PERSEPHONE READING WEEK
Work and home life have been a bit crazy this week so I haven't been as post-y as I was hoping to be during PRW.
The Making of a Marchioness
Frances Hodgson Burnett
My first and only previous experience with Frances Hodgson Burnett was in reading The Secret Garden at the ripe old age of 33. Somehow that classic children’s book had eluded me entirely. I knew it existed but that was about all. I was staying with a friend in London one grey autumn and decided to go up to Cambridge for the day to hear Evensong at King’s. Not surprisingly I found myself wandering through a bookstore and lit upon a table with loads of classics in cheap paperback editions. For some reason I decided the time had come to read both Heidi and The Secret Garden.
What does this have to do with The Making of a Marchioness? Not much really, I just like telling the story. And speaking of stories, Burnett really knows how to tell a good one. The title of the book kind of gives away the overall thrust of the plot, but in large part the narrative is not all that predictable. We know that our well-born, but poor, thirty-something heroine, Emily Fox-Seton, is going to become a Marchioness at some point, but we certainly don’t know how it all will unfold and what will happen once it has. The novel is divided into two parts and was intended to be two separate books. The first part is the rather sunny romantic build up to Emily’s betrothal. Kind of what you would expect of the author of The Secret Garden. Our hard-working heroine is the model of personal and professional virtue, and although there is plenty of romance, it is built on the underpinnings of class and the status of women without means.
The second part takes a considerably darker turn. One begins to wonder whether or not our Marchioness is going to survive. Lies, distrust, misdeeds, misdirected letters. There were moments when I thought that Wilkie Collins may have stepped in with some plot advice. Because my proclivities lean toward the sunny side of this kind of romantic fiction, I was naturally more interested in the first part. Rags to riches and all that. But my recent induction into the world of Wilkie Collins has given me an appreciation of a darker, more suspenseful plot line.
I had a great time reading The Making of a Marchioness. It is definitely one of those books that makes for a cozy few days of reading. You don’t want to be too far from it until it’s finished. Of course then it leaves you a bit disappointed that it is over. But that can’t be helped. Thankfully I have Burnett’s The Shuttle patiently waiting in my Persephone stack.