Thursday, May 19, 2016

Belgravia Blog Tour - Episode 7: A Man of Business

Award winning creator/writer of Downton Abbey presents his latest endeavor, Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new book blending the Victorian-era serialized novel with modern technology.

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be featured in a progressive blog tour April 14-June 16, 2016. Similar to a “progressive dinner party,” where a group of friends each make one course of a meal that moves from house to house with each course, a “progressive blog tour” is the same concept applied to the Internet. Eleven historical fiction bloggers and authors are participating, each taking one episode of the novel and offering a recap and review for that week. As a participant, you will follow the tour and join in the read-along and conversation. A fabulous give-away contest, including three (3) hardcover copies of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will be open to those who join the festivities.   

Please visit Risky Regencies to learn more about last week's installment, Episode 6: A Spy in Our Midst, and be sure to read on for my review of Episode 7: A Man of Business and details on the giveaway!

We are now well over halfway through Belgravia and well and truly immersed into the world of the Trenchard and Bellasis families. In true trademark Julian Fellowes fashion, the journey thus far has been replete with twists, turns, and intrigue aplenty, as the hidden product of a Napoleonic War-era affair between the late Sophia Trenchard and Edmund Bellasis comes to light -- to all but the subject in question, the unwitting focus of the matron of each respective family's furious maneuvering.

This episode of Belgravia is perhaps my favorite yet, as so much of the secrets, discovery, and social machinations that have been set in place in the previous installments begin to bear fruit, the ripple effect of calculated decisions and reckless gambles playing out in the lives of each character. This installment opens with a rare moment of accord between Caroline Brockenhurst -- Edmund's mother -- and Anne Trenchard -- Sophia's mother. These two very different women are bound together in an unlikely alliance by a moment of passion between their children years earlier that produced Charles Pope, enterprising mill owner and unknowing -- and illegitimate -- heir to two prosperous families.

“She did not think it would take much longer for the story to come out, after which Edmund’s memory would be, if anything, enhanced and Sophia Trenchard’s would be ruined.”

The secret that binds together the Trenchards and the Brockenhursts is one that cannot be kept long, as Caroline's enthusiastic and very public patronage of Charles has already started to raise eyebrows within her social circle. Given the inevitability of such a disclosure, Anne seizes the opportunity to join Caroline and Lady Maria Grey, the bright and vivacious young woman rather unfortunately engaged to John Bellasis, Caroline's nephew and the Brockenhurst heir.

The secrets simmering beneath the surface of the visit inform the tone of this episode, as Caroline and Anne each long to openly acknowledge their relationship to Charles and celebrate, through him, the restoration of some small part of their long-lost children. And Maria, despite her engagement, cannot help but respond to the simmering attraction between her and Charles, especially when as compared to her relationship with her intended, John, their every interaction speaks of a potential marriage of two equal, enthusiastic minds.

“His father a soldier, she was thinking, and the cousin of a churchman…what was wrong with that? He might not be a catch, but he was at least a gentleman.”

John, having received intelligence as to Caroline's whereabouts from her maid, Ellis, makes an unwelcome interruption to the otherwise cozy visit, eager to learn anything he can that will help him destroy Charles. For, despite his ignorance of their familial connection, he views Charles a a wholly unwelcome rival to be disposed of, a usurper making free use of the money he already views as his own thanks to the assumption he will inherit the Brockenhurst fortune.  

Following the visit, Anne leaves for Glanville, the Trenchard family's country estate, with John, Oliver, and Susan in tow. Her time in Charles's presence, hearing his enthusiasm for his life and work has left her at peace, and now she finds herself willing to accept the coming social storm that would result when Charles's true identity was revealed, as surely it must.

“But she was quite certain it was her engagement and her rank that were holding him back. She was not so sheltered that she could not see when a man was attracted to her, and she was confident she could bring Charles up to the mark when she wanted to.”
“She had admitted for the first time that she was planning a true m├ęsalliance for herself.” 

Meanwhile, Maria does the unthinkable. Determined to defy her family's wishes and bring an end to her engagement to John Bellasis, she takes her romantic future in her own hands and requests a meeting with Charles. This section of the episode absolutely made my heart sing, as when it comes to historical fiction I love nothing quite so much a love story between social opposites. This scene, more than any other to date in Belgravia, reminded me of the romance of Downton Abbey and the spark that peppered each of that series' memorable romances.

“She loved him. And he loved her back. She had acknowledged him as her lover. That was all he really needed to know. If she did break his heart, it would be worth it for this moment. What came next he couldn’t guess at, but he loved and was loved in return. For now, that was enough.”

This episode is a study in contrasts, from the tension between the aristocratic old money of the Brockenhursts (and their correlating ability to absorb potential scandal as a routine matter of course) and the new money springing from trade and industry represented by the Trenchards and James's ever-evolving business interests. Likewise there is the exploration of women's roles in society, here between the expectations a woman such a Mary faced (marriage and children) and those she craved (love, travel, business interests). 

"You are a model of dynamism and industry and yet, unlike most people in your way of life, you were not born to it."

Both Mary and Charles, in particular, represent a marriage of the two social facets, the aristocracy and the lower -- though socially upwardly mobile -- class, those who make their fortune in trade and industry. Charles exists at the nexus of the aristocracy and the burgeoning Industrial Revolution, a man -- though he does not yet know it -- born to privilege, but driven to make his own way in the world. 

It has been challenging to review a single installment of this story rather than discussing the entire tale as a whole. But that has been part of the appeal of this form of serialized storytelling, as with each successive installment I've grown increasingly invested in the world and characters Fellowes has crafted within the pages of Belgravia. Stylistically this novel is something of a departure from current historical fiction offerings, more narrative driven than I'm used to, much like the classic serialized novels that inspired Belgravia's inception. As such, the first episode started slowly for me, but with each successive week as the story unfolded and characters developed, I have found myself increasingly eager to learn what happens next!

There are only four episodes left before Belgravia finishes, so there's still time to catch up if you haven't yet delved into Fellowes's latest world of romance and intrigue. If you've been reading along as episodes are released, I'd love to hear your thoughts -- favorite characters, most wished-for comeuppance (a clue: I cannot WAIT until John gets what has to be coming to him!), or thoughts on this release format. And if you haven't yet tried Belgravia, I would love to hear what intrigues you about this story. Be sure to check in at Mimi Matthews next week for a discussion of episode 8!

Giveaway Contest

Win a Copy of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia

In celebration of the release of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, Grand Central Publishing is offering a chance to win one of the three (3) hardcover copies of the book!  

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the stops on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour starting April 14, 2016 through 11:59 pm PT, June 22, 2016. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on June 23, 2016. Winners have until June 30, 2016 to claim their prize. The contest is open to International residents and the books will be shipped after July 5, 2016. Good luck to all!

April 14 – Austenprose.comEpisode 1: Dancing into Battle
April 14 – Edwardian PromenadeEpisode 2: A Chance Encounter
April 21 – Fly High!: Episode 3: Family Ties
April 28 -  Calico Critic: Episode 4: At Home in Belgrave Square
May 5  --   Luxury ReadingEpisode 5: The Assignation
May 12 --  Risky Regencies: Episode 6: A Spy in our Midst
May 19 --  Booktalk & More Too: Episode 7: A Man of Business
May 26 –   Mimi Matthews: Episode 8: An Income for Life
June 02 –  Confessions of a Book Addict: Episode 9: The Past is a Foreign Country
June 09 –  Laura’s Reviews: Episode 10: The Past Comes Back
June 16 –  Gwyn Cready: Episode 11: Inheritance