Friday, May 6, 2016

Belinda

Coming pretty much straight off of The Female Quixote, which was nigh on unreadable due to antiquated dialogue and constant references to romance novels of the 17th century, I was surprised and delighted to find Belinda such an entertaining, engrossing, and fun read.


I don't believe my text had the (in)famous interracial marriage in it, so I was pretty disappointed--and who was involved, anyway?!?!?!  But on to the novel!

The novel is the familiar setup of "Quick! Single girl! Must marry her off! But Hark! Dangers approach in the form of High Society, lovers, misunderstandings, etc. etc." From what I've read, Edgeworth was quite an influence on Austen, but if you read Austen and Edgeworth, you'll see that there is a very material difference between their writings. Austen was all about nuance--more about what she didn't say than what she did. And that's why I find her wit so hilarious--you really don't see it coming. Edgeworth is much more in-your-face. Girlfriend tells it like it is (was). While Austen hints around mistress, ruined ladies, and gaming, Edgeworth makes these integral plot points and discusses them frankly. 

I do have to disagree with those who found Belinda, as a character, boring (and preferred Lady Delacour). I really liked Belinda, because she was kind and good without being a goody-goody, and yet she has failings. Belinda is a bit like a prototypical Jane Bennet. Lady Delacour was a hoot to read, but she was sometimes a little too over the top. Her discussion of female liberties (and massive lack thereof) was really interesting, and her ex-friend, the women's libber and cross-dresser (no kidding!) was someone you'd never find in an Austen novel, but who was fascinating to read about.

The plot gets a bit saggy in the middle, but picks right up again on the way to its (slightly rushed) ending. 

Edgeworth also seemed to get a kick out of her characters' last names: the temperamental Lady Delacour (de la coeur) is all about passion, Mrs. Freke is the cross-dresser, Sir Baddely is the rakish fop whose vocabulary consists of "damme!" and who sets out to ruin Belinda, etc. 

An interesting bridge between the high comedy and wild times of Henry Fielding and the restrained social skewering of Austen. Highly recommended.

2 comments:

  1. Sounds like fun! I expect it's available on Gutenberg. I've never read Edgeworth. A pro typical Jane Bennett, eh? Well, Jane was sweet, but I can't see her as the heroine of her own novel. Think how very different Pride And Prejudice might have been if it had been all about Jane's romance with Bingley!

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    1. I'm sure it's there (so lazy, didn't check). She's very funny but can get a bit long-winded--I think that part of Austen's success and prevailing popularity is that her novels are relatively concise.

      I would skip Edgeworth's Arabella, but Castle Rackrent and The Absentee are both Gothic fun.

      Oh, Jane Bennet! So nice. TOO nice. Although I do wish I had a sister like her. Since Belinda is the very Jane-ish nice girl, Edgeworth was very smart to throw in some of the more outrageous characters.

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