Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Sylph, Letters 15-23

We are finally introduced to the character in which the book is named after, the Sylph. He enters Julia’s life in the form of a mysterious letter offering advice and comfort in the environment that Julia is still so very uncomfortable in. He also warns her to be wary of the men she is frequently in the presence of, particularly Lord Biddluph. Both Julia and her sister welcome the guardian angel’s presence.

Julia writes again in a state of distress after finding a letter to Lord Stanley from Lucy Gardiner. Lucy’s letter reveals that Lord Stanley is also having an affair with the very woman he put Julia in the protection of, Lady Anne. The letter goes on to reveal that Lucy left Lord Biddluph to be with Sir William and Julia keenly notes that this makes Lord Biddluph eager for revenge.

To ease her stress, Julia begins a fondness for gambling and writes to her sister to tell her of a victorious comeback in a card game. She receives another letter from the Sylph warning her of the dangers of gambling and as a further example tells the story of a Lady D- who was blackmailed into sleeping with Lord L- to repay her gambling losses.

In the meantime Sir William admits his debts to Julia and she signs over marital assets to him. Lord Biddluph writes to Colonel Montague to complain that Julia suddenly had no interest in playing cards.

Susan R. was correct! Sir William cannot handle a woman in his own set. Although Lucy is not a member of the ton per se, she obviously has a lot of experience with spending time with them and ahem knowing their ways.
The Georgiana Connection
One of the means that The Sylph could be identified to be Georgiana’s work was also one of the reasons for its popularity. Just like Richard Sheridan’s play, The School for Scandal, fans amused themselves by trying to pick out which notorious celebrity was represented in each character. Lady Besford may not have a large role in The Sylph but it is likely that she take upon the characteristics of Georgiana’s close friend and mentor, Lady Melbourne. Lady Melbourne was also known to be frank yet graceful, and carried on many affairs, but wasn’t as sloppy in them as other young aristocrats. In fact she remained on amiable terms with many of her old lovers.

Lady Anne Parker, the real jerk of the two companions, without a doubt in my mind is the insufferable Lady Jersey. This vindictive lass was known to be cruel to her friends for the fun of it, which is what Lady Anne did to Julia by purposely inviting her to an opera, knowing Lord Stanley would be there with his mistress. Lady Jersey had an affair with the Duke of Devonshire and made no secret of it to Georgiana and this was also incorporated into the novel with Lady Anne’s affair with Lord Stanley.

Georgiana was always searching for helpful advice to guide her into making the correct decisions. Her mother was her chief adviser although Georgiana would have probably liked to have a more neutral adviser such as the Sylph. In her letters to her mother there is always a tone of insecurity and apprehension in her actions.

How do you feel about Julia’s latest decisions? There were many in these letters which she faced. Should she have confronted her husband about the letter, perhaps tried gambling a little more, or even refused to sign over what little assets she had?


  1. I can fully understand Georgiana's relationship with her mother, in terms of asking her advice and opinions in the insecure way she did-I am exactly the same with my mum-I always feel when I am with her that I have to ask her opinions about everything. I would quite like to have someone like the Sylph!!!

  2. The Sylph arrives! And not a moment too soon!

    I guess I know why I haven't been contacted by an unseen guardian of my virtue, for when the Sylph detailed the parable of Lady D- and Lord L-, the lesson that stood out first and foremost in my mind was: when the stakes are high, bring one's own dice.

    Nevertheless, I was very happy when Julia received the first letter from her mysterious patron. And the way she responded to his advice made me feel exceedingly proud of her.

    She took her Sylph's admonition about the dangers of gambling to heart before it was too late.
    And she has gleaned that Biddulph's interest in her stems from his desire to get revenge on Sir William. Julia is losing some of her naivete and as sad as that it is, I think it will serve her well as she navigates the battlefield of elegant society.

    Also-- when Julia agreed to sign over her settlement to pay Sir William's debts, I was particularly affected. The way Julia described this moment:

    "he put his arm around my waist and drew me almost on his knees, striving by a thousand little caresses to make me pardon and smile on him; but Louisa, caresses which I know came not from the heart, lose the usual effect on me;"

    This brings into focus the artificial tactics Sir William used to woo Julia initially, and later, to control her in their marriage. Even though she is starved for genuine love and affection from him, she recognizes her mistake and still manages to hope that he will prove worthy of her selfless act of faith.

    Well done, Julia! And Viva la Sylph!

  3. I recently listened to the audiobook of The Duchess by Amanda Foreman. What really strikes me in reading The Sylph is how much of her own life and emotions Georgiana put in this work. And she was all of about 21 when she wrote it. Her clear and knowing grasp of all the characters around her (good and slimy)and her ability to translate that into her writing is just amazing. To bad she didn't have a Sylph herself.

  4. There is such a yearning in Georgiana's writings in which you do hear such yearning for advice. If only someone could drop out of the abyss with all the answers!

    One thing I forgot to mention, that is talked about in Foreman's biography of her grace is that the story the Sylph tells of Lady D- is very true. Yet another story beyond belief that Georgiana wanted to expose.

  5. Poor Julia...the signing of the debt settlement was so disturbing to me. I'm starting to really feel for her and the more I read the more I feel Georgie coming through the pages!

    I couldn't wait for the Sylph's grand entrance- and am delighted with the guidance.

  6. I am starting to see Julia as a “black or white” personality. Actions are right or wrong—there is no if, but, unless, or maybe to her decisions.

    She enjoyed gambling, but as soon as the Sylph discouraged her, she decided unequivocally to gamble no more. Her stubbornness became serious when Stanley asked her to sign away her money. She knew Stanley had been unfaithful, and that her money was needed for unsavoury debts, nevertheless she believed she owed a duty to her husband, no matter what, and she signed the documents. This may have been seen as virtuous behaviour in the 18th century, but today the actions seem very foolish.

    Julia does not think things through before acting, but rather relies on what others tell her to do, or uses her “black or white” sense of morality to guide her decisions.

  7. @Lucy, were you surprised that she so freely signed over everything to her nitwit husband?

    @Vinery, That same thing is driving me nuts, and I worry that my modern woman mind biases me. But then I think of how many women of the time didn't think like that. Of course, well behaved women rarely make history...and those could be the ones I am thinking of!

  8. To me, it seems Georgiana depicts Julia as someone she wishes she was more like, when faced with the same situations as her. For instance, we all know Georgiana was never able to give up her addiction to gambling as easily as Julia and that Georgiana gave into temptation a lot more then Julia. As of yet... who knows what the novel has in store. :)

    I also think Julia is starting to see through William easier now and when he talks, his words go through one ear and out the other. But at the same time, she’s doing whatever she can to either please him, or just ease the moment to avoid an argument.

    Also, What are everyone’s thoughts on the Baron Ton-hausen. Do you think he’s out to get her Biddulph, or whom the Sylph seems to suggest? I thought the Baron to be a pretty genuine character.

  9. I really don't like where this is all going. I feel very sorry for Julia. She knows that marrying Sir William was a mistake, she knows that he doesn't care for her and what's more despises her because she is simple and sincere and the worst part is that she can't do anything about it in terms of ending the marriage and moving on with her life. I also think that Sylph or no Sylph she's facing an abyss that she can fall into any time. How long will it be before she succumbs to the ways of the world and follows them just so to relieve her grief and disappointment?

    I think she shouldn't have given Sir William the money - it was beyond stupid. But I like that she confronts him a bit and occasionally gives him a piece of her mind. But, I think living such a life is changing her and not for the best. I don't think that she is a strong person and she is easily swayed (by people as well as her emotions) to do things she'll regret later.

  10. Yes, I totally see where your coming from and its hard not feeling sorry for Julia. Especially since in today’s world, women have equal rights to men, so we really have no other choice but to look at the story through the eyes of modernists. It’s difficult to even fathom what it really must have been like for woman in Georgiana’s time. Maybe when she wrote this, the reason it got so much press was because not very many people had the courage to discuss it, or even talk about it and people were shocked. Not only of the contents of the story “outing” the ways of the Ton, but of the authors depiction of men and woman in general and what the author thought of as fair and unfair in their modern world. And I say “the author” because no one knew exactly who wrote the book.
    In a way Georgiana can be seen as one of histories first woman’s right advocators and modern thinkers.
    When people read the book back then you wonder if they thought it ridiculous that Julia would have just given up her assets like that to her husband. Maybe not. But if they didn’t before reading this, it definitely would have crossed their minds after.

  11. I understood why Julia gave up her assets so willingly. She writes to Louisa how humiliating it is that Sir William has rung up such a ridiculous amount of debt. Being his wife, her honor is also at stake in the matter.
    And her father had just written that (very) long letter about how his careless spending had led to his imprisonment.
    Add to that, the fact that she has started receiving notes from a mysterious benefactor-- someone who seems to be privy to all of her thoughts and actions.
    To me, it is understandable that if Julia feels she is being watched by a benevolent spirit guide, she would be more apt to act with that being in mind. She might even wish to come to Sir William's aid in the same selfless way that the Sylph has appeared to her.

    Also-- I wasn't familiar with the Rosicrucians, from which the Sylph claims an affiliation, so I googled it. Interesting to note where the order is said to have originated.

  12. Heather, the way she is trying so desperately to fit in, her naivete, and her longing to be I'm not surprised at all. I really feel sorry for her- and like I said, a lot of it is a mirror of Georgie herself, less the totally naive part;

  13. Didn't Harriet Bessborough, then Duncannon, Georgiana's sister, have a situation where her husband tried to bully her into signing over her marriage settlement to pay his gambling debts? I believe she resisted by saying she needed her trustees permission. So women could resist, though Julia lacks the presence of her family and family friends in town, something Harriet definitely had.

    Also, anyone else find Julia a bit too holier-than-thou? I know she tried out gambling but to give up something she liked so easily seems so goody-two-shoes. Georgiana herself is charming because she's flawed, because she had trouble resisting partying and drinking, and because, despite all her flaws, she was still very much a decent person.

    Frankly too much perfection of soul and mind is tedious.

  14. (Heather, just wanted to say that,it's me leaving you a comment as L'Altesse..I just noticed that) I guess I signed in under my other blog without realizing-but still can't figure out how that happened-anyway, sorry for the confusion!
    Lucy (EnchantedbyJo)

  15. @Tulip, You're jogging my memory and I think you're right! Of course Harriet wasn't married at the time of this book and I think there are more similarities between her marriage and Julia's than Georgiana's- which is incredibly interesting. But it could also go to show how common these sort of things were.

    @Lucy, don't worry, I figured it out!

  16. Here's the second installment of my belated update:

    Yay! We've finally met the sylph! I want one - and, I think, so did Georgie!

    But before I get on to that I must say how much I laughed at the opening of letter XVII - "If thy Julia falls, my beloved sister, how great will be her condemnation!" - because it sums up perfectly the current political situation in the UK and I do believe our authoress would be horrified!

    Anyway, back to the sylph's character. I'm so happy Julia now has someone other than Louisa to confide in because she seems a lot less defensive with him than her. Maybe it's born from a desire to protect her?

    And Julia herself - I was beginning to agree that she's black and white, and simply a foil for the ton , but now I'm not so sure. She appears to be developing quite a sense of humour (often heavy on sarcasm) as is exhibited in letter XXIII when she refers to his admonition on the subject of cards as a "tender and husband-like speech". Also I'd argue that, unlike Georgie's sister Harriet who was forced into parting with her jointure, Julia willing gives up a part of her allowance - even wishing he'd take more.

    This could be for a number of reasons:

    a) that she was using her income to gain some sway with her husband in an example of pre-feminist and post-mediaeval assertiveness (because we mustn't forget that women had much more autonomy pre-late-18th century, being permitted to trade, etc)

    b) that Georgie wished to repay the duke (albeit in a literary metaphor) for the debts she was already accruing.


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