Cecilia Read-Along Book II: It’s all happening
Fair travelers, journey to the master post if thou art lost.
It’s all happening for Cecilia this week! Our Frances vs. Fanny discussion is still going strong in last week’s post. Rick of Read the North pulled some of Burney’s sickest burns in his Book I wrap up. Much discussion about who should be cast in the roles of Mortimer Delvile took place on Facebook and Twitter. I’ll get you caught up with all that in a minute. But first, this happened:
I’m still not sure why, after years of blogging about live Canadian authors, I got called by the CBC for blogging about a dead British one, but, I’ll take it. Have a listen here. Welcome CBC listeners: if you’re reading with us, please say hello in the comments!
It’s all happening for Cecilia, too. Operas, masquerades, duels, flirty dominoes…
Cecilia, having resolved to get the fuck outta the Harrell’s house at the end of Book I, goes to meet her other guardians, one “A Man of Wealth”, one “A Man of Family”, both just as terrible as the Harrels. Disappointed, Cecilia sits tight and comforts the Hills, the poor family who opened her eyes to the evils of her fashionable friends. At the end of these chapters, we leave Cecilia buying books to console herself and passing the hours “serenely in innocent philosophy” – if only she had a blog!
Chapter three is my favourite so far. Cecilia helps the Harrels host a masquerade party and it is completely bonkers. The country dances of Jane Austen are very quaint and all, but masquerade parties are something else – totally unfamiliar in terms of the proceedings and the costumes, and yet, some very familiar human behaviour is on display. Cecilia’s suitors have been circling like vultures since page 1, but at the party, one “devil” quite literally circles her and prevent her from leaving.
Waving this wand as he advanced towards Cecilia, he cleared a semi-circular space before her chair, thrice with the most profound reverence bowed to her, thrice turned himself around with sundry grimaces, and then fiercely planted himself at her side.
But the party don’t start till Don Quixote walk in:
…bending down his head, he kissed the floor; after which, raising himself upon his feet, he proceeded in his speech.
“Report, O most fair and unmatchable virgin! daringly affirmeth that a certain discourteous person, who calleth himself the devil, even now, and in thwart of your fair inclinations, keepeth and detaineth your irradiant frame in hostile thraldom.”
After being further accosted by a chimney sweep, a “Turk” (casual racism: just part of the fun) and several others, a mysterious “white domino” finally saves the day. Well, that, and a diversion in the form of a Harlequin swinging from a chandelier.
I’m not going to tell you who’s who, because that’s why this chapter was so fun. I was as confused as Cecilia. I also had flashbacks to every cheesy Halloween pub crawl I went on back in the day. What is it about costumes and people being assholes? This chapter went from funny to ridiculous to… something past that, but somehow it still worked.
We haven’t even gotten to the duel yet. After the party it’s the after… no, it’s the opera, and Sir Robert & Mr. Belfield get into a fight about who gets to hand Cecilia into her carriage. A simple glove slap isn’t enough to settle things, and despite Cecilia’s attempts to manipulate the situation, they do indeed duel, and Sir Robert gives Mr. Belfield a pretty bad flesh wound. Cecilia lets everyone down by not falling for either the victor or the injured party, either of which would have satisfied the gossips.
We’re only halfway through Book II, by the way.
The second half is a little calmer. Cecilia finally find a use for the most besotted of her suitors, Mr. Monckton and Mr. Arnott, and uses them to get information on Mr. Belfield’s condition. She also finds out that the white domino is none other than Mortimer Delvile, son of her “Man of Family” guardian. Cecilia finds a true friend (as far as I know, anyway) in Mortimer’s mother Mrs. Delvile, and Mortimer himself emerges as a likely love interest, though this dueling business is going to cause complications for some time to come – I almost forgot that Sir Robert proposed to Cecilia in this Book, it’s so completely unromantic.
Modern Life in the 18th century
Text speak: The next time someone complains that kids these days only speak in incomplete sentences and impenetrable slang due to too much texting, please direct them to Mr. Briggs.
“Ah ha!” cried the chimney-sweeper, significantly nodding his head, “smell a rat! a sweetheart in disguise. No bamboozling! it won’t do; a’n’t so soon put upon. If you’ve got any thing to say, tell me, that’s the way. Where’s the cash? Got ever a rental? Are warm? That’s the point; are warm?”
Jennifer Aniston would be so disappointed: Anyone who reads gossip knows that female celebrities are endlessly scrutinzed in terms of their fertility and marriage prospects. The fashionable young men at the opera are no different:
…for these gentlemen, though as negligent as the young ladies had been whom they disturbed, were much more cautious whom they instructed: their language was ambiguous, and their terms, to Cecilia, were unintelligible: their subjects, indeed, required some discretion, being nothing less than a ludicrous calculation of the age and duration of jointured widows, and of the chances and expectations of unmarried young ladies.
Still not having too much trouble reading the 18th century language, but there are a few details I’m missing:
- Why isn’t Mr. Monckton one of Cecilia’s guardian? I mean, given what we know, thank GOD he’s not, but… what else don’t we know? What did Cecilia’s uncle know that she doesn’t?
- Why does everyone hate Mrs. Delvile, even though she seems pretty okay?
- What are the rules that make it nearly impossible for Mr. Monckton to get Cecilia alone, but let Morty talk to her alone several times? Or is Monckton just a little slow?
Cecilia’s Squad: updated
New characters from Book II in bold:
- Our Heroine: Cecilia Beverley: 21, orphan, heiress
- Her guardians:
- Mr. Briggs, a business man who will provide “vigilant observance” of Cecilia’s fortune
- Mr. Delvile, “a man of high birth and character” who will make sure Cecilia “should in nothing be injured” but won’t meet them till Book II.
- Mr. Harrell, husband of childhood friend, chosen simply so Cecilia can live with said friend.
- Her suitors:
- Mortimer Delvile, the white domino, and potentially our leading man. Can a 21st century reader deal with a romantic lead named “Mortimer”?
- Mr. Monckton: married to a 76-year-old crabby pants, he’s real annoyed when, just a few years after marrying this old lady for money, a 17-year-old heiress moved in next door. Timing is everything!
- Mr. Arnott: brother of childhood friend Mrs. Harrell, lays it on pretty thick, likes that Cecilia “isn’t like the other girls,” gag me…
- Sir Robert Floyer: Fashionable, friend of Mr. Harrell, super creep (WHAT is with the staring??)
- Mr. Belfield, 18th century slacker: “too volatile for serious study, and too gay for laborious application”
- Captain Aresby, likes to throw French phrases around, not annoying at all
- Her friends
- Mrs. Delvile, wife of her guardian and mother of her potential love interest, Cecilia loves her while everyone else hates… what’s up with that?
- Mrs. Harrell: A childhood friend who moved to the big city some years ago. A very “city and country mouse” reunion so far.
- Mr. Morrice: Her friend whether she wants him or not. This guy cracks me up.
- Mrs. Hill, a poor woman who I thought would con Cecilia, but ends up exposing the truth about the Harrels.
- Her frenemies
- Miss Larolle: “flirting, communicative, restless, and familiar” she is the 18th century equivalent of a basic bitch.
- Miss Leeson: “silent, scornful, languid, and affected,” definitely afflicted with resting bitch face.
- Mr. Meadows, who has “something like a conversation” with Cecilia at a party (he’s not very bright)
- Mrs. Mears, “whose character was of that common sort which renders delineation superfluous”
- Mr. Albany, aka “The Man-Hater” which sounds like it should be my new favourite feminist blog – he shows up all over the place, saying the things no one else dares.
I totally pictured a literal domino and had to google image search 18th century domino. Even then, I was picturing a white cloak person with a domino on his head! Throughout the masquerade chapter I wanted someone to help Cecilia. This is exactly why you need your girls watching out for you. It reminded me when some nasty, sweaty guy would try to dance with you at a club and one of your friends would sort of cut in and help you escape. Cecilia needed that.
I am having a really tough time keeping track of all the characters. Thank you for the list. It helps me so much!
Monkton is a bit of an idiot. I feel like he just isn’t brave enough or smart enough to find some alone time. With all the other suitors pushing for time, he is never going to get a chance. Probably for the best, he seems desperate.
We aren’t alone on the domino front, see comments below 🙂
Ughhhh Monckton is totally the nasty guy who creeps up behind you when you are dancing with your friends.
Thank you again for introducing this book to us! I would never have sought it out on my own and I am really enjoying the read. Our Frances Burney knows how to draw a person in. The Masquerade chapter was super creepy and way too familiar for comfort but I had fun trying to figure out who everyone was. Poor Cecilia. I keep hoping she will find a decent ally. Will it really be Mortimer?
My only frustration is that the ebook copy I have – the only one I could find quickly – seems to have different text than other versions. I am worried I am missing out on some much better 18th century dialogue.
I know, I was going to write more about the masquerade and how anyone who’s given a guy a fake number, or asked a friend to pretend to be your boyfriend for an evening, or hidden in a bathroom to get rid of a creeper knows *exactly* what Cecilia was feeling… she has even less recourse, but man, entitled men are THE WORST.
My ebook copy also seems to have “fixed” some of the anachronisms, which sucks. I don’t find it makes a huge difference, but it might be worth tracking down the Oxford World’s Classics edition if you can, which reproduces the first edition.
Oh, and congratulations on the recognition from the CBC! Very cool. 🙂
I can’t with Mortimer. And Morty?! You’re killing me. Was Mortimer even a popular name in the 18th century? According to my thorough research (google) Mortimer was a baronial surname and not adopted as a first name until the 19th Century. Our Miss Burney is somewhat of a trailblazer methinks.
I did picture an actual domino. I think I’m going to leave it that way.
The Masquerade was completely bonkers! I really enjoyed it! So much of this book is totally unexpected.
As for Mrs Delville, I think there’s more here than we know right now. It sounds like the stage is being set for some kind of request from her…I’d guess her fortune in the form of marrying young Mr Delville. I would guess that they actually have no money.
Oooo good prediction, I bet you are right. She’ll reveal her true colours at some point, maybe. Though, since it’s mostly Monckton & the Harrells saying she’s awful, I was taking it with a grain of salt.
Very interesting how having actual money and being “rich” or having “a fortune” are not that related… gonna talk about that more in next week’s post.
I’m always fascinated to read about titled or wealthy families who actually live a very hand to mouth existence. Jennie Churchill comes to mind…
I predict the Delviles won’t countenance an alliance with her, regardless of her fortune, because of the name issue. They are people of family, and their name is everything. It’s all they have, actually, and Mortimer is their only son. Mrs. Delvile is probably just unpopular because she’s sick of all the crap in London society and doesn’t have time for it. And I don’t know if I said this already, but can we have Jim Broadbent for Mr. Briggs? He’s probably too tall, but he has the requisite nose. Plus I love him, obviously.
Is there a younger son they can pimp out to solve the name issue?
I’ve been thinking about this some more. Does everyone know that the caveat to Cecilia accessing her fortune is that her husband takes her name? So far it’s really only been mentioned the one time and only when we were first introduced to Cecilia. The way all the men are acting around her, it doesn’t seem like they are aware of the sacrifice they’d be called on to make…As one of her guardians, you would think Mr Delville would know but he’s made it super clear that he didn’t want the job, he’s not interested in it now so does he really have the full story?
This is a very good question. I admit that while writing my Book II recap, I actually forgot about the whole name thing. I wonder how and when this week come into play?
Are you reading ahead? I’m on book IV and you are spot on!
No! I’m only just getting into book III
Regarding the name Mortimer, I’d bet ten to one Mrs Delvile”s maiden name was Mortimer. It might not have come 8nt9 it’s own as a first name until later, but giving your son your maiden name as a first name (particularly if younwere from a prestigious family) was very common. See Fitzwilliam Darcy, son of Lady Anne Fitzwilliam as was.
I never caught on to that about Mr. Darcy. This makes so much sense now! Melanie im so glad you’re reading with us!
Have you read my posts about the Mr Darcy’s family tree? I give I to a lot of detail about this sort of thing. There are so many clues to relationships if you know how to read them.
Apparently I have not!