Friday, March 12, 2021

25. Belinda

Belinda. Maria Edgeworth. 1801. 544 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Mrs. Stanhope, a well-bred woman, accomplished in that branch of knowledge which is called the art of rising in the world, had, with but a small fortune, contrived to live in the highest company. She prided herself upon having established half a dozen nieces most happily, that is to say, upon having married them to men of fortunes far superior to their own. One niece still remained unmarried—Belinda Portman, of whom she was determined to get rid with all convenient expedition.

Premise/plot: Will she, won't she? I wouldn't say the whole plot revolves around the question will Belinda marry or not. But if you change it to the whole plot revolves around WHO Belinda might marry if she marries, then it works. So Belinda, our heroine, has essentially been farmed out to London to live with Lord and Lady Delacour. Lady Delacour is a social butterfly with abundant wit (but does she have common sense?) who will help Belinda find "the one." But will Belinda's "one" be one of Lady Delacour's cast offs? Will she get a hand-me-down lover? 

So one of the gentleman lining up to see if they get a rose--figuratively speaking--is Clarence Hervey. He doesn't like Belinda at first--he takes her to be scheming and manipulative. But that is because either he is a) assuming that Belinda is like her aunt (Mrs. Stanhope) or like Lady Delacour (whom he claims to be absolutely crazy about) or b) he isn't working with a full deck of cards. It might be the latter. Maybe.

 Another gentleman is Mr. Vincent. He comes oh-so-close to getting the final rose.

What can I say about Belinda? Well, she's VANILLA and everything sugary sweet. She always does everything exactly right and in the right way and manner. If you find fault with Belinda, well, it is saying more about you than her. (Hint: LADY DELACOUR AND CLARENCE HERVEY, I'M LOOKING AT YOU.) 

What can I say about Lady Delacour? Well, to be honest she's super entertaining and a hoot. She spends most of the book being a terrible wife and a terrible a narrator I couldn't help loving her the most. (You made me love you, I didn't want to do it, I didn't want to do it).  I cared more about Lady Delacour's drama in personal life and social life than I did about Belinda.

What can I say about Clarence Hervey? WELL. He features rather largely in one of the book's sub-plots inspired by Thomas Day. Meeting Belinda, well, it confuses him thoroughly because unbeknownst to the reader he's been training up a wife-to-be for years. He's just waiting for her to come of age.

My thoughts: It was entertaining enough most of the time. It isn't flawless and amazing. But it made me laugh and smile some of the time. I can't say Clarence Hervey is my ideal husband, but, to each their own.


Clarence Hervey might have been more than a pleasant young man, if he had not been smitten with the desire of being thought superior in every thing, and of being the most admired person in all companies.

He had been early flattered with the idea that he was a man of genius; and he imagined that, as such, he was entitled to be imprudent, wild, and eccentric.

Miss Portman at first imagined that Lady Delacour dreaded the discovery of her cosmetic secrets, but her ladyship's rouge was so glaring, and her pearl powder was so obvious, that Belinda was convinced there must be some other cause for this toilette secrecy.

"Not at all too late, my dear," said Lady Delacour; "never too late for women to change their minds, their dress, or their lovers.

I have much to say, as people usually have when they begin to talk of themselves.

I am no hypocrite, and have nothing worse than folly to conceal: that's bad enough—for a woman who is known to play the fool is always suspected of playing the devil. But I begin where I ought to end—with my moral, which I dare say you are not impatient to anticipate.

I can tell you that nothing is more unlike a novel than real life.
All fashionable historians stop to make reflections, supposing that no one else can have the sense to make any. 
"Life is a tragicomedy! Though the critics will allow of no such thing in their books, it is a true representation of what passes in the world; and of all lives mine has been the most grotesque mixture, or alternation, I should say, of tragedy and comedy. 

 A stupid man cannot readily be persuaded out of his senses—what he sees he sees, and neither more nor less; but 'tis the easiest thing in the world to catch hold of a man of genius: you have nothing to do but to appeal from his senses to his imagination, and then he sees with the eyes of his imagination, and hears with the ears of his imagination;

"We learn the value of all things, but especially of friends, by experience," said Lady Anne; "and it is no wonder, therefore, that those who have little experience of the pleasures of friendship should not be wise enough to know their value."

"But it is so difficult to get at facts, even about the merest trifles," said Lady Delacour. "Actions we see, but their causes we seldom see—an aphorism worthy of Confucius himself: now to apply.

Prudence, whether in trifles or in matters of consequence, can be learned only by experience (which is often too dearly bought), or by listening, which costs nothing, to the suggestions of those who have a thorough knowledge of the world.

"You read, I see!—I did not know you were a reading girl. So was I once; but I never read now. Books only spoil the originality of genius: very well for those who can't think for themselves—but when one has made up one's opinion, there is no use in reading."

You know it is a ruled case, in all romances, that when a lover and his mistress go out riding together, some adventure must befal them.     The horse must run away with the lady, and the gentleman must catch her in his arms just as her neck is about to be broken. If the horse has been too well trained for the heroine's purpose, 'some footpad, bandit fierce, or mountaineer,' some jealous rival must make his appearance quite unexpectedly at the turn of a road, and the lady must be carried off—robes flying—hair streaming—like Bürger's Leonora. Then her lover must come to her rescue just in the proper moment. But if the damsel cannot conveniently be run away with, she must, as the last resource, tumble into a river to make herself interesting, and the hero must be at least half drowned in dragging her out, that she may be under eternal obligations to him, and at last be forced to marry him out of pure gratitude."

 Our reasonings as to the conduct of life, as far as moral prudence is concerned, must depend ultimately upon facts. Now, of the numbers of people in this world, how many do you think have married their first loves? Probably not one out of ten. Then, would you have nine out of ten pine all their lives in celibacy, or fret in matrimony, because they cannot have the persons who first struck their fancy?" "I scarcely know an idea more dangerous to domestic happiness than this belief in the unextinguishable nature of a first flame. There are people who would persuade us that, though it may be smothered for years, it must break out at last, and blaze with destructive fury.

The woman who marries one man, and loves another, who, in spite of all that an amiable and estimable husband can do to win her confidence and affection, nourishes in secret a fatal prepossession for her first love, may perhaps, by the eloquence of a fine writer, be made an interesting heroine;—but would any man of sense or feeling choose to be troubled with such a wife?

 "Perhaps the appearance of virtue," said Belinda, "might, on many occasions, succeed as well as the reality."

I can listen tolerably well, when I don't know what people are going to say; but when I know it all beforehand, I have an unfortunate habit of not being able to attend to one word.

Angry people, who express their passion, as it has been justly said, always speak worse than they think. This was usually the case with her ladyship.  


© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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