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.
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When last we saw our heroines, Alithea was teasing Arabella's unwanted suitors while Arabella was getting her affairs in order in preparation for hitting the road with her. Alithea plays cat and mouse with a couple of challenges to duels then heads to Lyons so that the two of them aren't observed leaving town together. While in Lyons she is on hand for a couple of spots of excitement. A young lady jilted by her fiance when she had the bad luck to get pregnant in advance of the wedding challenges the cad to a duel while in disguise and fatally wounds him, though he manages to repent and marry her after all before expiring. (Cue music: He Had It Coming.) And the man who became Alithea's bff on arriving in town is unmasked as a fugitive felon, leaving her relieved at having escaped robbery or worse.
She then receives a letter from Arabella filling her in on all the gossip and pledging to join her soon at Lyons. Arabella concludes her letter, "I hope to see you in eight days at the farthest. My steward is to accompany me to Lyons, where I will appear in short coat and breeches, and then set out with you whenever you please upon our adventures. In the mean time, be assured that every minute is an age till I have the pleasure of embracing my dear Alithea, who is husband, lover and friend to Arabella."
::fans self:: My, is it warm in here?
Back at the very beginning of the story, Alithea had struck up a friendship with the Count of Saluce and his wife and had been planning to travel in company with them, but they had to separate for a while to take care of some unexpected business. Alithea now writes to the Count to let them know that her plans have changed and won't be able to join up with them again, alas. Since she doesn't expect Arabella to arrive for over a week, Alithea decides to make a side trip to Geneva and we get more travelogue. Then back to Lyons.
Arabella finally arrives and is very very fetching in men's clothing. The two women have a very coy conversation each declaring that if one or the other of them were truly what they appeared to be (a man) that they would overcome their distaste for marriage in an instant. Alithea predicts that Arabella is going to break many ladies' hearts on their travels (and perhaps those of a few men with unusual tastes). Arabella then proceeds to cut a swathe through several local hearts, just for practice. Volume 2 then concludes with Alithea pledging to cut back on the travelogue, as Arabella isn't as into sight-seeing as she is. (I'd have to do some page-counting to determine if she makes good on this plege.)
In Volume 3, they travel first to Genoa and then to Milan, where they take advantage of some good deals on velvet and brocade to enlarge their masculine wardrobes. Arabella is soon approached by the messenger of a lady with romantic interests, but when she plays along (at Alithea's urging) it turns out the lady takes pledges of courtly love rather to extremes and -- rather than an immediate dalliance -- sets out a 6-year plan of demonstrations of chastity and devotion in order to win her heart. This provides an excellent excuse for foregoing the intrigue. The two leave town, barely ahead of yet another importunate lady paying addresses to Arabella.
Next, to Verona and Padua, with renewed travelogue (Alithea isn't doing very well at her pledge here), and then to Venice. Immediately on arriving in Venice, they're approached by an eager local guide who offers to arrange for the company of courtesans or "temporary wives" for them, without which (he says) they have no hope of being received into polite society. After some attempts to demur, they accept his offer to identify some likely prospects. When one of those prospects turns out to be the daughter of a poor widow, who has determined to sell her oldest daughter in order to provide for her other children, our heroines are horrified and determine to go along with the charade simply in order to save the girl from such a fate. This fails to go smoothly, as there is much wailing and protestations of shame on the girl's part (as well as a certain reluctance on the mother's part, when it comes to the point). An overwhelming impulse to charity is stirred, and Alithea and Arabella connive to trick the procurer into giving up on the deal so that the two of them can then offer double the original price to the family in order to allow the girl to either marry or go into a convent as she chooses, and to allow the mother to set herself up in some trade that will provide for the other children. The girl, somewhat sensibly, decides not to take either path, but rather to combine her sum with her mother's and set the both of them up as milliners.
[I confess I was somewhat expecting the whole thing to be a scam and to have them discover, after handing over the charity to the family, that it had all been play-acting in league with the procurer. I suppose I'm glad to have been wrong.]
However after concluding this charitable transaction (and determining to leave Venice as soon as possible), Alithea gets a little snitty with Arabella, saying that it was clear the girl was actually quite attracted to her (Arabella) and that they ought to test her to see if it were the case. Arabella is somewhat taken aback at this fit of jealousy, and says that if there were any truth to it, she would be glad to disabuse the girl of her attraction by disclosing her true sex to her. Arabella goes off to do just that while Alithea takes several pages to describe the sights of Venice.
And this is as far as I've gotten today. The whole Venice episode takes up a great deal of page-count. I've somehow left out the little bit about the two women socializing with their local banker's family in Venice--the banker having two lovely daughters, both of whom immediately begin pining after Arabella. It's quite reasonable that Alithea is starting to get her nose rather out of joint about the whole thing!