Ok, while all the Virgin Lover Boleyn Girl Inheritence shizzaz is kind of awesome-trashy, Wideacre is TRASHY awesome. Not…not that it’s not awesome. It’s just that it’s SO TRASHY that I kind of can’t see my own feet.
Mostly I do my best to be spoiler-free over here, because I didn’t know that Little Nell dies, but I hneeeeeeeeed to share this plot with you. Avert your eyes if you must, serious all-caps below.
Beatrice is young and wild and totally in love with her Papa and his land (the titular Wildacre), and her milksop brother is totally the charge of her cold, aristocratic mother.
But then she gets older (by ‘older’ I mean, like, 15) and prettier and starts doinking the local gypsy peasant hireling. It’s totally Princess Buttercup and Farm Boy all over again, except with less fetch-me-that-pitcher, and waaay more wanton nekkedniss.
ALL OF A SUDDEN, she realizes that all this land that she loves will go to her brother when her father dies. Primogeniture will kick you in the ass. So she and her gypsy peasant hireling hatch this plan to kill her father (who she loves, you may recall), bankrupt her brother, and then buy his land from him with the money that they have stolen in the bankrupting process.
But then Beatrice realizes that she doesn’t want to kill her father, because HE’S HER FATHER, and also that she doesn’t want to marry the gypsy peasant hireling because she is a Lady of Quality, and he is a gypsy peasant hireling. BUT IT’S TOO LATE!!!
So now her Papa is dead, and she is hot for revenge! So she lures her gypsy into a man-trap (it’s one of those metal snappy-snappy traps, but man-sized) and then leaves him there to bleed to death. Bitch is cold.
To recap: her Papa is dead, and her gypsy lover is dead. But she is still wanton, and also her milksop brother Henry comes home from boarding school all handsome and burly (and owning Wideacre).
Wanton teenager + hawt, land-owning brother = (wait for it…)
THEY DOOOOOOO EEEEET!! Often. Many many pages are taken up with them dooing eet. Her brother gets engaged; they doo eet. She comes with them on their honeymoon tour (!) at her brother’s new wife’s request (!!!) and they doo eet.
Rather unsurprisingly, what with all the eet they’ve been dooing, she gets pregnant. SO! She and her brother’s new wife (the Melanie Wilkes-ish Celia, complete with trusting brown eyes, sweet heart-shaped face, and inability to bear children) hatch a clever plan wherein they send Henry home from his own honeymoon, write him to tell him that Celia is pregnant, and then wait out the nine months in France before passing the resulting daughter off as Celia’s own.
Things are fairly scandal-free for about eight minutes, and suddenly Beatrice is being courted by the young, handsome, retardedly-wealthy Dr MacAndrews, and she puts him off and puts him off and puts him off until OH NO!! She’s pregnant by Henry again. Plus, also, she’s in love with Dr MacAndrews.
So they marry in haste and everyone is happy and she has a bouncing baby boy, but Dr MacAndrews is a freakin DOCTOR, people. He can tell a premature baby from a full-term one conceived some two months before his wedding. He’s on to you, Beatrice.
And then Beatrice and Henry are doing the badonk-a-donk in the living room and their mother walks in on them and collapses from the shock (*gasp* she knows!!) and Dr MacAndrews has to treat her but he’s drunk because he’s just realized that the baby isn’t his. What’s a girl to do?
SHE DOES! Beatrice poisons her mother, blames the overdose on her husband’s drunkenness, HAS HIM COMMITTED TO A SANITARIUM FOR INSANITY AND EXCESSIVE DRINK so that she and Henry can steal his fortune and buy Wideacre for their children (the girl-baby isn’t a boy, so she can’t inherit, and the boy-baby is ostensibly Beatrice’s and…some travelling rapist? I forget. But really it’s Henry’s).
So Beatrice and Henry have mortgaged all the land and closed in all the common fields and started selling the crop out of town for more profit and started hiring cheap workers instead of the locals, and generally pissing off all their serfs, which is dangerous because there is a Quality-killing rogue about, AND HE IS A GYPSY AND HAS NO LEGS!!!
Do you see where this is going?
Everything goes badly for everyone for a couple hundred pages, Dr MacAndrews comes back from the Sanitorium too late to save his fortune but not too late to secretly fall a bit in love with Celia, the Wideacre serfs become increasingly less gruntled, and when the Gypsy-Hireling-Who-Is-Not-In-Fact-Dead-But-Legless-Nonetheless rides in on his black horse, there is no one to stop him from SLAYING Beatrice in the face.
No, seriously, that’s totally how it ends. I KNOW!!! And it’s equal parts awful and fabulous, and I couldn’t stop reading it and all I could do was blink for, like, a minute after it was done. And oh Philippa, I’m glad you’ve come so far since your Wideacre days. I’m pleased to see that you’ve stopped repeating yourself QUITE so much, and that you don’t feel the need to tell me things that you’re making obvious by implication. I will continue to read your delicious drivel, and if I’m ever laid up in bed with a non-serious-but-prolongued illness, I will finish the Wideacre trilogy.
Six caterpillars for style, but nine for DRAMA! So seven-and-a-half.