The Tale of Genji – Murasaki Shikibu

It’s so difficult to write about a book like Genji. I’ve been reading it over the last six weeks & it’s been a wonderful experience. Written around 1000 at the Heian Court of Japan by an author whose name we don’t know (Murasaki is the name of one of the main characters & may have become a nickname of the author), this is the earliest novel to be widely read today in competing translations that all have their admirers.

The story is in two parts. Two thirds of the book tell the story of Genji, the son of the Emperor by one of his Intimates. Genji’s mother came from a nondescript family & her position at Court relied solely on the Emperor’s love for her. He favoured Genji above his legitimately born son but politics would not allow him to make Genji his heir. Instead, after the early death of Genji’s mother, the Emperor gave Genji the surname Minamoto which enables him, as a commoner, to have more freedom than a member of the Imperial family could have. Genji will be fabulously wealthy & also play an important role at Court, rising up the hierarchy to eventually be giving the honorary title of Retired Emperor. Genji is also devastatingly handsome, exuding a wonderful perfume, charming & skilled at the courtly arts of painting & poetry. As he grows up, his relationships with women will dominate the narrative.

Whoever chanced to lay eyes on Genji was smitten by him. After one glimpse of the radiance that attended him, men of every degree (for the crudest woodcutter may yet aspire to pause in his labors beneath a blossoming tree) wished to offer him a beloved daughter, while the least menial with a sister he thought worthy entertained the ambition to place her in Genji’s service. It was therefore all but impossible for a cultivated woman like Chūjō , one who had had occasion to receive poems from him and to bask in the warmth of his beauty, not to be drawn to him.She, too, must have regretted that he did not come more often.

Genji’s actions are not always noble or chivalrous but they reflect the dominant role of men in Japanese society. He marries a well-connected young woman, Aoi, a few years older than himself. The marriage is not particularly successful, Aoi resents the match to a younger, illegitimate son of the Emperor, but they have a son, Yūgiri, before Aoi dies. Genji, meanwhile, has fallen in love with his father’s young wife, Fujitsubo, & their affair results in the birth of a son who will eventually succeed to the throne, his origins kept secret. When Genji is just a young man, he spends an evening with his friends as they discuss the different kinds of women & the different kinds of love. In some ways, he spends the rest of the novel investigating these kinds of love. Eventually he will build a palace, his Rokujō estate, where he will install a lover in each of the four wings.

Genji’s most important & lasting relationship will be with Murasaki, Fujitsubo’s niece, who he meets when she is a child of twelve. He takes her into his house & brings her up, eventually seducing her. She becomes the mistress of the east wing at Rokujō and, although they have no children together, Murasaki brings up several other children, & their relationship is close & loving. After his father’s death, Genji is sent into exile as a result of the machinations of the new Emperor’s mother.
During this period of exile, he meets another of his loves, known as the lady from Akashi. She has a daughter & Genji brings them both to live at Rokujō when he returns in triumph.

Genji agrees to marry the favourite daughter of his half-brother the Emperor who wishes to retire from the world. This is a mistake as the girl is a very ordinary young woman with no talents to attract Genji. He feels obliged to go through with the marriage & is horrified when she is seduced by another man. The boy, Kaoru, is assumed to be Genji’s child & his mother is installed in yet another wing of Rokujō. At the same time, Murasaki’s health is failing & Genji spends all his time with her. Her death devastates him & although he often declares that he wishes to leave the world & become a monk, he doesn’t do this but dies soon after.

The last third of the novel takes place some years later & introduces a younger generation. Kaoru & his friend, Genji’s grandson, Niou. These chapters are much more of a piece, telling one tragic story. The two young men become rivals for the attentions of the daughters of a Prince who has retired from the world to live at Uji. The elder daughter, Ōigimi, is courted by Kaoru but he is also attracted to her sister, Naka no Kimi, who is eventually seduced by Niou. Niou installs Naka no Kimi in his palace where she is made unhappy by his philandering. Meanwhile, Kaoru, a serious young man, hesitates to pursue his suit & Ōigimi, distressed by her father’s death & her sister’s fate, starves herself to death. Kaoru is grief stricken but is intrigued when a young woman appears who is the unrecognised illegitimate daughter of the Uji Prince. This young woman, Ukifune’s, story is the most tragic of all as she is pursued by both Kaoru & Niou.

This is a very basic description of the plot which ranges far & wide over the 1100 pages of the book. The style of the narrative is allusive, with most characters referred to by their titles which keep changing. I found it confusing but decided to just keep reading & hope that I would remember who was who. I found that if I didn’t read it for a few days (usually because I was at work & couldn’t carry the book around with me), it took me a while to get back into the story again. There are hundreds of characters &, as well as the tragedy, many very funny scenes. The narrator also looks at Genji’s behaviour, especially his ready recourse to tears, with a satirical eye & by no means approves of his seductions & the pain he causes Murasaki.

Many ladies lived this way under his protection.He looked in on them all, fondly assuring each that despite his long silence he was always thinking of her. “My only care is the parting that no one evades. ‘I know not what life remains…'” he would say, and so on. He loved them all, each according to her station. At his rank he might deservedly have swelled with pride, and yet he seldom advertised himself, treating all instead with tact and kindness as place or degree required, so that just this much from him sustained many through the years.

The setting of the story, in Imperial Japan, is so different from anything I’ve ever read before, that I felt I was learning about the culture as well as reading an involving story. Everything about the period & the country was strange to me. The houses, the rituals, the pastimes. The courtly emphasis on poetry was fascinating. There are over 700 short poems in the text which illuminate behaviour & feelings. They also illuminate character as the ability to compose a suitable poem at any moment is a prized accomplishment. The detailed descriptions of clothes, furnishings, entertainments create this world that is involving yet so removed from the world outside the Court & the privileged classes. There’s little mention of politics or war; the pursuit of happiness & the entanglements of his relationships are all that matter to Genji & his circle.

I was also interested in the social rituals. Women’s lives were so circumscribed. Men could not approach a woman directly. He would not even see her but speak through intermediaries. If he was in the same room, she would be seated behind a curtain. There are many scenes where men peer through cracks in walls or take advantage of the wind blowing aside a curtain to catch a glimpse of a lady. Men had all the power as is seen in many of the stories in Genji. If a man forced his way into a woman’s presence, she was compromised. The men & women in the novel are never alone – solitude seems to be a foreign concept – yet determined young men are able to seduce or rape women almost at will as the servants count for less than nothing in this world of privilege. Even Kaoru, who is more sensitive than his wilful friend, Niou, is capable of causing pain through selfishness when Ōigimi is ill,

He sat near her as usual, and the wind blew the curtains about so much that her sister retired farther back into the room. When the disreputable-looking creatures went to hide from him in embarrassment, he moved closer still. “How do you feel?” he asked through his tears. “I have prayed for you in every way I know, but none of it has done any good, and you will not even let me hear your voice. It is so painful! I shall never forgive you for leaving me this way.”

I loved this final section of the book. At around 300pp it’s the length of a novel on its own & the narrative is more coherent with just one storyline. It’s full of interest & tragedy from the fate of the Uji sisters to the contrast between Kaoru & Niou.

Religion is also an important factor. Characters often long to leave the world & enter the religious life & many do so. The supernatural in the form of evil spirits & possession is ever-present & there are several exorcisms where the evil spirits speak to the monks who are trying to remove them. I also loved the descriptions of the countryside & the weather. The details of dress, the correct colours to wear for mourning or at different times of the year, were all fascinating. The book creates a complete world that it was a real delight to disappear into for hours at a time. I read the Penguin Deluxe edition translated by Royall Tyler & the notes & line drawings were a real help in visualising Genji’s world & understanding the allusions in the text. I can definitely imagine rereading Genji & next time I’ll try a different translation.

My only problem now is what to read next! I often feel this way after reading a long book that was as absorbing as this one. I’m still listening to The Romanovs & reading Leon Roch with the 19th century group but I need something else. I’ve been picking books up & putting them down for a few days now but nothing has really grabbed me. Maybe some short stories? Something completely different is called for although that won’t be difficult as there’s nothing else quite like The Tale of Genji.

Sentimental Education – Gustave Flaubert

For certain men the stronger their desire, the less likely they are to act. Lack of self-confidence holds them back, they are terrified of giving offence. Moreover, deep affections are like respectable women; they are afraid of being found out and go through life with their eyes cast down.

Frédéric Moreau is a romantic young ditherer. Sent by his mother to stay with a rich uncle, with a view to being mentioned in his will, he is returning home with no definite plans & no promise of an inheritance. On the journey home, Frédéric falls in love at first sight with Madame Arnoux, wife of an art dealer. All he can think about is getting to Paris to pursue her. He goes to Paris to study law, visiting Arnoux in his shop but unable to either declare himself to Madame or to stop visiting. His schoolfriend, Deslauriers, comes to Paris & they share rooms, mostly at Frédéric’s expense. Through Deslauriers, Frédéric meets a group of radical writers & artists. His studies suffer & he still hasn’t made an impression on Madame Arnoux.

Frédéric returns home discouraged & already half-forgetting Madame but then receives a letter informing him that his uncle has died intestate & he has inherited a substantial fortune. Immediately, all his plans for a sober provincial future are overturned. He’s desperate to return to Paris. His mother thinks that a political or diplomatic career will now be open to him & urges him to make the acquaintance of the local landowner, Monsieur Dambreuse. Frédéric’s return to Paris leads to a whirl of partying & he meets a courtesan, Rosanette, known as the Maréchale, who is Jacques Arnoux’s mistress. Maréchale is attracted to Rosanette but still yearning for Madame Arnoux.

The company of these two women made a sort of twofold music in his life: one was playful, violent, entertaining; the other serious and almost religious. And the two melodies playing at the same time steadily swelled and became gradually intertwined. For if Madame Arnoux brushed him with her finger, the image of the other woman appeared before him as an object of desire, because he had more of a chance with her. And when in Rosanette’s company his emotions happened to be stirred, he immediately remembered his one true love.

His friendship with the Arnouxs leads him into financial commitments & Deslauriers is also pressuring him to invest in a radical newspaper. Frédéric becomes almost a companion to the Maréchale, taking her to the races, paying for her portrait to be painted but he is not her lover, he’s too timid to demand more than a few kisses. The Maréchale is offended by his apparent lack of interest but she’s juggling several lovers so just accepts his companionship & his presents.

Frédéric is invited to the Dambreuse’s home & he is impressed by the splendour of their lifestyle but he fails to take up any of Dambreuse’s suggestions or invitations to invest with him & so again, he drifts along. When he does make money on an investment, he waits too long to sell his shares & loses again. His income diminishes & he continues to sell property while he loans money to Arnoux, who has sold his art dealership & is now running a porcelain factory. Frédéric’s options are to find work, to spend less, or to make a rich marriage.

Frédéric’s mother wants him to marry Louise Roque, the daughter of Monsieur Dambreuse’s agent. Louise has been infatuated with Frédéric since she was a child & she is now a woman & an heiress. Again, he dissembles & can’t commit himself to Louise while he’s still in love with Madame Arnoux & lusting after the Maréchale, whom he finally makes his mistress. Marie Arnoux has discovered her husband’s infidelities & she realises that she has fallen in love with Frédéric & then Madame Dambreuse, a haughty but attractive woman, begins to take an interest in him as well. Frédéric sees her as a challenge & the fact that she’s wealthy is an added incentive.

He read her pages of poetry, putting all his soul into it, to move her and to win her admiration. She would stop him with a critical remark or a practical observation; and their conversation reverted constantly to the eternal question of Love. They wondered what occasioned it, whether women felt it more than men, what were the differences between them on that subject. Frédéric tried to express his opinion, avoiding both vulgarity and banality. It became a kind of battle, pleasant at times and tedious at others.

Frédéric’s sentimental education begins conventionally enough – a young man falling in love with the first attractive older woman he meets – but it takes many twists & turns & although he’s meant to be receiving an education in love & life, Frédéric seems to learn very little through the course of the novel. Will he be able to take the happiness that he’s wanted for so long? Or will his constant indecision be his downfall? Maybe Frédéric’s experiences are more realistic than those of many characters in fiction who seem to have a plan for their lives. All Frédéric’s plans go awry which may be more true to life where plans often fall apart & leave a mess that has to be lived with.

Sentimental Education is a funny, cynical portrait of French society in the years leading up to the 1848 Revolution. Frédéric’s inability to make a decision about anything & his misunderstandings with everyone he meets are amusing but also frustrating. His idealism leads him into one mess after another as his motives are misrepresented time & again. Madame Arnoux sees him as a kind young man; Arnoux as his friend who is helping to keep the knowledge of his affairs from his wife; the Maréchale sees him as a ready source of fun; Louise sees him as a chivalrous hero of romance; his mother sees him as a future Cabinet Minister. He lurches from one disaster to another either financial or romantic. He fights a ridiculous duel over an insult to Madame Arnoux but the Maréchale thinks he’s saving her reputation while Arnoux thinks it’s in his defence.

There are some great set scenes – the day at the races, the dinner party at the Dambreuses, the duel, the party where Frédéric first meets the Maréchale – that contrast with the poverty of students like Deslauriers & the journalists & artists in his circle. Then there’s the radical element, men like the engineer Sénécal who is arrested for conspiring to assassinate King Louis-Phillippe. As the 1848 Revolution unfolds, Frédéric becomes even more of a bystander to events as he & the Maréchale escape Paris for a country idyll that can’t last. His desire for approval from his friends paralyses him & whatever moral strength he may once have had just slips away as he juggles mistresses, potential wives & possible careers. In one farcical scene, he only just prevents Madame Arnoux & the Maréchale from meeting in his rooms & his selfishness is exposed in his relations with both Louise Roque & Madame Dambreuse as well as his remoteness from the political concerns of his friends. It’s a fascinating novel & it’s good to be able to read more Flaubert who is mostly remembered now for just one book, Madame Bovary.

Oxford University Press kindly sent me a review copy of Sentimental Education in a new translation by Helen Constantine.

The Rise of Silas Lapham – William Dean Howells

Silas Lapham is a self-made man. He grew up on a poor New England farm, went off to fight in the Civil War & came back to marry the local schoolteacher & make a successful business out of the mineral paint-mine his father had discovered on his land. Now, in middle-age, Colonel Lapham is a rich man, successful enough to be included in a series of newspaper interviews of the Great Men of Boston. He & his wife, Persis, have two daughters, Penelope & Irene; he employs a lot of people at his paint works & his Boston office & he has plans to build a grand new house on the Back Bay, the most select neighbourhood in Boston.

On their summer holiday, Persis & her daughters make the acquaintance of Anna Corey & her daughters. The Coreys are old Boston, a family that has an established position in society. Anna’s husband, Bromfield, is a dilettante. His father made money & Bromfield has been content to spend it. His son, Tom, is more like his grandfather. He hasn’t decided what to do with his life yet. Tom met the Lapham ladies on a visit to his mother & sisters & is smitten with one of the girls. He’s interested in the Laphams & asks the Colonel to take him into the business. Anna returns from her holiday to find Tom working for the Colonel & on visiting terms with the Laphams. She’s dismayed by Tom’s obvious interest in a family that may have money but isn’t quite out of the top drawer. The Laphams realise that their daughters haven’t had the right education, haven’t made the right connections to take their place in Boston society. This becomes more obvious as they ponder Tom’s interest in the girls compared to the standoffish behaviour of the rest of the Coreys.

Tom enjoys his work with the Colonel & has plans to help expand the business. He likes the Colonel, enjoys his obvious pride in his achievements & admires his success. He can’t help contrasting his own father’s lazy assumption of superiority with the Colonel’s energy. Tom is part of a new generation that takes people as they find them & has little time for the worries of his mother about his friendship with the Laphams & her fears that he wants to marry one of the daughters.

The Colonel & his wife have a comfortable relationship. Persis was a teacher before they married & she had a slightly higher social position in their hometown. She has always supported the Colonel but also acts as his conscience in his business dealings, whether he wants her to or not. Early in his career, the Colonel took a partner, Rogers, into the business. He soon found he didn’t like having a partner & bought Rogers out, just before the business took off. Nothing Rogers has done since has been successful & Persis has always been troubled by this, feeling that the Colonel did the wrong thing by maneuvering Rogers out of the business. Rogers turns up like a bad penny & plays on the Colonel’s uneasy feelings over their past dealings which leads to the beginnings of trouble for the Colonel & his fortunes.

The Rise of Silas Lapham is an absorbing study of character & of a society that is forced to change with the times. I loved the Colonel & Persis. Their marriage is strong although Persis has less involvement in the business than she did in the early days when they were building it up together & the Colonel has started to keep secrets from her which will cause misunderstandings. She worries over the girls & how to launch them in society (although the girls don’t seem very concerned). The Colonel thinks that money can solve any problem. He loves spending it on fast horses & his plans for a house become more grandiose & less tasteful every time he comes up with a new idea. Even his choice of a building site shows that he’s not part of the best society. He chooses to build on the “lesser” side of Back Bay. Persis spends a lot of time trying to rein the Colonel in & uncomfortably reminds him of his obligations to men like Rogers.

Penelope & Irene are embarrassed by their father’s boasting as he shows Tom around the new house but excited by the new friendship with Tom & impressed by his obvious interest in the family. The Coreys are forced into a social relationship with the Laphams through Tom’s involvement which leads to a disastrous dinner party & looks as though it will be a permanent relationship if he goes ahead with  a marriage proposal. I was reminded of the novels of Edith Wharton in the way that Howells explores the subtle gradations of social acceptability but Howells is also very good on the reality of family life & its comedy & tragedy. The Rise of Silas Lapham is a great read & I’m definitely looking forward to reading more William Dean Howells.

I Pose – Stella Benson

I Pose was Stella Benson’s first novel & it was reviewed with great acclaim when it was published in 1915. Posing is one of the main themes of the novel. The two main characters, known only as the gardener & the suffragette, spend most of the novel striking different poses. The narrator often interjects to point out these poses & to tell the reader not to take it all too seriously. I found it an odd book but I could not stop reading it. I became very fond of both the gardener & the suffragette & I wanted to find out what happened to them.

The gardener lives in a boarding house. He has very little money, doesn’t seem to have a job & carries around a nasturtium called Hilda. He speaks in riddles & tries on different poses but is easily nonplussed by Courtesy, a confident young woman who lives in the same boarding house & can show him how to retie a broken bootlace. One day the gardener sets out to walk with no real destination in mind. As he grandly says to his landlady, Miss Shakespeare, who asks him for his rent,

“I have left everything I have as hostages with fate,” said the gardener. “When I get tired of Paradise, I’ll come back.”

He meets Samuel Rust, who owns the Red Place, a hotel in the middle of nowhere. The hotel hasn’t been much of a success because Mr Rust needs a little capital for advertising. His mother has capital but won’t give it to him. Mr Rust asks the gardener to go on the same cruise as his mother & convince her to give him the money he needs. As the gardener has no money & no prospects, he agrees. He first meets the suffragette as she plans to burn down the Red Place as a publicity stunt for the Cause. She hopes that a Cabinet Minister may be staying there but she will burn it down anyway.

The gardener is determined to stop her & ends by practically kidnapping her & taking her on board the Caribbeania, where he is to meet Mrs Rust, & telling everyone she’s his wife. Courtesy is also on board, reluctantly being sent out to the Trinity Islands on a husband-hunting expedition. On the voyage, it soon becomes apparent that the gardener & the suffragette are not married (mostly because the suffragette refuses to lie) & they are shunned by the more easily shockable passengers, including a priest who tries to save the suffragette. Unfortunately he’s self-serving & hypocritical & the suffragette shocks him every time she opens her mouth as she prides herself on only speaking the truth (another pose).

The gardener becomes acquainted with Mrs Rust, a peculiar woman with bright red hair who is contradictory for the sake of it. I love this scene between Mrs Rust & the priest.

“Have you made the acquaintance of that dark young man who acts as the ship’s gardener?” he asked.
“An excellent young man,” said Mrs Rust, immediately divining that the priest did not approve of him.
“Yerce, yerce, no doubt an excellent young man,” agreed the priest mechanically. “But I have reason to believe that his morals are not satisfactory.”
“Good.” said Mrs Rust.
“I do not think he is really married to that aggressive young woman he calls his wife.”
“Good.” said Mrs Rust. She did not approve of such irregularities any more than the priest did, but she disapproved of disapprobation.

The gardener soon has Mrs Rust’s measure & plays her at her own game, contradicting her so that she will decide to do the opposite of what she intended. When Mrs Rust’s companion throws herself overboard, Courtesy is employed as her companion & they have quite a battle of wills. When they arrive on the Islands, they become involved in local life. The gardener saves a couple of children from death in an earthquake & the suffragette becomes involved with a precocious little boy called Albert & his prim aunt. All this time, the gardener is falling in love with the suffragette but she has decided that love is not for her & she keeps up her pose of self-sufficiency & devotion to the cause. Eventually they sail back to England with their relationship still undefined & the reader is left in doubt until the end as to what will happen. It seems odd to care about two characters with no names but I did care what happened to them both which is a testament to Stella Benson’s skill at creating characters that, for all their poses, are very sympathetic. They’re not the stereotypes they could have been, especially the suffragette, who could have been a cardboard cutout of the militant suffragette but is much more nuanced than that.

Benson obviously enjoyed playing with the structure of the novel when she wrote I Pose. Apart from not naming her principal characters, the first chapter is 300pp long. The second (& final) chapter is 8pp long. The narrator interjects into the narrative all the time, explaining the odd time shifts of her world, reassuring the reader that she understands their frustration with this character or that, making snide comments about the less sympathetic characters, especially the priest who is the most unchristian priest I’ve encountered in a novel since Trollope, I think.

Some readers will be offended by the treatment of the Trinity Islanders which is condescending & quite racist. I found it made uncomfortable reading but it was in keeping with the times in which the novel was written. I was also confused as to where the Trinity Islands were. In a sense, it doesn’t matter because the whole novel is a fantasy but I felt the Islanders were West Indian or Caribbean (maybe I was influenced by the name of the ship) but their voyage home takes them though Suez & past the Azores so I suppose they must be in the Indian or Pacific Oceans. This is a minor point but I was confused. Then again, geography is not my strong point.

I enjoyed I Pose very much as an unusual, witty novel that has been out of print for far too long. It was sent to me by Michael Walmer, who is reprinting some fascinating novels, mostly of the late Victorian & Edwardian periods. I reviewed Ada Leverson’s The Twelfth Hour a few months ago & I’m very excited about Mike’s new series of letters, diaries, journals & essays. The first to be published is Winifred Holtby’s Letters to a Friend. Holtby’s letters to Jean McWilliam, who she met when they both served in the WAAC at the end of WWI. My review copy is on its way!

The Kill – Émile Zola

The Kill is the second volume in Zola’s great cycle of novels, Les Rougons-Macquart, which chronicles French society during the 19th century. I haven’t read the series in order & I’m not sure it matters but it would have been useful to have read the first book, The Fortune of the Rougons, to get some background on the families involved in this saga. I have the book on the tbr shelves but I was reading The Kill for my 19th century bookgroup & didn’t have time to read the other book first. I did read Desperate Reader’s comprehensive review which was the next best thing.

The Kill takes place in Paris during the period of the Second Empire. Napoleon III is Emperor & Baron Haussmann is transforming Paris from a medieval city of alleyways, rackety apartment buildings & slums to a modern city of boulevards & spacious buildings. There is plenty of room here for speculators & fraudsters to make money & the story concerns one of these men, Aristide Saccard. Saccard arrives in Paris with very little. His brother, Eugène, has a certain power in the government but he’s reluctant to help his brother too much. He gives him a leg up but tells him that now he’s on his own & if Aristide fails, he won’t put out a hand to save him.

Saccard chafes at the menial job he’s doing. His wife soon dies & he sends his children, Maxime & Clothilde, to live with his family in the country. Saccard’s widowed sister, Sidonie, gives him his chance. Sidonie is a woman who knows many secrets. She arranges marriages, hushes up scandals & knows where the bodies are buried. She arranges a marriage between Saccard & Renée Béraud du
Châtel, a young girl of nineteen who is pregnant after being raped by a married man. To avoid scandal, she must be married as soon as possible. Her dowry will give Saccard the capital he needs to start his career of speculation. The match is soon made. Renée miscarries her child soon after the wedding & the couple settle down to a life of luxury as Saccard’s schemes take off & he builds a mansion on the proceeds.

Some years after this, Saccard brings his son, Maxime, to live with him in Paris. Maxime is a beautiful, effeminate young man who is soon best friends with his young stepmother & an accepted member of her inner circle of friends, society women as bored & vapid as herself. Saccard ignores his wife & she has begun taking lovers. Her greatest pleasure is buying extravagant dresses at Worms (based on Worth, the famous couturier) & driving along the Bois de Boulogne with Maxime, commenting on the dresses & equipages of everyone else. She spends hours dressing for dinner & enjoys the sensation she creates with her blonde beauty & increasingly daring costumes.

Renée & Maxime drift into an affair that gradually consumes Renée entirely. Maxime is initially piqued by the intrigue & the sin of incest. His father is planning a marriage for him with Louise de Mareuil, whose dowry will make up for the fact that she’s consumptive & has a hunchback. Maxime, however, enjoys her company & treats her as a friend, enjoying her malicious gossip which is so at odds with her pathetic appearance. Renée enjoys her secret affair, knowing that incest is the one taboo that her circle of friends would never dream of breaching.

Saccard, meanwhile, has been enduring the ups & downs of the speculator’s career. He has taken control of Renée’s money & is enmeshed in so many schemes that any one mistake or piece of bad luck will bring the whole house of cards tumbling down. Several times he saves himself from the brink with another piece of sharp dealing but eventually he needs Renée’s signature on a deed which will allow him to sell some of her property. To achieve this, he decides to resume marital relations & this frightens Renée so much that she begins to become erratic & hysterical. She is desperate to keep Maxime but afraid to reject her husband & increasingly frightened that he will discover her affair, especially when he begins to suspect that she has a lover & sets his sister, Sidonie to discover what’s going on.

The Kill is the story of a group of completely amoral people without a redeeming quality between them. Pleasure & the love of profit is all that matters. Zola dwells on descriptions of luxury in a way that almost overwhelms the reader. The set pieces of the dinner party at the beginning of the book & the costume ball at the end are magnificent. It’s a picture of decadence with no moral centre at all. Zola equates the sexual promiscuity of  Renée’s circle with the financial promiscuity of Saccard & his partners. The city of Paris is built on dishonesty of every kind, emotional as well as financial & political. Zola kept my attention throughout the book even as I was repelled by the characters & their thoughtless escapades. The only character with any self-respect is Renée’s maid, Céleste, who watches in silence as her mistress falls deeper into despair & resigns one day because she has achieved her goal. She has saved five thousand francs to set up a shop in her home village & she ignores Renée’s pleas to stay. Renée ends the book in a pitiable state. She really had no chance to be anything other than what she became. Maybe she’s an example of the contaminating effect of money & luxury but, by the end of the book, she’s learnt a lesson at great cost.

The Twelfth Hour – Ada Leverson

About a month ago, Michael Walmer sent me a couple of books to review. Simon has recently reviewed I Pose by Stella Benson, which he loved (& I’m looking forward to) & I’ve been reading The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson. Leverson was a close friend of Oscar Wilde, he called her The Sphinx, & she was one of the few friends who stood by him after his time in prison. She’s probably best known for the trilogy which was reprinted by Virago as The Little Ottleys but this book, The Twelfth Hour, is her first.

The Twelfth Hour is a sparkling, witty book about love & marriage. Published in 1907, it shines a light on society & the lives of the leisured classes. The Croftons are a well-to-do family with beauty, intelligence & style. Felicity has recently married Lord Chetwode but the marriage has not turned out as she expected. Chetwode’s two passions are racing & antiques & he spends most of his time traveling the country in pursuit of them. Marriage doesn’t seem to have changed his routines at all. Sylvia is in love with her father’s secretary, Frank Woodville, who is well-connected but penniless due to the late marriage of his uncle & subsequent birth of a son. All his expectations have been dashed & without money, Sylvia’s father is unlikely to agree to their marriage. Mr Crofton also has plans for Sylvia to marry Mr Ridiokanaki, a Greek millionaire who is in love with Sylvia.

Younger brother Savile is on holidays from Eton & in love from afar with opera singer, Adelina Patti. He is adored in turn by young Dolly Clive. When Savile isn’t wangling money from his relations to see Patti on stage, he’s trying to sort out his sisters’ problems. Felicity is unhappy & bored &, as she is also very beautiful, she soon has suitors appearing around every corner. Most persistent is Bertie Wilton, handsome, popular & determined to rescue Felicity from her neglectful husband.

Mr Ridiokanaki discovers that Sylvia & Frank are in love & offers them a solution to their financial troubles that will mean a long separation but eventual security. Sylvia is horrified but Frank is tempted. Will love or pragmatism win out?

I enjoyed The Twelfth Hour very much. Leverson has obviously learnt the art of the witty bon mot from Oscar Wilde as the book is very funny & full of funny comments & observations. Sylvia is a very modern young woman. She has no qualms about deceiving her father & ignores all his commands regarding Mr Ridiokanaki’s attentions. When he persists in sending larger & larger arrangements of flowers, she puts them in the housekeeper’s room. Felicity’s social round of lunches, evening parties & shopping becomes increasingly hollow as she desperately tries to talk to her husband but is discouraged by his elusiveness. Bertie’s persistent attentions begin to look more attractive as she feels more & more unloved.

My favourite character was Uncle William (the Croftons decided to call their Aunt by her husband’s name & their Uncle by her name so he was Uncle Mary). Aunt William’s house is furnished as it was in the 1880s with wax flowers under glass & circular tables in the middle of the room. “Often she held forth to wondering young people, for whom the 1880 fashions were but an echo of ancient history, on the sad sinfulness of sunflowers and the fearful folly of Japanese fans.” The sunflowers are a reference to Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience, which mocked the aesthetics movement of the 1890s & its followers. Aunt William spoils Savile & gives him money & enormous lunches while also keeping a watchful eye on her nieces’ social engagements. She may be a shrewd old lady but Savile can wind her around his little finger.

The Twelfth Hour is an Edwardian confection, a lovely way to spend an afternoon. It’s good to see a publisher reprinting books from this period as it’s been relatively neglected by the other publishers reprinting 20th century fiction. I’ll look forward to any future titles from Michael Walmer.

The American Senator – Anthony Trollope

I love Trollope & I have great plans to read all his novels – I just don’t know how long it’s going to take! At least now I have all his novels on my e-reader, so many of the lesser known ones are out of print. However, I do love my OUP editions & I’ve just read another one from the tbr shelves – The American Senator.

This is the story of a few families in the country town of Dillsborough. Contrary to the titles, none of the book takes place in America. As Trollope himself says at the end of the book, it should really have been called “The Chronicle of a Winter at Dillsborough“. The Senator of the title is Elias Gotobed, who is visiting England as the guest of John Morton, a diplomat who has spent very little time in his home town for many years. Morton & Gotobed met in Washington, where Morton has also become engaged to Arabella Trefoil, an attractive but impecunious young woman who has arrived at the age where she really should marry. Arabella & her mother are in an uneasy alliance. They don’t get on well at all but Lady Augustus knows that Arabella must marry money so they find themselves locked together doing the social rounds, squabbling incessantly. John Morton has now inherited Bragton Hall & returns to Dillsborough with his fiancée, her mother & the Senator in tow.

In Dillsborough, there’s much speculation about the new Squire of Bragton Hall. There has been a long-ago breach between two branches of the Morton family & John’s cousin, Reginald, decides to try to heal the breach when the new Squire arrives at the Hall. Reginald’s aunt, Lady Ushant, is also keen to restore family ties but John’s formidable grandmother will not budge, even when tragedy threatens. Local solicitor, Mr Masters, finds himself entangled in the Morton’s affairs as his daughter, Mary, once lived at the Hall as companion to Lady Ushant. Mr Morton’s second wife is not unkind to Mary but she is determined to see her well married & off her hands so she can concentrate on her own daughters. She pushes Mary to marry local landowner, Larry Twentyman, who loves Mary devotedly. Mary likes Larry but she is secretly in love with Reginald Morton & so refuses to become engaged.

Meanwhile, Arabella Trefoil is hedging her bets & refusing to commit herself finally to marriage with John Morton in case someone richer comes along. Hunting plays a large part in this novel – it was one of Trollope’s passions – & at a meet, Arabella meets Lord Rufford, one of the most eligible & wily bachelors in the county. When the Morton party is invited to Rufford Hall, Arabella begins stalking her prey. She deftly manages to entice Lord Rufford while keeping Morton in reserve, just in case her plans fail. But has she met her match in Lord Rufford who has famously eluded every trap laid for him in the past?

Senator Gotobed, meanwhile, is observing English society & he’s not impressed by what he sees. His function in the novel is to expose all the ills of society. The inequalities between the farmer & the lord who can send his hunt over another man’s land without recompense or permission. The irregularities of the electoral system. The fine distinctions between families & their social position based on mistakes made by their ancestors years before. I admit, I found the Senator tedious & wished he would go back to America so I could get back to the far more fascinating adventures of the Mortons, Arabella, Mary & the Ruffords.

Mary’s story is conventional & it wasn’t too hard to see who she would marry. Arabella, on the other hand, is one of the most exciting heroines (or anti-heroines) I’ve come across in Trollope’s novels. Trollope obviously disapproved of her. He wrote, “I wished to express the depth of my scorn for women who run down husbands, – an offence that I do fear is gaining ground in this country.” However, even the author’s disapproval can’t prevent Arabella being the most vital character in the book. I genuinely wasn’t sure until the end who she would marry. Arabella is like a more canny Lily Bart, intelligent enough to play the cards she has to win the prize she has set her sights on. Whether she will have her way with Lord Rufford kept me on tenterhooks throughout.

The American Senator is not one of Trollope’s better-known novels but I loved it. The character of Arabella lifts it above the conventional country house novel with a romance plot. It’s also quite short for Trollope, only 550pp, which isn’t as daunting as some of his other novels. I’ve read 17 of Trollope’s novels now – only 30 to go!

Camilla – Fanny Burney

Camilla Tyrold is the eldest of three daughters of a country parson. As a child, she lives with her rich uncle, Sir Hugh Tyrold, & is considered by everyone, including Sir Hugh, to be his heiress. After a series of events which leave Camilla’s sister, Eugenia, lame & scarred from smallpox, Sir Hugh changes his mind & takes Eugenia into his home & makes her his heir. Sir Hugh is a silly man. Ignorant, vapid yet much loved by his family & servants, it is his fault that Eugenia becomes ill after he ignores her mother’s instructions. Camilla returns to her modest family home feeling no resentment at all. Camilla’s brother, Lionel, is a silly, thoughtless young man who thinks nothing of proprieties & puts his sisters into some very embarrassing situations. He plagues both his uncles (Sir Hugh & his mother’s brother in Spain) for money as he’s always in debt & uses emotional blackmail on Camilla which leads to serious consequences for her future happiness.

Sir Hugh also has another niece & nephew who have expectations from his generosity even though he has tried to make it clear that Eugenia will inherit everything. Clermont Lynmere is sent off on the Grand Tour to become learned & cultured as Sir Hugh intends him to marry Eugenia & in that way, share in her inheritance. His sister, Indiana, is a beautiful but shallow girl who has been flattered & encouraged by her governess, Miss Margland, into believing she has only to enter a room to make slaves of every man in it. Eugenia has been well-educated by the ill-tempered, absent-minded Dr Orkborne as Sir Hugh believes that her fine mind will make up for her lack of personal attractions when Clermont comes home to marry her.

Camilla has become attached to Edgar Mandlebert, a young landowner who has been under her father’s guardianship. Edgar returns her feelings but is worried by the propriety Camilla’s enthusiastic, open manner. He is advised by Dr Marchmont, a clergyman who serves as Edgar’s moral as well as spiritual guide. Unfortunately he takes rather a jaundiced view of the female sex after some sad experiences in his youth so Edgar veers from determining to throw himself at Camilla’s feet & offer her his hand & disapproving of her behaviour.

Camilla becomes acquainted with Mrs Arlbury, a witty, worldly woman who takes a fancy to her & asks her to visit. Camilla then meets Sir Sedley Clarendel, a fop who is taken with her beauty but deterred by her lack of money & Major Cerwood who pursues her without mercy. There are conflicting rumours in the neighbourhood as to which of the Tyrold sisters is actually Sir Hugh’s heiress. This leads to Eugenia being pursued by the plausible but smooth Mr Bellamy & Camilla finding herself an object of attention to several men as well as the garrulous & vulgar Mrs Mittin who manages to get her into considerable debt on visits to fashionable resorts like Tunbridge Wells & Southampton. Camilla also meets Mrs Berlinton, a beautiful young woman who is unhappily married to an older man & likes to cultivate sentimental but potentially dangerous friendships with handsome young men.

Camilla & Edgar are at cross-purposes throughout the entire book. Edgar is a serious, priggish young man who sets himself up as Camilla’s moral guide, a role she is quite happy to allow him to play. However, Camilla’s love of excitement & her tendency to be dazzled by women such as Mrs Arlbury & Mrs Berlinton lead to situations where her actions are misconstrued & her motives questioned. Unfortunately Edgar is too ready to believe that Camilla is engaged to Sir Sedley or trifling with Major Cerbery & so he spends a lot of time stalking off to consult with Dr Marchmont when he should just sit down with Camilla & ask her what’s going on. Camilla is helpless as only a young, unmarried woman of the time can be. She is at the mercy of her hostesses & she finds herself entangled in debt & obligations which she cannot escape. Her principles are sound but she can be frivolous & stubborn where her pleasures or her friendships are concerned.

Camilla is a very long book, over 900pp. The first four volumes follow Camilla on her journeys from her home at Etherington to Sir Hugh’s estate at Cleves, her visits to her friends & the growing web of entanglements & misunderstandings that separate her from Edgar. In the final volume, however, the comedy of manners is replaced by a Gothic story of abduction, forced marriage, desperate illness & mysterious death. It’s quite a change in tone but it’s a lot of fun. Maybe Fanny Burney realised that she had to create some drastic plot twists to force the story to a conclusion. I enjoyed Camilla very much although I found I had to put it down occasionally because I was so frustrated by Camilla’s ability to dig herself further & further into a pit of trouble.

There are some wonderful characters in the book. Miss Margland is a spiteful, embittered woman who thinks herself superior to her post as governess & is determined to find Indiana a rich husband so she can to live out her days with her grateful pupil. Clermont Lynmere is a boor who returns from the Grand Tour with no manners & without absorbing any culture at all. He is rude to Sir Hugh & dismissive of Eugenia, shrinking in horror from the poor girl. He is also greedy, reaching in front of people to get at any food in sight. Sir Hugh’s old Yorkshire friend Mr Westwyn & his son, Harry, are men with hearts of gold. Westwyn had conducted his son & Clermont on the Grand Tour & has a pretty shrewd opinion of the worth of both young men. Mr & Mrs Tyrold are paragons & it’s easy to see how Camilla shrinks from confessing her faults to two such moral, if loving, parents. Still, for all its delights, the book is much too long. I can only agree with Edgar when he declares,

‘O Camilla,’ he cried, ‘if, indeed, I might hope from you any partiality, why act any part at all? – how plain, how easy, how direct your road to my heart, if but straightly pursued!’

Miss Mackenzie – Anthony Trollope

I’ve been reading a lot of new fiction lately so I was eager to read something from my favourite literary period, the 19th century. Miss Mackenzie had been mentioned a couple of years ago on a BBC radio program on neglected classics as a book that should be reprinted. It was championed by Joanna Trollope, a distant relation of the great Anthony & you can hear what she had to say about Miss Mackenzie here. This is what inspired me to buy this copy from Norilana Books. However, it’s quite heavy & I have the complete works of Trollope on my e-reader so I actually read the book that way. I do like the cover of the Norilana edition though.

Margaret Mackenzie is a spinster in her mid 30s. She has spent the best years of her life caring for her parents &, more recently, her invalid brother, Walter. Margaret’s two brothers, Walter & Thomas, had inherited money from another relative who hadn’t thought it worthwhile to leave anything to a girl. When Walter dies, he leaves everything to Margaret & she suddenly finds herself an heiress. She’s not very rich but she has enough to live on & to spread her wings a little. Thomas had used his inheritance to go into trade & is now a partner in a business selling oilcloth. The business isn’t very prosperous & Thomas resents the fact that Walter left all his money to Margaret.

Margaret is immediately approached by her first suitor, Harry Handcock. She had been in love with Harry years before & they had planned to marry but Walter feared losing his nurse & Harry faded away. His reappearance now that Margaret has money doesn’t recommend him to her & she refuses him. She decides to leave London & move to Littlebath (Trollope’s name for Bath), taking Thomas’s daughter, Susanna, with her as a companion. Margaret will send Susanna to school & plans to leave her money in her will as a way of helping Thomas’s family.

Littlebath society is full of traps for the unwary & a single woman who has lived a retired life must tread carefully. Margaret becomes involved with the circle of an Evangelical preacher, Mr Stumfold, a pompous man with a terrifying wife & an admiring group of ladies to follow him wherever he goes. She becomes friends with Miss Baker &, although she would also like to be friends with Miss Todd, who lives in the same street, she discovers that this isn’t possible. Miss Todd is bold & outspoken & therefore not approved of by Mr Stumfold. Mr Stumfold also has a curate, Jeremiah Maguire, a handsome man with the terrible handicap of a squint which is very offputting. Mr Maguire has ambitions that can only be realised if he marries well & he pursues Margaret.

Thomas’s business partner, Samuel Rubb, arrives in Littlebath to ask Margaret if she would give the business a loan. Mr Rubb is pleasant, amusing but not a gentleman. He seems to admire Margaret but is she the attraction or is it her money? Then, Margaret is invited to stay at The Cedars, the country house of her relations the Balls. Her cousin, John Ball, is a widower with a large family & his mother plans to make a match between John & Margaret. The Balls & the Mackenzies have been estranged for many years because it was John Ball’s uncle who left his money to the Mackenzie brothers rather than to the Balls. John’s father, Sir John, has little money & John lives at the Cedars with his parents & his children. Lady Ball despises Margaret but is graciously willing to overlook her dislike if it means getting the Ball money back into her own family.

At this stage, I was genuinely unsure which of her suitors Margaret would favour. She is a quiet, kind, sensible woman but she’s no pushover. Her brother’s contempt & her sister-in-law’s open dislike & resentment don’t intimidate her. Her formidable aunt, Lady Ball, can’t bully her into marrying John. She’s no snob & doesn’t see being Lady Ball as a reason to marry a man she isn’t sure she can love. She pities his situation & would like to help his children but is that enough? Margaret has a hard time disentangling the motives of her suitors & working out her true feelings. Matters come to a head when her lawyers discover that the money she inherited may not belong to her at all. It may really belong to her cousin, John Ball.

Margaret had refused John’s marriage proposal when he was poor & she was rich. Now that she may have no money at all, he realises that he truly loves her & proposes again. This time she accepts him as she does love him. This infuriates Lady Ball who was only prepared to tolerate the marriage if Margaret had money. Then, Mr Maguire, the curate with the squint, arrives to claim Margaret as his bride (he doesn’t yet know that she may lose her money). He falsely represents their relationship to Lady Ball who is only too happy to believe him. Mr Maguire’s interference threatens to ruin Margaret’s happiness, & there are many anxious hours before the truth is told & Margaret can see her way clear to happiness.

Miss Mackenzie is a lovely book with an absorbing plot & wonderful characters. Trollope is always good at clergymen & Mr Stumfold & the truly awful Mr Maguire are among his best clergymen. It’s also interesting & unusual, in a book published in the 1860s, to have a heroine who is in her 30s. As Joanna Trollope said in her radio piece, at 36, Margaret is so far back on the shelf as to be completely invisible. But, she’s no fool & the three men who come fortune hunting will all find that she’s not an easy target. Lady Ball is a tyrannical matriarch & another of Margaret’s relatives, Clara Mackenzie, who comes to Margaret’s rescue when her money is gone, is kind & loving. Clara is determined that Margaret’s highmindedness won’t prevent her from achieving the happy ending that she so desires.

I feel quite inspired to read more Trollope now that I’m back in the 19th century. Catherine Pope, on her lovely blog, Victorian Geek, has completed her own Trollope Challenge. She’s read all 47 novels & come up with her lists of the ten best & ten terrible Trollopes. Miss Mackenzie doesn’t make either list. Of the best, I’ve read Can You Forgive Her? Barchester Towers & The Way We Live Now. I fancy setting myself the challenge of reading my way through the other seven. Harry Heathcote of Gangoil has an Australian setting & I’m very tempted to start there.

I mentioned above that I have Trollope’s complete works on my e-reader. I know I could have got them for free from ManyBooks or Gutenburg but I paid the princely sum of $5AU for them from Delphi Classics. It was much easier to do one download rather than 47 & they’re well-formatted & it’s easy to get to the book I want. The Delphi editions also often include contemporary biographies of the author as well as all the novels, short stories, poetry (Hardy), non-fiction & plays. I also have the Delphi complete editions of Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy & Elizabeth Gaskell.

Evelina – Fanny Burney

The subtitle of Evelina is the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World which describes both Evelina’s & Fanny Burney’s experiences. It was Fanny Burney’s first novel and, like Lord Byron, she woke up the next day to find herself famous. Unlike Byron, though, Fanny was almost morbidly shy & was both horrified & fascinated by her new fame. She was lionised by the bluestockings of the day but especially enjoyed her friendship with the great Dr Johnson, who loved the novel & quoted from it in his letters. Her fame also brought her to the attention of the royal family & she was offered a position as lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte. Her father, the famous musicologist Dr Charles Burney, insisted she accept the post (which wasn’t really refusable anyway) & Fanny spent a miserable few years at Court. Her health & spirits suffered from the boredom & backbiting & eventually she was allowed to graciously resign & return to private life.

Fanny Burney’s life was an extraordinary one (picture above from here). Her Letters & Journals are wonderful, full of witty descriptions & emotion. She famously described the mastectomy she endured without anaesthetic in 1812. She survived the operation & recovered from breast cancer, living until 1840, when she died aged 87. She had married a French emigre, Alexandre D’Arblay, in 1793, & they had a son, Alex. Sadly, husband, son & her sisters (to whom she was very close) predeceased her.She was much admired, most famously by Jane Austen, who mentioned her novels, Camilla & Cecilia, in her defense of the novel in Northanger Abbey,

“It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda“; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.”

Evelina is an epistolary novel, told mostly through the letters of Evelina to her guardian, Rev Arthur Villars of Berry Hill. Evelina has been quietly brought up in the country. Her mother had married a young rake, Sir John Belmont, but he had scandalously deserted her & denied their marriage & poor Caroline died in childbirth. Evelina has lived a retired life, her education, both practical & moral, guided by the Rev Villars. At the age of 17 she is about to make her first visit to London in the company of her friend, Maria Mirvan & her mother. Maria’s father, Captain Mirvan, is returning from a voyage & they will stay briefly in London before returning to the country.

As soon as Evelina arrives, her social education begins. She goes to a dance where she refuses an invitation to dance from a forward young man, Sir Clement Willoughby, only to accept another man’s invitation shortly afterwards. Sir Clement pursues Evelina with questions & complaints about his treatment, leading Evelina to tell him that she had already promised Lord Orville the dance, even though this is not true. The web of white lies becomes more entangled until Evelina is almost distracted. Lord Orville’s calm politeness & good manners entrance Evelina although she is mortified that every time she meets him, she seems to be caught up in an undignified scene.

Matters become more complicated when Evelina’s grandmother, Madame Duval, arrives from France with the intention of taking the girl back to Paris to be “finished” & to pursue her father until he acknowledges her. Madame Duval is a vulgar, loud woman. Recently widowed, she is accompanied by a young man, Monsieur DuBois, with whom she’s on intimate terms. She has had nothing to do with Evelina, having married a Frenchman & not even knowing of her existence until a few years before. The arrival of these “Frenchies” inspires Captain Mirvan to a fit of apoplexy as he displays all the traditional prejudice & xenophobia of the English. His teasing & plotting against Madame Duval is very funny & culminates with a plot to pretend to hold up her coach & steal her jewels which results in her losing her wig & being ducked in a pond.

Evelina is forced to leave her kind friends & stay with her grandmother on another visit to London, where she meets her equally vulgar cousins, the Branghtons, & tries to evade the attentions of Sir Clement while trying to prevent Lord Orville discovering her connections. Many misunderstandings result & there are some very funny scenes when Evelina is persecuted by the unwanted attentions of her family & various suitors. On the one hand she is entranced by London & its attractions. On the other, she has to navigate through the new world of polite society & keep her reputation intact. The difficulties of this show just how circumscribed the life of a young woman could be.

Evelina’s social position is ambiguous. The world considers her illegitimate because her rich father has repudiated her mother. She is beautiful & attracts many suitors but are they looking for marriage or just a flirtation? The pitfalls & the dangers of making a false step are constant. The visits to the new pleasure gardens outside London like Vauxhall & Ranelagh illustrate this so well. Evelina becomes separated from her party & wanders down a dark path pursued by some drunken young rakes. In desperation, she takes refuge with two women who turn out to be prostitutes. They think it’s all a fine joke & refuse to let her go. Of course, she meets Lord Orville while she’s in the company of these women & has to try to convey her mortification while not being too forward or impolite.

Evelina could just be a stock heroine bouncing from one embarrassing situation to the next, getting deeper & deeper into a web of half-truths & evasions. She’s a more interesting character than that, though. She learns from every situation she finds herself in. Her moral education has given her a solid grounding & she learns how to conduct herself through the mistakes she makes. Even when her romantic feelings for Lord Orville run away with her, the sober, loving replies from Rev Villars bring her back down to earth. Her good intentions are often thwarted by the adults who should be looking after her welfare but she follows her heart & overcomes all the obstacles on the way to her happy ending. This is a lovely book & I’m glad I finally got around to it as it’s been sitting on my tbr shelves for a very long time.