Monday, 23 December 2013

'Arabella' by Georgette Heyer (1949)

Synopsis: Arabella Tallant is the oldest daughter of a poor Yorkshire clergyman. She is then invited to spend a season in London with her wealthy and socially significant godmother Lady Bridlington. Her godmother has no daughters of her own to fuss over and is eager to present Arabella into society. Arabella couldn't be more thrilled. She'll get to live in a glamorous city for a few months and hopefully she'll even find a husband there. However, on the way to London, the carriage that Arabella is travelling on breaks down outside a grand country estate. She and her companion then find themselves being obliged to ask the owner of the estate if they can seek shelter there for a few hours. The owner of the estate turns out to be Mr Robert Beaumaris. As Beaumaris is one of the most eligible bachelors in the country he's used to women making all kinds of crazy and outlandish excuses to be in his presence and is therefore not inclined to think favourably of Arabella. He assumes that Arabella has completely made up the carriage accident and is yet another silly and petty female who's only after his fortune. When Arabella accidentally overhears Beaumaris saying this to his friend Lord Fleetwood she's furious and acts on impulse. She decides to pay Beaumaris back by "letting it slip" that she's the heiress of an enormous fortune. Beaumaris doesn't believe this for a second but is greatly amused by Arabella's story and decides to go along with it. His opinion of Arabella also improves. However, Lord Fleetwood is completely taken in by Arabella's story and he spreads it like wildfire. Soon all of London believes her to be a fabulously wealthy heiress. Arabella then finds herself being pursued by every fortune-hunter in the city and is horrified. She doesn't know what to do and dreads the thought of Mr Beaumaris finding out about her deception.

This will be my last book review of 2013. Arabella is the third Georgette Heyer novel that I've read this year and I really liked it. I didn't enjoy it as much as Cotillion but I found it far more enjoyable than The Grand Sophy. The story of Arabella is quite reminiscent of both Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice but it manages not to be a rip-off of either of those books. Arabella is also charming, fun and funny. The only thing that really let the book down for me were the chapters that involved Arabella's brother Bertram. He goes to London, gambles, and loses almost all of his money. I wasn't a fan of this subplot. Bertram seemed like a total prat and I got tired of reading about his misadventures. The Bertram subplot is necessary to the story but I do wish Heyer had spent less time on it.

I really liked the heroine and the hero of this book. Arabella herself is my favourite Heyer heroine so far. She's not perfect. She's naive, she has a bit of a temper, and she makes mistakes. But her faults make her believable and she's very kind, moral and compassionate. How can you not love a girl who takes care of a sick maid, shouts at a man for whipping his horse, rescues a chimney sweep that falls into her room, and then gets Mr Beaumaris to beat up some louts that are attacking a dog?! Then there's Beaumaris. Apparently a lot of Heyer's heroines are rakes but I haven't managed to come across any of those books that feature rakish heroes just yet. Mr Beaumaris isn't an out-and-out rake. At the start of the book he's just very cynical, world-weary and jaded. As he starts to fall in love with Arabella he becomes more charming and cheerful. His conversations with Arabella are very amusing but the thing that really endeared me to his character were his conversations with his dog Ulysses. They really show off his sense of humour. I enjoyed the various ways that Beaumaris dealt with all the charity cases that Arabella kept foisting on him as well. I was a bit disappointed that Arabella didn't manage to convince him to hire the prostitute Leaky Peg as a maid in the final chapter but not disheartened. I know that Arabella will nag him about it in the future. The secondary characters in Arabella are a bit flat but the hero and the heroine more than make up for it - and I did enjoy reading about Beaumaris's very camp valet Mr Painswick. If Arabella ever gets an adaptation they should get David Walliams to play him.

Arabella is a thoroughly engaging and fun book and if you're looking for a light read then I would definitely recommend it. Georgette Heyer is no Jane Austen but I'm really enjoying her books and I look forward to reading even more of them.

Rating: 4/5


Miss Melody Muffin said...

I love this book!!!!

Georgette Heyer is one of my favorite authors. My mother introduced me to her and I have now read 1/3- 1/2 of her Regency novels.

My favorite Heyers are Frederica, The Grand Sophy, Venetia, The Talisman Ring and These Old Shades, to name just a few. Actually, I personally haven't read a single one of hers I didn't like, and many became instant favorites when I read them.

I don't think I've read Cotillion yet.... I do highly recommend Frederica. It is delightful. And it has less objectionable content than some of her other ones.

Sarah said...

This was the first ever Heyer book that I read ( it was given to me by some smart friends), and it's one of my favourites! Arabella is one of my favourite heroines, simply because she's so different from most of the other main females on Heyer's other books. : ) Thanks for reviewing this, I've re-read it so many times.

Hannah said...

Melody - Wow, you've read a looot of Heyer novels then! I'm still a newcomer when it comes to Georgette Heyer really. I've only read three of her novels so far: Cotillion, The Grand Sophy & Arabella. I wasn't too fond of The Grand Sophy. I know it's a really popular one but I didn't like the hero. But I really enjoyed Cotillion & Arabella. And I love that you've mentioned your favourite Heyer novels! Now I'll try to read them sooner than I was planning too. Yes, I've heard lots of great things about Frederica. That one seems to be a real fan favourite. I do highly recommend Cotillion. It's really funny, there are lots of great characters, and I especially love the hero. He's very unconventional. He's the kind of guy who'd usually be the hero's dimwitted best friend in a rom-com. It was very refreshing!

Sarah - Thank you! And I definitely think that Arabella would be a great introduction to Georgette Heyer, your friends were very smart :)