The Scandal of the Season
In 1711, the English monarchy was far from secure. Queen Anne had failed to provide an heir, and the Jacobites, who favored putting the exiled, Catholic Pretender on the throne, were busy hatching plots to mount an invasion from France.
Amidst all this, the golden age of Augustan poetry is about to begin, with Alexander Pope a young man and, although his fame is spreading, still a comparative unknown. Gee’s novel centers around a particular London season when Alexander and several of his Catholic friends—most notably Theresa and Martha Blount—spend a few months in London, where they are all caught up in the affairs of the beautiful Arabella Fermor.
In this time before Victorian prudery, the unmarried Miss Fermor conducts an illicit affair with a Catholic peer, assuming that he fully intends to make a proposal at the end of the season. But his secrets catch up with him and the course of true love is diverted. Gee draws together the various threads of the story to result in the genesis of Pope’s most famous poem, The Rape of the Lock.
As an Assistant Professor of English at Princeton, Sophie Gee’s credentials are impeccable. As a novelist, however, she still has much to learn. Much of the most potentially dramatic action takes place off the page, and the characters—particularly Arabella and Alexander—seem to exist on separate planes rather than be interwoven with one another. It’s difficult to discern the primary thrust of the story, as well as to tell who truly is the main character. But Gee’s prose is readable, her descriptions evocative, and although the plot—based on a true story though it is—feels a little contrived, those with an interest in the era will probably want to read The Scandal of the Season.