Cecilia Read-Along Book III: Briggs better have my money

Fair travelers, journey to the master post if thou art lost.

Cecilia Readalong Button edit

Predictions about Cecilia’s suitors are running rampant in last week’s post, but this week, it’s all about money. Cecilia seems to the be only person with enough of it, but until she turns 21, she must rely on her guardians to access it – and none of them are making that easy. I am uneasy about her money being in the hands of these three peculiar, and in at least one case, horrid men. That usually doesn’t turn out well. Just ask RiRi:


A few readers are off the wagon, while a few are just climbing on. I’m reading ahead in Book V and believe me, you wanna stick around. Book III is short but can be confusing, so let’s break it down with gifs o’ plenty:

Book III

Cecilia’s money troubles start when the vile Harrells hit her up for a couple hundred pounds, which seems hella inappropriate, given she is their ward. Cecilia visits Mr. Briggs, to get an advance on her allowance, and he won’t give her a penny. She asks her other guardian, Mr. Delvile to intercede, but that’s like, so beneath him. (And if fellow read-alongers are right, he probably doesn’t have the cash anyway.) Cecilia must return to the Harrells empty handed.

The Harrells are not dissuaded, and suddenly “remember” that she can just borrow the money from “a Jew” which seems sketchier than a Pay Day Loan. She borrows what the Harrells need plus an extra 200 pounds for her own purposes, which Mr. Harrel promptly borrows as well! He is shameless! When Cecilia suddenly needs her money back, to help the hapless Hill family, Mr. Harrell avoids her and generally behaves abominably.


Cecilia manages to cobble together enough to get newly-widowed Mrs. Hill and daughters set up in a profession, but just barely. Exasperated, Cecilia has a heart-to-heart with Mrs Harrell, suggesting she take drastic measures to reduce their debt. Mrs Harrell’s response sheds some light on their predicament:

“I must own I don’t take it very kind of you to say such frightful things to me; I am sure we only live like the rest of the world, and I don’t see why a man of Mr Harrel’s fortune should live any worse. As to his having now and then a little debt or two, it is nothing but what every body else has. You only think it so odd, because you a’n’t used to it…”

Mr. Monckton warns Cecilia to beware further shenanigans. His advice would be almost be admirable, if his chief concern weren’t how much money Cecilia will have left when he’s free to pursue her himself. Meanwhile, young Mr. Delvile has been acting very odd, alternately avoiding Cecilia and making cryptic guesses as to her engagement status.


Me to Morty right now

Halfway through the Book we switch focus to Mr. Belfield. Last we heard, Mr. B was feeling better after being shot be Sir Robert in a dispute over who would hand Cecilia into her carriage (really) and was going to hang out in the country for a while. Actually, his injury is worse, and now that he’s not a fashionable man of the “ton” doing Don Quixote impressions, his friends have abandoned him. We find out that he was never one of them to begin with – his father was in trade, and his mom decided early on to try and make a gentleman of him. Now he’s sick, broke, and living in a run-down walk-up flat.


Mr. Belfield

This switch in focus was the most abrupt of the book so far. Cecilia is just walking down the street when she runs into Mr. Albany (the man-hater, or as I think of him, shit-disturber) who insists she follow him into an apartment. Mr. Albany introduces Cecilia to Miss Belfield, but not by name, and Cecilia thinks it’s just a new charity case until she discovered that Mr. Belfield is lying sick in the next room.

While trying to find a doctor to treat Mr. Belfield, Cecilia discovers that he has another mysterious benefactor: young Mr. Delvile. Rather than bringing them closer together, Morty deduces that Cecilia must be in love with Mr. Belfield rather than Sir Robert – indeed, no one is willing to believe she could be indifferent to both.

Mean while, the Harrells are preparing to go to their summer home for a holiday (from…what?) and Cecilia and Sir Robert are to be in the party. Sir Robert continues to act as if he and Cecilia are already engaged, commenting on her activities in a very presumptuous way:

Sir Robert Floyer, turning to her with a look of surprise, said, “If you have such freaks as these, Miss Beverley, I must begin to enquire a little more into your proceedings.”


Get your freak on, Cecilia

Repulsed by him, and by what her going will signal to the world at large (Cecilia and Sir Robert, sitting in a tree…)  Cecilia takes Mr. Monckton’s advice and refuses to go. He probably didn’t intend for Cecilia to worm her way into the Delviles house of the two weeks though.

Cecilia has a lovely stay with the Delviles, but is confused once again when they do not take her broad hint and invite her to live there permanently; she is even more confused by young Mr. Delvile’s continued hints at her imagined engagement, first to Mr. Belfield, now to Sir Robert.

The masquerade may be over, but no one is what they seem in Book III. The Harrels and the Belfields are trying to hide their financial status from the world, while Mr. Delvile is hiding his feelings from Cecilia. Cecilia’s heart is much speculated upon, but no one besides Mr. Monckton has an inking. Cecilia struggles to make sense of it all – as do we, at times, fair readers!

“I know not in what unaccountable obscurity,” cried Cecilia, “I, or my affairs, may be involved, but I perceive that the cloud which I had hoped was dissipated, is thicker and more impenetrable than ever.”


Me at the end of Book III




Modern Life in the 18th century

YOLO: It’s tough to live in the moment.

Few are the days of felicity unmixed which we acknowledge while we experience, though many are those we deplore, when by sorrow taught their value, and by misfortune, their loss.

#IntrovertProblems: Mrs. Delvile has them.

Yet I am no enemy to solitude; on the contrary, company is commonly burthensome to me; I find few who have any power to give me entertainment, and even of those few, the chief part have in their manners, situation, or characters, an unfortunate something, that generally renders a near connection with them inconvenient or disagreeable. There are, indeed, so many drawbacks to regard and intimacy, from pride, from propriety, and various other collateral causes, that rarely as we meet with people of brilliant parts, there is almost ever some objection to our desire of meeting them again.

Outstanding questions

  • How, and why, is Mr. Albany up in everyone’s business?
  • How do Cecilia’s other guardians not guess what’s up with the Harrells? They believe that she owes 600 pounds to “book sellers” (Google tells me 600 pounds in 1780 is the equivilent of about $120K CAD today)?
  • Why don’t we see or hear from Mr. Belfield himself?

Cecilia’s Squad: updated

New stuff from Book III in bold:

  • Our Heroine: Cecilia Beverley: 20, orphan, heiress
  • Her guardians:
    • Mr. Briggs, a business man who will provide “vigilant observance” of Cecilia’s fortune and often provides comic relief
    • Mr. Delvile, “a man of high birth and character” who will make sure Cecilia “should in nothing be injured”
    • Mr. Harrell, husband of childhood friend, chosen simply so Cecilia can live with said friend. In debt to Cecilia.
  • 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??) presumed fiance of Cecilia
    • Mr. Belfield, 18th century slacker: “too volatile for serious study, and too gay for laborious application” now financially ruined and lost a duel to boot
    • Captain Aresby, likes to throw French phrases around, not annoying at all
  • Her friends
    • Miss Belfield, sister of Mr. Belfield
    • 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. Moving to frenemy status soon!
    • 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. Widowed. Working in a hat shop thanks to Cecilia.
  • 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.
  • Randos
    • Mrs. Belfield, “coarse and ordinary” mother of Mr. Belfield
    • 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.

Are you confused? Is it really that hard to believe that someone could be horrified at the thought of causing a duel, and not want to bone either of the duelers (duelists?) On a scale of one to a million, how glad are you to be alive today, rather than a time when women’s worth was determined by their availability and utility to men, and their behaviour was constantly monitored and judged… oh wait… well, at least duels aren’t a thing anymore!



  1. Elle

    I’m really enjoying the punning post titles, gifs, and “modern life in the 18th century” sections – this series could be the basis of a whole course!

    • lauratfrey

      Well, normally I wouldn’t be so heavy on the recaps, but I noticed there are no online recaps for this book! No spark notes or anything. Normally I would read the recaps myself and do a little more analysis, but, that can come later!

      • Elle

        It’s a public service you’re providing! Not surprised there’s nothing online – no one reads this outside of the academic community (well, obviously, people do, but not very many of them…)

  2. The Paperback Princess

    I love this recap. Espcially the use of Riri gifs. Always appropriate.
    There was one point in Book III where Cecilia was trying to convince a man that she wasn’t engaged or in love with Belfield or Sir Robert and the man (I think it was Harrell?) kept insisting that her non feelings meant that she had feelings. No matter what she said, he disputed the truth of it and I just thought “good LORD, some things have not changed at all.” How clever Miss Burney was to illustrate this all the way back in the 18th century when she was barely even a person!
    Book III was all over the place so I’m glad to hear that it gets better. I guess when you have nearly 1000 pages worth of story, you can afford to sacrifice some to foundation building.

    • lauratfrey

      The scary part is, it’s suggested that no matter what a woman does, if it becomes common knowledge that you’re “engaged” to a man, you often end up having to marry him, otherwise your reputation will be ruined.

      • The Paperback Princess

        SO TERRIBLE. Reading these kinds of books, so very much of a certain time and place, does make me glad to be a woman now. But also, there are some things that are depressingly the same.

  3. Caitlin Higgins

    Book III is the reason why I don’t always finish books written pre 1900s. I find sections of books that are setting the scene so dull! I feel like that’s what book II might be doing. It’s giving us a better glimpse into what really is going on, instead of book I and II which was more an account of Cecelia’s experience.

    Why does Delville think she is engaged to someone else? and Why does he not believe her when she denies it?

    I feel so bad for Celcilia. I imagine how she started out in this great adventure and to be part of high society only to find out no one is who they say they are. People are swindling her out of money. She can’t trust any of these guys. Even the ones she thinks she can trust because they are all more interested in her hand in marriage like she is some sort of prize.

    Maybe I would have fallen in if I lived in these times, but I can’t believe I would. I can’t follow rules today. Imagine having to live by all these societal rules while because treated like property and having handlers that clearly don’t have your best interest in mind.

    Not dropping out though. I am proud for making it this far!!

    • lauratfrey

      It all seems to go back to the duel – the fact that she screamed “oh god someone do something” (or similar) means she *must* be in love with one of them. OR it means she’s a normal person who doesn’t want to cause a gunfight?? So weird. But in Morty’s case, I think he’s being fed lies from someone he thinks is a reputable source… but hello, the ONLY reputable source is Cecilia!

  4. Kristine

    Hahaha! Love your breakdown of it all. So far, honestly, I think all of Cecilia’s suitors are fairly useless and/or irritating and/or creepy. I am really hoping for her sake someone comes along who is much more her intellectual and spiritual equal. Or, even better, she is able to come into her own and avoid marriage completely.

    I also wonder if the whole name requirement as part of her inheritance is known even by Cecilia herself. It doesn’t seem as if it is widely known among her acquaintances anyway as no one has brought it up. Was this a common stipulation?

    I can’t wait to dig deeper!

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah I kind of hope so too. Morty is on my nerves big time.

      I don’t think she does. I don’t know who, or if anyone does. Someone’s gonna get a big surprise. It seems to be setting up some nice tenion for a possible match with Delvile – his father is so proud of his family connections, and Morty is his only son, but (possibly) broke – so what’s more important, the family name, or cash money?

  5. Melanie Kerr (@MelanieKerrAuth)

    There is a line in a future book that says the stipulation that Cecilia’s husband take her name was “so common for an heiress as to be unremarkable…” or something like that. I’m paraphrasing. But it was brief and definitely indicated that this was the norm, or at least not unusual or unexpected at all. The public’s general awareness at the time of such matters is probably why it isn’t harped on much. This is the first time I have heard of such a thing, so perhaps it went out of fashion between this book and 1812? Or maybe I just haven’t encountered it.
    Also, regarding engagements, it may be helpful to know that a gentleman may NOT break off an engagement, but a lady is ALWAYS at liberty to do so. In fact, a lady could sue a gentleman in Chancery if he failed to follow through on promised marriage. It was a binding legal contract, and some say the tradition of an engagement ring was sort of like a deposit on that covenant. But it was definitely actionable in law, so was not simply a question of honour and society. He could break it off for particular reasons, however, such as infidelity or other things. The lady, however, required no reasons for ending an engagement. Think of little Cecily Cardew in the Importance of Being Ernest, how she breaks off her imaginary engagement to Ernest numerous times in her journal. So Cecilia cannot actually be bound to anyone, legally or even by society’s standards. If a gentleman fails to keep a lady interested, well, he has failed as a man. That’s his problem, basically.
    I am way too far ahead to hazard any comments on the plot, lest I give anything away. I had only planned to read one book a week, like the schedule suggests, but I can’t help myself. And I am kind of annoyed at Cecilia for lending the Harrells money. Has she learned nothing from the Hills? (Also note, Mrs. Hill is the Bennetts’ housekeeper. And, did you notice Mrs. Monckton’s maid is called Miss Bennett?)

    • lauratfrey

      Really?? I had no idea about the name thing. And, as far as being engaged, I think a few of Cecilia’s “friends” have suggested that if a man pays enough attention to you, and you don’t consent to an engagement, it reflects very poorly on *her* – do you not get that sense? Or is this just Mr Harrel being horrible as usual? I need to do some research!

      I’m getting towards the end of Book V and OMG MR HARREL. But we shan’t speak of it here!

      • Melanie Kerr

        It is mostly Mr. Harrell being horrid. But, big caveat that becomes important later, her behaviour does matter. There are a lot of rules if propriety and they are relaxed slightly if you are engaged, so you are allowed to write to each other, to meet under more questionable circumstances, etc. Society turns a bit of a blind eye because marriage sort of cures all. But if you did those things and did not get married , it would be quite shocking. And the manner of your breaking it off probably would reflect on your reputation, as would your reasons. Breaking faith is still not really cricket. And all scandal is basically a death-knell, but you probably know that. Some break ups by ladies could qualify as scandal, but that would not really be the case with Sir Robert F. That’s just Mr. Harrell trying to manipulate her and convince her of an obligation she doesn’t have. I think he figures because she’s a bumpkin she will fall for it.

  6. Pingback: Cecilia Read-Along: Summer Reading for People Who Don’t Like “Summer Reading” | Reading in Bed

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