Maria Edgeworth


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Belinda Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Belinda by Maria Edgeworth.

Published in 1801, Belinda is a literary fiction novel by Maria Edgeworth. The story concerns 17-year-old Belinda Portman as she comes of age and must learn to navigate fashionable London society when she is sent away to find a wealthy husband. Belinda is written in the tradition of society novels and is even mentioned in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. The book was controversial in its day for its depiction of interracial marriage. Edgeworth, an Anglo-Irish gentry woman, went on to dedicate herself to writing stories that encouraged landlords to treat their Irish tenants kindly.

Seventeen-year-old Belinda Portman is “handsome, graceful, sprightly, and highly accomplished.” She lives with her aunt, Mrs. Stanhope, who usually makes Belinda’s decisions for her. Now that Belinda has come of age, however, she finds herself committing the great sin of being unmarried, and such a thing simply will not be tolerated in good society. Mrs. Stanhope sends her to live with the Delacours, a wealthy older couple, in hopes that she will secure a husband from within London’s fashionable society.

Initially, Belinda is enchanted with the glitz and glitter of the city’s upper class. She especially finds Lady Delacour to be witty and charming, and the pair strike up a close friendship; even though the old woman is cold and distant to her husband and to her daughter, Helena, she bonds in her own way with Belinda. But all too soon, Belinda begins to see this fashionable society for what it truly is: a place where petty and superficial people compete to see who can climb highest on the social ladder. Lady Delacour is also entrenched in this game of interpersonal manipulation. She is engrossed in a rivalry with Mrs. Luttridge, who also hosts young ladies, and Harriet Freke, who runs a gambling table.

Mrs. Stanhope wants to match Belinda with Clarence Hervey. Clever and wealthy, Hervey is one of the city’s most eligible bachelors. Lady Delacour also encourages the match, even though she counts Hervey among her own admirers. Belinda and Harvey are ill-suited for each other almost from the beginning. She finds him to be conceited, and he is suspicious of her due to her aunt’s history of notorious matchmaking.  Soon, however, the pair bond over their mutual affection for Lady Delacour and are united in their wishes to “reform” her. Gradually they fall in love. One night at a party, however, Belinda overhears Hervey speaking poorly about her behind her back. Furious, she resolves never to marry him.

By now, Belinda has grown suspicious that Lady Delacour is hiding something. She confronts her host, and Lady Delacour confesses that years ago, she encouraged an admirer of hers, Colonel Lawless, to challenge her husband to a duel in a ploy to get even with him (she resents Lord Delacour for being a drunken fool). However, Lord Delacour killed Colonel Lawless in the duel, and she has carried the guilt of the event with her ever since.

But that’s not the only secret Lady Delacour carries. It turns out that she herself was once involved in a duel with another woman and received an injury in her breast. Now she reveals that the injury has turned to cancer, and because she is slowly growing more and more sick, she believes she is dying. She refuses to tell her husband and daughter of this fact, however, yet agrees when Belinda asks her to see Doctor X, a mutual friend of she and Hervey, for an operation.

Meanwhile, Philip Baddely, a former friend of Hervey’s whom Belinda rejected as a suitor, decides to take his revenge. With the help of Mr. Champfort, Lord Delacour’s servant, he begins a rumor that Belinda intends to seduce Lord Delacour for his money and title. When Lady Delacour hears the rumor, she grows jealous and states, “I see…that she who I thought had the noblest of souls has the meanest! I see that she is incapable of feeling.”

With this turn of events, Belinda finds herself an unwelcome guest in the Delacour house. She instead moves in with the loving and welcoming Percival family. Lady Percival is a gentle, nurturing, highly-educated woman. In addition to Belinda, she also looks after Helena–a fact which makes Lady Delacour jealous in her belief that Helena loves Lady Percival more than her own mother. Lady Percival wants to match Belinda with Augustus Vincent, and although she still harbors lingering feelings for Hervey, Belinda agrees. The pair engage each other in a relationship, but there is no romantic love between them.

One day, Lady Delacour’s servant arrives and begs Belinda to return to the Delacour house. Lady Delacour discovered that Philip and Champfort schemed the rumor, and she wishes to be reconciled to Belinda. Belinda not only forgives her at once, but also helps her to be reconciled to her husband and daughter. The family move with Belinda to a country house to prepare for Lady Delacour’s recovery from her surgery. When she goes to her appointment with Doctor X, however, she learns that she has no cancer. Instead, she finds out that her previous doctor had been giving her medicine to make her sick so that she would continue to need his services. Overjoyed at a second chance at life, Lady Delacour vows to reform her ways.

Hervey, meanwhile, has been unable to pursue the love he feels for Belinda. For years, he has been tutoring a girl named Virginia to prepare her as his future wife, and believing she is in love with him, feels obligated to marry her. When he learns that she is in love with someone else, he asks Lady Delacour to help him reconcile with Belinda.
Once Belinda suddenly finds herself single again (it is revealed that Mr. Vincent has lost all his money due to frequenting Mrs. Freke’s gambling tables), she and Hervey finally declare their love for each other. The novel ends with the pair happily married.