"...these foolish books have turned her brain!"
In The Female Quixote, Charlotte Lennox pokes fun of romance books and the effect they have on malleable young girls if read too often and taken too seriously. So it is with her main character, Arabella. The daughter of a Marquis, Arabella is young, beautiful, and lively; she has a quick wit and a kind heart. There's just one problem:
From her earliest youth she had discovered a fondness for reading, which extremely delighted the marquis; he permitted her therefore the use of his library, in which, unfortunately for her, were great store of romances, and what was still more unfortunate, not in the original French, but very bad translations....Her ideas, from the manner of her life, and the objects around her, had taken a romantic turn; and supposing romances were real pictures of life, from them she drew all her notions and expectations. By them she was taught to believe, that love was the ruling principle of the world; that every other passion was subordinate to this; and that it caused all the happiness and miseries of life.While this novel is subtitled "The Adventures of Arabella", it should be subtitled "The Follies of Arabella". She is always imagining passion in the young men she meets, always fearing she's about to be 'carried off' by a scorned lover, and always taking offense where none was meant or given. For every situation she encounters, she has some crazy example taken from a bad romance novel which she then quotes from...extensively. It's funny, at first, then a little tedious. But overall, this novel made me laugh. Even the chapter headings are amusing. Like this one: Contains several incidents, in which the reader is expected to be extremely interested. I did feel bad for Mr. Granville, the young man who wants to marry Arabella, but who can't quite live up to her foolish rules and unrealistic romantic notions. Why he sticks it out through all her whimsical follies I'll never know. But then, I stuck it out to the very end, too. (All 423 pages!) And I'm glad I did.
First published in 1752, The Female Quixote seems like a precursor to Jane Austen's satirical Northanger Abbey, another favorite read. There were several things I enjoyed about this novel--for one thing, it's full of some awesome vocabulary. I mean, when did we stop using words like questionless and ravishers in everyday conversation? Some of my other favorites: dolorous, foibles, languishings, vexacious, haply, raillery, and quintescence. If you like books written in this time period, lightheared (if a little long-winded) novels that poke fun and don't take themselves too seriously, and books with some delightfully funny characters, I think you'll like this one, too.