Book Review: Belinda

I think Goodreads is about to despair of me. I forget to add books that I am reading. So I am often playing catch up. Or there will be books that I have been reading for a better part of the month until I finally get around to either actually finished it. Or telling Goodreads that I am finished with it. Such was the case of Belinda.

It took me the better part of a month to read this book. Partly because the print was extremely tiny. (tiny print is a ploy to get busy people to think freakishly long books are small, and so pick them up. They only realize their fatal mistake when it is too late to go back.) Partly because there were so. Many. Conversations. You may think that dialogue is easy to read. Not if the dialogue needs to be carefully followed to be understood!

Anyway. Enough complaining. I got through it, and am here to explain to you why I marched on through the tiny print.

The lively comedy of this novel (only if you get all the jokes! Regency wit is something else!) in which a young woman comes of age amid the distractions and temptations of London high society belies the challenges it poses to the conventions of courtship, the dependence of women, and the limitations of domesticity. (I’m really not sure where they got the ‘limitations’ idea. The married ladies do more than the single people do!) Contending with the perils and the varied cast of characters of the marriage market, Belinda strides resolutely toward independence. (Independence of heart mostly. Her fortune is only just big enough for her to be truly independent) Admired by her contemporary, Jane Austen, and later by Thackeray and Turgenev, Edgeworth tackles issues of gender and race in a manner at once comic and thought-provoking. (True, I enjoyed this aspect of the novel.) The 1802 text used in this edition also confronts the difficult and fascinating issues of racism and mixed marriage, which Edgeworth toned down in later editions. (All novelists eventually succumb to public opinion. Unless they are brave warriors willing to be social outcasts.)

Interested yet? I will admit. It is not a great synopsis. It says nothing about the love triangle, or quack doctors, or even my favorite character. But then again, most synopsis for classics are terrible. They either say too much or too little. The person in charge of writing them should be soundly scolded.

But back to Belinda! The main character of this charming novel is who it is named after. Belinda is our heroine trying to make sense of London society. She is guided through it by Lady Delacour. Though guided may be too strong a word for it. We will get to the particulars of that in a moment.

Belinda has been taught by her Aunt Stanhope to look for the richest husband possible. And then catch him by any means possible. Mrs. Stanhope is a renowned matchmaker, and all men are in terror of being caught by one of her nieces. Quite the barrier to poor Belinda, who has never quite bought into what her aunt has said, but is still suffering the consequences of her aunts bad matches. She soon realizes that if she wants to be respected, not just liked, she must ignore all of her aunts advice and find her own way. Good luck dear, for the example you have before you is a bad one.

It is soon after Belinda has a break with her aunt that she realizes that Lady Delacour is not the best person to model her behavior after. Good job for realizing that a flirt is not a good person to emulate. How many pages did it take for you to realize that?

But at the same time, she learns Lady Delacours secret. A secret she has hidden from everyone except for her servant, and now Belinda. Lady Delacour is dying, and instead of seeking medical help. She is determined to live as fast as she can before her time runs out. In case you were wondering, it doesn’t work too well. It only leads to pain and misery as the novel clearly shows.

But where, you may be wondering, is the love story I was promised? Well, about that….

Yes, Belinda is a love story. A very slow moving love story full of side tracks, miscommunications, and a comedy of errors. Yet the book is more about the friendship between her and Lady Delacour.

Lady Delacour is the force that moves the novel. While Belinda is more of a passive heroine. Content to let things happen around her until she must act. Lady Delacour on the other hand, is one of the main movers and shakers of the novel. She is the one who intrigues to get her two favorite people together. It is through her that the last mystery is solved and everyone can live happily ever after.

Yet before you think Belinda is boring and never does anything. Let me ease your mind. Belinda is the one who reforms Lady Delacour. Through her steady friendship she convinces Lady Delacour that there are better things to live for. That perhaps she has not wasted her entire life. Belinda is the one who reconciles the Lady to her daughter, and later to her husband. Feats that seemed impossible at the beginning of the novel.

It is Belinda and Lady Delacours friendship that moves and shapes that entire novel.

But have no fear! There is a love story, and it does have a happy ending. Contrary to all popular belief. (popular being me, myself, and I. I haven’t found anyone who has read it yet)

What I really like about this love story is that the hero is no Mr. Darcy. Unless you can imagine Mr. Darcy with enough flaws for a long list, a tendency to do before he thought, and being an extrovert. No? Then let me introduce you to Mr. Clarence Hervey. The young man who at the beginning of the novel has some bad friends, and thinks he is the most amazing person ever. Not quite marriageable material yet.

Thankfully, he grows up. Which includes ditching his bad friends and finding new ones. It also includes falling in love with the right girl. Instead of a silly one. (dude, you had bad taste)

It can sound odd that I liked this hero so much, even with his flaws. But you see, I liked him because of his flaws. He was interesting because he wasn’t perfect. I was more apt to like him and root for him because he was struggling uphill to make the right choices. Sometimes he failed, but that only made me root for him harder. Ready to see him get back up and try again.

So by the time Mr. Hervey and Belinda finally got together, it wasn’t an inevitable conclusion. It was a sigh a relief and a smile to see two characters I liked triumphing over adversity.

So if you are going to read it or any reason, read it for the characters. Read it for the complicated, multifacted relationships the characters have with each other. Most of all, read it for Lady Delacour. She is hilarious.

That, was a ridiculously long review. By this point you are either sick of the entire book or itching to read it. (sorrynotsorry) Let me know if you do end up reading it though. Quick tip, keep Google handy while you read it. There are a couple things that even the footnotes don’t explain. (like what on earth an E O table is….)

Anyway. Happy reading!

Shaina Merrick

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