Thoughts The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Persephone Book #29 2005 (orig 1901), 308 pages including Preface by Isabel Raphael and Afterword by Gretchen Gerzina, author of a biography of Burnett.
This was for the latest Classics Spin. The latest spin was #2 and this was the book on that slot of my list.
What’s it ABOUT: The book is in two parts. In the first, a “not quite as young” lady is helping out at a party designed to introduce a wealthy bachelor of rank to
his many options (cough, cough) pretty young things of marrying age, and yet some how, the guy falls for our girl – she TOTALLY didn’t expect it! Sweeeeet. Good for her.
The second part is how the new Marchioness, because she now is becoming accustomed to wealth and privilege is at risk of being taken advantage of… OR WORSE!! Drama!
PREGNANCY! Sorry, THAT word nor description of said condition but only bare possible mention of the idea is allowed. What is our girl to do?!
As someone not intimately familiar thus lacking in the nuances of the English class system during the Victorian age, I don’t quite know if it is accurate to say that our heroine of this Making story was brought up ‘well’ but happens to be unlucky. May I introduce Miss Emily Fox-Seton. Apparently she has no family or no family obligated to take care of her and she somehow missed getting married at a proper marrying age, so she must find odd jobs to survive. I still don’t quite get where she is on the stratosphere (class) of what is supposed to have happened to her or who – what rank? – she was supposed to marry, but the striking thing here that is MOST important to the story is that she is not glum about any of it. She may be fearful for her future, on the whole she is rather plucky and certainly extremely positive in her attitudes to find the best in every situation.
She is ingenuous. She is NOT clever. Clever being a word of different definitions from the 1900s and now. I think of clever now as a word for someone who may not be conniving but very smart to turn any situation into an advantageous one. Then, clever meant, what I think now of ‘bright’. As in smart but also aware of the world and not naive. Emily is not bright and is naive. She is ingenuous. (How often do you use this word? Never? Me, neither. I lost count how many times this word was used in these 300 pages. Sigh.)
She is so grateful to everyone for being SO kind to her and everyone IS kind to her because she is just so darn easy to like!
This book has many interesting issues discussed or danced around or blatantly tossed about that… well, it’s just very interesting. I also found how the author described Emily as saying she talked in italics. I can see how it actually could have been scandalous – even as it avoided the mention of pregnancy. “She was ill.” And for the racism it has been attacked for, it might also be tempting to forgive it for the awkward apology of racism by mentioning the issue as it introduces it? (maybe not.)
I appreciated most the Afterword by Gerzina in highlighting Burnett’s motivations and background and suggesting what she was trying to do in the story. Classism, racism, ideas of love and marriage and abuse, gender roles somewhat but not really, etc. The Afterword is what made me decide to rate this four slices of pie. I just found it very interesting and the two discussions included (I read the Preface after the Afterword, of course) contributed to making this a fun enjoyable educational reading experience for me.
Favorite quote: “He did not snub people; he cut the cord of mental communication with them and dropped them into space.”