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.
Remember that article I reviewed for the LHMP on the 18th c. novel The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu? And remember that I got my hands on a scanned copy? Well, I've been working my way through it. I'm not sure where I posted an interim report noting that it was about as exciting as an encyclopedia crossed with a travelogue. (I think it was on twitter.) Well. Having gotten to around the middle of Volume 2 of 3 of the novel, we're finally getting to the juicy parts.
Yeah, baby. This I can do something with!
* * *
[Our heroine Alithea -- in male disguise to go adventuring, as you may recall -- has run up a temporary Debt of Honor while gambling and is maneuvered into taking a temporary loan to pay it off from a beautiful and lovely young widow, Arabella. Arabella has withdrawn to her country house before Alithea is aware of the strategem. Arabella -- in the persona of the Chevalier de Radpont -- writes to her offering to come visit in order to settle the debt, Arabella tells the Chevalier to wait on her return as she has a rule never to allow male visitors at her country home. She notes:]
You must know, Sir, that though I am rich, young, and, if I may believe my glass, not ugly; and though I have several offers that might satisfy my ambition, or any other desires which a woman at my age may be supposed to have; yet by a distaste, I suppose from constitution, to what commonly is looked upon as the principal happiness of a married state, joined to the fatal experience I have alerady made of it, I am fuly determined never to enter into a second engagement; this is a secret which you alone know, and which I thought proper to let you into, that you might not misconstruct my intentions. A certain inexplicable sympathy makes me mighty desirous of your friendship, but if you should, out of gallantry, or seriously commence lover, you may depend on losing, that moment, my friendship and company.
[Alithea is relieved as she's been treading a fine line between flirting with women as a man and being expected to carry through. But through a sense of honesty and to relieve Arabella's mind, she determines to reveal her own secret. She persuades Arabella to allow her to visit, promising only friendship, and the desire to share with her "the Secret of my Life", to which Arabella assents. On being alone with Arabella, and having taken care of repaying the debt, she says…]
"I tremble at the thoughts of doing what, perhaps, may ruin me in your esteem, which I should think the greatest misfortune that can come upon me; yet I cannot bear the thoughts of having an reserve with a lady who has acted so nobly by me. Know then, Madam, continued I, that you see in me one of your own sex, whom curiosity to see the world has tempted to put on this disguise, that I might travel with more freedom and safety."
"Good God," cried Madam de Montferan [i.e., Arabella]. "You a woman, can I believe it?"
"That I am, Madam" answered I, "You may be assured; but before I give you such proofs as will remove all your doubts, give me leave to run over some passages of my life … [and she gives a brief summary of her history] When I had finished my narration, I unbuttoned my waistcoat, and discovered my breasts, which the lovely Arabella no sooner perceived, than she clasped me in her arms with transports rather of a lover than of a friend.
"My dearest Madmoiselle," cried she, "for now I am satisfied about your sex; how happy do you make me by this discover, which I hope will unite us in bands of friendship more solid and more noble than that of love; and if your sentiments correspond with mine, nothing but death shall separate us; if I cannot persuade you," continued she smiling, "to give over your traveling project, I will take breeches too, and we will set out together upon our adventures…."
[Arabella then tells the very unhappy story of her late marriage -- to which she had an aversion even before her husband turned out to be a libertine who locked her away as a prisoner to keep her out of the way while he spent her money on floozies. Alithea needs to return to town to take care of some business issues, but a letter from Arabella follows soon after, saying …]
What a terrible thing is decorum, and how it grieved me to let you go from me without clasping you in my arms, and assuring you of the most tender friendship….
[To which Alithea writes back …]
I suffered so terribly, my dearest Madam, by the constraint which the presence of [another guest] laid us under … but I hope tomorrow night, how agreeable is the pleasing thought, that I shall meet with no obstacles to the sincere and tender embraces, which the charming Arabella may expect, from one who preers the glorious title of 'friend' from her to all the advantages in the power of fortune to bestow on [me].
[And when Arabella travels to join her…]
… and when the servants were retired, before whom we always observed great ceremony, I flew into her arms. "What difference between this moment's liberty," cried I, "my dear Madam, and the constraint of that to which I was tied down when I left you last; and how happy do I think myself in being at freedom to give you all the testimonies of the sincerest esteem and friendship of which a heart infinitely attached to you is capable."
"I receive your caresses, my dear Alithea (for henceforth I insist upon all ceremony's being banished between you and me, and that I shall be your Arabella as you are my Alithea) with as much pleasure as you give them, and am very sure your attachment to me cannot exceed mine to you; let this suffice once for all…."
[After which they ruminate on the problem that people seeing them together will be scandalized thinking they're having an affair. And that's as far as I've read so far.]