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gertrude

October 2018

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reading

The Making of a Marchioness



After my lucky find of this book I read it the same day, for the first time. I was predisposed to like it; The Secret Garden was my favourite book when I was a child, as anyone must know by now. The Making of a Marchioness was first published in two parts, the second called The Methods of Lady Walderhurst. It still reads like two books, of which the first is pure delight. How easily the prose flows along! The book was written in ten days and the opening has a Mrs Dalloway quality about it. How real Miss Emily Fox-Seton seems and how delightful the descriptions of the furnishing of her bed-sitting room, the savings and contrivances by which she turns herself out so respectably! True, there are reminders that the future for a poor spinster may be bleak but then, hurrah, a fairy tale ending. Lovely.



The second part of the book is quite different and a reminder that fairy tales can be Grimm. Emily continues a happy, thankful, holy fool while the story turns into a Victorian melodrama. (Several times in the text another character remarks that Emily is ‘Victorian’. The book was published in 1901.) In bleak depictions of marriage we see a violent, abusive husband and a selfish, unemotional one. Which is Emily’s? You’ll have to read the book to find out.



As so often, it’s the hardship parts of the book which I enjoyed most. In A Little Princess my favourite chapters are the ones where Sara is reduced to the level of a servant, living in a bare attic, just as the chapters about Katy Carr’s illness are the best in What Katy Did. Is this perverse or do other people feel the same?
I just had to read A Little Princess again and enjoyed it very much. The transformation scene in the attic is wonderful:
This is what she saw. In the grate there was a glowing, blazing fire; on the hob was a little brass kettle hissing and boiling; spread upon the floor was a thick, warm crimson rug; … on the bed were new warm coverings and a satin-covered down quilt;
From cold and hunger to warmth and ‘rich, hot, savoury soup’; the fantasy of so many of the Victorian moral tales about poor children which I have such a weakness for.
A Little Princess is still in print, with plenty of modern paperback editions.

Comments

A Little Princess is one of the best books, ever. I think what we love about the chapters where she is experiencing real hardship is her attitude, and it is the same with Katy, and Anne, too: their example in hard times is inspirational, even as we get older ...
Yes! The scene with the buns! That's behaving like a princess.
Oh, I just love hardship! I loved the orphanage scenes in Jane Eyre and was bored rigid when she left it. My favourite Streatfeild is Thursday's Child, with - you guessed it - the orphanage and the awful matron. I often read the most miserable bits of misery memoirs in bookshops, and ignore the happier parts. As you put it, I am perverse, but there are probably other words for it!!!
Agree totally about Jane Eyre. I don't read misery memoirs because I suspect them of exploitative whingeing. Your attitude is too common to be called perverse, I think!
I also rather enjoy the chapters where children endure hardship, but I hate them in animal stories - the more horrible owners in Black Beauty, for instance, or the ignorant Southlanders who nearly work Buck to death in The Call of the Wild.
Interesting.

(Anonymous)

I loved the first part of The Making of a Marchioness but the second part with the ayah and all that was most peculiar. I believe FHB was fascinated with all things Indian even though she never visited the country. Doesn't Sara's father in ALP go to India, too? I loved reading ALP to my girls when they were younger. I thought the attic and the London rooftop scenes were brilliantly written. Nice tulip endpapers! Nicola@VintageReads
The second part *is* weird. You start wondering if the spells and curses really are working! Sara was born in India and sent 'home' because that's what happened to children then. Mary Lennox was also born in India and sent to England when her parents died. In TMOAM the sister-in-law says she'd never been to England because she wasn't a delicate child.

It's wonderful how FHB makes you feel you'd rather like to live in an attic. I love tulips!