Arabella Strange

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Arabella Strange, née Woodhope, is the wife of Jonathan Strange. A lady of much charm and sweetness of temper, she is dearly loved by her husband, who nevertheless somewhat neglects her for his magical studies. Eventually she attracts the attentions of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, whose acquaintance she makes while visiting her friend, Lady Pole[31]. The Gentleman is of course delighted with her - an indifference to the company of a truly amiable woman is never one of his failings - and at length by using magic to create the illusion of her death the fairy kidnaps Arabella and takes her into Lost-hope with him[42 - 44]. There, a year later, she is discovered by her husband when he penetrates the brugh after having at last succeeded in summoning The Gentleman and secretly following him to his home. Unfortunately before Strange can do anything to release either his wife or Lady Pole, he is enchanted back to Venice by The Gentleman, who confines him within the Pillar of Darkness and bars him from finding a way back into Lost-hope[55]. Strange is however successful in alerting John Childermass to the enchanted condition of Lady Pole, enabling him to free her[64]; and in empowering Stephen Black effectively to overcome the Gentleman and destroy him[68]. Thus at last the death of The Gentleman releases Arabella and she returns to the world - but not, finally, to Strange. In a last tender interlude they meet, and though Strange promises to find a way to dispel the Darkness and reunite them, for the time being they separate and go their different ways.[69].

Early life


Mrs. Strange was born about the year 1786, and grew up in Clunbury where her father was the curate of St. Swithin's, the parish church. She has one brother living, Henry Woodhope, a friend of Strange since boyhood. It may well have been through Woodhope that Strange met his sister; but then Clunbury is in Shropshire and not too far from Ashfair, Strange's family home, so there is nothing odd in their having known one another. It seems that (except by Jonathan Strange) Miss Woodhope before her marriage was not considered a great catch, for a curate's daughter seldom has a large fortune, and moreover we hear she had not that imperious beauty which inspires the ardent onlooker with awe[22, 42]. But stateliness is perhaps more desirable in a statue than in a wife, and there is no doubt Miss Woodhope had the power to make herself widely admired. She had a pleasing countenance, a lively mind and a most charming disposition: "She was always very ready to smile and, since a smile is the most becoming ornament that any lady can wear, she had been known upon occasion to outshine women who were acknowledged beauties in three counties"[22]. It is the opinion of The Gentleman - who, for all his faults, is a great connoisseur of feminine charm - that she "is only moderately pretty, but the deficiency in beauty is more than compensated for by her lively spirits and sweet conversation", and he confesses to Stephen that though she is less lovely than Lady Pole "I like (her) much more"[42].

Ravishment into Faerie


Although Mrs. Strange appears to have made the acquaintance of The Gentleman some years earlier (perhaps shortly after she begins her visits to Lady Pole, in December 1810), and even mentions him to her husband in May of 1814, it is not until 1815 that the fairy ravisher forms a plan to steal her away. When Strange breaks with Mr. Norrell and subsequently plans to leave London to reside once more upon his country estate, Arabella innocently tells her admirer that they must therefore part "for a long time"[39]. This is his hint to act. He enlists the unwitting help of Stephen Black in preparing the means by which he will enchant Mrs. Strange away into Lost-hope without the world (or more precisely her husband) being any the wiser. The method he chuses is suitably cunning - after all, the effrontery of a simple theft will not do for the wife of a magician. Strange may occasionally neglect his wife for his studies, but even he would be expected to notice and take action if she mysteriously vanished altogether from their home: The Gentleman needs therefore to blind him to the true nature of what is going forward by persuading him that his wife has died. He does this by creating a fetch, an almost exact copy of Arabella, using a piece of moss-oak which he and Stephen seek out in Scotland[42]. Thereafter, apparently having courteously persuaded the oak to assist him, he magically transforms it into the almost perfect likeness of Strange's wife - save for the trifling fact it appears to wear a black gown, whereas Mrs. Strange generally wears lighter colours. The moss-oak, now in the shape of Arabella, travels towards Ashfair by lonely ways and is on one occasion glimpsed on its journey by a country neighbour of Strange, a John Hyde. He sees it upon Offa's Dyke in very wild weather, and is so disturbed by the vision that he travels at once to Ashfair to reassure himself that Arabella is safe and well within (Mr. Hyde has evidently been acquainted with Mrs Strange since her childhood and knows her very well by sight). He speaks with Strange and communicates his anxiety, but the magician is too secure; since at that time Arabella is indeed safely within her home, he dismisses the man's fears as nonsense. (Later he feels a natural rage at his own stupidity:"Yet to my shame other people were quicker-witted than me. John Hyde ...tried to warn me..."[57].)

However the blame for the disaster is to be apportioned, certainly Mrs Strange is soon lured away from her home, perhaps by a spell not much different from that with which The Gentleman once tried to entice the King and Strange himself[33]. She hastens out of doors one early morning and is seen both by Hyde and two labourers, Oakley and Bullbridge, in the vicinity of Castle Idris and walking very quickly northwards[43]. The personage eventually found and returned to Ashfair on the evening of that day, though in the shape of Arabella Strange, is the substitute, the black-robed moss-oak. It is this which, after three days, returns to its long sleep and therefore creates the impression that Arabella has died. Eventually, in the grave, it sheds even her appearance and returns to its true state, so that when the coffin is exhumed by Jeremy Johns at his master's request, all he finds in it is a log of wood[58].

Discovery and Rescue


We are not told how Mrs Strange first accommodates herself to her seclusion underground, or by what stages she reconciles her mind to her dreadful fate: we see her only as her husband does when at last he penetrates into Faerie. There, quite by accident, as he saunters through Lost-hope like any British tourist wandering into a Venetian conversazione, Strange comes across his 'dead' wife. She is accompanying Lady Pole (as every night without fail she must) to one of the brugh's interminable entertainments. But we may guess how bewildered and frightened she has been made by her imprisonment, for on meeting her husband she does not fly to him at once for protection but instinctively turns instead to Lady Pole. Undoubtedly it has been the latter who undertook the painful duty of explaining to Mrs Strange her true plight when they first met in the unhappy surroundings of The Gentleman's brugh - Lady Pole alone could give some rational explanation for experiences which must have seemed to the wretched Arabella like waking dreams, or the horrid raptures of madness itself. Nevertheless if Strange has been remiss in allowing his wife to be stolen not only from him but from all that is natural to her, he does not spare himself in attempting her rescue. It is his one motive from that time forth, and not even the tremendous blow of his imprisonment within the Pillar of Darkness can deter him from his fixed purpose. Having exhausted every effort to return to Lost-hope, and failed, he realizes he must seek help. He must have the aid of Norrell, of Norrell's precious library of books and lastly of the Raven King himself before he can accomplish his purpose and rescue his wife from her living death. This he at last achieves. Arabella is returned to the living world, first to Italy and a loving welcome from the Greysteels, and finally (early in June 1817) to England itself.

Mrs Strange has one last interview with her husband before he departs for unknown worlds. He arranges it while she is still in Padua. There, as she is walking about one evening in the company of Frank and Dr Greysteel, the Pillar of Darkness appears and Strange himself stands waiting for her. She goes to him. They speak together, and it seems come to an understanding; for without its being directly said they agree that though they continue to love one another, for some time at least they must be parted. Strange cannot yet free himself from the Darkness - or indeed from Mr. Norrell - which would make life for Arabella quite impossible were she to go with him. Also, having once escaped from one world of perpetual gloom she naturally is not eager to enter another; and Strange is too tender a husband to ask it. All he asks is that, in the interim of their enforced separation, she live as full and happy a life without him as she can: and he promises to return [69].

Trivia


Mrs Strange has a particular dislike of seed-cake[27]. It may be the flavour of caraway is repugnant to her.

She wears her hair, which is a soft brown, becomingly arranged in little curls[24].

Mrs Strange has an interest in dress, but it is not overwhelming. On first meeting her, that shrewd critic Christopher Drawlight praises her choice of muslin for her gown, but finds a little fault with the style, which he feels is not smart enough for London[24]. Later, in conversation with Lady Pole, Mrs Strange attempts to raise her friend's depressed spirits by discussing some ivory sarsnet she had seen in a shop and the possibility of trimming it with turquoise beads[39].

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Mrs Strange has a relish for paintings and enjoys those she finds in the house of Sir Walter Pole. Water-colour views however, especially those depicting modish towns such as Brighton and Chelmsford, are her aversion[27].