Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Helen

I have made up my mind to like no Novels really, but Miss Edgeworth's, Yours & my own. Jane Austen, letter to Anna Austen, Wednesday 28th September 1814

Helen Stanley is a gentle heroine. Not as passive as Fanny in Mansfield Park, more like a younger version of Anne in Persuasion. Orphaned as a child and educated beyond her fortune, she is bought up by her kindly but extravagant uncle. After his sudden death she is adopted by Lady Davenant the mother of her best friend, Cecilia.

Cecilia provides a lively contrast to Helen. Spirited, confident and an incurable liar, she charms the reader and exploits Helen's naivety. Helen believes Cecilia's blatant lie that the man she loves is engaged and when Cecilia suggests that, as best friends, they always dress alike she orders jewellery way beyond her income. Of course, Cecilia's lies lead to her downfall and the plot races along to a most satisfying end which I'm not going to spoil.

Maria Edgeworth is an astute writer, politically engaged and some of her waspish lines could be lifted straight from an Austen novel:

Helen was too pretty to be invited to stay at a house where there are marriageable daughters.

She is different to Austen, too. About half way through I realised that Helen is not a love story but an exploration of female relationships. I've ordered Edgeworth's Belinda and I'm tempted to re-read Persuasion that most autumnal of Austen's novels.

11 comments:

Cath said...

I'm going to check the library catalogue for this one as it sounds good.

clairz said...

I'm new to your blog. I discovered it via the comments on Nan's blog, Letters from Hill Farm. I'm going to be adding books to my TBR list, I can tell.

Mrs. B. said...

I saw a copy of Helen a couple of months ago at the book shop but had no idea it was good as I'd never heard of it. I'm definitely going to look for it now. Can't wait. Sounds like my cup of tea.

lifeonthecutoff said...

This sounds like an intriguing read from your delightful review here. I rather enjoy books that explore relationships between women, and men for that matter, and how they influence each other, manipulate each other, help each other and, horrors, hurt each other. Now, where is the TBR list?

bookssnob said...

You are terrible at making me want to read everything you post about. I had never thought of reading Maria Edgeworth before but now I am desperate to! And also to re-read Persuasion...such a stunning book. Don't resist the temptation!

Steph said...

You have convinced me I must read this Maria Edgeworth! I am loving this project of yours - I just know my reading pile will double or triple because of it!

Desperate Reader said...

I've got this waiting for me and am looking forward to it - I like Edgeworth a lot so far. Belinda's a good read and one I tackled earlier this year. Look forward to seeing what else comes up in this project

Dorothy W. said...

I hope you enjoy Belinda! I'm so glad you enjoyed Helen. I'm looking forward to getting to it, hopefully soon(ish).

makedoandread said...

This sounds wonderful - good thing I'm going to the library this weekend!

A Bookish Space said...

Oh dear, yet another book that you have persudaded me that I should read - my tbr wish list keeps growing!

Vintage Reading said...

Cath, I think you would like this. Almost five hundred pages but full of life.

Clairz, welcome. Always interested in 'meeting' readers! Glad Nan is blogging again.

Mrs B. I'd not heard of Helen before I spotted it in a bookshop recently. I only new of Belinda, Castle Rackrent and some other essays which Edgeworth had published. I'm certainly going to read more.

lifeonthecuff, yes I thought Helen would be a traditional love story, but I was completely wrong - there is a love story in it but it's not central to the plot.If you do read it please let me know what you think.

BookSnob, Persuasion is calling my name right now. I want to read some of the American fiction from your list, though!

Steph, I very rarely do projects or challenges or anything, nice to have a plan for once!

Desperate Reader, I loved your Edgeworth review and I've linked to it. I'm thinking maybe Fanny Burney next.

Dorothy, Belinda is fabulous, it has the most extraordinary opening and I'm sure must have heavily influenced Austen.

makedoandread, I'm going to start using the library more because I recently added up how much I'd spend on books this year. Trouble is, I end up with library fines, too.

A Bookish Space, this is the problem with book blogging - all the lovely recommendations from other bloggers!