Belinda’s aunt, wishing Belinda to acquire a husband of wealth and social position, sends her to live with Lady Delacour, a leading figure in fashionable London. At first Belinda is dazzled by Lady Delacour’s wit and elegance and by the glamour of her world. Quickly, however, Belinda becomes disgusted by the shallow frivolity that permeates this world and by the manipulative jockeying for social position that drives its players. In particular, she realizes that Lady Delacour’s social brilliance disguises a deeply unhappy woman who despises her husband and marriage, fears the aging of her body, and conceals a mysterious personal secret known only to her maid, Marriott.
Belinda’s aunt hopes to match her with Clarence Hervey, one of London’s eligible young men, who is not only wealthy but also clever. Lady Delacour, too, encourages Belinda’s interest in Hervey, though she considers him one of her own admirers. To Belinda, Hervey initially seems foppish and conceited, and Hervey is on his guard against Belinda because he assumes she shares the goals of her aunt, a notorious matchmaker. At a masked ball, a disguised Belinda overhears Hervey denigrating her before his male friends as a “composition of art and affectation.” Belinda is mortified and resolves to take no interest in Hervey.
After the ball, Lady Delacour reveals to Belinda the true misery of her life. To hurt her husband, whom she thinks an alcoholic fool, she encouraged a beau, Colonel Lawless; Lord Delacour shot Lawless in a duel, and Lady Delacour still suffers from guilt over his death. Motherhood means little to her, and her surviving daughter, Helena, is someone she thinks little about and seldom sees. Lady Delacour is obsessed by a rivalry with another London host, Mrs. Luttridge, and her best friend, Harriet Freke, joined Mrs. Luttridge’s camp. Finally, a breast injury she received in a duel with another woman, she thinks, became a disease that is killing her. Nevertheless, she feels compelled to keep her sickness hidden from the...
(The entire section is 831 words.)