Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance novels are amongst my favourite comfort reads. I started reading them in my teens and recently reread Arabella, enjoying the story as much as I did the first time (too long ago to think about).
Arabella Tallant is the beautiful daughter of a poor country clergyman, whose clever mother arranges for her to go to London for a season to find a rich husband. On the way, Arabella’s carriage breaks down at a hunting lodge owned by Robert Beaumaris, the richest, handsomest and most eligible man in London.
When Arabella overhears Mr Beaumaris tell his friend that he suspects her of knocking on his door in order that he will fall in love with and marry her, she pretends to be an heiress who wants to remain incognito in London. Of course Mr Beaumaris’ friend tells all of London that Arabella is rich, so it isn’t very long until she is inundated by offers of marriage.
One of the things I most like about Arabella is her social conscience. Arabella saves an abused child from a cruel master and a mongrel dog from children who are tormenting it and of course, Mr Beaumaris is at hand to assist her as required.
Mr Beaumaris is a hero with enough of a past to be interesting. It’s hard not to compare him to Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr Darcy, although Mr Beaumaris is a more relaxed character than Mr Darcy. There is a sub-plot concerning Arabella’s brother Bertram, which is probably too predictable to surprise anyone. Thinking it over, the whole plot is very like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Arabella was written as a homage to that book.
Georgette Heyer’s style is delightful. The writing is good, the story is clever, the characters are funny and likeable (and in this case, Mr Beaumaris is also swoon-worthy). The dialogue is gorgeous, whether it is Mr Beaumaris talking to the dog, snobbish members of the Ton discussing Arabella’s wealth, or a friend of Arabella’s brother’s speaking in an almost indecipherable slang.
I’ve been collecting Georgette Heyer’s books for years, snapping up the Pan editions whenever I spot one at an op-shop or book fair. The covers are garishly 1970s, and the orange and purple colour scheme on Arabella should be horrible, but somehow it all works and is pretty in a way reminiscent of the old Quality Street tins.