To Arabella Tallant, the eldest daughter of a penniless country clergyman, the invitation to stay with her London godmother was like the key to heaven, for in addition to living in the glamorous city, Arabella might even find a suitable husband there. Armed with beauty, virtue and a benevolent godmother, the impetuous but impoverished Arabella embarked on her first London season with her mother’s wish in mind: snare a rich husband.
Impetuosity is Arabella’s only fault. When fate cast her in the path of arrogant, socially prominent Robert Beaumaris, who accused her of being another petty female after his wealth, the proud, headstrong ingenue made a most startling claim — she was an heiress! Suddenly Arabella found herself the talk of the town and pursued by every amorous fortune hunter in London and some of the most eligible young men of the day.
But only one caught Arabella’s fancy: Mr Beaumaris, the handsome and dedicated bachelor. She should know better than to allow herself to be provoked by nonpareil Beau. That gentleman, however, although a most artful matrimonial dodger, badly underestimated his seemingly naive adversary… But would her deceitful charade destroy her one chance for true love…?
I think Georgette Heyer will now be my go-to author for when I need something to lighten the mood. Because Arabella is absolutely delightful, and listening to the audiobook was the perfect antidote for a major, crabby funk.
Arabella has a wonderfully rom-com feel to it. Arabella overhears Mr. Beaumaris making a snide remark about girls looking for money coming up with excuses to cross paths with him, and she is so offended that she’s being lumped in with fortune-hunters (when it was really a carriage mishap that brought her to his doorstep) that she impetuously declares herself to be “the” Miss Tallant — you know, the fabulously rich Miss Tallant. Oh my.
Before she knows it, Arabella is the center of the London season, as every son of distinguished but cash-poor family seems to suddenly be in love with the dear girl. She’s turning down marriage proposals left and right, and meanwhile feels increasingly guilty that her spur-of-the-moment lie has become the accepted truth. So how can she ever say yes to a proposal knowing she does so under false pretenses? And given the butterflies she’s feeling over Mr. Beaumaris, how can she force herself to confess the truth to him and lose his respect and affection?
What a tangled web we weave…
The story may be a trifle predictable — yes, we all know where this love story will end up — but it’s such fun to see how we get there. Mr. Beaumaris is the epitome of fashionable society. All the young men hoping for society standing copy his style, his manners, even his sardonic little tweaks to propriety (for example, after he wears a dandelion in his buttonhole, suddenly all the young men flood London florists with demands for dandelions). He’s known in town as “the nonpareil”, and his presence at any gathering automatically lends it cachet. It’s entertaining to watch people fall all over themselves to interact with Mr. Beaumaris, and the reader (listener) catches on long before Arabella does that he’s both fond of her and is onto her little secret.
There’s a dark cloud in Arabella, as Arabella’s younger brother comes to London as well and tries to live the high life. As he indulges in high fashion, parties, gambling, and gaming houses, he falls into such extreme debt that he sees either death or enlistment as his only options. This is a light-hearted novel, so obviously things work out (I won’t say how), but it’s touch and go for a while there, and I honestly worried about him.
I occasionally had a little twinge of discomfort about Arabella’s relationship with Mr. Beaumaris. She’s seventeen, and he’s a very sophisticated and polished thirty. Not an unimaginable age difference, but there are times where it seems that what he loves about her most is her innocent youth and naivete, and there were a few times where it teetered on the edge of creeper-ness for me.
Now I’m making it sound weird, and it’s really not. Overall, I found Arabella utterly charming, and loved the main character as well as the depictions of all the silly upper class foolery that makes up high society and the London season.
As for the audiobook, it’s a wonderful listen. Narrator Phyllida Nash nails Arabella’s innocence and enthusiasm, as well as Mr. Beaumaris’s haughtiness and dry humor. The only two difficulties with listening to the audiobook are 1) the author uses a lot of terminology related to society matters, fashion, types of carriages, and so on, many of which I wasn’t familiar with — but it’s hard to stop to figure out while listening to an audiobook (especially when said listening is happening while driving a car), and 2) at some point the pace got frustrating for me. Arabella isn’t exactly a suspense novel, but as Arabella gets more and more snared by her made-up story and torn between her feelings for Mr. Beaumaris, her urgent need to help her brother, and her wish for honesty, I just couldn’t wait to find out what happened next — but I had to, since my listening time was parceled out between my drives to and from work.
Arabella would be a great point of entry for anyone considering giving Georgette Heyer a try for the first time, and it’s certain to please anyone who’s already enjoyed some of her books. As for me, I will definitely seek out more Georgette Heyer novels, especially when I find myself in need of a bit of cheering up.
Author: Georgette Heyer
Narrator: Phyllida Nash
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: Originally published 1949
Length (print): 312 pages
Length (audiobook): 10 hours, 43 minutes
Genre: Regency romance