Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Sophie Gee's "The Scandal of the Season"

Sophie Gee is an assistant professor in the Department of English at Princeton and the author of The Scandal of the Season, her debut novel.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to The Scandal of the Season and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Scandal of the Season reveals the following important details:

The story is set in the past — in London in 1711, to be exact — but the novel is written like a modern comedy of manners.

The first character we encounter here, the enigmatic, risk-taking Lord Petre, is involved in a clandestine political conspiracy, the details of which are unknown. He and his accomplice are trying to hide their misdeeds by meeting at a fashionable society ball, hoping to be lost in the crowd.

But Lord Petre is engaged in more than political subterfuge. He is presently on his way, late at night, to meet a woman called Lady Castlecomber — a woman we know is married to somebody else.

Other important characters make an appearance, all of them guests at the masquerade ball. Two sisters, Martha and Teresa, and their beautiful, rather spoilt, cousin Arabella. The girls climb into a carriage to drive home, and begin gossiping about the evening’s diversions. What we don’t find out here is that Arabella has started to fall in love with Lord Petre, and she is deeply disconcerted by discovering that he is involved in an affair with Lady Castlecomber.

A final, crucial character appears only fleetingly, the person named Alexander. He is Alexander Pope, the famous poet.

Most readers won’t realize that all these characters were real people. The drama we are watching unfold is the real-life scandal behind Pope’s celebrated poem “The Rape of the Lock.” Martha and Teresa are Alexander’s close friends, the Blount sisters, and Lord Petre and Arabella are the real-life hero and heroine of “The Rape of the Lock.” “Lady Mary,” the character mentioned as you turn to p.100, is Lady Mary Montagu, perhaps the most famous aristocratic women of her day.

As you can see, p.99 is really a “transition” page — the characters are all on the move. But transition and movement, are important motifs in the book. Scandal is about a social world that’s unstable, unpredictable, constantly changing. The characters find themselves in precarious, dangerous positions. Almost everyone will turn out to have made a vital miscalculation. It’s also important that the central rivalries and conflicts emerge in the context of ensemble scenes — the idea is that society, not solitude, provides the context for characters’ crucial perceptions and decisions.

Page 99:

English throne. Future ages would remember the Jacobites not as assassins but as heroes — honorable men. The hero’s course awaited him.

In a steady voice he said, “If I can be persuaded that such a course of action will achieve the outcome we seek, there is nothing that I would not do on behalf of James Stuart’s — His Majesty’s — cause.”

He then pushed the carriage door open — it was a fraction too soon. A careless slip; Douglass had still been checking the notes. Tonight no one had been about to observe them. Even if they had been seen, nobody would have guessed the cause for their meeting; people did exactly as they pleased at masked balls. But at this moment Lord Petre’s train of thought was cut short. He had arrived at Lady Castlecomber’s town house.

When Alexander had left the room in pursuit of Douglass and Petre, neither of the Blount sisters paid much attention to his departure. Teresa joined Jervas and Martha after Douglass’s departure, and Jervas continued to talk, turning to one lady and then the other, flattering and charming them. But the girls had grown listless and silent, their happy energies dissipated.

As the supper room began to empty out, Teresa said to her sister, “Shall we ask Arabella for the carriage home?”

And Martha replied, “Perhaps Mr. Jervas will hand the three of us inside.” The girls went in search of Arabella, and as soon as they found her Jervas escorted the ladies downstairs.

When the girls’ carriage had left Jervas turned back inside in search of Alexander, hoping that he, at least, would not be ready for bed.

Inside the coach, Arabella shook open the fur blanket to spread across their knees. But it was not quite large enough for three, so while Arabella’s lap was amply covered, the other two sat stiffly, feeling slightly too cold.

Arabella broke the silence. “I have heard that Lady Mary

Excerpted from The Scandal of the Season by Sophie Gee. Copyright © 2007 by Sophie Gee. Reprinted by permission from Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Read an excerpt from The Scandal of the Season and more about the novel at Sophie Gee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue