HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
  • LibraryThing
  • Book discussions
  • Your LibraryThing
  • Join to start using.

Group read: Belinda by Maria Edgeworth

Virago Modern Classics

Join LibraryThing to post.

1lyzard
Jan 31, 4:27pm Top



Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (1801)

Thus left entirely to her own discretion, she was exposed at once to the malignant eye of envy, and the insidious voice of flattery---she had no friend, no guide, and scarcely a protector: her aunt Stanhope’s letters, indeed, continually supplied her with advice, but with advice which she could not follow consistently with her own feelings and principles. Lady Delacour, even if she had been well, was not a person on whose counsels she could rely...

2lyzard
Edited: Jan 31, 4:55pm Top

Welcome to the group read of Maria Edgeworth's Belinda!

As usual, I will start by posting a few ground rules and suggestions for the conduct of this project.

******

First of all, as I have posted elsewhere but want to reiterate here, not all editions of Belinda carry the 'correct' text. Edgeworth first published her novel in 1801, revising it slightly for the 1802 edition: these changes were of her own volition, made to strengthen / clarify certain plot points, including the characters' motives and emotions.

However, before the third edition of the novel was released, Edgeworth made a number of significant alterations to it, which removed or changed some of its most interesting material. She did this under the joint pressure of her father's disapproval, and of the offer to include the book in the "British Novelists Series", one of the first "publisher's series". Despite Edgeworth's later regret, the altered text has been used in almost every subsequent edition.

The exception to this is the Oxford University Press / World's Classics editions of Belinda, which went back to the 1802 text. Anyone intending to participate in this group read should make every effort to secure a OUP edition (paperback or Kindle). The 1993 Everyman edition, which uses the 1801 text, is an acceptable alternative. Unfortunately, this situation means that there is no free online / ebook edition available.

******

Belinda was originally published in three volumes. The single-volume OUP edition numbers its chapters consecutively, to a total of 31 chapters.

On this basis, I would suggest that we aim to read 2 chapters per day / 14 chapters per week.

That said, some of the chapters are lengthy, and if participants prefer a slower progress, please say so now.

Meanwhile, please observe the usual rules of conduct:

- whenever posting, please begin by noting which chapter you are referring to in bold;

- be mindful of others: if you have read this before, or you have read ahead, please make use of 'spoiler' tags;

- DO NOT read the introduction OR the endnotes: in the OUP edition, both contain explicit spoilers.

If you have a question about anything to do with this novel, please ask it here! The more comments and questions posted, the better the group read experience will be for everyone, so please don't hesitate. Feel free to make any observations, or to ask for an explanation of anything that isn't clear to you in the text.

3lyzard
Edited: Feb 1, 3:37pm Top

Introduction:

Maria Edgeworth in England in 1768, but raised in Ireland from the age of five. She considered herself Anglo-Irish, and as an adult became a strong advocate for the Irish against English exploitation and prejudice.

Maria's father, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, married four times and had 22 children. As the oldest daughter, much of the responsibility for her younger half-siblings fell upon Maria, who took upon herself much responsibility for their education. Her experiences resulted in the works for which, in her lifetime, Edgeworth was best known: her Practical Education, which advocated engaging the imagination of children and making learning an active and pleasant experience (as opposed to literally beating knowledge into them), and which argued for the capacity of children to be active agents in their own "moral development", revolutionised teaching in the 19th century. Furthermore, Edgeworth was among the first English authors to write stories specifically for children, aiming to both entertain and provide moral instruction.

In addition, Edgeworth wrote novels and short stories for an adult audience. These were chiefly "novels of manners", full of sharp observations about her society; however, they were also intended didactically, a quality which drew some criticism for the over-prominence of the included "lessons".

Like Frances Burney before her, Edgeworth had a slightly peculiar relationship with her father. She began writing at his urging, and he encouraged all aspects of her literary career; however, at the same time, he expected her to accept his guidance and adhere to what he considered appropriate in her work. His interference in the matter of Belinda illustrates his ongoing authority over his daughter, even as she won both fame and admiration for both her fiction and non-fiction, and became a leading celebrity of her day.

Edgeworth published her first novel, Castle Rackrent, in 1800. This was a short, satirical piece that exposed and mocked English absentee landlordism in Ireland, and is considered the first true "regional" novel.

The next year, Edgeworth published Belinda---following Burney with her story of a young woman trying to negotiate the shoals and pitfalls of society while holding onto her principles.

In many ways (as we shall see), Belinda is a strange work, which deliberately violates many of the novelistic tropes of its day in its presentation of its heroine and the two young men who court her. It also questions many of the prevailing social dictums about the conduct of women with respect to marriage, education and independence, while offering a fascinating glimpse into turn-of-the-19th century society. Overall the novel represents another vital stepping-stone in the evolution of the "woman's novel".

4lyzard
Edited: Feb 20, 5:38pm Top

As with most of these lengthy novels, it can be hard to keep everyone straight; so please check here for our---

Cast of characters:

Belinda Portman

Lady Delacour - an intelligent and witty but headstrong woman
Lord Delacour - her less intelligent husband

Clarence Hervey - a brilliant but erratic young man

Mr Percival - a rational, intelligent man, once in love with Lady Delacour
Lady Anne Percival - his wife, to whom he is happily married
Miss Margaret Delacour - Lord Delacour's elderly aunt
Helena Delacour - the Delacours' daughter, who has been raised by Miss Delacour

Mr Augustus Vincent - a wealthy Creole, formerly the ward of Mr Percival

Dr X--- - a physician and author, a wise and clever man

Mrs Selina Stanhope - Belinda's aunt, who has a reputation for match-making (and man-trapping)
Mrs Luttridge - Lady Delacour's enemy and social rival
Harriet Freke - an eccentric rebel, once Lady Delacour's closest friend

Sir Philip Baddely - a wealthy but foolish gentleman
Mr Rochefort - his friend

Colonel Lawless - once suspected by the world of being Lady Delaclour's lover

Virginia St. Pierre - a beautiful young girl with a strange connection to Clarence Hervey

Marriott - Lady Delacour's personal servant
Champfort - Lord Delacour's valet

5lyzard
Edited: Jan 31, 5:45pm Top

I think that will do. :)

If you are intending to participate or lurk, please check in and let us know! Also, if you have any preferences for the conduct of this group read, let us know so that we can nail down the best way to proceed.

6lyzard
Jan 31, 5:52pm Top

Oh, no---there is just one more thing:

I had trouble finding an attractive cover-image for use in our thread-topper; very little imagination has been shown across the various editions of this novel, or in some cases the wrong kind of imagination. Even the OUP cover that I went with could be better: it gives us an appropriate 'happy family', but the image reflects a time more than a generation before the events in the book.

On the other hand, I was both amused and infuriated to discover that one recent release offers a textbook example of the dreaded "headless woman" cover:


7NinieB
Jan 31, 7:16pm Top

My library has the appropriate OUP edition, so I'm in! I am not sure I'll be able to keep up, but I'm game to give it a try.

8kac522
Jan 31, 9:37pm Top

I'm in! Will start tomorrow.

9CDVicarage
Feb 1, 3:02am Top

I have a copy and will get started.

10Helenliz
Feb 1, 9:21am Top

I have my copy, and it meets the requirements. In fact it is a match for the image in >1 lyzard:.
Good advice on not reading the introduction - I almost always read them first. I will try and remember to skip those pages.
I may lag behind the required reading rate, but don't wait for me. Just be prepared for this to still be popping up on April >;-)

11lyzard
Feb 1, 3:05pm Top

>7 NinieB:

Welcome! It's great to have a new participant. I hope you find this an enjoyable experience. :)

>8 kac522:, >9 CDVicarage:. >10 Helenliz:

And welcome back, ladies!

>10 Helenliz:

Seriously, you should never do that if you haven't read the novel before. And I specifically included the endnotes in the interdict this time, as I know the OUP edition has spoilers there too.

I know that if you have a quick question it's easier to flick to the end than to post here (or to remember to do so), but you do risk losing the experience of the read.

12NinieB
Edited: Feb 1, 3:20pm Top

>11 lyzard: Thanks! I've never participated in a group read before, so this new experience is exciting! I have secured my library's copy of Belinda in the OUP, and I should have time to get started this evening.

13lyzard
Feb 1, 3:56pm Top

Before we get properly started, I just want to point out one thing:

Lady Delacour is a red-head. :D

14lyzard
Edited: Feb 1, 4:16pm Top

Belinda is a strange book in a number of ways. Though it offers what was, by 1801, the standard plot of a young woman negotiating society to a good marriage, the way it handles its material and the behaviour of its characters is unusual and for some people - including some contemporary critics - off-putting.

It is therefore best to try and put any expectations aside.

Overarchingly, Belinda is an examination of what young women were taught about how to behave, and the social pressures put upon them; about the gap that existed between theory and practice; and about the contradictions inherent in the social "rules". It also tackles various prevailing theories about women's education, which was just becoming a significant social talking-point.

However, in a way this is also a work of "meta-fiction", with many references to novels and novel-reading, and the gap between reality and literary fantasy.

To understand what Edgeworth is doing in this respect, we must recognise that Belinda is a novel of transition. During the second half of the 18th century, literature was dominated by sentiment and sensibility; novels devoted themselves to their characters' emotions, and encouraged "feeling" over "reason" (the theory being that people's "natural instincts" would guide them more correctly than the precepts of a corrupt society).

However, Edgeworth, and Jane Austen after her, represent the pushback against this view: they both used their novels to illustrate the dangers of what they regarded as a form of dangerous self-indulgence; their female characters - who usually end up having to guide themselves through life - reflect and reason before acting, and keep their emotions in proper check. Their novels tend to illustrate the perils of impulsive behaviour, and the rewards (personal, if not social) of self-control.

15lyzard
Edited: Feb 1, 5:06pm Top

The first thing that Belinda tackles is the belief that young women should have, in effect, no will of their own, but should always allow themselves to be guided by their elders, who were (of course) also wiser.

Very few books had the nerve to challenge this: parental authority, in particular, but in fact any authority was held to be more or less absolute; and endless literature of the time was devoted to illustrating the necessity of obedience and the disastrous consequences of a girl being disobedient, or thinking and acting for herself. The prevailing dictum was that "good daughters make good wives": a girl who would disobey her parents would necessarily disobey her husband, and was therefore not good marital material.

Theories such as these were fine, but like most theories, they didn't always work out in reality. Many of those with authority over the young, including parents, were not "wiser" at all, but foolish, selfish and/or cruel.

What Maria Edgeworth does here is place Belinda between two very bad role-models, either one of whom could have led her into disaster, but who together counteract each other's influence. Belinda, far from bowing to their authority, guides her own conduct by heeding the very bad examples put before her:

Chapter 1

Mrs Stanhope's letter is a masterpiece of character revelation.

It also strips away the euphemistic qualities of a phrase like "making a good marriage", to show the ugly reality beyond---which was that, at this time, most women were entirely dependent upon their families for financial support; that they had very few options in life besides marriage; and that unmarried women were considered a burden and a nuisance. We need to keep this in mind when dealing with the literature of the time (and some considerable time afterwards), which sometimes attracts criticism because the characters "think of nothing but marriage".

But at the same time, Edgeworth shows us the equally ugly reality of a marriage made for the wrong reasons:

    When her house was filled with well-dressed crowds, when it blazed with lights, and resounded with music and dancing, Lady Delacour, in the character of Mistress of the Revels, shone the soul and spirit of pleasure and frolic: but the moment the company retired, when the music ceased, and the lights were extinguishing, the spell was dissolved.
    She would sometimes walk up and down the empty magnificent saloon, absorbed in thoughts seemingly of the most painful nature.
    For some days after Belinda’s arrival in town she heard nothing of Lord Delacour; his lady never mentioned his name, except once accidentally, as she was showing Miss Portman the house, she said, “Don’t open that door---those are only Lord Delacour’s apartments.” The first time Belinda ever saw his lordship, he was dead drunk in the arms of two footmen, who were carrying him up stairs to his bedchamber: his lady, who was just returned from Ranelagh, passed by him on the landing-place with a look of sovereign contempt...


The breakfast-table brawl that follows is a daring passage that sets the tone for the novel, in the negative example that it provides for Belinda.

16susanbooks
Feb 2, 7:26am Top

Lyzard, you are rocking this!

17lyzard
Feb 2, 4:25pm Top

Thank you, Susan! Will you be joining us, or just lurking? :)

18lyzard
Feb 2, 4:41pm Top

Chapter 1 is full of vital material, ad presented in a way that tends to startle if you're used to Victorian fiction. Edgeworth presents us with a flurry of extremely imperfect characters, and doesn't mince words in her presentation of them.

Her introduction of Clarence Hervey is particularly tart:

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. He affected singularity, in order to establish his claims to genius. He had considerable literary talents, by which he was distinguished at Oxford; but he was so dreadfully afraid of passing for a pedant, that when he came into the company of the idle and the ignorant, he pretended to disdain every species of knowledge. His chameleon character seemed to vary in different lights, and according to the different situations in which he happened to be placed. He could be all things to all men---and to all women. He was supposed to be a favourite with the fair sex; and of all his various excellencies and defects, there was none on which he valued himself so much as on his gallantry. He was not profligate; he had a strong sense of honour, and quick feelings of humanity; but he was so easily led, or rather so easily excited by his companions, and his companions were now of such a sort, that it was probable he would soon become vicious...

This is one of several points in this novel where we need to clarify the language usage: "genius", at this time, did not mean what we would now understand, but rather referred to a particular talent or talents; in Hervey's case, it marks him as a sort of Renaissance man, able to turn his hand to most things and - as Edgeworth says - to be all things to all people...almost. Having "genius" does not necessarily make someone intelligent or practical, however.

19NinieB
Feb 2, 6:39pm Top

It's not just Chapter 1! I feel like I'm suffering from information overload on the characters, and yet several are somewhat unclear, especially Mrs Luttridge and Mrs Freke.

20lyzard
Feb 2, 6:48pm Top

It will settle down, I promise! But take your time with it because it's important to grasp these connections at the outset.

In brief, Mrs Luttridge is an acquaintance / social rival of Lady Delacour: their mutual hatred will lead both of them into "conduct unbecoming".

Mrs Freke is a more complicated case, and we will need to discuss exactly what Edgeworth intended to suggest via her characterisation.

21lyzard
Feb 2, 6:49pm Top

And in fact---I would advise everyone to slow down and make sure that they're clear on everything that is stated and suggested over the first two chapters, before moving on to Lady Delacour's story.

As always, please ask if anything is not clear.

22NinieB
Edited: Feb 3, 10:12am Top

Chapter Two - Masks

After I woke up this morning, I lay there thinking about all the different masks revealed in this chapter. Belinda and Lady Delacour are fully disguised at the masquerade, with the result that Clarence tells Belinda about the social mask that her association with Mrs Stanhope creates. And the mixup underscores that Belinda and Lady Delacour could be confused, or are interchangeable, which does not bode well for Belinda, or at least warns of a risk that she is facing. Since the author presents Belinda as a moral tale, the reader should also take warning.

As for Lady Delacour, it becomes apparent that her normal appearance (powder etc) is another physical mask that conceals her, and that she is concealing much. That she seems different at social events than at home has already been alluded to in Chapter 1.

Finally, I am intrigued that the men do not seem to be masked. Clarence's costume has self-destructed. Lord Delacour is not present at the masquerade, and when we did meet him, it was in his most unattractive (but typical) state, drunkenness.

23lyzard
Feb 3, 4:30pm Top

A couple more things from Chapter 1 before we move on:

...he saw Belinda almost every day, and every day he saw her with increasing admiration of her beauty, and with increasing dread of being taken in to marry a niece of “the catch-match-maker,” the name by which Mrs. Stanhope was known amongst the men of his acquaintance. Young ladies who have the misfortune to be conducted by these artful dames, are always supposed to be partners in all the speculations, though their names may not appear in the firm. If he had not been prejudiced by the character of her aunt, Mr Hervey would have thought Belinda an undesigning, unaffected girl; but now he suspected her of artifice in every word, look, and motion; and even when he felt himself most charmed by her powers of pleasing, he was most inclined to despise her, for what he thought such premature proficiency in scientific coquetry...

******

His manner towards her was so variable and inconsistent, that she knew not how to interpret its language. Sometimes she fancied, that with all the eloquence of eyes he said, “I adore you, Belinda;” at other times she imagined that his guarded silence meant to warn her that he was so entangled by Lady Delacour, that he could not extricate himself from her snares...

******

These passages are important both for emphasising the damage done to Belinda's reputation by the manoeuvring of Mrs Stanhope, and the fact that Belinda and Hervey are at cross-purposes from the very outset: his hot-and-cold behaviour warns her, inexperienced as she is, to stay wary where he is concerned.

Meanwhile he, "genius" as he is, ladies' man as he likes to think himself, is unable to tell the difference between real and counterfeit.

24lyzard
Feb 3, 5:11pm Top

>22 NinieB:

Chapter 2

As you suggest, Edgeworth uses the masquerade to illustrate the relative positions of men and women in society. This is a heavily allegorical passage.

Natural behaviour was not much valued at this time: society was a series of performances. Men, indeed, were not required to be masked, either literally or figuratively; women were expected to don costumes and to perform---literally and figuratively. The training of girls at this time was all about giving men what they wanted; the contempt expressed for Mrs Stanhope is not because of what she does, but how obvious she is about it. (And yet it works!)

The confusion between Belinda and Lady Delacour - the confusion between tragedy and comedy - is extremely suggestive. It warns us openly, and Belinda tacitly, of how easily mistaken (moral) identity can lead to disaster. Belinda learns here that she is balanced on a knife-edge between the opposed but equally dangerous forms of performance represented by Mrs Stanhope and Lady Delacour: artificiality and falseness on one hand, a reckless seeking of applause and notoriety on the other.

What Belinda learns here is to opt out. Her subsequent refusal to perform, either publicly or privately, becomes her defining characteristic.

Lady Delacour, conversely, makes performing in public a fulltime occupation---to win a social reputation, to disguise her various domestic miseries. It becomes a trap, however, because she reaches a point where she cannot stop performing without humiliating consequences.

Meanwhile, we should note the implications of what happens here to Hervey: he is the one man who goes to extremes to "mask" himself, and it blows up in his face...

25lyzard
Edited: Feb 3, 5:21pm Top

Chapter 2

Some genius:

    “Mrs Stanhope overdid the business, I think,” resumed the gentleman who began the conversation: “girls brought to the hammer this way don’t go off well. It’s true, Christie himself is no match for dame Stanhope. Many of my acquaintance were tempted to go and look at the premises, but not one, you may be sure, had a thought of becoming a tenant for life.”
    “That’s an honour reserved for you, Clarence Hervey,” said another, tapping him upon the shoulder.---“Give ye joy, Hervey; give ye joy!”
    “Me!” said Clarence, starting.
    “I’ll be hanged if he didn’t change colour,” said his facetious companion; and all the young men again joined in a laugh.
    “Laugh on, my merry men all!” cried Clarence; “but the devil’s in it if I don’t know my own mind better than any of you. You don’t imagine I go to Lady Delacour’s to look for a wife? Belinda Portman’s a good pretty girl, but what then? Do you think I’m an idiot---do you think I could be taken in by one of the Stanhope school? Do you think I don’t see as plainly as any of you that Belinda Portman’s a composition of art and affectation?”

26souloftherose
Feb 4, 6:56am Top

I'm here - but have been laid low with a cold over the last few days so haven't started reading yet. Hoping to pick this up in the next couple of days and catch up.

Thank you for the introductory posts Liz!

>6 lyzard: I'm not sure what the latest OUP cover has to do with the novel either:



>13 lyzard: 'Lady Delacour is a red-head. :D'

Woot!

27SassyLassy
Feb 4, 11:45am Top

Just ordered my copy yesterday, somehow I lost track of time. It does have the dreaded headless woman in >26 souloftherose: above. The older Oxfords with the red trim (and better cover) in >1 lyzard: above seem to be all gone.

28lyzard
Edited: Feb 4, 3:13pm Top

>26 souloftherose:, >27 SassyLassy:

Welcome, ladies!

>26 souloftherose:

I'm sorry you haven't been well. Don't feel you need to rush with this: Belinda is nowhere near as long as any of Burney's novels, and we have plenty of time.

Yes, that one escaped criticism only by virtue of not being quite as bad as the headless woman.

>27 SassyLassy:

Great to have you here! For the rest, I can only make reassuring noises about books and covers and not judging... :D

29kac522
Feb 4, 5:58pm Top

I'm finding that the reading is going faster than Burney.

30lyzard
Feb 4, 7:28pm Top

Maybe because Edgeworth got her start writing for children, she's a bit more concise?

(I say a bit more: it was still a quite verbose era!)

Any general comments, Kathy? (She said hopefully...)

31lyzard
Edited: Feb 5, 3:47pm Top

There's some remarkable stuff in these early chapters.

Also from Chapter 2:

“Lord, my dear, you must either give up living in the world, or expect to hear yourself, and your aunts, and your cousins, and your friends, from generation to generation, abused every hour in the day by their friends and your friends---‘tis the common course of things. Now you know what a multitude of obedient humble servants, dear creatures, and very sincere and most affectionate friends, I have in my writing-desk, and on my mantel-piece, not to mention the cards which crowd the common rack from intimate acquaintance, who cannot live without the honour, or favour, or pleasure of seeing Lady Delacour twice a week---do you think I’m fool enough to imagine that they would care the hundredth part of a straw if I were this minute thrown into the Red or the Black Sea! No, I have not one real friend in the world except Harriot Freke---yet, you see, I am the comic muse, and mean to keep it up---keep it up to the last---on purpose to provoke those who would give their eyes to be able to pity me---I humbly thank them, no pity for Lady Delacour. Follow my example, Belinda; elbow your way through the crowd: if you stop to be civil and beg pardon, and ‘hope I didn’t hurt ye,’ you will be trod under foot..."

That's about as comprehension a takedown of the contemporary society as you could find.

It has been remarked many times that this novel could and perhaps should have been titled "Lady Delacour"; but the reality was that while you could get away with a villain or an anti-hero (as long as they died and/or reformed on the last page), you couldn't do anything that even looked like approving of this sort of behaviour and attitude in a woman.

32cbl_tn
Feb 5, 6:45am Top

I am in. None of my libraries had an appropriate edition so I broke my self-imposed ban on purchasing ebooks and bought the OUP Kindle edition.

33kac522
Feb 5, 10:09am Top

>30 lyzard: I have completed Volume I, but I'll try to be general here. I'm enjoying this novel more than I expected, perhaps because I keep comparing it to Burney. It is lighter and funnier, but not without frankness, as you note in >31 lyzard:. It seems so far that the characters make mistakes but learn from their behavior, whereas in Burney I felt that especially the heroines seem to end up in the same situations over and over again. And I agree that the book is more about Lady Delacour than about Belinda; it feels like we learn more about Belinda from everyone else than from Belinda herself.

I also find that Edgeworth seems to go out of her way to reveal some bit of good or redeeming quality in even the least likable characters. I think that makes the book more enjoyable to read. We can find some little bit to relate to in each character. So far only one character seems "too good to be true", but I'll refrain from naming that person for the time being.

34lyzard
Feb 5, 5:54pm Top

>32 cbl_tn:

Welcome, Carrie! Sorry you had to fork out; this one's a bit tricky.

>33 kac522:

You're seeing the evolution in writing: though Burney's last novel was 1814, she was really a product of the mid-Georgian era. Edgeworth is a generation later, with Burney and others as a model.

However, I do think Burney was trying to illustrate the extent to which young women were trapped by their circumstances. So simultaneously you're seeing the evolution of society, with young women just beginning to take their own reins (or becoming aware that they should if they could).

For the most part what you say of Edgeworth is true, and so is the reverse, that her "good" characters are nearly all flawed. (Your exception is there for a slightly different purpose, which we can discuss later.)

And it's important to recognise how important that is in terms of the development of the novel. To be "worthy", novels were supposed to be very black-and-white, rather than realistic. You might remember we discussed how uncomfortable readers and critics were with some of Burney's characters (in particular, Mrs Delville in Cecilia), who were mostly good but had some significant character flaw. Again we see evolution here, as Edgeworth takes it for granted that most people have mixed natures with good points and bad points.

35kac522
Feb 6, 10:46pm Top

Chapter 4 and following

One aspect I've been thinking about is the portrayal of Lady Delacour and her illness. It is so unlike, say, anything that Jane Austen did. In Austen we have near death-bed illnesses, like Jane Bennet (P&P) and Marianne Dashwood (S&S); we have real long-suffering illness, like Mrs. Smith (Persuasion); and we have hypochondriac types like Mary Musgrove (Persuasion) and Mr. Woodhouse (Emma).

But a fierce, almost angry female, fighting (denying?) her disease silently like Lady Delacour, is so unusual. And yet I'm wondering if it was more common than the other types. Its honesty must have been very shocking at the time.

36lyzard
Edited: Feb 6, 10:58pm Top

>35 kac522:

Of course, many relatively trivial illnesses did lead to death at this time and this was far more common than something like cancer, so it isn't surprisingly it would be more prevalent in the literature too. But certainly there was strong resistance to graphic descriptions of illness, making quiet fading away more common even when in reality someone would (for example) have been hacking their lungs out with tuberculosis.

And yes, as you say, it's not just the fact of the illness, but the reaction to it - the anger and resentment and fear - that is so startling. It's not just unprecedented, but wasn't replicated for very many years afterwards.

And really, it's impossible to read any of this without remembering that Frances Burney did in fact have to undergo a mastectomy for breast cancer, without anaesthesia---and survived---and wrote about it, really the first person to do that. It's hard not to think that Edgeworth wasn't influenced by that, perhaps intended even as some odd sort of tribute.

37kac522
Feb 6, 11:32pm Top

>36 lyzard: I think Burney's surgery was in 1810 or 1811, so after the first edition of Belinda. Life imitating Art.

38lyzard
Feb 7, 12:40am Top

Oh, was it that late? - I had it in my head it was in the late 1790s and she wrote about it later. No, I see now you're quite right---coinciding with the re-release of the edited version of Belinda, though, which is a bit freaky.

It's interesting too that these scenes were not among those Edgeworth felt she had to change, or was pressured into changing.

39Helenliz
Feb 7, 3:09am Top

I'm now at the end of chapter 2, so will read the bulk of the thread >:-)

What are we supposed to make of the author's declaration ahead of chapter 1? I'm not familiar enough with the 4 authors listed to know how this novel contrasts with theirs. it doesn't sounds like she was being very complimentary about her predecessors.

40lyzard
Feb 7, 5:42am Top

>39 Helenliz:

Glad you could join us! :D

There was so much negative feeling at the time about novels and novel-writing, particularly by women, that this sort of disclaimer became a standard practice: it's not a novel, it's a "moral tale"; it's not a novel, just "a story taken from life", yada-yada. Whether they actually meant it or not, often the author would effectively condemn all other novels, then say something self-deprecating and apologetic about themselves to ward off criticism.

Edgeworth goes with the flow in condemning most novels as full of "folly, errour, and vice", but exempts the four writers named (and presumably herself). Note that one of the four is Frances Burney, whose Camilla is cited in Chapter 5 (even as Austen cited both Burney and Edgeworth).

41cbl_tn
Feb 7, 9:47am Top

Chapter 3, etc.

I assume that Edgeworth intended her readers to find meaning in the names Freke and Lawless? It seems obvious, but thought I'd mention it anyway.

42Helenliz
Feb 7, 12:28pm Top

Chapter 2: Masks

Quesiton on the swopping costume thing. So they leave the house wearing one costume, only the swop costume at the friend's house.
Why's Lady Delacour so unwilling to cross her maid when getting ready?
Did Hervey know what costume Lady Delacour would be wearing? Was that why the maid was so insistent they went out just so? Because if not, the conversation Hervey has with Belinda seems a very strange conversation to have with someone when you didn't know who they were.

It has that undertone of being preplanned, that Lady Delacour wanted Belinda to have a conversation at cross purposes and maybe hear her discussed, as a means of taking Belinda down a peg or two after reading about herself described in unflattering terms in Lady Stanhope's letter (I hope I've got that order right). Of course I might be being a bit harsh there.

And finally, a grammar question. I thought I saw a couple of examples of "it's" but the context meaning a possessive, its. Was that common practice at the time?

43lyzard
Edited: Feb 7, 3:21pm Top

>41 cbl_tn:

Certainly, although both were common enough names.

>42 Helenliz:

Chapter 2

If you read a little further, the relationship between Lady Delacour and Marriott will become clearer, as will the reason behind Lady Delacour's refusal to be tragedy.

Although Lady Delacour says that only Harriet Freke knows in advance about the muse costumes, it is quite likely that this was more generally discussed: though theoretically at a masquerade, guests were supposed to act the part they dressed (we saw that in Cecilia), they were also a good opportunity to meet and flirt under cover, as it were, and so some people would try to find out in advance who was who under the costume.

So Hervey is right about the two muses but guesses wrong about which is which---perhaps people were supposed to assume a persona opposite from their own (therefore Lady Delacour would be tragedy), or perhaps just because the tragic muse quickly gathers a group of interested gentlemen. Even a report that the comic muse is a flirt doesn't tip him off, because he's too intent upon being "clever".

Hervey's mistake with regard to the two muses replicates his mistake with regard to Belinda---i.e. he can't tell the real Belinda from the false Belinda he assumes has been created by Mrs Stanhope. He may be clever enough generally, but we see here how he allows himself to be led astray by an overinflated opinion of that cleverness. Between (as he thinks) flattering Lady Delacour, showing off for his friends, and overreacting to the discussion of Mrs Stanhope, Hervey pretty much dishes himself with Belinda here: she never really gets over this first impression. There remains a "holding back" in her subsequent interaction with him, as if she's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Spelling, grammar and punctuation only became standardised across the 19th century, probably as general education and textbooks became more common; you find a lot of variants before that, which now we would consider incorrect. The OUP edition reproduces Edgeworth's text for her second edition, and retains her various idiosyncrasies.

44Helenliz
Feb 7, 3:25pm Top

>43 lyzard: Ahh, so I am theorising ahead of my data and reading something there that's not going to develop. Onwards with the story then.

45lyzard
Feb 7, 3:30pm Top

>44 Helenliz:

Hervey's assumptions about Lady Delacour's attitude to Belinda are also based on his mental picture of her as "Mrs Stanhope's niece": he thinks Lady Delacour has been jockeyed into sponsoring Belinda but doesn't (can't) really care about her.

The business about the letters to and from Mrs Stanhope will raise its ugly head later on, but not quite as you were suspecting. :)

46cbl_tn
Feb 7, 4:05pm Top

>41 cbl_tn: Yes, I have cousins named Lawless. :-)

47Helenliz
Feb 8, 3:22am Top

Chapters 3 & 4
ohh, this got juicy quickly! Lady Delacour's led quite a life, hasn't she? Although it did feel that, at times, she got carried away by events rather than this being her
The part I thought most telling was the part about the Uncle, as a man of business, coming in and saying that she'd signed away her inheritance and dower and that she didn't know enough to know she needed some help. Struck me as sending an heiress into the world with no more idea than fly about money was sending a lamb amidst wolves. But women weren't supposed to know about business, it would overheat their little minds. (pah!).

>46 cbl_tn: and are they? (or do we not ask!)

48cbl_tn
Feb 8, 11:53am Top

>46 cbl_tn: >47 Helenliz: They are anything but! Doctors, dentists, CPAs, teachers. All fine, upstanding citizens!

49kac522
Edited: Feb 8, 4:09pm Top

I know I'm way ahead, but when we get to Volume II, Chapters XVIII and XIX, I'll be looking forward to the comments on the discussions of a woman's plight in courtship (sort of "damned if you do--damned if you don't") and "first love." Making note of these now, lest I forget!

50Helenliz
Feb 9, 6:43am Top

Chapters 5&6
So I am going to need someone to explain the finer detail of the horses, the 200 guineas, the coachman's bill and so on. I think I'm with it, but an explanation in words of one sylable, without all the smmoke and mirrors might help!

At the end of Chapter 4, I had a degree of admiration fort Lady Delacour, but she seems to be a bit underhand again in these two chapters.

>48 cbl_tn: bother, no interesting cats to let out of bags then! >;-)

51souloftherose
Feb 10, 8:40am Top

I've finally started this and up to the end of Chapter 4 and agree with >33 kac522: that this is a much easier read than Burney.

>35 kac522:, >36 lyzard: I have a question about Lady Delacour's illness - my first guess was that she had breast cancer but then in Ch 4 she describes it as a wound from a mis-fired pistol.

>39 Helenliz:, >40 lyzard: I completely missed the author's note so thank you to helenliz for mentioning it. I've heard of Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story but not Dr Moore or Madame de Crousaz.

>42 Helenliz:, >43 lyzard: On the subject of Ch 2 and Masks these sorts of scenes in novels always make me wonder how difficult it really would have been to tell who was who under the costumes?

52cbl_tn
Feb 10, 8:47am Top

>51 souloftherose: I think that Lady Delacour probably does think she has breast cancer. I don't think most women knew much about what causes cancer (and there's still a lot we don't know today). It probably wasn't talked about much, so I think it might be a reasonable fear that her injury could lead to cancer. Although if she's had an injury that hasn't healed for so many years, why she hasn't already died from infection is a mystery!

53NinieB
Feb 10, 9:59am Top

I found this very helpful article about breast cancer in the 18th century: http://ecti.english.illinois.edu/volumes-55-56-2015-16-supplement/breast-cancer-... It mentions that the physicians believed it was coomonly caused by accident or injury.

54souloftherose
Feb 10, 1:23pm Top

>52 cbl_tn:, >53 NinieB: That makes sense (and thank you for the link NinieB).

>52 cbl_tn: Carrie - I was also thinking it would seem quite surprising to me that someone could survive so long if it was an infection from a wound but if they thought injuries could cause cancer that makes a lot more sense.

55lyzard
Edited: Feb 10, 5:49pm Top

Sorry, people! - I've been tied up with family stuff over the past couple of days; thanks for carrying on. :)

>46 cbl_tn:, >48 cbl_tn:

Your cousins not big believers in nominative determinism, then, Carrie??

>47 Helenliz:

Good point, Helen, that's something I want to come back to.

>49 kac522:

PLEASE make a note and come back to it! We lose so many great observations because people wait and then can't remember! This is particularly so in this case, because you've touched upon one of the most important and unusual things about this novel.

>50 Helenliz:

Will do, Helen; you also remind me that in that respect, there's a point I want to make about both the Delacours.

>51 souloftherose:

Madame de Crousaz later remarried and is now much better known as Madame (Isabelle) de Montolieu. Her novel Caroline de Lichtfield; ou Mémoires d'une Famille Prussienne was published in 1786; it was both very popular and very moral, the best of both worlds. Dr John Moore was a Scottish physician, better known for his non-fiction travel-writing, but he also wrote the novel Zeluco, a sort of transitional Gothic / rationalist work that tells the story of a wicked Italian nobleman and his road to self-destruction. It offers lots of social commentary as well as character dissection.

Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story is a very strange book. :D

If you wore costumes like those of Lady Delacour and Belinda, enveloping robes and full-face masks, you could keep it up as long as you didn't meet anyone who knew you well. Note that when Belinda is finally driven to speak, she disguises her voice; that plus the muffling of the mask would help. But you were only expected to "perform" in the first part of the evening, after that it just became a costume party.

>51 souloftherose:, >52 cbl_tn:, >53 NinieB:, >54 souloftherose:

A bad soft tissue injury can lead to a severe inflammatory reaction and improper tissue rebuilding, which in turn can form lumps or alternatively leave crevices in the flesh. Any such injury at the time would very likely to assumed to be cancer.

56lyzard
Edited: Feb 10, 11:53pm Top

I know this isn't exactly going to timetable - BUT - the more I think about it, the more important I think it is that we stop and unpack Lady Delacour's history.

Edgeworth crams an astonishing number of issues into that speech, each of which is worth consideration in terms of what the novel generally, and the female-authored novel in particular, was trying to achieve at the time.

What is particularly interesting to me is that Edgeworth makes this both a cautionary tale for women and an illustration of the outside forces that can impact a woman's life. In other words it's realistic: she shows how Lady Delacour goes wrong through her own faults, but she doesn't put the whole weight for the Delacours' marital problems on her, as tended to be the case.

In the first place, though, we see that Lady Delacour's situation is largely her own fault. Her vanity leads her to reject Mr Percival, whom she loves and who loves her, because he won't pretend he thinks she's perfect. her character has been spoiled by social adulation.

Conversely she marries Lord Delacour for all the wrong reasons, without either loving or respecting him. While this is a huge misstep on her part, what Edgeworth does here is fascinating. It was a commonplace that wives were supposed to be submissive and obedient to their husbands; but what if a wife was much smarter than and/or morally superior to her husband?

This is something the social moralists tended to shy away from---as indeed they shied away from what a girl was supposed to do if the authority figures in her life set bad examples. But like the latter, which Edgeworth tackles via Belinda, it was a real and significant problem. What, realistically, not just theoretically, was a woman supposed to do if her husband was foolish, or reckless, or a drunk or a gambler (and Lord Delacour is both of the latter). Is really supposed to submit and be obedient?

But again in the pursuit of realism, Edgeworth shows how Lady Delacour is right and wrong at the same time. Her circumstances are difficult but she makes them worse by smart-mouthing Lord Delacour at every opportunity and making him feel her intellectual superiority. He grows resentful, which drives him out to drink and gamble, and so the situation gets progressively worse and worse.

But the situation is certainly not all Lady Delacour's fault. As Helen points out in >47 Helenliz:, there is the matter of Lady Delacour being, effectively, tricked into signing her fortune away---and that is all on Lord Delacour. This happens before either her connection with Colonel Lawless or her friendship with Harriet Freke, and is significantly responsible for making her resent and distrust her husband.

Another extremely unusual and courageous thing that Edgeworth does here address the matter of the Delacour children. The offhand way Lady Delacour tells this tragic story is remarkable: she invites condemnation with her flippant manner rather than show how much it all hurt. In most novels, too, her rejection of her daughter would brand her a monster; but again Edgeworth is making a psychologically complex point---that Lady Delacour genuinely comes to believe that she is "poisonous" to her children and that her daughter is better off without her. We should note too that this isn't all on her: Lord Delacour is complicit in the rejection of Helena, for her heinous crime of not being a boy.

(On the other hand it wasn't that uncommon for children to be raised away from their parents: children born to people living in India were left at home or sent home, they were sent away young to be educated or for health benefits, or they might be "adopted" by a wealthy relative, as we see in Austen. So this isn't as big a deal as it might seem to us; only the total severance of the parent-child relationship is unusual.)

The loss of her children and her miserable home life are the basis for Lady Delacour's increasingly reckless public behaviour. We must understand that she is never unfaithful to Lord Delacour---but---she behaves in a way that leads others to think she might be. This ultimately provokes the fatal duel between Lord Delacour and Colonel Lawless. Here social and private judgement tend to coincide: Lady Delacour blames herself, never Lord Delacour, for the Colonel's death; duelling at this time was still very much an accepted social practice, with no blame placed on the participants if the cause was deemed sufficient.

And finally we have Lady Delacour's bizarre "friendship" with Harriet Freke...who I think deserves her own post. :)

57lyzard
Edited: Feb 10, 11:54pm Top

How exactly do we interpret Harriet Freke??

I disagree with the most common reading, that is the caricature of a "feminist": her language doesn't suit that role.

I would suggest, rather, that in broad terms she is a "revolutionary", a parody in some ways of the women of the French Revolution, who did don men's clothes and fight beside them. The FR provoked a conservative backlash in England, and various progressive ideas that had been gaining ground were rejected not on merit, but because they were associated with events in France.

The most telling bit of writing here, I think, is Mrs Freke's assertion that, "Whatever is, is wrong." This is effectively the contemporary equivalent of Marlon Brando's famous nihilist line from The Wild Ones: "Hey, Johnny, whaddya rebelling against?" "Whaddya got?" Mrs Freke is exactly this kind of rebel, lashing out at everything indiscriminately and so simply making a fool of herself.

But again, there's another face to this. Mrs Freke's line is a parody of Alexander Pope's ultra-conservative dictum that, "Whatever is, is right" (which Voltaire mocked in Candide: "Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds", as his characters suffer miseries of injustice). I think Edgeworth was saying here that while revolution was bad, progress was necessary and right; you just needed to be cautious about how you went about it.

And this may point to the most correct reading of Mrs Freke: that she represents one of the era's main bugaboos, the "masculinised woman". Again, though, I don't think this was intended in an anti-feminist sense, but rather in response to the prevailing arguments about women's education. This debate had been brought into the public consciousness by Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women, whose views were considered controversial even though she simply argued that education would make women better wives and mothers. The main counter-argument was that education would produce "masculinised women" who would (by definition) be unmarriageable; and that women should therefore continue to acquire "accomplishments" rather than education.

I think that Edgeworth, who was of course a brilliant and highly educated woman, intended to show the world via Harriet Freke what a "masculinised woman might really look and behave like...and it had nothing to do with her "education".

(This also ties back to the business of Lady Delacour's uncle blaming her for her ignorance in money matters: a proper education for a woman should give at least a basic financial understanding.)

58lyzard
Edited: Feb 10, 5:27pm Top

Chapter 5

In terms of what was considered correct behaviour for young ladies, this is almost revolutionary in itself!---

She trembled at the idea of being under the guidance of one who was so little able to conduct herself: and she could not help blaming her aunt Stanhope severely for placing her in such a perilous situation. It was obvious that some of Lady Delacour’s history must have been known to Mrs. Stanhope; and Belinda, the more she reflected, was the more surprised at her aunt’s having chosen such a chaperon for a young woman just entering into the world. When the understanding is suddenly roused and forced to exert itself, what a multitude of deductions it makes in a short time! Belinda saw things in a new light; and for the first time in her life she reasoned for herself upon what she saw and felt...

******

It is singular, that the very means which Mrs Stanhope had taken to make a fine lady of her niece tended to produce an effect diametrically opposite to what might have been expected. The result of Belinda’s reflections upon Lady Delacour’s history was a resolution to benefit by her bad example...

******

However, Belinda's conclusions would have been considered right and proper:

“If Lady Delacour, with all the advantages of wealth, rank, wit, and beauty, has not been able to make herself happy in this life of fashionable dissipation,” said Belinda to herself, “why should I follow the same course, and expect to be more fortunate?”

59lyzard
Feb 10, 5:34pm Top

Language:

We've considered this point before elsewhere, but it's worth reiterating here because Edgeworth gives it a workout in Belinda:

During the 18th century, the term "fine lady" meant, effectively, someone like Lady Delacour: a woman whose life was devoted to dress and show and social success, usually facilitated by a "good marriage", i.e. a marriage made to acquire a fortune and a position, and preferably a title. This is the kind of marriage Mrs Stanhope has arranged for all her other nieces, and wants Belinda to make too.

Over the 19th century, however, the term took on a different meaning; it reversed from being a description a woman might apply to herself, and became a pejorative term used by others. It meant then something like "trophy wife", a woman who to her husband was basically one of his possessions, meant to show off his wealth through her dress and jewellery.

So when this term is encountered in books of this era, it needs to be considered who is using it and who it is being applied to, to get the correct meaning.

60lyzard
Edited: Feb 10, 6:13pm Top

Hello, Frances:

Chapter 5

“You are thinking that you are like Camilla, and I like Mrs Mitten---novel reading as I dare say you have been told by your governess, as I was told by mine, and she by hers, I suppose---novel reading for young ladies is the most dangerous---"

:D

(We might recall that much of Camilla's financial difficulties stemmed from her inability to prevent the officious Mrs Mitten from committing her with various tradespeople and ordering things on her behalf that she didn't want. Lady Delacour is uncomfortably on the mark in comparing herself to Mrs Mitten.)

61lyzard
Edited: Feb 10, 11:57pm Top

To try and answer Helen's question in >50 Helenliz::

Chapters 5 and 6

So---Belinda has been given 200 guineas by Mrs Stanhope, with which she is to buy a "court dress", that is, an elaborate hooped-skirt outfit that was compulsory when a girl was taken to the royal court and presented to the king and queen, an event which marked her official "coming out".

Belinda tries to resolve not to attend either court or "the birth night" - royalty marked their birthdays with extravagant parties - but Lady Delacour teases her out of it and into agreeing to both a "court dress" and a "birth night dress".

Meanwhile---Lady Delacour wants a new pair of carriage-horses, but Lord Delacour won't buy them for her. Therefore she goes a very underhanded way of getting them. This is in the wake of Hervey's revulsion of feeling about Belinda, when he becomes convinced that she is really everything she seems and all-but admits he loves her. Lady Delacour suggests to Hervey that it is really Belinda who wants the horses, so as to make her first court appearance as splendid as possible.

The wealthy Hervey agrees to buy the horses immediately, and to be paid back later; this, however, makes him change his mind about Belinda back again.

Lady Delacour assumes that once the horses are a fait accompli, Lord Delacour will give in and pay for them---but he does not, leaving her in Hervey's debt. She tells this to Belinda, who is glad on an excuse to give up her court dress, and who lends Lady Delacour the 200 guineas---to pay her debt to Hervey.

However, Lady Delacour instead uses the 200 guineas to buy a new carriage, to go with her new horses---knowing that Hervey won't insist on being paid, while the carriage-maker will.

This transaction is exposed because the 200 guineas are in the form of a banker's draught (a cheque, basically), and Belinda has to endorse it before it can be spent. She is horrified at realising how Lady Delacour has deceived her.

Finally Lady Delacour is driven to confess everything to Hervey, who doesn't care about the money, but does care it was not Belinda who was demanding new horses.

Belinda, meanwhile, is in trouble herself: Mrs Stanhope is furious with her for using the money for anything except her court dress, which she (Mrs Stanhope) considers an investment to assist Belinda towards marriage.

There is an extra irony in all this if we consider one of the specific complaints that Lady Delacour makes about her husband during her "history":

"Love quarrels are easily made up, but of money quarrels there is no end. From the moment these money quarrels commenced, I began to hate Lord Delacour; before, I had only despised him. You can have no notion to what meanness extravagance reduces men. I have known Lord Delacour shirk, and look so shabby, and tell so many lies to people about a hundred guineas---a hundred guineas!---what do I say?---about twenty, ten, five! O, my dear, I cannot bear the thoughts of it!"

Yet now we find Lady Delacour stooping to an equal meanness, deceiving Belinda to get her own way.

62lyzard
Feb 10, 6:21pm Top

Chapter 5

To go back a little, we should be aware of how much danger Hervey represents to Belinda. As Lady Delacour acutely notes, for all this professed esteem for Belinda, he has no intention of marrying her:

    "I am not a swindler in love.”
    “And yet,” said Lady Delacour, “you would have no scruple to trifle or flatter a woman out of her heart.”
    “Cela est selon!” said Clarence smiling; “a fair exchange, you know, is no robbery. When a fine woman robs me of my heart, surely Lady Delacour could not expect that I should make no attempt upon hers.”
    “Is this part of my message to Miss Portman?” said Lady Delacour.
    “As your ladyship pleases,” said Clarence; “I trust entirely to your discretion.”
    “Why I really have a great deal of discretion,” said Lady Delacour; “but you trust too much to it when you expect that I should execute, both with propriety and success, the delicate commission of telling a young lady, who is under my protection, that a young gentleman, who is a professed admirer of mine, is in love with her, but has no thoughts, and wishes to suggest no thoughts, of marriage.”
    “In love!” exclaimed Clarence Hervey; “but when did I ever use the expression? In speaking of Miss Portman, I simply expressed esteem and ad--- O, no and---”
    “No additions,” said Lady Delacour; “content yourself with esteem---simply---and Miss Portman is safe, and you too---I presume. Apropos; pray, Clarence, how do your esteem and admiration (I may go as far as that, may not I?) of Miss Portman agree with your admiration of Lady Delacour?”
    “Perfectly well,” replied Clarence; “for all the world must be sensible that Clarence Hervey is a man of too much taste to compare a country novice in wit and accomplishments to Lady Delacour. He might, as men of genius sometimes do, look forward to the idea of forming a country novice for a wife. A man must marry some time or other---but my hour, thank Heaven, is not come yet.”


Hervey might insist that he is "no swindler in love", but if he is paying court to a young lady without any thought of marriage, that's exactly what he is.

This touches upon (I think) Kathy's point in >49 kac522:.

Many readers and critics have had a problem with Belinda's ability to control her emotions, but this early passage makes it clear that it is absolutely necessary for her to do so.

63kac522
Edited: Feb 11, 2:51pm Top

Thanks for all of your excellent observations, Liz, in >55 lyzard: through >62 lyzard:. I particularly appreciate your references to Pope, Voltaire and Wollstonecraft, to put us in the mindframe of Edgeworth as an educated woman of her time. Really puts it all in perspective.

Re: Mrs Freke--my mind was made up about this lady in Chapter XVII, when she has the following conversation with Belinda:

(Mrs Freke)"You read I see! I did not know you were a reading girl. So did 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 opinions, there is no use in reading."

"But to make them up," replied Belinda, "may it not be useful?"

"Of no use upon earth to minds of a certain class. You, who can think for yourself, should never read."

"But I read that I may think for myself."

"Only ruin your understanding, trust me. Books are full of trash--nonsense. Conversation is worth all the books in the world."

"And is there never any nonsense in conversation?"


I'm up to Chapter XXIX, and should finish tonight.

64Helenliz
Feb 12, 1:19am Top

Chapter 8
I assume this chapter is here so that we could all write an essay "Compare and contrast the home life portrayed in the novel". It is certainly a contrast to the home life of the Delacours. And as Percival is the man who loved Lady Delacour, I wonder if he feels he had a lucky escape. It all seems very nice (I wonder what snake lies in Eden... but that's as I'm a cynic). What should we make of it being Hervey who sees this idyll? He is, after all, the person who doesn't want to enter in the state of matrimony.

65souloftherose
Feb 12, 9:45am Top

>64 Helenliz: 'It is certainly a contrast to the home life of the Delacours.'

Uh huh!

I've just finished Chapter 10: The Mysterious Boudoir which was a lot of fun. Is Dr. X___ referencing a real-life person?

But,” continued Dr. X——, “my dear miss Portman, you will put a stop to a number of charming stories by this prudence of yours—a romance called the Mysterious Boudoir, of nine volumes at least, might be written on this subject, if you would only condescend to act like almost all other heroines, that is to say, without common sense.”

This made me smile and think that 'The Mysterious Boudoir' in nine volumes would be a great book for the gothic reads you were doing with Squeakychu!

The relationship between Dr. X__ and Clarence Hervey reminded me by contrast of the relationship between Dr. Marchmont and Edgar Mandlebert in Burney's Camilla - although I'm hoping that Dr. X__ is a positive influence on Clarence Hervey.

66kac522
Feb 12, 1:30pm Top

Finished. Sort of a wild end there. I may need a road map/GPS to the last chapter.

>65 souloftherose: Yes, the doc/young man pairs are similar, but Dr. X___ seems to have a higher opinion of women compared to Dr. M.

67lyzard
Edited: Feb 12, 3:18pm Top

>63 kac522:

I'm glad you found that useful, Kathy.

We see from that conversation that Mrs Freke is very much an uneducated woman! - and if she is "masculinised", it isn't from that.

>64 Helenliz:, >65 souloftherose:

First of all, Edgeworth makes a very striking contrast between Hervey's "friends", who desert him with barely a qualm even when it is literally a matter of life and death, and the genuine friendship that exists between the Percivals and Dr X---.

I'm not aware that any definite model has been identified, but after we discussed Edgeworth's preface (here: >55 lyzard:), I wonder whether "Dr X---" was intended as a sketch of John Moore, who as we touched upon was both a physician and a writer, as is Dr X---, and a great traveller too.

I think you are right that an allusion was intended to the relationship between Edgar and Dr Marchmont in Camilla: again we have the situation of a mentor "studying" the young woman his protege is interested in; but with a very different outcome, not because of the woman, but because of the mentor's unprejudiced outlook. Burney shows us the damage that can be done by improper guidance, while Edgeworth gives us Hervey, who is always teetering between his better and worse qualities, being influenced for the good by the calm rationality of Dr X---.

We see from this that "good examples" were just as important for young men as for young women. (Interesting that while Belinda learns to think for herself, Hervey is presented as urgently in need of guidance!)

68lyzard
Feb 12, 3:36pm Top

As mentioned by Helen, in Chapter 8 Edgeworth introduces the Percivals, whose marriage is in striking contrast to that of the Delacours.

Her intention here is to show us that there were good marriages, but you weren't going to find them by going into Society.

Though we may consider the Percivals' marriage over-idealised, we should note the terms in which Edgeworth describes it in Chapter 16:

There was an affectionate confidence, an unconstrained gaiety in this house, which forcibly struck her, from its contrast with what she had seen at Lady Delacour’s. She perceived that between Mr Percival and Lady Anne there was a union of interests, occupations, taste, and affection...

In context, more important still is the basis for the strength of the connection between the Percivals:

Lady Anne Percival had, without any pedantry or ostentation, much accurate knowledge, and a taste for literature, which made her the chosen companion of her husband’s understanding, as well as of his heart. He was not obliged to reserve his conversation for friends of his own sex, nor was he forced to seclude himself in the pursuit of any branch of knowledge; the partner of his warmest affections was also the partner of his most serious occupations; and her sympathy and approbation, and the daily sense of her success in the education of their children, inspired him with a degree of happy social energy, unknown to the selfish solitary votaries of avarice and ambition.

The idea that husbands and wives should be friends and companions was just beginning to gain ground at this time; that the making of a good home should be about more than creature comforts. Edgeworth shows us that the Pervicals are intellectual companions, though a shared set of interests and - surprise! - Lady Anne's education.

This follows on from Mary Wollstonecraft's arguments, as we mentioned in >57 lyzard:. While it is exasperating always to find women's education expressed in terms of what was good for men, Edgeworth here gives us a practical illustration of the contention that educated women made better wives and mothers.

The other thing we see here is Edgeworth's personal interest in the raising and education of children. Despite all the criticisms of Lady Delacour, at this time children were often left to be raised by governesses and servants, or the boys sent away very young to school, without much input from their parents. They were "seen and not heard", and often not seen either.

So the Percivals are unusual too in the nature of their relationship with their children, the time they spend with them, and the encouragement they offer of the children's individual talents and interests, which is something that Edgeworth advocated for very strongly---it was one of the main platforms of her plan for children's education, as opposed to the regimented learning-by-rote that was common before her ideas began to be widely adopted.

Edgeworth believed that children were rational beings, and would respond to rational treatment:

The elder and younger part of the family were not separated from each other; even the youngest child in the house seemed to form part of the society, to have some share and interest in the general occupations or amusements The children were treated neither as slaves nor as playthings, but as reasonable creatures; and the ease with which they were managed, and with which they managed themselves, surprised Belinda; for she heard none of that continual lecturing which goes forward in some houses, to the great fatigue and misery of all the parties concerned, and of all the spectators.

So basically, after showing us all the misery and contention of the Delacour household, here she is giving us her ideas on how marriage and the family should work.

69lyzard
Feb 12, 3:37pm Top

>66 kac522:

Well done, Kathy!

I hope you've taken lots of notes, or put in lots of markers, and can go on adding your thoughts to our discussion?? :)

70lyzard
Feb 12, 3:46pm Top

Chapter 8 also introduces us to Miss Margaret Delacour, and reveals that she has custody of the only surviving Delacour child, Helena.

While the revelation that Lady Delacour has never mentioned Helena to Hervey is rather shocking, note the accusation made here by Miss Delacour:

    "I am convinced that she hates her daughter. Why she never speaks of her---she never sees her---she never thinks of her!”
    “Some mothers speak more than they think of their children, and others think more than they speak of them,” said Lady Anne.
    “I always thought,” said Mr Hervey, “that Lady Delacour was a woman of great sensibility.”
    “Sensibility!” exclaimed the indignant old lady, “she has no sensibility, sir---none---none. She who lives in a constant round of dissipation, who performs no one duty, who exists only for herself; how does she show her sensibility? Has she sensibility for her husband---for her daughter---for any one useful purpose upon earth? Oh, how I hate the cambric handkerchief sensibility that is brought out only to weep at a tragedy! Yes; Lady Delacour has sensibility enough, I grant ye, when sensibility is the fashion. I remember well her performing the part of a nurse with vast applause; and I remember, too, the sensibility she showed, when the child that she nursed fell a sacrifice to her dissipation. The second of her children, that she killed---"


Lady Delacour's rejection of Helena must be viewed in the context of her belief that she is deadly to her children (and we see here that others are not slow to say so).

Knowing her as we do, it is not surprising that she chooses to hide her pain with regard to her children by, effectively, declining to acknowledge Helena's existence.

71lyzard
Feb 12, 3:49pm Top

>65 souloftherose:

'The Mysterious Boudoir' in nine volumes

:D

72NinieB
Feb 12, 6:24pm Top

Like Kathy (>63 kac522:), I am finished. I found Volume 3 almost compulsively readable--I didn't intend to finish last night but I had to.

You all might enjoy what I coincidentally read just the other night:

About halfway through the book, when Cabell has completed his superhuman journey of 151 days from his station to Moreton Bay{, Queensland,} with his first wool clip, there is an ironic reference to some slim signs of culture in "the little world held in the claws of two bends of the river". Cabell learns that the Moreton Bay Reading Circle will be meeting to discuss the latest of Miss Maria Edgeworth's novels.

--Geoffrey Dutton, The Australian Collection: Australia's Greatest Books, pp. 151-52, discussing Brian Penton's Landtakers (a historical novel set in the 1840s).

73lyzard
Feb 13, 4:27pm Top

>72 NinieB:

Congratulations! I hope you too will stick around and share your thoughts with us.

Ha! Yes, despite what the British thought we weren't actually a bunch of illiterates. :D

In fact, considering the difficulties of obtaining books at all at that time, we were actually a very well-read and book-loving society...as the fact that there even was a "Moreton Bay Reading Club" tends to support...

74lyzard
Edited: Feb 13, 4:50pm Top

Chapter 9

Ouch:

Doctor X--- fixed his eyes mildly upon Clarence Hervey, and exclaimed in an earnest friendly tone, “What a pity, Mr Hervey, that a young man of your talents and acquirements, a man who might be any thing, should---pardon the expression---choose to be---nothing..."

However the focus of this chapter is a shrewd dissection of the complicated feelings of Lady Delacour towards Helena---which by now have become tangled up with her jealousy and resentment of Lady Anne: Helena is better off with Lady Anne, just as Mr Percival is better off with Lady Anne...

    "Why will you delight in making yourself appear less good than you are, my dear Lady Delacour?” said Belinda, taking her hand.
    “Because I hate to be like other people,” said her ladyship, “who delight in making themselves appear better than they are. But I was going to tell you, that I do believe I did provoke Percival by marrying Lord Delacour: I cannot tell you how much this idea delights me. I am sure that the man has a lively remembrance of me, or else he would never make his wife take so much notice of my daughter.”
    “Surely, your ladyship does not think,” said Belinda, “that a wife is a being whose actions are necessarily governed by a husband.”
    “Not necessarily---but accidentally. When a lady accidentally sets up for being a good wife, she must of course love, honour, and obey. Now, you understand, I am not in the least obliged to Lady Anne for her kindness to Helena, because it all goes under the head of obedience, in my imagination; and her ladyship is paid for it by an accession of character: she has the reward of having it said, ‘Oh, Lady Anne Percival is the best wife in the world,' ‘Oh, Lady Anne Percival is quite a pattern woman!’ I hate pattern women. I hope I may never see Lady Anne; for I’m sure I should detest her beyond all things living.."


Note:

Despite the changes Edgeworth made later to Belinda, the first volume remained almost untouched. The one alteration she made was to the ages of both Lady Delacour and Clarence Hervey, presumably to make their longstanding flirtation less "improper".

Thus, Hervey was made a couple of years older: he's about twenty-four in the original text, and was "nineteen or twenty" when his flirtation with Lady Delacour started; while the moment when Hervey says to Dr X--- that, "Lady Delacour is not yet six-and-thirty" was changed to, "Lady Delacour is not yet thirty."

To me that last change robs the narrative of some of its poignancy, by minimising the number of empty, restless years that Lady Delacour has been pursuing her self-destructive path: a path which would have begun and coincided with her surrendering Helena, who is now "ten or twelve". Also, in narrative terms, the change in Lady Delacour's age does not leave sufficient time for the loss of the two children born before Helena.

75lyzard
Edited: Feb 13, 5:10pm Top

Chapter 10

    Belinda, after her ladyship’s departure, retired to the library. Her time passed so agreeably during Lady Delacour’s absence, that she was surprised when she heard the clock strike twelve.
    “Is it possible,” thought she, “that I have spent two hours by myself in a library without being tired of my existence?"


:D

Noting here that Belinda uses the expression "fine lady" as in the first definition above, to contrast herself with Lady Delacour:

"If I had never seen the utmost extent of the pleasures of the world, as they are called, my imagination might have misled me to the end of my life; but now I can judge from my own experience, and I am convinced that the life of a fine lady would never make me happy."

However the bulk of this chapter is not amusing at all, as it deals with Lord Delacour's ugly suspicions of his wife in the face of the strange behaviour of Lady Delacour, Belinda and Marriott, regarding the "mysterious boudoir"; and with Lady Delacour's worsening health situation, which has become bad enough for her to concede to Belinda's demand that she let Dr X--- into her secret.

Noting too the ironic end to Lady Delacour's manoeuvring to gain possession of her new carriage and horses for "the birth night", to show up Mrs Luttridge.

76NinieB
Feb 13, 6:50pm Top

>73 lyzard: Yes, I'll be here. I'm learning all kinds of things! And I haven't read the Introduction or the notes yet. I'm also thinking of trying to work in some Frances Burney soon.

77Helenliz
Feb 14, 1:17am Top

I finished Volume 1 last night.
I think some of our characters have been stuck in the poses that they put on for company that they can no longer break out and be who they really are.

78lyzard
Feb 14, 1:21am Top

>77 Helenliz:

Quite right. Or as Kurt Vonnegut put it: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."

Possibly only some major upheaval can bring about change...?? :)

79Helenliz
Feb 14, 1:33am Top

>78 lyzard: I was thinking of some frog that coats itself in mud for protection, only the mud shell gets so set that it becomes trapped. I may have made that up, of course >;-)
Let's pray for rain, shall we?

80souloftherose
Feb 14, 4:21pm Top

I've just started Volume II but the footnote at the end of Chapter 11 made me smile:

"he could not think of any thing more interesting, more amusing, to whisper in Belinda's ear, than 'Don't you think the candles want snuffing famously?' (1)

(1) Taken from real life"


And in Chapter 12 I got a little confused about the back and forth over the pocket-book between Lord Delacour, Belinda and Lady Delacour. Lord D tries to give Belinda back the 200 guineas. Belinda gives it back to him and then he gives it to Lady D to give to Belinda. And it's ok for Belinda to accept it from Lady D but not from Lord D. Did I understand that right?

81lyzard
Edited: Feb 14, 4:52pm Top

>79 Helenliz:

You haven't, but it's a choice not a trap: the Australian burrowing frog can stay underground for years surrounded by caked mud, waiting for good soaking rains.

Please don't pray for rain for me, I'm struggling with roof issues again, grr!

>80 souloftherose:

But of course she should marry him---gahh!!

Yes, it's a slightly delicate situation: Belinda does not wish to take money directly from Lord Delacour; what she does wish, though, is to smooth things over between the Delacours if she can. So while Lord D. is giving Lady D. some money (via the pocketbook), she makes him look thoughtful and generous by adding the payment of her debt to that fund, so that Lady D. has the capacity to discharge it directly.

To us all this may seem like splitting hairs, but at the time such nuances were very important. Indeed we see this both in Lord D.'s appreciation of Belinda's gesture in taking herself out of the equation, and Lady D.'s response:

"Here are your two hundred guineas, my dear Belinda: a thousand thanks for the thing, and a million for the manner---manner is all in all in conferring favours."

We find that Lord D. is too honest to take credit for Belinda's thought, though; but his confession of the fact only does him good with Lady D.

82lyzard
Feb 14, 5:28pm Top

Language:

This passage also brings us up against one of the trickier concepts of 18th and 19th century literature, "delicacy"---or more correctly, the difference between "true delicacy" and "false delicacy".

"True delicacy" was a complicated business---particularly for a young woman. It was a kind of refined social instinct, a sense of motives and consequences, leading to the correct act at the correct time. Belinda's rejection of a direct repayment from Lord Delacour is a minor example. However, "true delicacy" was also a reflection of character and morals, a fine judgement - again, held to be more or less instinctive - of what was correct and what was not.

"False delicacy" was more complicated again, though in its way more interesting. In its simplest definition it was overrefining on the wrong points, due to lack of that very instinct---a girl pretending to be much more modest and sensitive than she actually was by being "shocked" at everything, for example.

During the telling of her history, Lady Delacour admits that she was led into behaving immodestly in order to keep her fashionable standing, by the suggestion that modest behaviour was really only play-acting, i.e. "false delicacy":

Chapter 3

"Such things as I have heard Harriot Freke say! You will not believe it---but her conversation at first absolutely made me, like an old-fashioned fool, wish I had a fan to play with. But, to my astonishment, all this took surprisingly with a set of fashionable young men. I found it necessary to reform my manners. If I had not taken heart of grace, and publicly abjured the heresies of false delicacy, I should have been excommunicated..."

But it was around courtship and marriage that girls were most often pressured into a display of false delicacy. The reality was that they were sent out into society to catch a husband; but at the same time, they were supposed to appear "unconscious" of the fact.

A marriage proposal was a particularly tricky thing: saying "yes" at once might make you look over-eager and therefore "indelicate", but a "no" might be taken as final---hence responses like, "I don't know what to say."

Belinda, of course, has no truck with this sort of thing, as we see in Chapter 12 during her conversation with Sir Philip:

    "I’ll trouble you for Mrs Stanhope’s direction, Miss Portman; I believe, to do the thing in style, I ought to write to her before I speak to you.”
    Belinda looked at him with astonishment; and laying down the pencil with which she had just begun to write a direction to Mrs Stanhope, she said, “Perhaps, Sir Philip, to do the thing in style, I ought to pretend at this instant not to understand you; but such false delicacy might mislead you: permit me, therefore, to say, that if I have any concern in the letter which you, are going to write to my aunt Stanhope---”


Most authors, certainly most female authors, were forthright in their encouragement of young women to be straightforward in these situations, but it went against a lot of their social training.

(Consider one of literature's most famous accusations of false delicacy, from Mr Collins after Lizzie rejects his marriage proposal in Pride And Prejudice: "As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females." Like Belinda, Lizzie is free of false delicacy and soon sets Mr Collins straight.)

We will encounter the expression a few more times going forward; it offers a good measure of the kinds of social difficulties that young women had to negotiate at the time.

83NinieB
Feb 14, 7:32pm Top

One thing I was puzzling over, of which your discussion of delicacy reminds me, is the distinction between the man of feeling and the man of gallantry. I should have raised this question before, because I don't know which chapter it was in.

84lyzard
Edited: Feb 14, 11:02pm Top

>83 NinieB:

The word "gallantry" is used very often to describe male conduct, and interestingly enough, mostly with a positive connotation. It was the conduct of a man towards a woman, in which compliments and showy gestures and attention were very prominent.

A man was expected to be gallant as part of the proper behaviour of a gentleman in society. However, it could be no more than a form of public play-acting on his part, to win a reputation of a "ladies' man".

Being "a man of feeling" was (as you rightly intuit) more or less the male equivalent of having "true delicacy": in that case a man's conduct towards a woman would be dictated by respect and sincerity; it would be marked by politeness and service, rather than compliments and gestures.

A man of gallantry could be flattering and good fun, but he was unlikely to marry you; a man of feeling would only behave like that towards you if he meant it. A man of gallantry might make you fall in love with him just for the heck of it; a man of feeling would be conscious of the harm he might do you.

BTW I think the passage you have in mind is from Mrs Stanhope's letter to Belinda in Chapter 1, after Belinda starts to panic about her situation with Lady Delacour: Mrs Stanhope soothes her by assuring her that the flirtation between Lady Delacour and Hervey really doesn't mean anything---she describes him as "evidently a man of gallantry rather than of sentiment".

85souloftherose
Feb 16, 3:36am Top

Volume II, Chapter 17 - I think this references what Liz was saying in >82 lyzard: about 'delicacy' but I found the argument between Mr Percival and Mrs Freke quite difficult to follow (I think partly because Mrs Freke seems to be changing the subject very rapidly because she can't actually argue very well with Mr P). I wasn't really comfortable with either of their positions but from a 21st century perspective I probably agree more with Mrs Freke than with Mr P (this reminds me of our discussion about Elinor's views in The Wanderer).

Also, this made me smile:

“You read, I see! I did not know you were a reading girl. So did 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.”

Could it be possible Mr P has the upper hand in the following argument because he reads a lot of books? :-)

86lyzard
Edited: Feb 16, 3:32pm Top

>85 souloftherose:

Yes, Mr Percival's stance represents what we might call the rational man's view at the time---which may or may not have differed from the rational woman's view. :)

It would have been interesting if Edgeworth had had Mrs Freke argue with Lady Anne: would she have written that scene differently? Possibly not. It was dangerous to have your main female character embracing "radical" views, however self-evident those views may now strike us as being. Burney got those ideas "out there" by putting them in Elinor's mouth; however, there is less suggestion here that we are supposed to give what Mrs Freke says due consideration.

(The timing is tricky: The Wanderer, though published in 1814, is set about ten years before Belinda.)

Rather, what this illustrates is that Mrs Freke says and does what she does just for the shock value, not because she has thought it through. She has no reasoning behind her actions, no real convictions, and cannot support her position when anyone actually presses her on it.

"When one has made up one’s opinion, there is no use in reading."

While this makes us smile, it also points out that "reading", at the time, meant non-fiction; it was a form of self-education, the main source of information about the world. The possibility of learning about the world at large via fiction really did not exist (as opposed to learning about existing society).

87lyzard
Edited: Feb 16, 3:46pm Top

Chapter 10

We have touched before upon the fact that Edgeworth was alluding to the relationship of Edgar and Dr Marchmont in Camilla, in that of Hervey and Dr X---.

This bit makes me laugh: Hervey gets into agonies at the drop of a hat, just like Edgar; but instead of encouraging and justifying him, as Dr Marchmont does, Dr X--- responds by mocking and scolding him:

    “Oh, my dear friend,” said Hervey, taking his hand, “do not jest with me; I am not able to bear your raillery in my present temper---in one word, I fear that Belinda is unworthy of my esteem: I can tell you no more, except that I am more miserable than I thought any woman could make me.”
    “You are in a prodigious hurry to be miserable,” said Dr X---. “Upon my word I think you would make a mighty pretty hero in a novel; you take things very properly for granted, and, stretched out upon that sofa, you act the distracted lover vastly well---and to complete the matter, you cannot tell me why you are more miserable than ever man or hero was before. I must tell you, then, that you have still more cause for jealousy than you suspect. Ay, start---every jealous man starts at the sound of the word jealousy---a certain symptom this of the disease.”
    “You mistake me,” cried Clarence Hervey; “no man is less disposed to jealousy than I am, but---”
    “But your mistress---no, not your mistress, for you have never yet declared to her your attachment---but the lady you admire will not let a drunken man unlock a door, and you immediately suppose---”
    “She has mentioned the circumstance to you!” exclaimed Hervey, in a joyful tone: “then she must be innocent.”
    “Admirable reasoning! I was going to have told you just now, if you would have suffered me to speak connectedly, that you have more reason for jealousy than you suspect, for Miss Portman has actually unlocked for me---for me! look at me---the door, the mysterious door---and whilst I live, and whilst she lives, we can neither of us ever tell you the cause of the mystery. All I can tell you is, that no lover is in the case, upon my honour---and now, if you should ever mistake curiosity in your own mind for jealousy, expect no pity from me...”


Two other points here: sensible Dr X--- knows very well that men were just as subject to curiosity as women, though the latter would go for centuries under the stigma of "female curiosity"; and another language point---the use of mistress to mean the woman to whom a man was declaredly attached, not his sexual partner.

Confusingly, the word was used both ways, and we can only be sure of the implication by who is using it.

88lyzard
Edited: Feb 16, 4:37pm Top

...and in Chapter 11, we get this very important passage, in which Belinda reasons through her opinion of marriage, and her feelings towards Hervey---concluding that she would be foolish and reckless to let herself really love him.

Belinda is a fascinating case study of a heroine. She does everything that girls were always told they "should": she keeps her feelings under control and to herself, she acts from reason not impulse, she is never led astray by her emotions, she is invariably prudent---and the result of this was, the critics didn't like her, presumably because she left them no room to be patronising or indulgent of her "folly"; though the official reason was that they found her "cold".

In other words, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

We keep making the Burney / Edgeworth connection, and really the more we think about it, the more Edgeworth seems to be responding to Burney's narratives. Recall that in both Cecilia and The Wanderer, the "hero" finds out about the heroine's feelings for him more or less by accident: Delville overhears Cecilia speaking of him to his dog, Harleigh finds out that Juliet has let herself use his money---and from that moment each of them behaves like the woman in question is his property; that because she has admitted she cares for him, she has to do what he wants.

We can therefore see why Belinda is so determined to keep herself to herself. This assumption of rights, even by honourable and generous men, shows how much a woman had to lose if she allowed herself any openness.

The other vital aspect of this passage is Belinda's rumination on marriage generally. This is something pretty much unique in the literature of the time (though of course Jane Austen picked it up and ran with it): Belinda concludes, against all contemporary belief, that an unhappy marriage is much worse than no marriage at all.


(I will break this up into sections, to make it more digestible and to highlight a number of really important points. This is a pretty amazing piece of writing in the context of its time.)


The reflections, however, which Miss Portman made upon the miserable life this ill-matched couple led together, did not incline her in favour of marriage in general; great talents on one side, and good-nature on the other, had, in this instance, tended only to make each party unhappy. Matches of interest, convenience, and vanity, she was convinced, diminished instead of increasing happiness. Of domestic felicity she had never, except during her childhood, seen examples---she had, indeed, heard from Dr X--- descriptions of the happy family of Lady Anne Percival, but she feared to indulge the romantic hope of ever being loved by a man of superior genius and virtue, with a temper and manners suited to her taste.

The only person she had seen, who at all answered this description, was Mr. Hervey; and it was firmly fixed in her mind, that he was not a marrying man, and consequently not a man of whom any prudent woman would suffer herself to think with partiality. She could not doubt that he liked her society and conversation; his manner had sometimes expressed more than cold esteem. Lady Delacour had assured her that it expressed love; but Lady Delacour was an imprudent woman in her own conduct, and not scrupulous as to that of others.

Belinda was not guided by her opinions of propriety; and now that her ladyship was confined to her bed, and not in a condition to give her either advice or protection, she felt that it was peculiarly incumbent on her to guard, not only her conduct from reproach, but her heart from the hopeless misery of an ill-placed attachment. She examined herself with firm impartiality; she recollected the excessive pain that she had endured, when she first heard Clarence Hervey say, that Belinda Portman was a compound of art and affectation; but this she thought was only the pain of offended pride—of proper pride. She recollected the extreme anxiety she had felt, even within the last four-and-twenty hours, concerning the opinion which he might form of the transaction about the key of the boudoir---but this anxiety she justified to herself; it was due, she thought, to her reputation; it would have been inconsistent with female delicacy to have been indifferent about the suspicions that necessarily arose from the circumstances in which she was placed.

And without even a paragraph break, we are reminded that Belinda has even more reason to be "prudent" than Hervey's erratic behaviour. At the end of Chapter 10, Hervey reveals to Dr X--- that he is seriously involved with another woman; and here, Belinda finds out about it:

Clarence was destitute neither of address nor presence of mind; but an accident happened, when he was just taking leave of Miss Portman, which threw him into utter confusion. It surprised, if it did not confound, Belinda. She had forgotten to ask Dr X--- for his direction; and as she thought it might be necessary to write to him concerning Lady Delacour’s health, she begged of Mr Hervey to give it to her. He took a letter out of his pocket, and wrote the direction with a pencil; but as he opened the paper, to tear off the outside, on which he had been writing, a lock of hair dropped out of the letter; he hastily stooped for it, and as he took it up from the ground the lock unfolded. Belinda, though she cast but one involuntary, hasty glance at it, was struck with the beauty of its colour, and its uncommon length. The confusion of Clarence Hervey convinced her that he was extremely interested about the person to whom the hair belonged, and the species of alarm which she had felt at this discovery opened her eyes effectually to the state of her own heart. She was sensible that the sight of a lock of hair, however long, or however beautiful, in the hands of any man but Clarence Hervey, could not possibly have excited any emotion in her mind. “Fortunately,” thought she, “I have discovered that he is attached to another, whilst it is yet in my power to command my affections; and he shall see that I am not so weak as to form any false expectations from what I must now consider as mere common-place flattery.”

What's interesting in this last piece is that all through the 19th century, girls being pushed into marriage were told that they would "learn" to love their husbands, that is, that they could indeed "command their affections"; but when Belinda commanded hers so as not to fall irretrievably in love, it somehow made her "unfeminine".

89Helenliz
Feb 17, 12:47pm Top

>85 souloftherose: Chapter 17 I got the impresison Mrs Freake would think she won the arguement, but only becasue she never actually listened to any of the responses, so confused having the last word with having won the arguement.

I'm more impressed with Belinda here, in that while she may not be on the best of terms with Lady Delacour at this point, she does not turn over to the enemy either. She is on neither side, at this point, but is charting a middle course.

90Helenliz
Feb 17, 1:26pm Top

Chapter 18 ahh yes, the joy and pain for first loves... and how glad I am that I'd didn't marry mine! I'm with Mr Percival on this one, first love may be sweet but it isn't always the right one.

Chapter 19 That wasn't the ending I was expecting of that chapter's beginning. Carrying right on, that's too much of a cliffhanger to stop there!

91souloftherose
Feb 17, 2:20pm Top

>88 lyzard: Really interesting point on Belinda controlling her feelings Liz. And I wonder if this ties into the later conversation between Lady Delacour and Belinda on her feelings toward Mr Vincent in Chapter 25 on loving and being in love?

>89 Helenliz: 'I got the impression Mrs Freake would think she won the arguement, but only becasue she never actually listened to any of the responses, so confused having the last word with having won the arguement.'

Good point - I suspect you're correct that Mrs Freke did think she'd won the argument!

>90 Helenliz: 'how glad I am that I'd didn't marry mine'

Definitely! From the way the subject is discussed in the novel though I take it Edgeworth (or Mr Percival) is going against the common view here?

I seem to have done a lot of reading this weekend and have just finished Chapter 27. I have thoughts on Chapter 26 and Chapter 27 for when we get to that point. I am adding my brief thoughts below with a spoiler tag so I don't forget them....

There was a non-fiction account I read on this subject (How to Create the Perfect Wife by Wendy Moore) which I think mentioned the Edgeworth's but I can't remember the details of how the Edgeworths were involved. I will see if I can find the book at the library again. From a modern day perspective this is very, very creepy. And the way Virginia is expected to be grateful (especially to the father who only decides to look for her after his second wife and son die) makes me want to shout at people.

92lyzard
Edited: Feb 17, 4:48pm Top

I feel like I'm dragging my feet horribly, because you're all dashing on ahead of me, while I'm still making points from Chapter 11...but I have a good excuse this time, as the detail I want to highlight looks forward to some of the points that Heather is making in >91 souloftherose: (including her spoiler).

This quote:

    “Why, damme, as to matrimony, I can’t say; but the girl’s so famously beautiful, and Clary has been constant to her so many years---”
    “Many years! then she is not young?”
    “Oh, damme, yes, she is not more than seventeen---and, let her be what else she will, she’s a famous fine girl. I had a sight of her once at Windsor, by stealth.”
    And then the baronet described her after his manner. “Where Clary keeps her now, I can’t make out; but he has taken her away from Windsor. She was then with a gouvernante, and is as proud as the devil, which smells like matrimony for Clary.”
    “And do you know this peerless damsel’s name?”
    “I think the old Jezebel called her Miss St. Pierre---ay, damme, it was Virginia too---Virginia St. Pierre.”
    “Virginia St. Pierre, a pretty romantic name,” said Lady Delacour...


This is an oblique reference to Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's 1788 novel, Paul et Virginie, one of the 18th century's most popular (and lachrymose) sentimental novels, and a rare sentimental novel that was admired for its morals as well as its sentiment.

However---Edgeworth is hinting at something here about the relationship between Hervey and Virginia, which her readers would have picked up on, and which we'll talk about properly later.

93lyzard
Feb 17, 4:51pm Top

>91 souloftherose:

I'm not sure, but Edgeworth may have been the first to make that I love you but I'm not in love with you distinction. Anyway, I can't remember an earlier example.

The whole business of first loves and later loves is something we need to discuss when we're done and can see properly what Edgeworth has been saying.

94lyzard
Feb 17, 5:10pm Top

The end of Volume I and the beginning of Volume II deal chiefly with Belinda's attempts to bring Lady Delacour and Helena together.

Edgeworth does a good job presenting Lady Delacour's complicated feelings here: her longing for Helena, her real belief that she is a bad mother, her jealousy of Lady Anne, and her sense that because of her illness, she shouldn't allow Helena to get attached to her.

But as we see in Chapter 14, it is chiefly the changing relationship between the two that makes Lady Delacour think seriously of submitting to the operation that terrifies her so much: the thought that she might still have a real relationship with her daughter.

However---Lady Delacour can never do a right thing without doing a wrong thing, it seems, and here she puts Belinda in the impossible situation of concealing events from Lord Delacour.

Belinda's consideration for Lord Delacour paves the way for Lady Delacour's growing suspicion of her, fueled by Lord Delacour's open admiration of Belinda - a perfectly platonic admiration, as is obvious to us - and later by the gossip spread by Lord D.'s nasty valet, Champfort.

Again, it is the complicated cross-currents of feeling that Edgeworth teases out in Lady Delacour that are so striking---and so psychologically acute, particularly Lady D's fear that her illness will make her repulsive to her husband. But on the other hand we have this incredibly rapid dissection of Belinda's actions, and the worst possible construction put on each one.

Poor Belinda!---

    Lady Delacour, notwithstanding the drowsy tone in which she pronounced these last words, was not in the least inclined to sleep. A passion had taken possession of her mind, which kept her broad awake the remainder of the night---the passion of jealousy. The extreme eagerness with which Belinda had urged her to consult Lord Delacour, and to trust him with her secret, displeased her; not merely as an opposition to her will, and undue attention to his lordship’s feelings, but as 'confirmation strong' of a hint which had been dropped by Sir Philip Baddely, but which never till now had appeared to her worthy of a moment’s consideration. Sir Philip had observed, that, “if a young lady had any hopes of being a viscountess, it was no wonder she thought a baronet beneath her notice.” “Now,” thought Lady Delacour, “this is not impossible. In the first place, Belinda Portman is niece to Mrs. Stanhope; she may have all her aunt’s art, and the still greater art to conceal it under the mask of openness and simplicity: Volto sciolto, pensieri stretti, is the grand maxim of the Stanhope school.” The moment Lady Delacour’s mind turned to suspicion, her ingenuity rapidly supplied her with circumstances and arguments to confirm and justify her doubts.
    “Miss Portman fears that my husband is growing too fond of me: she says, he has been very attentive to me of late. Yes, so he has; and on purpose to disgust him with me, she immediately urges me to tell him that I have a loathsome disease, and that I am about to undergo a horrid operation. How my eyes have been blinded by her artifice! This last stroke was rather too bold, and has opened them effectually, and now I see a thousand things that escaped me before. Even to-night, the Sortes Virgilianae, the myrtle leaf, Miss Portman’s mark, left in the book exactly at the place where Marmontel gives a receipt for managing a husband of Lord Delacour’s character. Ah, ah! By her own confession, she had been reading this: studying it. Yes, and she has studied it to some purpose; she has made that poor weak lord of mine think her an angel. How he ran on in her praise the other day, when he honoured me with a morning visit! That morning visit, too, was of her suggestion; and the bank-notes, as he, like a simpleton, let out in the course of the conversation, had been offered to her first. She, with a delicacy that charmed my short-sighted folly, begged that they might go through my hands. How artfully managed! Mrs. Stanhope herself could not have done better. So, she can make Lord Delacour do whatever she pleases; and she condescends to make him behave prettily to me, and desires him to bring me peace-offerings of bank-notes! She is, in fact, become my banker; mistress of my house, my husband, and myself! Ten days I have been confined to my room. Truly, she has made a good use of her time: and I, fool that I am, have been thanking her for all her disinterested kindness!
    “Then her attention to my daughter! disinterested, too, as I thought! But, good Heavens, what an idiot I have been! She looks forward to be the step-mother of Helena..."


(Volto sciolto, pensieri stretti = "open face, secret thoughts")

95lyzard
Feb 17, 5:26pm Top

Lady Delacour's sick suspicions come to a head in Chapter 15, with a brutal scene unfolding between her and Belinda.

Edgeworth again takes the path less travelled here, by having Belinda, though terribly distressed, become angry and indignant at the accusations thrown at her: to recognise and object to the profoundly ungrateful return to all her efforts and her friendship.

Having a young woman stand up and defend herself, rather than be "overcome", again separates Belinda from the majority of the time's heroines, who would have seized the opportunity for a display of "sensibility":

    As she pronounced the word 'coronet', she pointed to a coronet set in diamonds on her watch-case, which lay on the table. Then suddenly seizing the watch, she dashed it upon the marble hearth with all her force, “Vile bauble!” cried she; “must I lose my only friend for such a thing as you? Oh, Belinda! do you see that a coronet cannot confer happiness?”
    “I have seen it long---I pity you from the bottom of my soul,” said Belinda, bursting into tears.
    “Pity me not. I cannot endure your pity, treacherous woman!” cried Lady Delacour, and she stamped with a look of rage, “most perfidious of women!”
    “Yes, call me perfidious, treacherous,---stamp at me---say, do what you will; I can and will bear it all---all patiently; for I am innocent, and you are mistaken and unhappy,” said Belinda. “You will love me when you return to your senses; then how can I be angry with you?”
    “Fondle me not,” said Lady Delacour, starting back from Belinda’s caresses: “do not degrade yourself to no purpose---I never more can be your dupe. Your protestations of innocence are wasted on me---I am not so blind as you imagine. Dupe as you think me, I have seen much in silence. The whole world, you find, suspects you now. To save your reputation, you want my friendship---you want---”
    “I want nothing from you, Lady Delacour,” said Belinda. “You have suspected me long in silence! Then I have mistaken your character, I can love you no longer. Farewell for ever! Find another---a better friend.”


96Helenliz
Feb 18, 3:27am Top

Chapter 20 I can't help but think this chapter should be concluded by a big sigh of relief. See what happens when you stop putting up barriers and tell the truth?
Although the fact that we're only at ~ 2/3rds distance leaves plenty of scope for things to go awry yet...

97cbl_tn
Feb 18, 7:48am Top

Chapter 27 Fainting! Fortunately I am reading at the doctor's office at the moment. ;-)

98lyzard
Feb 18, 3:25pm Top

>96 Helenliz:

We'll see. :)

>97 cbl_tn:

Eek! - lots of chairs and couches to fall on, I hope??

99lyzard
Edited: Feb 18, 3:33pm Top

Belinda walking out on Lady Delacour shows an inordinate amount of backbone, and a decisiveness that girls weren't "supposed" to possess.

However, it is only possible because she has somewhere definite to go: many girls in such a situation would be forced to stay simply by circumstances.

The separation of Belinda and Lady Delacour, and the former's visit to the Percivals, prompts this marvellous response from Mrs Stanhope, in Chapter 16---as you know, I think Anthony Trollope is the supreme 19th century novel letter-writer, but Edgeworth gives him a run for his money here:

     Henceforward, Belinda, you may manage your own affairs as you think proper; I shall never more interfere with my advice. Refuse whom you please---go where you please---get what friends, and what admirers, and what establishment you can---I have nothing more to do with it—I will never more undertake the management of young people. There’s your sister Tollemache has made a pretty return for all my kindness! she is going to be parted from her husband, and basely throws all the blame upon me. But ‘tis the same with all of you. There’s your cousin Joddrell refused me a hundred guineas last week, though the piano-forte and harp I bought for her before she was married stood me in double that sum, and are now useless lumber on my hands; and she never could have had Joddrell without them, as she knows as well as I do. As for Mrs Levit, she never writes to me, and takes no manner of notice of me. But this is no matter, for her notice can be of no consequence now to any body. Levit has run out every thing he had in the world! All Levit's fine estates advertised in to-day’s paper---an execution in the House, I’m told. I expect that she will have the assurance to come to me in her distress: but she shall find my doors shut, I promise her. Your cousin Valleton’s match has, through her own folly, turned out like all the rest. She, her husband, and all his relations are at daggers-drawing; and Valleton will die soon, and won’t leave her a farthing in his will, I foresee, and all the fine Valleton estate goes to God knows whom!
    If she had taken my advice after marriage as before, it would have been all her own at this instant. But the passions run away with people, and they forget every thing---common sense, gratitude, and all---as you do, Belinda. Clarence Hervey will never think of you, and I give you up! Now manage for yourself as you please, and as you can! I’ll have nothing more to do with the affairs of young ladies who will take no advice.
    SELINA STANHOPE.
    P. S. If you return directly to lady Delacour’s, and marry Sir Philip Baddely, I will forgive the past.

100lyzard
Feb 18, 3:36pm Top

Shout-out to all participants:

Could you please let me know where you are up to (if you haven't), to make sure that what I say next isn't spoilery.

Thanks!

101Helenliz
Feb 18, 4:15pm Top

>99 lyzard: I loved the way that the letter says "I won't give you any more advice" then goes on to give quite a lot of advice. >;-)

>100 lyzard: End of Chapter 20.

102cbl_tn
Feb 18, 5:22pm Top

I have two chapters to go and I'll probably finish it this evening.

103cbl_tn
Feb 18, 5:23pm Top

>98 lyzard: A couple of chairs and an examination table that could work as a fainting couch in a pinch, although it's pretty high off the floor. I'm sure there are smelling salts somewhere in the office, or something that would have the sae effect!

104souloftherose
Feb 19, 6:19am Top

I've just finished!

>99 lyzard: 'However, it is only possible because she has somewhere definite to go: many girls in such a situation would be forced to stay simply by circumstances.'

Yes, and whilst maybe less realistic this felt like a relief to read about after all the dire situations and perils Burney put her female characters through.

105cbl_tn
Feb 19, 2:10pm Top

Finished!

106lyzard
Feb 19, 5:35pm Top

Thank you all for checking in and well done to those who have finished! - PLEASE come back for more conversation!! :D

I will leave what I was going to say until Helen indicates she has read a few more chapters.

107kac522
Edited: Feb 19, 11:49pm Top

>104 souloftherose: Yes, Burney's heroines seem to have little to zero control over their lives. For good or ill, Belinda's decisions were more often her own, and kudos to Edgeworth for showing us difficult but purposeful choices.

108Helenliz
Feb 20, 12:53am Top

>106 lyzard: I've finished volume 2, chapter 23.

109lyzard
Feb 20, 3:31pm Top

>104 souloftherose:, >107 kac522:

We do need to keep in mind, though, that all of Burney's books were set before Edgeworth's, even if The Wanderer was written (or finished) later: the world was changing, though slowly.

>108 Helenliz:

Thanks, Helen!

110lyzard
Edited: Feb 20, 5:32pm Top

Okay---at this stage we can deal with one of the most interesting aspects of this book---

(---and as with the restored version of The Duke's Children, I have to do this longhand!---)

Chapter 19

    One fine morning lady Anne Percival came into Belinda's room with a bridal favour in her handm "Do you know," said she, "that we are to have a wedding to day. Lucy, the pretty girl whom you may remember to have seen some time ago in a necklace of Angola pease, is the bride, and Juba is the bridegroom. Mr Vincent has let them a very pretty little farm in the neighbourhood, and---hark!
    They looked out of the window, and they saw a troop of villagers gayly dressed, going to the wedding...


When Edgeworth was pressured into cutting Belinda, the first thing to go was the wedding of Juba, Mr Vincent's black servant, and Lucy, the white farmer's daughter.

We know that this piece of cutting was at the behest of Edgeworth's father who, as she put it, "Has great delicacies and scruples of conscience about encouraging such marriages."

Note, though, the word encouraging. This is an indirect admission that such marriages were taking place---and in fact they were happening fairly frequently, at the level of society depicted here, with people of colour and their mixed-race children being assimilated into English life.

As would be the case right throughout the 19th century, literature dragged its feet over depicting society as it really was: the need to get published, the need to have books win a place in the circulating libraries, meant that literature was always more conservative than society at the same time---and we should keep this in mind when examining any social issue.

But conversely, the other thing we need to keep in mind is that Britain's Slave Trade Act (which outlawed British slave-trading, not slavery per se)wasn't passed until 1807, six years after the publication of Belinda---which highlights how radical an act it was for Edgeworth to include such a scene in her novel.

And to me, the most interesting thing about that scene is that there is no narrative need for it: it's there just to be there, written for its own sake.

The details of how Edgeworth presented this marriage in the first place are fascinating:

Chapter 18

...whilst she and Belinda were talking to the old couple, their grand-daughter, a pretty-looking girl of about eighteen, came in with a basket of eggs in her hand. "Well, Lucy," said lady Anne, "have you overcome your fear of poor Juba's black face?" The girl reddened, smiled, and looked at her grandmother, who answered for her in an arch tone, "O, yes, my lady! We are not afraid of Juba's black face now; we are grown very great friends. This pretty cane chair for my good man was his handiwork, and these baskets he made for me. Indeed, he’s a most industrious, ingenious, good natured youth; and our Lucy takes no offence at his black face now, my lady, I can assure you. That necklace," added she in a half-whisper, pointing to a necklace of Angola pease which the girl wore, "that necklace is a present of his, which is never off her neck now, my lady. So I tell him he need not be discouraged, though so be she did not take to him at the first; for she’s a good girl, and a sensible girl, I say it, though she’s my own; and the eyes are used to a face after a time, and then it’s nothing. They say, Fancy’s all in all in love. Now in my judgment, fancy’s little or nothing with girls that have sense..."

******

"...I had leisure enough left me to think of your grandfather, who was not so much to my taste like at first. But when I found out his goodness and cleverness, and joined to all, his great tenderness for me, I thought better of it, Lucy (as who knows but you may do, though there shall not be a word said on my part to press you, for poor Juba?)..."

******

"...make a prudent choice, that you won’t never have cause to repent of. But I’ll not say a word more; I’ll leave it all to yourself and poor Juba..."

Two overriding points here:

Though we might find the emphasis on Lucy's "fear" of Juba's "black face" distasteful, it should be set against a cultural norm that insisted that "nice" white people were instinctively repulsed by people of colour. (Part of the point of Othello is that Desdemona should never have fallen for Othello in the first place.) If you set this against about two hundred years of English literature filled with passages of the narrator being "sickened" by being around non-whites, not only is Lucy's "fear" understandable, but the fact that she gets over it quite remarkable. This is what Edgeworth is ultimately saying here---there is no real reason for it, that the cultural prejudices were just that, prejudices.

But equally remarkable is that Lucy's grandmother wants her to marry Juba---who is therefore tacitly presented as a more viable marital option than any of the white men of the district. A distinct parallel is made between Lucy's grandfather, with his "goodness", "cleverness" and "tenderness", and the "industrious, ingenious, good natured" Juba.

The other striking thing in all this is that final rider to the first paragraph quoted:

...they saw a troop of villagers gayly dressed, going to the wedding...

The entire village is presented as being happy about, or at least contented with, this interracial marriage.

BUT---as I say, this all got cut by Edgeworth under pressure from her father, and Lucy is married off instead to some random servant.

Here are the equivalent passages from the revised edition:

...whilst she and Belinda were talking to the old couple, their grand-daughter, a pretty looking girl of about eighteen, came in with a basket of eggs in her hand. “Well, Lucy,” said Lady Anne, “have you overcome your dislike to James Jackson?” The girl reddened, smiled, and looked at her grand-mother, who answered for her in an arch tone, “Oh, yes, my lady! We are not afraid of Jackson now; we are grown very great friends. This pretty cane chair for my good man was his handiwork, and these baskets he made for me. Indeed, he’s a most industrious, ingenious, good-natured youth; and our Lucy takes no offence at his courting her now, my lady, I can assure you. That necklace, which is never off her neck now, he turned for her, my lady; it is a present of his. So I tell him he need not be discouraged, though so be she did not take to him at the first; for she’s a good girl, and a sensible girl—I say it, though she’s my own; and the eyes are used to a face after a time, and then it’s nothing. They say, fancy’s all in all in love: now in my judgment, fancy’s little or nothing with girls that have sense..."

******

"...then I had leisure enough left me to think of your grandfather, who was not so much to my taste like at first. But when I found out his goodness and cleverness, and joined to all, his great tenderness for me, I thought better of it, Lucy (as who knows but you may do, though there shall not be a word said on my part to press you, for poor Jackson?)..."

******

"...make a prudent choice, that you won’t never have cause to repent of. But I’ll not say a word more; I’ll leave it all to yourself and James Jackson.”

111lyzard
Edited: Feb 20, 4:59pm Top

This business of Juba's marriage is only part of the book's racial overtones, which were criticised upon its first publication and cut back quite drastically by Edgeworth when she revised it.

What we need to do here is consider the implications of the word "Creole", which is applied throughout to Mr Vincent.

Strictly, a "Creole" was someone of white European descent, but who was born and raised in the West Indies.

BUT---there's that word again---BUT---"Creole" was also applied to a free black person of Caribbean origin.

So a "Creole" could be either black or white.

BUT---or perhaps I should try HOWEVER---in addition to these strict definitions, the word "Creole" carried an implication of mixed blood. Because of the social structure in places like the West Indies, where slave-worked plantations were the norm, and white women few and far between, there were many mixed-race relationships and many mixed-race children, some of them even born within marriage.

People from the West Indies tended, therefore, to be looked at askance in England---because while they might look white, you couldn't be sure.

So Edgeworth giving Belinda a "Creole" suitor is another audacious touch; and the fact that she was willing to marry the overtly black Juba to the overtly white Lucy would have warned her readers not to take it for granted what sort of "creole" Mr Vincent was.

But again, when Edgeworth revised the book, much of this was cut away---though it wasn't cut away only because of Vincent's ambiguous racial background. But that's a post for a bit later...

112lyzard
Feb 20, 5:33pm Top

Apropos of British slavery and the eventual abolition thereof, while I was checking my dates I found this in an article in the Guardian:

    The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 formally freed 800,000 Africans who were then the legal property of Britain’s slave owners. What is less well known is that the same act contained a provision for the financial compensation of the owners of those slaves, by the British taxpayer, for the loss of their “property”. The compensation commission was the government body established to evaluate the claims of the slave owners and administer the distribution of the £20m the government had set aside to pay them off. That sum represented 40% of the total government expenditure for 1834. It is the modern equivalent of between £16bn and £17bn.
    The compensation of Britain’s 46,000 slave owners was the largest bailout in British history until the bailout of the banks in 2009. Not only did the slaves receive nothing, under another clause of the act they were compelled to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour each week for their former masters, for a further four years after their supposed liberation. In effect, the enslaved paid part of the bill for their own manumission...

113Helenliz
Yesterday, 1:35am Top

>111 lyzard: I have to admit that on that one I did peek at the endnotes to see what the definition might be. As you've said, it might have meant white, but there are overtones of not-white associated with the word. Does that make him less eligible, or does a fortune whitewash a multitude of sins?

Finished Chapter 23 where I feel we're having a compare and contrast of the two suitors. We hear more of Hervey's mystery young lady (and I feel sure this isn't going to turn out to be what everyone is assuming) and Mr Vincent with his poisoned pen lettter and showing it to Belinda. I feel she's probably already made up her mind, but I'm less sure.

114lyzard
Yesterday, 3:25pm Top

>113 Helenliz:

In theory, yes; in practice, probably not; although it may well have come down to whether the person with the fortune was a man or a woman. Thackeray mocks this (along with so much else) in Vanity Fair, with "Miss Swartz, the rich woolly-haired mulatto from St. Kitt's", whose father is "a German Jew---a slave-owner they say", but who despite being given what would have been considered every possible social disadvantage, is pushed on George Osborne as a wife because of her money.

There is no actual suggestion at all in Belinda that Vincent *is* of mixed blood, yet Edgeworth would have been aware that "Creole" was a loaded word. It seems to me that, as with Juba's marriage, although in a far more oblique way, she was suggesting that race should not be a bar to marriage.

There is more to say about both the compare / contrast situation and the mysterious Virginia, but I'll leave that for a bit... :)

Group: Virago Modern Classics

591 members

51,828 messages

About

This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 132,619,799 books! | Top bar: Always visible