Episode 5: “Arabella”
This episode begins with the famous battle of Waterloo, providing for some spectacular special effects as Jonathan Strange commands water from a well to quench a fire, directs the vines around them to thwart an attack, and crushes enemy soldiers with a larger-than-life hand of mud. When the war is over, Strange retreats to his estate in quiet Shropshire, promising Arabella that he is finished with practical magic and will put his attention into writing a book on the subject instead. This makes Arabella quite happy, but has quite the opposite effect on Mr. Norrell.
Norrell: “Why does he insist on punishing me?”
Lascelles’ influence on Norrell is taking a poisonous turn. Now that he has exiled Drawlight, Lascelles seizes every opportunity to drive a wedge between Norrell and Childermass to become Norrell’s sole advisor. As he strokes Norrell’s ego and feeds his deep-seated fears, he convinces Norrell that Strange’s book must not be published at any cost.
Norrell pressures the publisher Mr. Murray (John Sessions), into refusing to print the book; however, the precepts of free commerce prevent Norrell from monopolizing the magic of England, despite his many frustrated attempts. Norrell is determined to put a stop to anything that might challenge his previous dictates on magic, and we can expect him to play his trump card soon. He will likely use the recent Johannite riots against labor-saving machines as an example of the dangers of the Raven King to England.
Norrell is also keeping a close eye on Jonathan Strange’s activities through Childermass and his many acquaintances who see Strange regularly, including Sir Walter Pole. Childermass remains loyal to Norrell, despite Lascelles’ attempts at distancing him from his master; however, he seems to be much more independent than your typical servant. Childermass performs magic when necessary, and is a self-appointed ambassador to other magicians; albeit if it is only to warn them of Norrell’s intentions to dominate the profession by any means. Strange recognizes Childermass’ magical talent and offers him an apprenticeship, which is declined.
Childermass (to Strange): “I think I would be a very bad pupil – worse even than you.”
At Starecross Hall, Lady Pole’s premonition of Arabella’s fate awakens her. Her frantic warning for Jonathan Strange does not reach him in time, and Arabella is captured. Arabella’s doppelganger, created from an oak retrieved from the bog, tricks Jonathan into claiming her as his only wife, forsaking all others. Jonathan, thinking that this is the real Arabella, is thus tricked into trading Arabella for a piece of enchanted wood. When the fake Arabella takes ill and dies, he has no idea that the real Arabella is still alive and her memory has been altered by her captor, the Gentleman. Lady Pole is distressed by the Gentleman’s trickery against her friend, since now Arabella must stay forever in Lost Hope with no memory of her former life.
Strange works diligently to call forth a faery to help him raise Arabella from the dead. Ignoring her brother Henry’s urging to let her go, he becomes obsessed with finding the right spell. He appeals to Mr. Norrell by mail several times over the course of a week, citing his success with Lady Pole, and suggesting that they might try again using precautions against any faery trickery. Norrell does not reply, and after seven days, they hold a funeral for Arabella.
Strange’s grief turns to anger when he discovers that Norrell is attempting to silence his book, and he confronts Norrell in person via the mirror network. This trespass earns him a free stay just down the hall from Drawlight in the King’s Bench. It is here that he learns he now faces charges of murdering Arabella by magic, for which he can be tried and hanged for witchcraft. Still obsessed with bringing her back from death, he reflects on what he might do differently to summon the faery. In a sudden moment of inspiration, he reasons that since mad people can see the faery, he should go mad (at least a little) to accomplish his goal. Strange takes advantage of a reflective puddle of water in his cell to escape into faery, which he finds works just as well as any mirror.
Strange may be lost for the moment, but all hope is not, as Segundus and Honeyfoot are determined to find a way to help both Lady Pole and Steven break their enchantment of secrecy. Honeyfoot, well-read in ancient faery lore, begins to recognize some of the Lady’s loquacious ramblings when she tries to tell them something important. Despite Stephen’s objections, he coaches her so that she can communicate in folk tale references for him to decipher.
Vinculus, a.k.a. the “blue man,” makes a short appearance at Starecross while Stephen is visiting Lady Pole. He delivers a message of prophecy to Stephen about the slave with no name who is to become King.
I am amazed that Peter Harness, who adapted the 906-page book for television, has been able to preserve so much of Susanna Clarke’s tale in this 7-part miniseries. The subtleties and depth of each character’s personalities have all been artfully portrayed, and for you book lovers, very little of the story is lost.
Since his journey through the King’s Roads, Strange conjectures that the magic he and Mr. Norrell perform is only the tip of the iceberg of the vast amount that has been lying in wait just beyond the mirrors of the world. Will Mr. Sugundus and Mr. Honeyfoot crack Lady Pole’s enchantment and learn of Arabella’s presence in Lost Hope? If they do, will Strange be of any mind to save her?
Tune in next week, as Episode 6: “The Black Tower” promises to unfold Strange’s journey into madness and Lady Pole’s return to sanity.