Monday, May 10, 2010

The Sylph, Letters 10-14

Julia reflects on her father’s long letter to her and questions her potential for happiness in her own marriage. She tiptoes around her Sir William so as not to offend him. Julia also reveals that she doesn’t like her two protectors, Lady Anne and Lady Besford. In a discussion with Lady Besford, Julia is disgusted by her frank honesty of the ton lifestyle and how her happiness cannot be attributed to her marriage, “Happy! Why yes, probably I am; but do not suppose my happiness proceeds from my being married…” A new character is also introduced, Baron Tonhausen, a new member of Sir William’s friend circle. Julia notes how this foreign noble seems out of place in the set because he seems to have a similar moral outlook to her own.

Julia writes again to her sister to tell her that she had the pleasure of running into an old acquaintance from their childhood, a Lady Melford. Although nobility, Lady Melford is a fresh breath of air for Julia, being different from Sir William’s hedonistic set. Sadly though, after delivering some helpful advice she leaves for her estate.

After remarking about the lack of her husband’s presence to her sister, Julia is invited to the opera by Lady Anne, only to discover her Sir William is already there, with another woman, a Lucy Gardiner. After Julia retreats with Lady Anne and the usual group her coiffure catches on fire but is put out by Baron Tonhausen. That night when Julia meets up with Sir William in her dressing room he is very affectionate to her, and then later admits to what he knows Julia already knows. He is not ashamed of being with Miss Gardiner and passes the dalliance off as something not to be worried about; Julia is too submissive and exhausted to argue with him about it.

A few days later a riot erupts at the play that Julia is seeing and Baron Tonhausen rescues her from the stampede of people fleeing. Julia faints on the carriage-ride home and then later looses the child she was carrying.

While I wasn’t surprised by Julia’s reaction to Lady Besford’s revealing conversation about married life in the ton I found Julia unnecessarily rude to her ladyship. Lady Besford is frank and a result of the society she lives in, so I was quite shocked that the docile Julia’s morals were so wounded as to be well, bitchy, to Lady Besford. I am all for woman to speak her mind, but for some reason I was bothered by Julia’s sudden decision to abruptly begin doing so with Lady Besford. It seemed out of character, perhaps. Or maybe I just want to see her standing up to her husband and not her companion.
The Georgiana Connection
Being raised in a household where her parents were continuously together, Georgiana, like her protagonist, was perplexed by her husband’s solidarity. The scene in which Julia’s hair caught on fire is another hint Georgiana gives to her readers to reveal the anonymous author’s true identity. Georgiana popularized the four-foot hair tower, which concerned many over the fire risks. While many rumors went around that Georgiana’s pouf caught on fire it is likely that the duchess managed to avoid the mishap Julia experienced.

I would like to know how do you feel about Julia? Do you like her or is she too extreme of a foil to the ton to be a relatable character?


  1. I think that Lady Besford's talk about the life of the ton and Sir William in particular was a final straw for Julia. She was placed into a new life with no friend and quite apart from having to adapt her ways and her dress to the world around her she realized that her husband is not at all a person she in fact thought she married. She was hurt and very emotional and it all just broke through onto Lady Besford who was so calmly talking about all those things that Julia finds incomprehensible and out of accord with her own views.

    I feel very sorry for her. She has no say in anything she does. She has to follow Lady Besford or Lady Anne and she can't even say no. In the mean time her husband is off with some other women and they barely see each other! I think it's just awful. He is awful! Why did he have to marry her and make her so unhappy? Well, obviously so get what he wants and satisfy his vanity, but doesn't he care how wretched he makes her? He treats her like a rag doll and I think - I haven't read the whole thing so I might be wrong - that it is only a matter of time before Julia snaps.

    I also think that she is not very intelligent. At least she doesn't strike me as particularly bright at this point.

  2. I keep reminding myself that Julia is still a teenager, and can be expected to act like one at times. Because of this, I did not feel unkindly toward her for her responses to Lady Beresford, although I hope she will learn more diplomacy as she gains experience in life. She has the stubbornness and wilfulness of a teenager, and shows these qualities to her sister as well.

    I liked her much more (and saw her as more genuinely human) when she fell for the Baron. Her character was becoming a bit too uptight and prudish for my liking, and I’m glad she is now learning some new feelings. I hope the sad loss of her child will not turn her too much toward the way of the ton.

  3. It makes me wonder if the situation that Julia has been thrown into is making her perhaps, more prudish and moralistic? Stranger things have happened!

  4. But we have to keep in mind the time she lives in, the way she was brought up and the ideas that had been instilled in her by her father. I don't think that she is prudish. In fact, she is just what she is ought to be all things (mentioned above) considered. She is shocked by the ways of the fashionable world and horrified by lack of morals, sincerity and genuine affection. Everything that is done, is done in the name of fashion, which makes for huge contrast with what Julia was used to in the country.

  5. So you don't see a change in her morals, more of just a change in her standing up for herself and her values?

    Oh and I also didn't put in...Sir William: total jerk. I want Julia to go Charlotte Corday on him!

  6. I think that she is scared and confused and maybe it is her fear that makes her even more prudish. She is overwhelmed and lost and is afraid to do something that will damage her reputation. And Sir William - yeah, a total, absolute jerk! - how can he be so cruel and uncaring? Does she still think that he loves her? How can she after the way he treats her? Honestly, if it were me I would just make a run for it.

  7. I do find there is a change in her..almost seems like she has no choice and figures this is the new her, adapting to a situation that continues to make her feel like she just doesn't fit in. I feel so sorry for her. And so, her rudeness, although somewhat out of character (I too found this) is again, probably due to her playing a part of who she thinks she has to be, to fit in and survive it all.

  8. Ok good, so it wasn't just me! I say it's about time that rudeness comes out to Sir William. well as a punch in the neck too!

  9. After achieving to read letter 9, i am glad to read more about how Julia is reflecting on her life. I think she is a complex personality; on one side a teenager (as Vinery pointed out) and on the other side the daughter of her father and maybe not prudish, but just overwhelmed and confused with the different world and it's 'morals' she has been thrown into:

  10. Agreed! I was surprised at Julia's reaction to Lady Besford.
    I actually appreciated that her ladyship was so matter of fact in her explanations about the privileges afforded to husbands of the ton.
    It seemed like she was actually reaching out to Julia and trying to comfort her in her own uniquely self-centered way.
    I understood how Julia might be shocked and having nobody else to vent her anger on, would attack the messenger for speaking the ugly truth, but it did cost her a few 'heroine' points in my book.
    For me, the most shocking thing in these letters was Sir William's behavior after Julia's miscarriage.
    The way he forced Julia to kiss Baron Ton-hausen in his presence -- knowing full well that she is grieving the loss of her child-- and probably also being aware of the way Baron Ton-hausen covets his lovely teen bride.
    That was low. Even for him.
    But, do you think I am giving him too much credit for being aware of other gentlemen's affection for his wife? He is a pretty self-centered guy...
    Regardless, after that happened, I began to think that the only reason he married Julia was because she was a beautiful innocent from the country-- a novelty amongst his set.
    Oh! and then, after the Baron says he was relieved that there was no disagreeable consequence after the riot, Julia's thoughtful husband and protector responds:

    "Is the loss of a son and heir then nothing? It may be repaired," he continued, laughing (LAUGHING!?) to be sure; but I am disappointed."

    I want to strangle him.

  11. *Zips over to Emmeline's blog, zips back*

    Your response makes me realize how I am jaded, and therefore wasn't fazed by Lady B's response. You're right, it is a frightful declaration when I look at it realistically. I am so used to that being the "norm" for the ton that I didn't take a step back to put myself in Julia's shoes. I'd be running my mouth too! But I still feel empathy for Lady B.

    @Keri Luna
    Yes! Let's chat about Tonhausen and the forced kiss. I think you're right on the money. Why would Sir William be so adamant about Julia giving Tonhausen a kiss? That was just cruel.
    When I read about him laughing (UGH LAUGHING!) about the miscarriage I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I am ready to give him a miscarriage!

  12. Do you think Georgiana hoped this novel would end up in the hands of young woman out there that were in the same situation (as many were)to help them realize that their not alone and give them someone to identify with, Even if it was just a character in a book?

    Also, I didn’t even realize the Julia was pregnant until William mentioned that she had a miscarriage. Did I miss something? or were we just expected to assume that she probably was?

  13. No no, you didn't miss anything, we were suppose to assume.

    Perhaps that was Georgiana's goal in penning the novel. The book received a lot of press for how revealing it was of the ton. The many truths in it seem to be her spilling out all the atrocities that she faced and had no trusted source to discuss them with.

    Sheridan seemed to do this as well with his play, The School for Scandal which also revealed the ton's scandalous ways (specifically Georgiana and her intimate friends) but the play made light of the derangement (while still revealing it) whereas The Sylph really bemoans it. In both, the main character is based on Georgiana. Now what does that say?

  14. Despite sometimes feeling like I want to grab her, shake some sense into her and give her a good slap, I like Julia. (heck, I feel that way about G sometimes!) I have to keep reminding myself that she is just a fresh faced county girl, who was raised in total ignorance of the world beyond her fond parent's estate.
    While I found her lashing out against Lady be out of character, I couldn't help feeling a little bit proud of her. After all, this is a woman who had an affair with her husband, and who knows how many others. However, I do wish she had gone about it with a bit more class. My fondest wish for Julia is that sh finally grows a spine and stands up for herself! As it is now, she is utterly incapable of making a decision on her own. She continues to rely on those around her.
    As for Sir William's behavior, well how sick is he? His wife just went through two very traumatic events, and he forces her to kiss a man and laughs at the loss of their child? I knew he was a cad, and a scoundrel, bit I didn't realize he was such a rotter! Such an unmitigated scum bag, such an.....well, you get the idea. I wonder if he hasn't rung up quite a few debts with the Baron, and having some idea of his feelings for Julia, thought to pay off some of those debts. Perhaps I'm just cynical.

  15. I found two passages of interest in this reading segment. First, when Julia is being advised by Lady Melford, Melford says: “The virtuous principles instilled into you by your excellent father, joined to the innate goodness of your heart, must guide you through the warfare of life.” That particular turn of phrase “warfare of life” reminded me of Mr. Grenville’s youth (his literal and figurative war) and seems to point to Julia’s emerging mindset. She is growing more and more perturbed by her surroundings which, as others have said, may be the reason for her rude behavior to Lady Besford. But she is still young and learning how to navigate the treacherous ton. I don’t blame her if she’s a bit snippy to women she clearly thinks do not have her best interest at heart. I haven’t decided whether I believe Lady Besford was being kind to Julia or merely pragmatic about marital life.

    Second, I liked how Julia’s pouf caught on fire. Whether or not this actually happened to Georgiana, it seemed to symbolize the combustion of Julia’s innermost thoughts and emotions as she’s struggling with how to proceed in her new life. I also found it telling that the flame burned through the gew-gaws and ribands, but didn’t touch her real hair. Fashionable frippery be gone!

    I was equally appalled by Sir William’s behavior, a little surprised too since I’m used to men showing great disapproval/disappointment over a miscarriage, at least in history. But he laughs! Why must libertines always be virile?

  16. I'm glad you mentioned Julia's wig catching fire, Susan. I loved Baron Ton-hausen's response that he "must condemn a fashion which is so injurious to the safety of the ladies." Nice! I think I will use that line if my husband ever asks why I don't own a shoe with anything higher than a 2 inch heel.

    And reading everyone's comments about Julia's reaction to Lady Besford made me revise my earlier deduction of heroine points.

    In order for her not to be driven mad by her husband's negligence and mental cruelty, it is crucial for her to believe that at least Sir William would never do that...

    Poor Julia is trying to hold on to the integrity of her marriage any way she can. Too bad she seems to be the only one.

    I'm really enjoying hearing everybody's thoughts & opinions. Thank you so much for putting all of this together, Heather!

  17. @Cymbliss, Ah another great theory as to why Sir William was so insistent on that kiss! And I know that slapping feeling well. That's why I like when characters have a good girlfriend or group of girlfriends to do it for me!

    @Susan, Ooo you have a real talent for finding symbolism. I like that assessment about the hair!
    I thought the same about the miscarriages. We're so used to men being greatly upsetted by them, whether for worry of wife or loss of heir and Sir William is so sick that he makes light of it! Isn't he fashionable.

    @Keri Luna, You are most certainly welcome! I just hope everyone is enjoying this book group as much as I!

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  19. This group read is great! Everyone is doing such a great job, especially the analyses!

  20. I know I'm almost a week late but I've had so much revision to do that commenting on what I've read has been impossible - sorry! Time to catch up now though.

    I loved this section - and especially enjoyed Julia's remonstrance to Ly B, actually! I think (if we take it as semi-autobiographical or diarised, anyway) it might link to Marquis Jacques' comment about the motives behind publishing the novel. In exaggerating Julia's morality Georgie may have found a much needed release for her subconscious anger at Canis' infidelity - not least because she was obsessed with Bess herself.

    Then the pouf catching fire might emphasise her frustration at the lack of expression afforded women - except in fashion - which was in itself simply a further tool for oppression.

    And Sir W laughing at Julia's miscarriage?! Aside from my shock at his utterly despicable behaviour ('nough said) it might be that he is still so disconcerted by the way she makes him feel - and his genuine concern for her - that he has to hide it through comedy?


    (Once again sorry I'm so late!)

  21. No worries, I'm still here and happy to read your response! It was such a good section, wasn't it, lot's of action!