Best book of the week!
Although The Secret Garden was one of my favorite childhood books, I had no idea that Frances Hodgson Burnett also wrote novels for adults until I read a review of The Making of a Marchioness. The Preface points out that Polly references it in Love in a Cold Climate, but there Burnett’s name isn’t mentioned. In any case, I’m happy to report that it is a delightful novel.
The Making of a Marchioness combines a Cinderella story with a realistic description of an evolving marriage. It has been called “a romance between two unromantic people.” It also has a bit of peril mixed in.
Emily Fox-Seton is a woman in her 30’s of good birth but very poor. When her parents died, her more fortunate relatives made it clear they couldn’t be bothered with her. So, she has created a business of doing small tasks and running errands for her wealthy clients. She has the happy characteristic, though, of being a positive person who perceives kindness everywhere.
Lady Maria Bayne enjoys both Emily’s company and her utility, so she invites her to Mallowe for a house party in August, thinking Emily can help with the arrangements for her annual féte. Emily is delighted to leave the city in summer and soon becomes interested in the competition among three guests to snare Lord Walderhurst, a 50-year-old widower who is also a marquis. She finds herself rooting for Lady Agatha, a beautiful girl from a poor family that has several daughters to marry off.
Lord Walderhurst, though, likes the open expression in Emily’s eyes and her happy, busy ways. To Emily’s astonishment, he proposes, and she gladly accepts.
But that is only the beginning of the novel, about how gratitude and love can provoke love in its turn. Some piquancy is added by a plot development that puts Emily in danger from her husband’s heir, who has always considered Walderhurst’s vast estates as almost his.
This is a lovely novel that brought tears to my eyes. Its characters are prosaic but nice (except the heir). Even selfish Lady Maria is quite lovable. The writing is beautiful, and Emily’s story is touching.
By the way, a recent television adaptation of this novel, titled The Making of a Lady, follows the plot with some changes, but it wildly miscasts the two main characters, making them both younger and more attractive than they’re supposed to be in the novel. Still, I marginally enjoyed it.