Oh, Cecilia, what a fine mess you’re in!
I’m almost through Volume III and plenty has happened to our dear heiress. The extravagant Mr. Harrel has gone off and shot himself after dragging his wife and her much put upon friend to Vauxhall for an evening filled with Champagne and unusually high spirits. One guardian down, Cecilia had to make a quick decision: move in with the miserly Mr. Briggs, or the haughty Delviles? And what to do about dashing,young Mr. Delvile? Intolerable to move in with Briggs, but so much heartache to be found near Mr. Mortimer Delvile. But difficult though being near the object of one’s affection may be, living with a curmudgeonly penny-pincher who refuses to clean house or light fires is so much the worse. To the Delvile’s it is.
Meanwhile, Mr. Monckton has made himself extremely helpful, assisting Cecilia with the debts that Mr. Harrel coerced her into, and Mr. Arnott has proven himself a most devoted friend, though Cecilia regrets that she cannot return his deeper feelings. To make matters more troubling, Miss Belfield, Cecilia’s one true friend, may very well be secretly in love with Mr. Delvile. And if the letter Miss Belfield concealed when Cecilia called on her is any indication, Mr. Delvile has confirmed the young lady’s devotion.
Certain that Mr. Delvile’s recent coldness towards her is the result of his recent attachment to Miss Belfield, Cecilia finds herself perplexed by the effusive praise lavished upon her when the pair is caught in a storm.
Could it be that the conditions of her inheritance have created the barrier that separates them? Or is Mr. Delvile truly in love with Miss Belfield?
In the same manner that Mr. Darcy’s arrival at Netherfield raises the question of marriage and money, Cecilia’s wealth raises several points on the position of moneyed women. The theme of “gold-digging” abounds in literature, but more attention is paid to the difficulties of men faced with a sudden horde of women seeking an advantageous marriage, than the trouble faced by single heiresses in a similar situation. Though Mr. Wickham does not succeed with Mary King, Mr. Willoughby successfully entraps a rich wife to keep him in his favored mode of living. Cecilia’s friend, Mr. Monckton, married his older, rich wife in the hope that she would pass quickly and leave him her fortune. He tries to assure that Cecilia has no suitors so that she will be available to marry her “dear” friend when his wife is gone.
Wealthy though she may be, Cecilia is anything but free to choose her mate. The codicil in her uncle’s will demands that the man who marries her take her name, or Cecilia will have to relinquish her fortune. Find a man who will take the family name, or else. Sir Robert Floyer, Mr. Marriot, Mr. Monckton, and even Mr. Arnott all wish to secure Cecilia for their own advantage, making Cecilia wish for the privations of a humble existence if they would free her from their attentions. Nevertheless, the persecution that Cecilia faces from her suitors earns her social censure for seeming fickleness and haughtiness when she refuses to acknowledge any attachment to them. Why shouldn’t she make known her attachment for a respectable, titled gentleman like Sir Robert? Why should it matter that he only wants her inheritance? Why should a woman want to remain in control of her inheritance when other women are content with their lot in marriage? Her suitors are lauded for their fortitude and continued pursuit, while Cecilia finds herself forced to avoid society if only to prevent further gossip.
Just imagine Pride and Prejudice if Elizabeth had been the heiress. How differently Mr. Darcy might have reacted.