Monday, October 27, 2008
Sometimes, when I'm writing about these books, I have to make excuses for them. 'They're melodramatic, but...', etc. The reason for this is largely because eighteenth-century novels are so different from modern novels. There is not as great a concern for realism, for example, and the passages that we consider overblown melodrama were considered deeply effecting. This is not to say that they're bad, just different, and it's something to keep in mind when reading a book written prior to the works of Jane Austen (when novels became more recognisably 'modern').
However, some of then novels I read are sheer joy from beginning to end. In this category, I put (and this list is off the top of my head and by no means exhaustive): all of Fanny Burney's novels, but especially Evelina, Elizabeth Inchbald's A Simple Story, Mary Robinson's Walsingham, Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote and Maria Edgeworth's Belinda. And now I can add to the list another Maria Edgeworth novel, Manoeuvring.
Manoeuvring will never be considered Edgeworth's greatest achievement. In terms of her oeuvre, it is a relatively minor novel. But damn if it isn't ridiculously entertaining.
Basically, Manoeuvring is about a clever and competent Mrs Bennet-ish character. Where Mrs Bennet was silly, Mrs Beaumont is clever. Where Mrs Bennet is completely transparent, Mrs Beaumont is clever enough to get away with things most of the time (although, obviously, things start to unravel over the course of the novel). At one point she's got about seven schemes going on. The novel is funny, light-hearted, and compulsively readable. While the ending is pretty predictable, I wanted to keep reading just to see how Mrs Beaumont would get her inevitable comeuppance. As with all Edgeworth's novels, there is a moral, but it doesn't get in the way of the story, but rather, comes out of the story naturally. It's actually quite Jane Austenish, but a bit 'lighter' (in that it is very narrow in focus).
To summarize: lots of fun! And sometimes, that's really all you need.