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Helen – Maria Edgeworth

As Austen was a bit of an Edgeworth fan, when I saw this in the book shop I decided I had to read it (although Austen died before this novel was published).

Here’s the stuff on the back …

She was the best-selling author of Regency England. Admired by Jane Austen, whose fame she eclipsed. John Ruskin declared her books ‘the most re-readable in existence’.

On the death of her guardian, honest, generous-spirited Helen Stanley is urged to share the home of her childhood friend Lady Cecilia. But this charming socialite is withholding secrets and Helen is drawn into a web of white lies and evasions that threaten not only her hopes for marriage but her very place in society.

A fascinating panorama of Britain’s political and intellectual elite in the early 1800s and a gripping romantic drama, Helen was the inspiration for Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters.

Edgeworth lacks the wit and light touch of Austen. I found this novel heavy going and I suspect it won’t appeal to a modern audience. It is about lying and liars. General Clarenden, Cecilia’s husband, declares he would not marry a woman who had been in love previously. Cecilia lied to him about a previous infatuation. Some letters, that Cecilia wrote to this man, come to light and Cecilia encourages Helen to say that the writing on the letters isn’t Cecilia’s (the implication being that it is Helen’s). Things then get worse – the letters might get published, Helen becomes the scandal of the moment.

I’ve picked a few bits out that remind me of Austen …

[…] and secondly, because every woman is willing to believe what she wishes.

and this is a bit like the part in Emma when the narrator talks about English verdure.

The road led them into the next village, one of the prettiest of that sort of scattered English villages, where each habitation seems to have been suited to the fancy as well as to the convenience of each proprietor; giving an idea at once of comfort and liberty, such as can be seen only in England. Happy England, how blest, would she but no her bliss!

It is beautifully written, romantic and full of suspense – will Cecilia ever confess to the General and what will happen to Helen? If you are a Jane Austen fan or enjoy regency romances, then you should try to read this one if only for the authentic period detail.

Here are some other reviews …

http://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/2008/03/02/maria-edgeworth-helen/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jul/03/maria-edgeworth-helen-john-mullan

One Response to “Helen – Maria Edgeworth”

  1. Mary Flannery says:

    I read Helen for the 2nd time, it grows on one. It is certainly easier to read than Belinda (1801).

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