Arabella’s overbearing and antiquated notions of romantic etiquette are often blamed to be a cause of her “country education.” Many of the male characters in the novel, including her father and Mr. Glanville, identify her “over[ly]-scrupulous modesty” (28) with her lack of exposure to urban society and her limited experience in her father’s home. Hervey believes he can take advantage of her simplemindedness by taking liberties he wouldn’t have otherwise taken (the need to write elegant letters) with a lady as he presumes her tastes are the frivolous tastes of a country girl. He concludes she could not be “displeased with a Lover of his Figure,” (13) a man who possesses sufficient qualities as a suitor because he has status and fine manners.
Arabella actually takes pride in her solitude and distance from a society she believes has become too forward in their appetite and toleration of sensual freedom. However, Lennox demonstrates that we, as readers, cannot support or give merit to the judgments she forms from her novel reading. The ideas she obstinately adheres to are values that function, in the novel, according to their own particular logic. When Arabella is abashed at her cousin’s audacious greeting, which involves a kiss to the hand, her father tells her that it is acceptable amongst strangers, “and therefore could not be refused to a Relation” (28). She then tells her father that she wants nothing to do with a society and time that engages in such degenerate conduct. Following the model of her heroines, she offers a peace offering to Mr. Glanville by permitting him to embrace her. Our footnote indicates that Lennox is unfair to the romances she is presenting as contradictory (why is a kiss an affront when an heroine openly welcomes an embrace from a returning hero) by insinuating that Lennox is endeavoring to strike a sharp difference between the conduct presented in romances and the conduct demanded of men and women in her heroine’s society. We are to conclude that Arabella’s reading significantly delimits her education as she upholds an irrelevant ethical code that associates her with a kind of small-minded, backwardness. Yet, her “wit” makes her incorrigibly irresistible to Mr. Glansville. Even though he considers her the silliest girl he has ever encountered, he is impressed mostly with the way she argues for her principles: “He found her usage of him was grounded upon Examples she thought it her Duty to follow; and strange as her Notions of Life appeared, yet they were supported with so much Wit and Delicacy, that he could not help admiring her …” (45). It may not be too far fetched to claim that he is impressed with her depth of understanding and sharpness of mind. Her wit might be attributed to her ability to display a powerful rhetoric in support of her “country education,” and her romantic values and “delicacy” might be attributed to her ability to practice the conduct of romance fiction in a manner that wins his heart. Arabella invests a great deal of cultural pride in the characters of her romances for she not only judges others according to the principles of her “idle tales” but she also judges herself against these lofty/noble figures.
Mr. Glanville believes that had her education been directed in a course worthy of both her intelligence and thoughtfulness, she would have been “one of the most accomplished Ladies in the World” (50). Indeed, Arabella reads thoughtfully, particularly by being mindful of historical context and the liability of reading unfairly. When Mr. Ganville calls one of the characters in her romance novels unchristian, she informs his reading by adding commentary that forgives the unforgiving attitude of this heroine. The character he is condemning is not being unchristian because she knows nothing about Christianity, and is therefore, unaware of “Divine Maxims of Charity and Forgiveness, “ (50). Arabella teaches Mr. Glanville how to read: he must read with an informed view of the historical and narrative context of the time and check his biases/preconception at the opening page of a story.