Valentine’s Day Book Review of Arabella, by Georgette Heyer

Arabella was published in 1949

I read this book and wrote the review in February of 2004, “in honor of Valentine’s Day”.

Strangely, I am having a similar experience to the last novel I read, Agnes Grey. I am about half way through Arabella, and I feel like the action has finally just begun.

Arabella is the oldest of eight children, her father a pastor who has taught them good principles, her mother (same as Agnes Grey) originally a well-to-do society girl who left her wealth behind and has never had any regrets. Arabella is very excited about the possibility of going to London and being introduced to society, with the intention of finding a “good match” of a husband, and thereby paving the way for her other sisters to find good husbands. When her godmother in London and her father agree to it, she is elated.

On the way to London, their carriage breaks down, and she chances to meet Mr. Beaumaris and his friend. She tells them that she is quite wealthy but doesn’t want anyone to know that. (This is a lie; her family aren’t starving, but they are far from wealthy.)

Where I’m at now, Arabella is quite mature and wise about the attentions shown to her, most importantly by Mr. B, as well as many, many other men. Though both believe that a match between them would be unwise, Mr. B, a sworn bachelor used to trifling with women, is beginning to realize a serious attraction to Arabelle, and vice versa.

One thing I love about Georgette Heyer’s novels is her leading men. They are typically solid, unaffected, strong, confident, decent men with a tremendous sense of humor. The author has a wry sense of humor; I love its subtlety and dryness. Last night, though my eyes were heavy, I read two extra chapters because it was so interesting and enjoyable.

I finished this book the evening of our school’s open house. I was taking my break from all the noise of work by hanging out at a bookstore nearby. I found a copy of this book and sat on the floor next to the shelf and read about a chapter, laughing outloud. Then when I got home I finished it.

What a great experience this author gives to a reader! I can count on her to write stories that make me laugh out loud and be warmed and amused by her characters and how the tangles of their relationships get untangled.

[Caution, spoiler ahead…]

Arabella has already turned down Mr. B’s proposal once, and assured him that she would let him know if she ever changed her mind. When in a panic about rescuing her brother from his financial ruin, she asks Mr. Beaumaris to marry her (planning to use her new-found fortune to pay Bertram’s debts), Mr. Beaumaris conjures up a “plan” for them to elope. Arabella, dreading the shame that she will bring upon her family, and believing that it is entirely possible that Mr. Beaumaris’s intentions toward her are improper and lascivious, agonizes over her shameful behavior, but feels she has no choice.

All this time, little Ulysses, the stray mongrel that Arabella persuaded Mr. Beaumaris to adopt, is worshipping Mr. Beaumaris. These scenes are one of the highlights of this book. Ulysses’ master speaks to him about his manners, and confides to him about his dilemmas, as in this quote:

“Mr. Beaumaris, rhythmically drawing Ulysses’ flying ear through his hand—a process which reduced Ulysses to a state of blissful idiocy—said meditatively: “It is a melancholy reflection, is it not, that at my age I can be such a fool?” Ulysses, his eyes half-closed, his senses swooning in ecstasy, gave a sigh which his god might, if he chose, interpret as one of sympathy.”

When the ever-impetuous Arabella cries on the way to their hasty marriage that she’s changed her mind and doesn’t want to elope, Mr. B calmly says, “Then we won’t elope.” Beaumaris actually takes her to his grandmother’s home, where he and Arabella confess to each other that they haven’t behaved honestly. Then he tells her that he has received her father’s consent to marry her. Arabella objects, saying that she doesn’t deserve all this goodness from him, and Beaumaris warmly and affectionately convinces her that he loves her, and, in the last line of the novel, she assures him “that his very obliging sentiments are entirely reciprocated.”

Excellent.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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