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.