Day 1163: The Shuttle

Cover for The ShuttleAt first, I wasn’t sure I would like The Shuttle, despite my enjoyment of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s other novels. That is because it begins with an extended metaphor, rather cumbersome, about the shuttle of fate weaving together east and west. I wasn’t altogether sure which east and west she was talking about and had wild thoughts about China. But we weren’t leaving the Occident. By west she meant America, more precisely the United States. By east, England. But this introduction lasts only a couple of pages, and then we get into the action.

The novel begins with Rosalie Vanderpoel, the gentle, naive daughter of a New York millionaire. It is the early days of the migration of young, titled Englishmen to New York looking to marry money, and the relatively innocent New Yorkers don’t understand that most of these men are fortune hunters. Rosalie becomes engaged to Sir Nigel Anstruthers. Although Reuben Vanderpoel, Rosalie’s father, does not like Nigel, only nine-year-old Bettina sees him for the vicious bully that he is.

But Nigel hasn’t done his homework. He doesn’t realize that American girls don’t come with dowries nor that Rosalie won’t expect to hand her money over to her husband for handling, as an Englishwoman might. Once he realizes his mistake, he blames it on Rosalie.

Rosalie goes to live in dilapidated Stornham Court, where she is mistreated and bullied by her husband and his mother. Thinking that no man would take money from a woman, Rosalie doesn’t offer any, and it takes a while before she realizes that’s what he wants. But he doesn’t want money for the estate, just to support his vicious habits. He cuts her off from her family to make her miserable and keep control.

Rosalie isn’t the heroine of the novel, however. That honor belongs to Bettina, or Betty, who vows at the age of nine to go sometime and rescue Rosalie. And so she does, 15 years later.

This novel isn’t one of great surprises. When Betty finds Rosalie and her son alone and works to buck them up and get them ready to leave, the tension builds from the expectation of a showdown with Nigel. When Nigel finally arrives, he uses all his cleverness to foil Betty. We know who will win—we just don’t know how.

I don’t think Burnett’s adult novels were considered sensationalist, but this one certainly deals with those kinds of topics and is very melodramatic. Still, it was a fun book to read. Betty is clever and determined. You know she will win at love and defeat Sir Nigel.

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Day 1025: Dolly: A Love Story

Cover for DollyDolly lives a Bohemian life in what she calls Vagabondia with her sisters and artist brother Phil, his wife, and baby Tod. They are poor, so Dolly works as a governess for her disapproving Aunt Augusta. Dolly is not pretty, but she is witty and vivacious, and at a party she attracts the attention of the wealthy Mr. Gowan.

Only Dolly’s inner circle knows that Dolly has been engaged for seven years to Griffith Donne. The couple has not married, because they can’t afford to, although they dream of the day they can. Grif is a volatile young man who gets discouraged at the lack of progress in his career and becomes jealous of Dolly’s flirtatious behavior. He has a wealthy aunt, Miss Berenice MacDowlas, but she disapproves of him.

Dolly’s troubles begin when Aunt Augusta dismisses her, declaring that her children are too old for a governess. She must find work, and she finally gets a position as companion to Miss MacDowlas. Unfortunately, she must live in, which limits her meetings with Grif. He becomes more and more upset until an unfortunately convergence of circumstances and a true emergency lead him to believe Dolly is toying with him. He breaks from her without allowing her to explain.

Burnett creates a warm family life for Dolly, and we get to know and appreciate her family. She is also good at appealing to our sympathies for her heroine.

This novel was marred for me, however, by my dislike of Grif. The core problem between him and Dolly is that Grif does not trust her, but Dolly takes the blame because of her flirtatiousness, a Victorian conclusion, for sure (and worse, the novel accepts the problem as her fault). Even in their ultimate misunderstanding, when Grif refuses to listen to her very good reason for missing their date, Dolly blames herself. Well, obviously attitudes have changed, but these days his behavior would raise all sorts of red flags. I very much preferred the behavior of Mr. Gowan, who proves to be a true friend. So, I guess in this case I am guilty of judging a book by today’s standards.

And, to give away a plot point, Dolly goes into a decline. I thought that she was an unlikely character to do so. So, a mixed reaction to this one, one of Burnett’s first novels.

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Day 985: That Lass o’Lowrie’s

Cover for That Lass O'LowriesThat Lass o’Lowrie’s is Frances Hodgson Burnett’s first novel, written in the style of Realism. It is set in a Lancashire mining town and features a lot of Northern dialect.

The lass in question is Joan Lowrie, a miner’s daughter. She is a tall, strong, proud woman who has survived years of abuse at the hands of her father. At the beginning of the novel, she dresses partly in men’s clothing and works in the mine as a pit girl.

She attracts the attention of a young mining engineer, Derrick, and his friend Paul Grace, a curate. Later, Derrick finds her injured by her father and helps her, after which she promises to pay him back for his help. When Derrick has a dispute with Lowrie, who would like to revenge himself by ambushing Derrick, she follows Derrick home in the dark every night to protect him.

Grace himself is in love with the rector’s daughter, Anice. But Paul Grace is small and unprepossessing and doesn’t hold out much hope. He also has problems being accepted by the miners, who distrust clerics and think he is too small and refined to heed.

This novel deals with the difficulties of the miners’ lives and of their grievances against the owners. Although it sympathizes with them, it’s true that the only bad men in the novel are Lowrie and his buddies, as well as one son of an owner, who debauches a foolish girl that Joan befriends. It is in taking care of this girl’s child that Joan begins to want to learn more womanly ways and arts.

This novel provides some interest, but it is not one of Burnett’s best. The dialect can get old. Unlike the other books in dialect I’ve read recently, the dialect is not confined to minor characters, since Joan is from a poor background (although it’s easier to understand than Walter Scott’s Scottish dialect). The only relief we get from it is from the upper-class characters, Derrick, Grace, and Anice.

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Day 818: The Making of a Marchioness

Cover for The Making of a MarchionessBest 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.

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