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'Arabella' is one of Georgette Heyer's Regency romances. Heyer was a prolific author and had an avid interest in history - her own favourite period was the Medieval, but her most popular works seem to be the Regency romances she wrote. She put a lot of research in and created a believable if rose-tinted vision of the lives of the privileged class.
*** The storyline ***
In 'Arabella', our eponymous heroine is the hope of the house: she is sent off to have a season in London by her mother, who is trying to give her the opportunity to find a well-to-do husband. Once comfortably established, the idea is that she can give her younger brothers a leg-up in the world and her sisters a launching pad into society: for although her family have social standing, cash is in shorter supply. This could be viewed as a cynical gold-digging motive, but such is the elegance and likeability of Heyer's characterisations, that it is easy to sympathise with both Arabella and her mother.
On the way to London, an unfortunate accident befalls her carriage and Arabella is forced to seek assistance at a hunting lodge. This introduces Mr Beaumaris.
Mr Beaumaris, a much-adored Corinthian & very eligible bachelor, suspects Arabella of having engineered this meeting to throw herself at him. When Arabella overhears his exasperated comments to a friend, her pride leads her into pretending she is an incognito heiress, little realising that such is Mr Beaumaris' status that he can make or break a person's popularity and success in London society. In turn, he is piqued by her posturing and apparent indifference, and soon sets himself to captivate her.
Arabella's lie gets away from her, and before she knows it, she is sought after as an heiress all over London. But how can she ever accept any offer of marriage, when her real circumstances would be exposed and she would be shamed? The knot grows ever tighter when her brother comes to the city, looking for excitement.
Is Mr Beaumaris really interested in Arabella, or just toying with her? How will this mess ever be sorted out?
*** My opinion ***
I love to read and re-read Heyer's books when I just want to unwind - they are the equivalent to a box of chocolates to my mind, only less fattening! They do tend to be formulaic and have similar recognisable types of character, novel to novel, but that suits me perfectly in a comfort read.
This story follows Heyer's regular plot-line of an innocent but feisty young woman softening a cynical man's heart and taking him out of his comfort zone. Heyer does it so well that I don't mind - there might not be many surprises but it's absorbing. She has a light touch and draws the reader into the story, creating the atmosphere of the Regency society lifestyle expertly. It's not a challenging read, by any means, but very satisfying.
The characters she creates are just very likeable and appealing, and the situations she establishes interesting enough to keep me tuned in. She builds lovely casts: big bickering families, irascible benefactors, difficult older people and rambunctious children. There's also a lot of humour in what she writes: the relationship the beset Mr Beaumaris develops with Ulysses (the mongrel that Arabella rescues and foists upon him) a case in point. It's all very gentle and although there are glimpses of the less salubrious lives of the poor, so you know Heyer wasn't unaware of the harsh realities of the period, the books are not about that.
For elegance and lightness of touch with the historical romance genre, Heyer can't be beaten, and 'Arabella' is a good example of her work. It's not my favourite one of hers, but it's right up there. Arabella is a loveable protagonist and her slightly stunned suitor Beaumaris soon loses his starch. It's a book that made me smile a lot.
'Arabella' is available from Amazon on Kindle for just under a fiver, and new in paperback for £5.91. You should be able to find it cheaper second-hand.