Today’s post was written by Betty.
Chapters 8 -16
In our modern story, Colin and Eloise have dinner at the pub after Eloise makes inquiries as to what Joan and Sally do for a living, hoping the discussion will lead Colin to reveal his occupation. No such luck. Returning to Selwick Hall they share wine, snuggle, and watch movies before retiring for the night. Eloise is suddenly awakened by a shrilly ringing phone and answers it since Colin is dead to the world. Someone mutters in a foreign language and hangs up. Then Colin’s cell rings and Eloise sees an international country code on the screen before it stops. Her curiosity now in full gear, she heads to Colin’s study to use the internet to find out where the call came from.
Returning to the world of Charlotte and Robert, I think the story can be divided into four sections. First, the Twelfth Night celebrations continue at Girdings with Charlotte being crowned Queen of the festivities. Instead of leading off the dancing, Charlotte leads Robert to her favorite place at Girdings – the roof. From the terrace filled with statues of historical and mythological people, they gaze upon the gardens below and the village lights beyond. “It was a fairy tale kingdom,” p.113 – just the right setting for Charlotte and Robert to share kisses and imagine a future together. However, Robert recalls his sudden departure and the fact that he stole 400 pounds to purchase his commission in the army, and wonders how Charlotte would feel about that. Reality calls them back to the ball, but after Robert leaves Charlotte at her room, he is grabbed by Medmenham who makes unsavory insinuations. Trying to throw him off, Robert agrees to hear his proposition involving the Hellfire Club. Charlotte returns to the ball sharing her feelings and images of marriage with Henrietta, only to be let down when she receives a terse note, “Forgive me”, and Robert fails to appear. Matters are not helped when Penelope chimes in with the conversation she overheard while off in a room with Freddy, and claims Robert has no interest in Charlotte, but is only playing her. However, Penelope speaks so loudly, that everyone in the ballroom overhears about her indiscretion with Freddy – busted!
Section 2 gives us great detail about the Hellfire Club starting with Chapter 11 when it is four days later and Robert begins what he can only describe as a descent into hell. Complete with mythological references to the River Styx and Charon, Robert travels through subterranean caverns to the meeting place of the despicable Hellfire Club. Medmenham, whom Robert now compares to Mephistopheles, has offered him immediate initiation into the club. Robert accepts, thinking it will be a quicker way to find Wrothan. When they arrive in the main chamber, Robert is surrounded by fifteen men in brown robes, the room fills with incense and smoke, and dancing girls appear from a lotus altar. Robert’s eyes begin to burn, he detects a scent of jasmine, and begins to feel dizzy. As the drinking and orgy begin, Robert realizes he has been drugged. Amidst the smoke and revelry, he throws himself against the wall, feels fresh air, and climbs up and out of the cave. He finds himself in Medmenham’s mausoleum. Again he smells the scent of jasmine and associates it with betrayal, remembering Wrothan wore a sprig of jasmine in India, rotating it to different places on his person. Could this have been a signal? Suddenly he hears talking. Hiding himself, Robert overhears a conversation and recognizes Wrothan is talking to a Frenchman. There may be more involved here than personal revenge.
Section three finds us at the Court of George III where Charlotte is serving a three month term as lady in waiting to Queen Charlotte. Speaking with Lady Uppington, she explains that she has been graciously welcomed at court, with the king even offering her use of his private library. Penelope’s situation has improved since Girdings, as being compromised has led Lord Freddy to propose (with the dowager’s influence, including the assurance of a comfortable posting in India after their marriage). She still sews doubt in Charlotte’s mind regarding Robert. Charlotte spies Robert across the room and rushes to his side, thinking he has come to court to seek her out. Immediately she senses a difference in Robert’s manner. After telling Charlotte he has taken bachelor quarters “to pursue my own pursuits” and that their time at Girdings was a mistake, “a bit of Yuletide madness,” she realizes she has been living in a dream world. She is hurt by their further conversation in which Robert does his best to convince her he has no feelings for her. “So I was simply your country entertainment. Like a mummers’ play.”(p.167) Enter Medmenham, who shows an interest in Charlotte. Perhaps to restore her dignity, perhaps to make Robert jealous, Charlotte asks Medmenham to walk with her and later agrees that he may call on her. Huzzah, Charlotte! Robert realizes his plan to distract Medmenham has had the opposite effect. He calls on Charlotte the next morning at Loring House where she is staying with Henrietta. Robert asks her to refuse any invitations from Medmenham, to which request Charlotte replies with outrage. The conversation between them is filled with double entendre and delightful to read over and over again.
In the last part of this reading, we are confronted with the madness of King George. While selecting a book from the king’s library, Charlotte is surprised when the king appears in disarray and confuses her with his youngest daughter. Charlotte remembers the gossip about the king’s madness three years earlier. He complains of stomach pain, and when his attendant, Lord Henry Innes, comes to retrieve him, the king begs Charlotte not to let the doctors make him ill again. Not seeming to recognize her, Lord Henry makes light of the king’s actions when Charlotte asks if she should call the queen. When Charlotte returns to court the next day, she finds the queen and her daughters frightened and dismayed as the king is reported mad again and no one is allowed to see him except a new doctor chosen by the Prince of Wales. As the Prince of Wales would have his own reasons for declaring his father mad and incompetent, Charlotte understands the threat to the kingdom and sympathizes with the queen and princesses. She volunteers to get information by sneaking into the king’s chambers through the library entrance. She finds the king restrained and in pitiful condition, but manages to hide just before the new doctor and his attendant enter the room. Charlotte is horrified by the course of treatment described by the doctor and the king’s representative. Vowing to help, Charlotte asks Henrietta to accompany her to the mad hospital where she plans to confront the king’s new doctor, Dr. Simmons. When Dr. Simmons appears, she is shocked to see he is not the same man attending the king who claims to be Dr. Simmons.
Wow! So much happened in these chapters. What are your thoughts on the Hellfire Club? I have heard it mentioned in other books of this era. Also, I believe Lord Vaughn mentioned it in Crimson Rose.
What is your opinion of Robert at this point of the book? He certainly struggles with his emotions toward Charlotte, toward seeking justice for his dead friend, and toward his right to inherit Girdings. At several times his thoughts tell us that he is not interested in being the Duke of Dovedale because he thinks he is unworthy. What do you think? Would he make a good match for Charlotte?
How about Charlotte? I know it was a difficult life for women in this age. She lives in a beautiful home, socializes with the best people, and has two close friends. However, she is constantly berated by her grandmother and made to feel unworthy of the Lansdowne name. No wonder she often lives in a fantasy world! Nevertheless, Charlotte is kind, thoughtful, helpful, and a loyal friend. She usually tries to see the good in people and doesn’t seek to advance her own agenda. Does this make her a weak person or is she strong? I think Charlotte is a good example to use to discuss the nature versus nurture question. What has formed her character and personality?
Lastly, I see Charlotte and Robert as contrasts in light and dark? What do you think?
What else is on your mind concerning these chapters?
On a different note, we will be having another favorite quote contest, so be searching for your favorites and have them ready for a post beginning next Tuesday, February 17. Ashley will compile these quotes for voting on the 24th. Anyone participating will be eligible for a drawing to receive a Pink VI mug. Happy hunting!