I have just finished re-reading Arabella for the second time in my life. As a serious re-reader (particularly with “novels about England”) this is unprecedented.
The first reading took place on a transatlantic flight from Washington State to England where my parents and my sister, M, and I were going to spend a whirlwind three weeks taking in all the sights to be had in Western Europe. It was my first exposure to Georgette Heyer and to that genre in general, and I gobbled it up. It was the perfect moment for introduction. Just as Arabella in the beginning of the novel looks towards London with anticipation of new luxuries, experiences, and romances, I too looked forward to a new stage in my life. High school was behind me and college loomed ahead with promises of new friends, new places, and perhaps a new me. Arabella captures the love of her life, a calloused man of fashion who suffers from ennui, with a combination of naivety, young beauty, and artlessness. Being equipped with a pretty robust imagination and also endowed with plenty of naivety at the time, it wasn’t too difficult to immerse myself in the book and become Arabella. These, my dear reader, are my favorite kinds of reads, the kind that allows you to be transported to another time and other experiences--where suddenly you have a new set of characteristics that are indubitably attractive and you find happiness ever after. You are that character. (Of course this only works if the protagonist is beautiful, kind, long-lived and have, in general, good things happen to her.)
While I thoroughly enjoyed reading it this second time around—laughing out loud in some parts, there were marked differences in my attitude this time compared to the previous. 10 years have past since my first reading, and sadly, I I can no longer be transported in such a way. I can not be Arabella. I am no longer young and in my first bloom. I have lived in too many places, suffered disappointments, and have learned in general to restrain myself from too often “flying upon the wings of anticipation.” In imagining myself as the protagonist, I find myself wanting to say and do things that Arabella just would not do. Instead, I find myself more sympathetic towards Heyer's other heroines: Fredricka and Sophy. Women who are decidedly "on the shelf" and are pretty but faded. They have learned to disapointments in stride and make the most out of life.
Yet, I can't dismiss Arabella for staying the same while I have changed. She opened the door to a wonderful world, and while I feel a bit of nostalgia for that first time experience that can never be repeated, it still remains one of my favorite Heyer novels.....one to be re-read again and again.