06 May 2010

Book Review: The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

  
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.
  

14 comments:

  1. Wonderful review. I enjoyed this too but the Shuttle is even better!

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  2. Thomas, this is one of the two Persephones that I own - and I'm glad, because after that terrific review of yours I'm truly looking forward to reading it! I love the way you describe the two books within the book - I must admit that the second book sounds quite intriguing. And I loved your story of finally reading Heidi and The Secret Garden :) Cheers!

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  3. Will be interested to see what you make of the Shuttle!

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  4. I have read the first part (in a different edition) and must seek out a Persephone copy and read the second soon. I adored The Shuttle (it makes one feel cosy for a few days afterwards too) and a huge fan of The Secret Garden, A Little Princess and Little Lord Fauntleroy.

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  5. That's exactly how i felt with Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary 'not wanting to be too far away from it'. A great way of describing how a great story wriggles into life - i looked forward to a long tube journey as I'd be able to read more...

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  6. Mrs. B: So that makes me want to move the Shuttle up my TBR, but it also makes me want to save it.

    Nadia: I don't know what your other Persephone is, but Marchioness is bound to please.

    Verity: Me too.

    Paperback Reader: The Shuttle leaves one cozy for days...it's not often one gets residual cozy. :)

    Joan: An odd thing happens to me on the Metro with books. When it is my regular commute I love reading but the time always goes quickly and I don't want to put it down. But when I have a longer journey, or am waiting in doctor's office or something like that, I don't seem to be able to take advantage of the extra reading time.

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  7. I like hearing the backstory to a read, what a reader brings to the book being read, the experience of reading (or not reading) an author's other books, what makes you decide to finally pick something up: it's all part of the reading story I think. This one is still on my TBR pile: I'm looking forward to it!

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  8. I need to finish reading this. I began reading this early this year, but it was just after I finished Villette. Somehow, Making of a Marchioness wasn't jiving with me because I kept comparing Emily's situation to Lucy Snowe. Lucy is far more complex so I was really feeling for Emily. I will certainly give this another go at a later time.

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  9. Fab review Thomas. I totally know what you mean about feeling that Wilkie Collins is lingering somewhere, though not in this novel but the amazing, amazing, amazing 'The Shuttle'.

    This sounds like it is just as good and now I am simply going to have to read it!

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  10. I loved your story about stumbling across those books! This Persephone week has been wonderful hasn't it? So much chat about so many lovely books.

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  11. I liked this one, but I loved The Home Maker. And I just read High Wages too, so I think I can say that Dorothy Whipple never disappoints.

    I wish I had known about this week in advance so I could participate.

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  12. Buried in Print: I agree, I like hearing about more than just the book.

    Amanda: I have Villette in my TBR. Your comments here make me think about moving it closer to the top...

    Simon: Interesting about The Shuttle. I have been hearing so many good things about it.

    Archiver: It was especially exciting to find these classics just waiting for me to "discover" them.

    Musings from the Sofa: I loved the Home-Maker. My favorite Persephone so far.

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  13. I really enjoyed this book too, although I must admit to having enjoyed the first half the most!

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