Oh my goodness, where did time run off to?!! I had no intention of having a prolonged absence here, but life has a mind of its own. I’ve been so busy this fall, studying and reading and baking and working and working and working… (okay, you get the idea I’m sure!).
I’m hoping to review the books I’ve read over the last few months and decided to start with one that I finished in September. I had started it last spring but set it aside for other books (sometimes I have reading ADD), but when I was on a trip I decided to take it on the plane and finish it at last.
The Making of a Marchioness is by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who is better known for her children’s books, The Little Princess and The Secret Garden. The book had a very promising beginning: a woman who whose background is little known (but is clearly genteel) but who is taken on by an older woman to assist her on a country visit. Emily Fox-Seton is a strong, capable and kind person, one who everyone relies on and no one cares about. Emily assumes that marriage and family life have passed her by since she is 34 years old. Surprisingly, however, she catches the eye of the Marquis of Walderhurst, who happens to be a most eligible and sought after bachelor. I began to think that this was a turn-of-the-century princess story. It seemed to have all the formulaic steps – and then it didn’t. What actually follows is an interesting look into the Victorian marriage – one in which the man is aloof from his wife, even if he feels a measure of affection for her, and the wife is completely dependant on her husband and home for happiness, yet is deprived of experiencing it. Rather than portray the marriage as an amiable, happy, match-made-in-heaven-against-all-odds union, Ms. Burnett instead chooses to give her readers a glimpse of reality. We see the new Marchioness struggling to adapt to her new roles while trying to maintain a connection to her humble past. She also attempts to help some relatives of her new husband who come to her for help, and in the meantime, Lord Walderhurst leaves his new wife to go on a trip and doesn’t return when expected. And this is where the story began to lose me: the plot became unnecessarily encumbered as the relatives contrive to gain Lord Walderhurst’s inheritance in his absence, and it was agonizing to see Emily obstinately help the relatives, even in the face of their obvious ingratitude and unkindness towards her.
While the middle of the book was sluggish, as I approached the end it became interesting again. Lord Walderhurst returns and Burnett’s commentary on Victorian marriages resumes. Walderhurst remains aloof from his wife while she continues to crave his affection and approval. I began to wonder if she would ever gain the happiness she was looking for, and kept turning the pages hoping to find my curiosity satisfied. I wish I could tell you how it ends, but for that, you must read and find out for yourself.
For all of its flaws, this book is still an enjoyable read, if only to catch a glimpse of society and family life at the turn of twentieth century. However, another aspect that I enjoyed about this book was that the heroine is very unique for her era: Emily is an unmarried woman in her 30’s who finds romance (albeit an imperfect one) long after the expected age for marriage. She provides for herself and isn’t looking to marry just anyone simply to lift herself from poverty. The man she does marry respects and admires her, but struggles to display any emotion for her. Had Burnett focused on Emily and Lord Walderhurst for the duration of the book, I think it would have been a great novel.
Overall, Frances H. Burnett’s writing is easy and pleasant, but it’s easy to see that she struggled with executing plots for her adult books. Her gift was really in writing for children, and I couldn’t help but miss the magic in this book that infuses The Secret Garden and The Little Princess.