(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Armstrong argues that women novelists were instrumental to the rise of the middle-class ethos in English society because of their preoccupations with domestic subjects, domesticity, and sentimentality. Arabella, Armstrong argues, is the epitome of sentimentality and the “tamed” woman.

Doody, Margaret Anne. The True Story of the Novel. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1996. A provocative look at the political issues surrounding the rise of the novel. Examines why there existed such a push to distinguish between romances and the novel in English society, even though, Doody argues, there had been a symbiotic relationship between the two.

Gallagher, Catherine. Nobody’s Story: The Vanishing Acts of Women Writers in the Marketplace, 1670-1820. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. This book is essential to any study of Lennox. Gallagher devotes one chapter to Lennox’s place in the history of the woman novelist between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Small, Miriam Rossiter. Charlotte Ramsay Lennox: An Eighteenth Century Lady of Letters. 1935. Reprint. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1969. This is considered the best biography of Lennox and is widely cited in scholarly articles. Part of the Yale Studies in English series.

Spencer, Jane. The Rise of the Woman Novelist from Aphra Behn to Jane Austen. New York: Blackwell, 1986. Spencer demonstrates a demarcation in style and theme between women writers of the early eighteenth century—whose themes involved sexuality and power dynamics—and those women writers of the later century—who helped to fashion the new definition of “modest” or “acceptable” femininity in English society. Lennox falls into the latter category.

Todd, Janet. The Sign of Angellica: Women, Writing, and Fiction, 1660-1800. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989. This book discusses the precipitating factors that created the stigma attached to the English female novelist: finances, patriarchy, and a rapidly growing reading public.