The marquis, Arabella’s father, had retreated to the English countryside and married a much younger wife who read romances for entertainment. Their daughter, Arabella, had been born a year after the wedding, but the marchioness, Arabella’s mother, had died in childbirth.
Older now, Arabella finds her mother’s romance books and reads them obsessively. She believes them to be truthful accounts of proper conduct between men and women. No one disobliges her of this notion.
At church, Arabella sees Mr. Hervey, a gentleman from London, and believes that he wants to kidnap her to rape her. She later meets Edward, an attractive and well-spoken gardener on a neighboring estate, and believes he is disguising his true aristocratic identity to be near her. Her cousin, Charles Glanville, arrives and falls in love with her. He soon realizes that Arabella is acting a role and submits because he loves her. Arabella falls in love with Charles but will not admit it.
Arabella’s father dies. Sir Charles Glanville, Arabella’s uncle and (now) guardian, arrives and is confounded by Arabella’s incessant discussion of romance books. He tells his son, Charles, that Arabella will not make him happy unless she changes her ways. Arabella then befriends Miss Groves and interrogates the woman’s servant about her lady’s adventures. The servant divulges the scandalous history of Miss Groves. Miss Groves admonishes Arabella for her rudeness and leaves. Arabella is perplexed.
Charles and his sister come for a visit, and Arabella is overjoyed to meet her cousin, Charlotte. They all go to the races, where they meet Sir George Bellmour.
Later, Arabella fears that Edward now intends to kidnap her. She flees her house, sprains her ankle, and faints. Lucy, her maidservant, runs to find help, and Arabella asks assistance from a stranger. Charles arrives, as does Edward, and Arabella accuses Edward of trying to kidnap her. Edward denies it. She banishes him and then commands Charles to kill him. Charles loves Arabella but is embarrassed by her inability to distinguish reality from fantasy.
Sir George is...
(The entire section is 880 words.)