Belinda is a silly, naive girl who is sent to stay with the glamorous Lady Delacour. Her worldly aunt wants her to find a rich husband, Lady Delacour wants her to be entertaining, and Belinda just wants to fall in love. She is initially dazzled by the high-flying life of the Delacours and the rest of the Ton, but rapidly sees the dark side to the sparkling diamonds and scathing witticisms.
Although the novel was published in 1801, this is a very readable book, with dialog that still scintillates to the modern ear. Alas, Edgeworth lost her nerve half way through this fascinating novel. Abruptly, everything becomes black or white. Belinda becomes a paragon of such utter virtue that she never puts a foot wrong, and thus loses all individuality. The battle between the ideals of Harriet Freke (a proto-feminst character) and the perfect Percivals is never truly joined, because the author explicitly calls one side monstrous and the other virtuous. Edgeworth also doesn't trust the reader to judge rightly which love interest Belinda should marry--she suddenly writes one as though all he does is rescue curates and innocent girls, and the other as an inveterate gambler and liar. The only character who survives this reformation is Lady Delacour, whose courage and satiric mind remain undimmed despite her adoption of a more domestic (and thus, virtuous) lifestyle. Lady Delacour is a character for the ages, as witty as Wilde's and as emotionally complex as Woolf's. For her alone, this book is worth reading.