Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Arabella Tallant is the oldest daughter in a family of eight children. Her father being the local vicar, they live modestly but by no means are they poor, and they are very family oriented and connected with each other. Her mother's best friend from childhood is now the widowed Lady Bollingbrook, and since she is Arabella's godmother, Arabella's mother asks her to sponsor Arabella for a season in the hopes that she will find a well connected husband and she can then bring her sister's out into society. Arabella is anxious to do what is best for her family and hopes to find a kind man who will love her. On the way to London her carriage overturns and she and her companion take refuge in a nearby hunting lodge. Robert Beaumaris is a very wealthy gentleman about town who has been hunted by matchmaking mamas and desperate young ladies for years and he automatically assumes that Arabella is one of these women. Overhearing his remarks Arabella is incensed and makes it clear to him that she is very wealthy as well and hopes to hide it from fortune hunters.
Robert knows that Arabella is stretching the truth but his friend overhears and word quickly spreads around London that she is an heiress and the fortune hunters do indeed come out. Lady Bollingbrook is beside herself, imaging that Arabella is the belle of the ton, but Arabella is crushed to learn that her impetuous outburst has created so many problems. Robert remains the only comfort she has during the parties and balls where everyone's eyes on her, but she worries what his reaction will be when he finds out the truth of her financial situation and fears losing him. Robert wants Arabella to confide the truth to him of her own volition- he does not want to force her hand, but he realizes it may be inevitable because he is falling for her and does not want to wait too long. Meanwhile Arabella's brother has gambled his way into a huge hole and Arabella believes it is up to her to make things right and the only person she can turn to is Robert. Robert is of course willing to do everything he can to help but he expects that at the end he and Arabella will stop pretending with each other and admit to each other that they are in love.
Arabella is much different than every other romance I have read and I wondered if it was even appropriate for me to review it here. It was obviously written a long time ago, originally published in 1949, and it sticks more to social norms and language that would have been used in the Regency period than most modern romance novels. Her writing reminded me of Jane Austen because it was wordy and long and slow with only moderate verbal interactions among characters. However, while I do not like Jane Austen's novels I found that I did enjoy this because it was essentially entirely a romance novel and the diction was more digestible for me. I really liked that Arabella was very true to her time and her situation; she tried to stick to social norms and pretty much did for the entire novel. She cared so much about her family and had a strong sense of duty to do right by them and felt guilt over the deception she had played out. She did what others expected of her and yet it was clear that she had a very strong sense of self and stayed true to her beliefs and values.
Robert was not in as much of the novel as I typically like in romances but I did get enough of him to make it clear that he was a really upstanding guy who cared about Arabella and wanted her to be happy. He started out a little stuffy but slowly began to reveal his more fun side and let loose a little bit. He acted out of character in order to be near Arabella and the way it was written made it so clear that he needed Arabella and the laughter she would bring into his life. Their relationship was slow and very staid and proper, in keeping with the entire tone of the novel, and they were very rarely alone together. They enjoyed each other's company and quickly came to see that they were compatible and that they could live a happy life together. There was one muted kiss at the very end of the book, but, as with much about the book that would normally not work for me, it was in keeping with the rest of the book. The plot involving her brother was often long and I did not really go for it, but it worked with the novel and was an opportunity to show how Robert and Arabella worked together.
Rating: It was an enjoyable book but it was not really my cup of tea. For what it was it was really good, but I don't think I will read too much more of Heyer's stuff.