It’s official: I love Georgette Heyer. I just finished another of her Regency romances, Arabella, and was once again enchanted by her lovingly drawn characters, witty and entertaining plots, brilliant dialogue and painstaking depictions of Regency life. I even enjoyed getting on the computer every couple of chapters to look up Heyer's many colorful, often baffling, Regency expressions (although I grumbled good-naturedly to my husband about it.)
Heyer’s Cinderella story concerns the London debut of Arabella, the beautiful daughter of a Yorkshire vicar of modest means. Arabella’s titled godmother has agreed to sponsor her during the Season, and if Arabella can attract a proposal from a well-to-do bachelor, she might be able to give her seven siblings a more comfortable start in life. I could not help loving Arabella from the very first chapter. She was just so ADORABLE, with her naivety, lack of town polish and habit of getting herself into scrapes whenever her anger was aroused.
Arabella’s carriage breaks down en route to London outside of a hunting lodge belonging to Mr. Beaumaris, the “Nonpareil,” as he is known in society circles. Mr. Beaumaris is the man everyone in London imitates (he starts a dandelion craze when he wears one in his buttonhole for three days straight.) He is THE arbiter of fashion and good taste, able to launch a debutante into a brilliant Season simply by smiling at her, or to make her a wallflower if he turns his back. He is also fabulously wealthy, quite jaded and very, very bored.
When Arabella overhears Mr. Beaumaris speculating she is another scheming girl after him for his wealth, she invents a wild story (with the help of too many glasses of champagne) that she is herself a great heiress and thus uninterested in his fortune. When she arrives in London, she finds to her dismay the story has spread, and she must fight off fortune-hunting suitors of her own. Simultaneously, Mr. Beaumaris decides to amuse himself by paying a great deal of attention to Arabella, thus making her the toast of the town.
But as he gets to know this innocent, charming girl from the country, Mr. Beaumaris is surprised to find himself falling for Arabella. He is utterly enchanted by her refreshing honesty, her strong character and her determination to do what she knows is right, no matter what society might think. Before long, he is going to any lengths to win her esteem: for example, taking in and finding a trade for an ill-favored chimney sweep’s apprentice whom Arabella rescues from an abusive master. (Her incandescent rage when she confronts the cruel sweep and frightens him into giving up the boy is a joy to behold.)
One of the great delights of this novel was experiencing Mr. Beaumaris’s transformation from a complete cynic into a man in love, traced humorously through monologues directed at his dog, Ulysses (another charity case Arabella foists on him). The scenes between the dignified Mr. Beaumaris and the scruffy mutt were some of the best in the novel.
Arabella, meanwhile, develops her own feelings for Mr. Beaumaris, enjoying his company much more than that of any of her tiresomely persistent suitors. But how can his attention to her be any more to him than a diverting game? And how can she ever confess to him she is not rich at all? Arabella’s brother Bertram becomes the means toward solving her problems when he visits London with well-heeled friends and spends as if he too were affluent, and Arabella must devise a scheme to keep him out of debtor’s prison.
Arabella was a very satisfying read that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. I wish Heyer had written a sequel, as I would love to see other adventures befall these delightful characters. I can’t think of any higher praise I could give to a novel. My grade: A+.
As a postscript, I just have to share some of the Regency phrases I learned from reading this novel:
To enact a Cheltenham tragedy: To make a big deal out of nothing
Coxcomb: A vain, conceited person or a fool
To gammon: To deceive someone with nonsense or humbug
Gudgeon: A person who is easily deceived or imposed upon
On dit: Gossip
Laced mutton: A woman of easy virtue
Punting on the River Tick, swallowing a spider, getting into Queer Street: To be in debt.
Regency slang is almost as much fun to learn as Shakespearean slang!