The Making of a Marchioness
I hadn’t actually read anything by Frances Hodgson Burnett until I read this, though not long ago I saw an excellent film of The Secret Garden. It was Elaine’s corruscating review of the recent TV adaptation of The Making of a Marchioness on her wonderful Random Jottings blog and her enthusiasm for the original novel that prompted me to try it. And what a rollicking read it turned out to be! I read it at break-neck speed. It is essentially the Cinderella story (written in 1901) and reminded me a little of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (which I’ve blogged about elsewhere). Emily Fox-Seton is a genteel but penniless woman who makes a precarious living acting as a factotum for wealthy aristocratic women. No-one is more surprised than she when the fabulously wealthy Marquis of Walterhurst – a dour but decent man in his fifties – proposes to her. So far, so fairy-tale. But that’s not the end of it. It is a little as if Cinderella married the prince and then the ugly sisters plotted to murder her. There are some very dark elements to this story. The blurb of the excellent Persephone edition in which I read it reminded me that Linda in The Pursuit of Love puts The Making of a Marchioness in the Red Bookshop instead of Karl Marx. This was not such an incongrous substitution as might at first appear. Emily is shown moving in what is in many ways a corrupt society with a dark underbelly. Guileless even to the point of stupidity, she has somehow managed to remain innocent. She genuinely loves the Marquis, but even if she hadn’t, surely she could not have refused him, when she barely makes ends meet and fears ending up in the workhouse. Young women must marry, even if it means selling themselves to much older men. A village girl nearly dies after taking something to bring on an abortion and it is not uncommon, it is made clear, for even respectable women to need to conceal a pregancy. In spite of its fairy-tale elements here is a realism about this novel that lifts it above the ruck of sugary romances.It reminded me also a little of Trollope’s The American Senator in its exposure of the brutal workings of the marriage market. I am not quite sure that Hodgson Burnett fully intended this, but it’s a novel I won’t forget in a hurry.