Monday, May 24, 2010

The Sylph, Letters 36-45

Julia writes a very distressed letter to Louisa after a fight with Sir William. Sir William must settle his gambling debts with Lord Biddluph because of Julia’s request to not associate with him any more. He blames Julia for this inconvenience and forces her to give up the last of her marriage articles (a house) to pay off the debts. Julia is very frightened by the discovery of the violent side of Sir William. The Sylph writes to chastise her for giving up the last of her securities and Julia is upset further.

Things get worse for Julia when she finds that Lady Anne’s tongue has been wagging. The nasty nobless has been spreading rumors about Julia having a more than platonic relationship with Baron Tonhausen and that this is causing a rift in her friendship with Miss Finch. The rumor causes Baron Tonhausen to flee in order to protect Julia’s reputation. To disprove Lady Anne’s gossip, Miss Finch forces a depressed Julia to go out with her instead of moping at home.

While at breakfast, Sir William receives a letter informing him that he has no claim to the house he attempted to sell to pay off the debts; it goes to his uncle after Julia’s death. He then admits to Julia just how far into ruin he is and how he has already sold her diamonds and replaced them with false ones in order to pay debts. He leaves Julia to discuss the issue with Lord Biddluph who proposes to Sir William an exchange of sleeping with Julia in order to repay his debts. Sir William is aghast at the proposal and Lord Biddluph then explains that he can divorce Julia and make back his money in suing for crim con. After much debate Sir William signs a contract allowing Lord Biddluph marital rights to Julia.

Is your jaw on the floor? I know mine is. Poor Julia! But before we get to the obvious, let’s reflect on the series of unfortunate events that our heroine just went through.
There’s nothing like getting a guilt trip from your husband for not allowing him to associate with the man who attempted to rape you. But then again, should I really be surprised that Sir William blames Julia for his gambling debts? It makes one wonder just how many society ladies may have been date raped and how their husbands reacted. No wonder there were duels.

Just when you thought Lady Anne had gone away, she appears welding different weapons. Apparently Julia’s secret crush on Tonhausen is not as secret as she thought. So for as moralistic as she is, her true feeling have betrayed her and appeared on the vindictive Lady Anne’s radar. I thought Miss Finch was very smart to deal with the rumors the way that she did. But wouldn’t Tonhausen leaving London confirm the malicious gossip about him?

And what can one even begin to say about the horrible deal that Sir William just struck with Lord Biddluph. It seemed as if Sir William was more worried about being cuckolded than he was about Julia’s feelings and well being. I was relieved for him to say his only unselfish line in the whole novel, “Julia is virtuous, and deserves a better fate than she has met with me,” which shows that he is aware of things that aren't Sir William. In fact, up until this point I really was questioning whether Sir William actually loved his wife, or if she was merely a prize (just as she is to Lord Biddluph who also claims to “love” her) but I think this shows that he does have some, if even just a little love for his wife.
The Georgiana Connection
Although Georgiana’s husband, also named William, has gone down as sort of a bad guy because of his indifference to her, Sir William doesn’t share too many of the Duke of Devonshire’s qualities. While they were both members of the ton, were older than their wives, had various mistresses, and mistreated their wives, their personalities are extremely different. The Duke of Devonshire was introverted and was not as conscious of what was fashionable or socially acceptable as Sir William. While he may have enjoyed gambling he didn’t suffer from the crippling addiction that his wife did. Although the duke wasn’t the best of husbands to Georgiana he was known to come to her defense. He also was very close to Georgiana’s sister, Harriet and helped her out of a scrap or two. If you recall, Julia complains, about the cruelty of Sir William not allowing Louisa to visit, luckily that wasn’t a problem Georgiana had to deal with.

I believe that Sir William is a creation of multiple personalities from Georgiana’s life. I see a lot of Richard Sheridan in him, who was a notoriously awful to his wife, Eliza. He also has a lot of Harriet’s husband’s unlikeable qualities in him but Harriet was still single at the publication of The Sylph, making him a grim foreshadowing of much of what Harriet would go through.

For those who have seen The Duchess and found Georgiana portrayed quite differently than she was in Amanda Foreman's biography, do you notice many similarities between Julia and The Duchess' version of Georgiana? Do you think The Sylph influenced the screenwriter?


  1. Well, first of all, I liked the pace of this batch of letters. I had not had this much pleasure since I read Julia's first letter. However, I was shocked by Sir William's behaviour and by the fact that he is nothing but a brainless twat who brought himself and his wife to ruin.

    I don't know who is worse: stupid Lord Stanley with his insatiable love for women and gambling or Lord Biddulph and his cunning mind. I feel very sorry for Julia and I have no idea what she can possibly do in her current situation.

    And I am quite angry with the Sylph. "Be on your guard..." he says, but what does he expect Julia to do when her husband uses force against her? She is not trained in combat, she can hardly defend herself against a physical attack! Why won't he supply her with a useful advice or better yet a way out of it instead of empty words and remonstrance?

  2. One can only hope that the following letter contains the account of Julia doing some major ass-whooping! It's seems though, that Julia is satisfied with the advice he's giving. To me, that is just showing us how incredibly desperate the poor girl has become. In my mind the Sylph is more of a supportive penpal than someone who can genuinely help Julia.

  3. I would like permission to hunt Biddulph down and shoot him; I thought I'd better ask first though! And then Ld Stanley. I practically spat at the computer in horror. Oh Julia! Methinks your husband might have recently written School for Scandal =p?! Get out, get out, and fast! Why is the sylph being so unhelpful?

  4. Seriously, I just got my own copy of 'The Duchess' today (yeah, late, well at least I have it now...) and thought about seeing Julia in there, but at the same time, I wondered why some very important things from the Foreman-book are missing and the Duke is shown so abominably and Bess like an angel...
    But it's true, Sir William is an arse, and Biddulph should be shot immediately... and the Sylph!? Never liked him, I am curious how that'll turn out...

  5. by whom is the painting with the ladies at the table?

    thanx in advance...

  6. @Jessi, I'll hold him down for you.

    @Emmeline, That would be a Joseph Highmore