Originally published as two separate books, The Making of the Marchioness and The Methods of Lady Walderhurst, this gorgeous antique hardcover from 1901 was an unexpected and delightful find for me, since Frances Hodgson-Burnett was one of the idols of my childhood — The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Little Lord Fauntleroy — but for some reason it had never occurred to me, as an adult, to check what other books she might have written. It turns out, Burnett has an impressive catalogue, which eventually I will take a wander through (one of them, I bought at the same time as this, historical romance A Lady of Quality, which I will be delving into shortly), but first there is this rather cheery romance about the penurious, but well-born (of course) Emily Fox-Seton, who wins the hand and cold heart of a widowed marquis with her simple kind nature.
The early part, the Making of a Marchioness part, is by far the more enjoyable, as we see Emily eke out a respectable existence by performing the tasks of a personal assistant to various indolent matrons of London society. She is seconded into a country house party given by the commanding Lady Maria, and there she so impresses Lord Walderhurst that he slowly, and very subtly, falls for her stately spinster charms, even though there are much more youthful and beautiful candidates for his so-eligible hand.
The second part of the book deals with the new Lady Walderhurst’s adjustment to her circumstances, her developing relationship with her husband — neither are especially ardent or even intelligent people, but that they care for each other, there can be no question — and the jealousy this marriage aroused in the breast of Lord Walderhurst’s hateful heir, who had come to think the marquisate, and attendant fortune, virtually his own, and is put out by the prospect of a usurper being born to the family. There is, of course, Peril afoot, but Emily’s kindness knows no bounds, even when she must flee for her life, and for that of her unborn child.
It’s a perfectly agreeable, if pretty forgettable, story, the former part far more so than the latter, and it also provides a window into the life of a fallen-upon-hard-times gentlewoman of early 20th-century England. Unfortunately, it also encompasses the many prejudices and so-called superiority of Empire that marred so much of that time, and mars so much of its literature, which doesn’t always make it an agreeable read.
TBR DAY 195: Emily Fox-Seton by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
GENRE: Women’s Fiction, Classic Fiction, Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: 10 years.
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.