For those who enjoy light regency fiction, Georgette Heyer is a staple of the genre. Arabella is an excellent example of the author's renowned skill with creating charming characters and ridiculous scenes that make for a silly read, perfect for when it's either raining or you happen to be sick. (Or if you're recovering from reading a violent novel and there are no kittens on hand to comfort you.) One always knows what to expect from Heyer's endings (and, indeed, most of the middle, too), but if a light romp is what you want, then look no further.

Arabella's titular heroine is the eldest daughter in a vicar's family of eight children. Blessed with a wealthy and socially significant godmother (who has no daughters of her own to fuss over), Arabella Tallant is going to London so that her godmother, Lady Bridlington might present her to society and oversee the girl's first season... which will hopefully be her *only* season, as she needs to make a good match if there's any hope for her younger siblings and the money to get a girl through a London season doesn't grow on trees. No one seems too concerned that Arabella will make a good match, for she's a beautiful young woman and smart enough, with her only real flaw being a bit of an impetuous streak that often results in her acting before she's thoroughly thought on the matter. Unsurprisingly, for the daughter of a clergyman with eight children, she has very little dowry to speak of, but she does at least have a smart mother who has saved for this very occasion, setting by money and keeping her own old items from her youth so that they might be made up new for her daughter. No one need be in any doubt that everything ends well... and that Arabella not only makes a suitable match with a decently established fellow, but that it will be a matter of love, too, and not just acceptability... but at least the road to get to this happily ever after is entertaining.

While traveling to London in her uncle's coach, an accident drives Arabella and her companion to seek shelter at a nearby home... which turns out to belong to the most fashionable man in London, Mr. Beaumaris. Elegant and wealthy, he is tired of women hunting after him and so when this pretty young girl shows up at his door, he is not inclined to think favorably of her. When Arabella hears him saying just as much to his friend, implying that Arabella might be some girl who has traveled just to disturb his peace and create a sham impromptu meeting, Arabella is furious and acts on impulse. She lies and "lets it slip" that she is an heiress, also tired of being hunted for her enormous fortune, and she makes it clear with her demeanor that she has no interest in Mr. Beaumaris whatsoever.

Well, Mr. Beaumaris's friend might have been taken in by Arabella's heiress claims, but the man himself is not... and yet he decides that to set the girl up as the toast of society would be quite amusing. He allows his friend to spread word of the new heiress come to town and Mr. Beaumaris pays special attention to Arabella upon meeting her. With the approval of the most fashionable man in London and the gossip quickly spreading about the enormous Tallant fortune, Arabella quickly becomes the most sought-after girl in town... and she is just as quickly mortified when she realizes that it's all to do with her lie about having a fortune. Mr. Beaumaris continues to spend time with Arabella, realizing that he's never met a girl quite like her, while Arabella keeps her emotional distance, aware that he's probably just trifling with her, but she can use his attention to her advantage in society. Of course, with news about that she's an heiress, she doesn't feel right accepting any proposals of marriage... not even should Mr. Beaumaris himself offer. Of course, what Mr. Beaumaris wants is for Arabella to trust him enough to tell him the truth so that he can find out her true feelings about him and assure her that his feelings are in no way linked to her mythical fortune.

Before we can settle all this, Arabella's younger brother Bertram appears in town and quickly gets in over his head with gambling debts and bills... which provides Mr. Beaumaris the perfect opportunity to swoop in and attempt to settle everything, but not before Arabella contrives of her own ill-conceived plan to get her brother out of debt. It's all quite ridiculous, yes, but when does one read Georgette Heyer for something commonplace?

Mr. Beaumaris is a charming leading man, cut from the same cloth as many Heyer heroes... a bit older, a bit wiser, and under the impression that he's immune to the charms of a fresh young woman. The twist in this relationship is Arabella's tendency to speak her mind, thus saddling with Mr. Beaumaris with the results. First it's an orphan boy who falls through Arabella's chimney that she refuses to hand back over to his "master" -- Mr. Beaumaris surprises even himself when he offers to take charge of the boy and make him useful. Then it's a dog that Arabella sees being beaten and she swoops in to rescue him... only to realize that her godmother probably won't want him in the house so wouldn't Mr. Beaumaris please keep him? The mongrel dog becomes Mr. Beaumaris's bosom companion (much to his dismay) and some of Mr. Beaumaris's funniest moments come as a result of his single-sided conversation with the dog that he names Ulysses as he scolds the worshipful dog for being a "toad-eater" and muses aloud as to what he can do to get Arabella to confide in him. Arabella, meanwhile, can be a bit soppy as she frets about what he father might think of her if he knew all the wicked lie she has told... but her flashes of fury are amusing enough to absolve her of the soppier moments. Plus, it's nice to see a girl who knows how to play the society game, consciously working the innocent angle from time to time to her own advantage. She blatantly uses Mr. Beaumaris for his society connections and doesn't have any scruples in telling him so. As for Bertram and his storyline of debt, I found myself incredibly bored. It was terribly obvious where everything was going and I didn't particularly care for him, but he must be endured so that everything can turn out right in the end... I should have much rather preferred more scenes with Ulysses, though, rather than Arabella's brother.

In the end, Mr. Beaumaris is quite too good a man all of a sudden, but such is the case with this style of novel. A quick and charming read, Arabella is, at least, a feisty young heroine who has quite a conscience (a vicar's daughter could not escape it) and one can sympathize with poor Mr. Beaumaris, who has visions of his future comfort and happiness being constantly disturbed by Arabella's causes... but of course, that is all part of her charm.

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