Places: Belinda

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1801

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Late eighteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. BelindaThe major metropolitan area and capital city of Great Britain, London is also the fall and winter meeting place for the nobility and aristocracy of England’s countryside–people whose wealth derives from rents and not from work. The London of Maria Edgeworth’s novel is the London of the fashionable world and the primary setting through which she criticizes that world as mercenary, dishonest, dissipated. It is the London of spectacle, of theaters, operas, masquerades, balls, of “bustle” and “glare.” Throughout her descriptions of the city, Edgeworth emphasizes the glittering appearances which, like Lady Delacour’s mask as “the comic muse,” disguise the sordid reality of disease, disaffection, and dissipation.

Delacour House

Delacour House. Mansion in London’s Berkeley Square district that is the home of Lord and Lady Delacour. Here the beauty, wit, and wealth of London gather. However, these revels are merely a “spell,” a “thin veil” covering domestic misery. The house conceals a secret, in the form of Lady Delacour’s mysterious boudoir, a bedroom locked to all but her and her maid. The boudoir is not the haunt of vice but of disease; even as her wound eats at Lady Delacour’s bosom, the secrecy cloaking it–of which her boudoir is the emblem–devours her marriage. Notably, it is Belinda’s forcing Lady Delacour to open the locked door to her husband, to remove the veil and reveal her disease that ultimately restores happiness to Delacour House.

Oakly Park

Oakly Park. Stately country home of Lady Anne and Mr. Percival that is located near London. Even as Percival House, the mansion in Upper Grosvenor Street, London, is contrasted, in its domestic harmony, intelligent society, and rational pursuits, with the dissipation and dangerous secrets of Delacour House, Oakly Park is contrasted both with London and with the picturesque retreat of Mrs. Ormond’s cottage. As Lady Anne notes, Oakly Park and London are two different worlds. Oakly Park provides leisure for reflection and for noble pursuits; London is marred by vicious idleness and by “busy eyes and tongues,” whose gossip, like their opinions, is “idle and ignorant.” The estate symbolizes a balance between too-knowledgeable society and the too-innocent country.

Mrs. Ormond’s cottage

Mrs. Ormond’s cottage. Small house with walled garden in Windsor, a country town immediately west of London. The site of the royal family’s Windsor Castle, it is a favorite summer retreat of the aristocracy. Here Clarence Hervey replicates the isolation and simplicity of the former New Forest home of his ward, Virginia St. Pierre (born Rachel Hartley), and her governess. However, this artificially rural retreat itself breeds a dangerous idleness that aligns the country with the city; without the common labor of honest country life, Virginia becomes caught up in novel-reading and romancing, in wild imaginings, which, like the wild gossip of Londoners, ultimately threaten Hervey’s happiness and her own.

*New Forest

*New Forest. Largest forest in England, which at the time the novel was written covered much of the land between the seaside towns of Southampton and Bournemouth. Here Clarence Hervey finds his child of nature, Virginia, living a hermitlike existence with her grandmother in a beautiful, glade, surrounded by beehives–a sign of honest country labor–and rose trees, the classic English symbol of cultivated nature and romantic love.

BibliographyButler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975. The chapter on Edgeworth is a good introduction to Belinda’s treatment of women’s lives.Butler, Marilyn. Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1972. The best biography of Edgeworth. Has an extensive and thoughtful treatment of Edgeworth’s relationship with her father, which was very influential on her writing. Discusses Belinda’s place in Edgeworth’s canon.Johnson, Claudia L. Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Places Belinda in the context of the politics of the 1790’s and other novels of the period.Kowaleski-Wallace, Elizabeth. Their Fathers’ Daughters: Hannah More, Maria Edgeworth, and Patriarchal Complicity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Investigates issues raised by Edgeworth’s representation of women’s rationality and irrationality and argues that her treatment of Lady Delacour and motherhood is the core of the novel.Mellor, Anne K. Romanticism and Gender. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall: 1993. Reads Belinda as a presentation of “the new feminine Romantic ideology” of “balanced feminism.” Extensive bibliography emphasizing women writers of the period, including Edgeworth.
Categories: Places