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Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (thoughts)

June 15, 2011

This book took me completely by surprise! I expected Belinda to be a flighty, thoughtless girl ever in need of rescuing (a la Evelina or an Eliza Haywood character). Instead, I found to my delight a smart, well-principled heroine willing to stand her ground in the face of society’s high ranking people and determined to make people’s lives better. I was rooting for her the entire novel, and I love the way that Edgeworth used societal expectations (e.g. people thinking her forthrightness was artifice and interpreting actions accordingly) to keep the plot going. And what a plot it is! In addition to Belinda, whom her aunt has sent to London with an expectation to marry well (she’s quite poor), there’s her hostess Lady Delacour whose high success in society and glimmering, fascinating exterior hide her deep unhappiness; much of the book deals with Belinda’s attempts to convince Lady Delacour that holding to good principles is better than being popular and that it’s never too late to turn a life around. This makes it sound more moralising than it is; while Belinda is certainly shocked by some of Lady Delacour’s past romps (there’s even a story about a lady dressing as a man: shock!), her desire to help is genuine. The novel never feels saccharine, and I flew through the pages. Edgeworth’s sharp observations on the dissipations of the wealthy are wonderful, and her racial awareness is shockingly modern (this was published in 1801): a West Indian Creole character is portrayed as a truly good man and his African servant ends up marrying an English farm girl. The whole reading was delicious, and I find it difficult to imagine any lover of classics not taking to this one; especially readers who admire the independent spirit of characters like Elizabeth Bennett and Jane Eyre (oh yeah, I went there) or enjoy social commentary mixed in with their fiction.

Suggested Companion Reads (with links to my thoughts)

  • Lucy the Giant by Sherri Smith (A complete different setting and situation-modern Alaska and a teenage runaway girl who becomes a crab fisherman-but like Belinda Lucy finds herself without family and needing to forge her own way and figure out her values in a new milieu.)
  • 29 Comments leave one →
    1. June 15, 2011 6:37 am

      Belinda is one of those books that I know about but know nothing of. I’m glad you liked it. Now I’ll make sure to put it on my TBR list.

    2. June 15, 2011 6:43 am

      I found this interesting ebook edition your readers might like to know about:

    3. June 15, 2011 7:11 am

      Somehow I got through grad school without ever reading Maria Edgeworth. Now I’m very tempted to give this book a try.

    4. June 15, 2011 7:18 am

      Ooohh this actually sounds interesting. You may convert me yet ;)

    5. June 15, 2011 7:19 am

      That’s high praise indeed, comparing her to Lizzie and Jane! I’ll have to to check it out.

      • June 17, 2011 7:05 am

        You should know that I’m not a Jane Eyre girl. ;) But I’m a P&P one, so it’s still high praise! hehe

    6. June 15, 2011 8:27 am

      Oh this sounds like a wonderful read. I’ve read a few of her short stories and really enjoyed them. With the review you gave I think I would really enjoy this novel. I’ve been needing a good classic to read.

    7. June 15, 2011 8:47 am

      I haven’t read Edgeworth but you have me intrigued. I am also very curious about Chrysalis.

      • June 19, 2011 11:55 am

        Chrysalis seems like a definite Gavin book!

    8. June 15, 2011 11:56 am

      This is one of the titles I just never got around to in graduate school. I think I still have my copy around here somewhere……

    9. June 15, 2011 3:12 pm

      Oh, that sounds like one I just have to read! And much more ‘modern’ than I would have expected from 1801. Adding to my list…

      • June 17, 2011 7:06 am

        I started reading 18th cent lit last year, and I was shocked by how much more ‘modern’ it reads than 19th cent stuff!

    10. June 16, 2011 2:16 am

      I’ve often wondered what Maria Edgeworth was like. Thank you for this recommendation! I’ll defintiely keep an eye out for this novel.

    11. June 16, 2011 6:33 am

      Oh! I read this book last summer and whenever I told someone how great it was they would say, “You read what by who?” I guess I should just be grateful it’s still in print. Belinda herself was (I thought) a little bit dull, but a lot of the other characters were fascinating; I especially loved Harriet Freake and her crazed behavior. And the ending – so completely bizarre and unexpected, yet satisfying.

      • June 19, 2011 11:56 am

        Harriet was so ridiculous! I have more affection for Belinda than you though. ;)

    12. June 16, 2011 8:39 am

      sounds like the maria edgeworth to read! i say not knowing any others by her…

      • June 19, 2011 11:57 am

        I’ve also read Castle Rackrent, and Belinda’s DEFINITELY a better introduction! Haven’t read anything else by her yet though; have added some more to my Nook.

    13. June 16, 2011 8:17 pm

      Great review. I don’t understand why Belinda is not more widely known, it would make a wonderful film. I loved Lady Delacour although was quite puzzled as to the exact nature of her ‘breast wound.’ I’ve read Edgeworth’s Helen which is pretty good, too.

    14. Jillian ♣ permalink
      June 17, 2011 12:06 am

      Yay! I definitely want to read this one. :-D

    15. June 17, 2011 1:21 pm

      I LOVED Lucy the Giant when I read a few years ago for the very reasons that you pair it with Belinda, so definitely will give Edgeworth a try.

      Also, really enjoying your new format. I love the “Suggested Companion Reads” feature both because I’ve only been following your blog about 8 mos. so I’m enjoying reading the posts I’ve missed AND I’ve been able to cull so many good recommendations from the comments on those posts, as well.

      • June 19, 2011 11:57 am

        Thanks so much Phaedosia! :) I started doing the Suggested Companion Reads to console myself for not being able to type as much, and it’s become my favourite part of my posts. hehe

    16. June 17, 2011 4:09 pm

      I really enjoyed reading this one too. I just realised that I never got around to reviewing it. Maybe I will remember enough to do that still?

      • June 19, 2011 11:58 am

        I read this ages ago and managed to review it, so I bet you’ll be just fine. :D

    17. June 18, 2011 3:48 am

      This sounds excellent! I’ve been looking for my next classic to read and to find one with a great female protagonist is such a bonus. Thanks for the recommendation!


    1. The Literary Horizon: Belinda, An Old-Fashioned Girl « The Literary Omnivore
    2. Review: Castle Rackrent « The Literary Omnivore

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