Skip to main content

Julian Fellowes's Belgravia


Julian Fellowes's Belgravia

Here’s a fun summer read by Julian Fellowes, screenwriter, actor, author of SNOBS and PAST IMPERFECT, and creator of “Downton Abbey.” Originally published in serial form, BELGRAVIA relies --- happily so --- on endless cliffhangers to move the plot forward and, presumably, persuade readers to return for the next installment. The result is a fast-paced novel set in Victorian England that has every human foible and emotion on display. 

The beginning of the novel is set in Brussels in 1815 on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, when Sophia Trenchard has her final encounter with Lord Bellasis at the Duchess of Richmond’s extravagant ball. Wellington famously attended the evening’s festivities and remained even after he had been summoned to the battlefield, in order not to panic the assembled. It is one of the many instances where the author introduces historical events and personages into his plot. He has no hesitation about stepping out of the narrative to explain an event or character’s motivation, and he has no problem modernizing the language of his characters to make their conversations seem a little more familiar to contemporary readers. Occasionally, with phrases such as “she liked to jerk his chain,” he strays a little too far into the future.

"...a fast-paced novel set in Victorian England that has every human foible and emotion on display.... [M]ost readers won’t begrudge the satisfying conclusion to an absorbing story."

Most of the story unfolds in the early 1840s, when Sophia’s parents, Anne and James, still mourn their daughter, who died in childbirth 25 years earlier. Their son, Oliver, a disgruntled drunk in a childless marriage, wants to be loved by his father the way his sister was, but he has none of James’ drive or ambition. A supplier to the military who became a successful builder (in this story, he works with Thomas Cubitt, the actual contractor for Belgravia), James is a brash social climber with a heart of gold. His wife, Anne, has little interest in society, but she indulges him, because she accepts his yearning to rise above his tradesman station. Ultimately, her good sense and sensitivity will save the day.

What happened to Sophia’s son, how that impacts Oliver and the lives of other more elite members of London Society, is the crux of the story. And what a satisfying one it is: there is greed, love, raging jealousy, attempted murder, blackmail and plot twists galore. But what makes the book so delightful is characters who are, if not multidimensional in a Trollopian sense, at least more than caricatures. Caroline Brockenhurst, Lord Bellasis’ mother, is a chilly grande dame who, as the story unfolds, becomes slightly less chilly, but no less grande. Susan, Oliver’s wife, is both calculating and reckless, but over time she also accepts her lot with gratitude. Oliver, too, becomes more responsible, but remains weak. Charles Pope, Sophia’s son and the quiet center around which the many plots swirl, is in some ways the least complex character, but he is consistently appealing.

If this were great literature, the ending might not provide so many plotlines resolved so neatly. But most readers won’t begrudge the satisfying conclusion to an absorbing story.

Reviewed by Lorraine W. Shanley on July 15, 2016

Julian Fellowes's Belgravia
by Julian Fellowes

  • Publication Date: July 5, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1455541168
  • ISBN-13: 9781455541164