumaris thinks she’s a fortune hunter and treats her with “reluctant civility” from the moment they meet. This, of course, riles our Arabella. And here is where Arabella finally shows some spunk: she lies. She’s an heiress, she says. Take that, Scandal! And exclamation points!
“Alas!” said Arabella, “I am fabulously wealthy! It is the greatest mortification to me! You can have no notion!”
Our heroine’s got a warped sense of humor, if only because she gives as good as she got. She mocks Mr. Beaumaris—whom a friend dubs as the Arbiter of Fashion—in faux-naïve speeches:
Miss Tallant, meanwhile, had perceived an opportunity to gratify her most pressing desire, which was to snub her host beyond possibility of his recovery, “Arbiter of Fashion?” she said, in a blank voice. “You cannot, surely, mean one of the dandy-set? I had thought—Oh, I beg your pardon! I expect that in London that is quite as important as being a great soldier, or a statesman, or—or some such thing!”
Arabella’s a strong heroine—never simpering, never overtly stubborn. And I grew fond of Beaumaris, the way I’ve always grown fond of prejudiced gentry who can’t help themselves. Hah.
And then. And then, well, I abandoned Arabella. Around the time our heroine was launched. Sigh. It was the wrong book at the wrong time.
If you guys have stuck with me for some time now, you’d know that I am sadly lacking in Austen-ate literature. I even swore off Pride and Prejudice, at least for the near future. I’ve never been comfortable with the setting, the diction. And the pacing of these Regency romances. That is, I suppose I’ve been preconditioned with reading contemporary novelists writing on Regency romances, that to go back to the so-called undiluted source. That’s a flaw in many circles, I am sure. But, well, I just couldn’t trudge on. And I recognized the book’s merit—I didn’t want to keep on reading it halfheartedly.
I’ve got this theory that the right format works as well. See, my copy of Arabella is an e-book. Pride and Prejudice was an e-book as well. And it just didn’t feel right that I read these beautiful books in digital format. For Austen and Heyer, I need a physical book. There’s too much disconnect with the content and the meta-form, so to speak. [So, yes, eventually, I’ll get a “real” book.]
That’s it. Sorry, Miss Heyer. I was really ready to be a fan. Until next time!