three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Sophie Gee
user_rating: 
0

A-The Scandal of the SeasonIn her debut novel, Sophie Gee recreates the events leading up to the composition of the mock-epic poem The Rape of the Lock. In 1711, 23-year-old Alexander Pope leaves home to pursue a literary career in London, a city rife with political intrigue and religious tensions. A shrewd observer, he studies the antics of the upper classes at the endless balls and parties that constitute the London season. The belle of the season, Arabella Fermor, embarks on a passionate love affair with the eligible Lord Petre—an affair that ends in humiliation and a bitter family feud when her lover snips off a lock of her hair in public.
Scribner. 368 pages. $25. ISBN: 1416540563

Financial Times (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Pope lampooned the vanity of his ornate subjects but Gee fleshes out the more complex emotional story behind the infamous escapade. The Scandal of the Season is an unsentimental and highly accomplished literary novel that combines a nuanced, Austen-like observation of the period’s claustrophobic social codes with a lustier expose of their transgressions." James Urquhart

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"There’s a brutal stabbing at the center of The Scandal of the Season, and elements of a dangerous plot to restore James III run thinly behind the story, but frankly the extent to which you’ll enjoy this novel depends on how amused you are by arch social satire and the comedy of manners. … Pope promised that ‘charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul,’ and The Scandal of the Season offers both charms and merit, an extravagant costume drama infused with the poet’s incisive wit and moral insight." Ron Charles

Guardian (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Like [Georgette] Heyer, Gee knows her period inside out, and recreates it with a kind of loving joy." Kathryn Hughes

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Centering on the events that culminated in Alexander Pope’s writing The Rape of the Lock, this novel is a clever and inviting piece of critical biography masquerading as a light comedy of manners. … Gee has no particular gift for representing her more genteel characters: Teresa Blount, Arabella Fermor and Lord Petre (who is also abetting various malingerers in an elaborate but daft Jacobite intrigue) have the blunt motivations of reality-television contestants." Gideon Lewis-Kraus

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"There’s a lot of discussion about [Arabella’s] loveliness and her silk gown wardrobe, but Gee never paints a vivid enough picture of the 22-year-old woman who has her choice of suitors. … There’s enough intrigue unfolding behind carriage doors and under bed curtains to satisfy both those modern students who pored over Pope’s masterpiece and those who muddled through it." Olivia Barker

Critical Summary

Sophie Gee, an English professor at Princeton, brings 18th-century England to life in The Scandal of the Season, part literary biography and part comedy of manners. Alexander Pope makes "a rather unconventional hero, but he’s a deeply sympathetic one in this kinder, gentler characterization of a man who regularly skewered and slew his enemies in print," notes The Washington Post. Critics voiced a few complaints about some of the flat characters (including the precious Arabella) and the odd blend of archaic language and modern idioms, but they generally praised Gee’s ability to recreate the era and its denizens with warmth and humor. Readers who snoozed through English Lit may be pleasantly surprised. This is a clever, witty novel.