As a general rule, I don’t accept books for review here at MimiMatthews.com. However, when I was approached several months ago to participate in the Progressive Blog Tour for Julian Fellowes’ new novel, Belgravia, I simply could not refuse. Many of you probably already know Julian Fellowes as the creator, writer, and executive producer of the popular television series Downton Abbey. He also wrote the screenplay (and won an Oscar!) for one of my favorite movies, Gosford Park. His other film, television, and print credits are too numerous to list. Suffice to say that he has been entertaining those of us who love historical drama for a very long time.
The story of Belgravia begins at the famous Duchess of Richmond’s Ball on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo and continues to unfold in eleven serialized installments which take us—and the cast of characters—into the Victorian era. In the manner of a progressive dinner party, each installment is being hosted and reviewed by a different author or historical fiction blogger. I will be focusing on Episode 8: An Income for Life. If you would like a refresher on what happened in the previous episode, click through to Booktalk & More which recaps Episode 7: A Man of Business.
Recap (with Spoilers!)
This episode begins with John Bellasis visiting his parents’ house in Harley Street. He is hoping to borrow enough money from them to see him through Christmas—and to compensate the Trenchard’s servants, Ellis the maid and Turton the butler, for any secrets they might discover in the course of their employment.
“He wasn’t sure what the butler and the maid would come up with, but his instincts told him that the Trenchards were hiding something. And at that point, any illuminating fact about Charles Pope and his connections would be helpful.”
Unfortunately, John’s parents are in no position to lend him anything. In fact, his father, Stephen Bellasis, is desperate for funds himself. So desperate that he is considering borrowing from one moneylender to pay off another. In the end, John resorts to stealing a solid silver punch bowl from his mother. He pawns it for one hundred pounds.
Anxious to discover something that he might use to his benefit, John meets Turton the butler at a pub called The Horse and Groom. Turton is very nervous, recollecting how, earlier that day, he had rifled through Mr. Trenchard’s desk and taken some of his private papers. Among them is a letter that mentions a child called Charles. Turton sells the first page—and only the first page—of this letter to John for twenty pounds.
“Well, I did find something,” began Turton, reaching into his pocket. John leaned forward as the man pulled out an old brown envelope. “It was locked away in the one of the smaller drawers, which had its own key.” John didn’t say anything. What did he care about the details? “It’s a letter that mentions a child, called Charles.”
John is not the only one who has it in for Charles Pope. Oliver Trenchard’s jealousy is growing by leaps and bounds. Hoping to make trouble for his imagined rival, he travels to Manchester to visit Charles Pope’s cotton mill. There he meets two disgruntled employs who accuse Charles of shady business practices. Oliver convinces them to put their accusation in writing. He later presents the evidence to his father, James. James is reluctant to believe the allegations against Charles Pope. He goes to see Charles, but instead of denying the accusations, Charles suggests that he and James dissolve their business relationship.
“I would not have you quarrel with your only son over me. I assume we should think about removing your money from the business.”
Meanwhile, Lady Templemore is trying to convince her daughter, Maria, to formally announce her engagement to John Bellasis. When Maria informs her that she has changed her mind and will not marry John, Lady Templemore is far from pleased.
“I won’t let you throw away your chance. I would be a bad mother if I allowed it.”
Later, Lady Templemore finds a letter from Lady Brockenhurst in Maria’s room. She pays a visit to Lady Brockenhurst to confront her. There, she informs Lady Brockenhurst, Anne Trenchard, and Maria that she has put the notice of Maria’s engagement to John Bellasis in the newspapers herself. This revelation, as well as the situation with Oliver Trenchard, prompts Lady Brockenhurst to argue that the true identity of Charles Pope should finally be revealed.
“All of this can be resolved if you will only allow us to give him a name and a position and publicly include him in our family.”
The episode ends as it began: with John Bellasis. He travels to Charles Pope’s childhood home and, pretending to be someone else, gains admittance. There he meets Charles’ adoptive mother and learns that James Trenchard has been supporting Charles since he was a baby. This leads him to believe that Charles must be James’ bastard son. He later says as much to Susan Trenchard during one of their illicit meetings.
“Wait a minute. If Pope is Trenchard’s bastard, why is the Countess of Brockenhurst so taken with him?”
This episode of Belgravia was filled with tension. Matters with John Bellasis, Oliver Trenchard, Lady Maria Grey, Lady Brockenhurst, the Trenchard’s servants, and Charles Pope are all racing toward a climax, and yet nothing is really resolved. We are left on the precipice, anxious to read the next installment. I wish I could share with you what’s coming next! Unfortunately, I am sworn to secrecy (quite literally—I had to sign an NDA).
I will say that Belgravia reminds me a lot of Downton Abbey. On the surface, it’s beautiful and comfortable, but underneath the elegance of 1840s London are the intrigues, secrets, and petty jealousies of Victorian lords and ladies, wealthy tradesman and the nouveau riche, and—of course—the servants. Many of the characters are selfish and small-minded and some, like John Bellasis, Ellis, and Turton, have no qualms about breaking the law. The only characters who seem to be fully decent and honest are Maria Grey and Charles Pope. I wish there had been more of them in this episode. If you felt the same, I can only say: Stay Tuned!
- Do you have any sympathy for John Bellasis?
- Do James and Anne Trenchard bear some responsibility for Oliver’s behavior?
- What should Turton’s punishment be for breaking into Mr. Trenchard’s desk and selling his papers?
A Grand Giveaway!
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 Austenprose.com 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!
BELGRAVIA PROGRESSIVE BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:
April 14 – Austenprose.com: Episode 1: Dancing into Battle
April 14 – Edwardian Promenade: Episode 2: A Chance Encounter
April 21 – Fly High: Episode 3: Family Ties
April 28 – Calico Critic: Episode 4: At Home in Belgrave Square
May 05 – Luxury Reading: Episode 5: The Assignation
May 12 – Risky Regencies: Episode 6: A Spy in our Midst
May 19 – Book Talk and More: 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
Book: Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Regency-era Fiction/ Victorian-era Fiction
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (April 14-June 16, 2016)
Format: eBook & audio, (352) pages in total
*FTC 16 CFR § 255.5 – Disclosure of Material Connections: I received one free copy of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia from the publisher.