Erskine. 1744. The travels and adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu : cousin to the present Duke ... who made the tour of Europe, dressed in men's cloaths ... Done into English from the lady's own manuscript, by the translator of the Memoirs and adventures of the Marques of Bretagne. Dublin, Oli. Nelson.
This is a light-hearted stream-of-consciousness summary of my read-through of this 18th century novel. Parts of it are extracted from Twitter conversations.
For the most part, the adventures in this story have been fantastic only in the degree to which Arabella (in male disguise) seems to be irresistible to women. But in this section we get an episode that seems inspired almost by fairy tales (or at least by the gothic side of literature). The ordinary romantic dalliances, however, are starting to get dreadfully repetitious and my summaries are getting consequently shorter.
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Our heroines leave Barcelona and travel to Valencia where the find the ladies more socially forthcoming, but jealously protected by their boyfriends. There are intermittent bits of travelogue, but Spain seems not to have made much of a favorable impression on the travelers who were “much fatigued with bad entertainment and abominable beds.” Thence to Toledo an on to Madrid. Once again a letter of introduction to the local French ambassador gains them entrance to society and a brief audience with the king. But Arabella is feeling fatigued and distempered and urges Alithea that they should leave Spain expeditiously for more congenial climes. Arabella goes to bed early, leaving Alithea to stay up reading a book on the Character of the Spanish Nation, which we have quoted at us for the space of nine not-particularly-edifying pages.
On the next day, they go for a stroll in the Prado and then to church where Arabella is once again approached by the emissary of an infatuated by anonymous lady. (Really, one begins to have a great deal of sympathy for Alithea’s impatience.) The emissary hands over a portrait and a letter that is so over-the-top that Arabella does her best to return an off-putting answer. While they are engaged in the intrigues necessary to place this response in the emissary’s hands, they encounter two disputatious ladies who lay claim on them – as Frenchmen and therefore wise in the ways of love – to settle a matter between them arising from their lovers having shifted their affections each for the other. The dispute arises not from this change of emotion, but because one of the ladies was receiving a more generous allowance from her lover and thinks she should be indemnified by the other against a change of income. This mercenary transaction rather stretches the limits of what our heroines consider acceptable in romantic affairs, and the sudden appearance of the two boyfriends encourages them to hasten their departure.
But when they start on their way to Lisbon, whence they hope to take ship either for England or Holland, they are accosted on the road by a party of what they first take for bandits. But rather than being robbed or murdered, they are escorted forcibly to a castle where they are entertained with a luxury and mystery reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast: good food and wine, unspeaking servants, songs from hidden musicians, and no appearance from their presumed captor. After several days of this treatment, they are finally brought to the presence of the lady of the castle – none other than the lady of the portrait, whom Arabella had attempted to discourage via letters. In fear for their lives should they decline this forceful courtship, Arabella gets straight to the point and discloses their true gender. “Good God,” cried she, “You a woman?” and directly fainted. The lady is returned to her senses, both physically and mentally and begs their forgiveness before releasing them to continue their journey.
A mere two pages of travelogue deliver us to Lisbon, where they are entertained by the French consul – oops, four more pages of tourist attractions in Lisbon – and have another interesting philosophical discussion with their host and his friends regarding relations between men and women plus yet one more intrigue-via-letters which turns sour very quickly at which they decamp post-haste and sail for England.
We get several opinions on the Character of the English, and a second encounter with a couple that we first met back at the beginning of the book (but I’d have to go back and re-read to remember the context) with whom they share (edited) stories of their adventures in the meantime. But Arabella has received a letter that her man of business back home has unexpectedly died and she must return. And that is where our story leaves us at this break.