The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett


burnettFiction — print. Persephone, 2008. Originally published 1901. 308 pgs. Library copy.

Emily Fox-Seton is, unfortunately, an impoverished young women with limited opportunities and largely depends upon the kindness of friends to carve out an existence in the world. But she is well liked by friends and acquaintances, who appreciate her good nature by largely taking advantage of her, and manages to land an invitation to Lady Maria Bayne’s house party at Mallowe Court where she meets a the Marquis, Lord Walderhurst. The first part of the novel covers Emily’s time at the party and her marriage to the Marquis.

The second part, entitled “The Methods of Lady Walderhurst”, explores the realities of marriage where a heir is desperately needed in order to prevent the black sheep of the family from inheriting. Lord Walderhurt’s heir, Osborne, and Osborne’s wife arrive in England from India determined to prevent the title from passing to Emily and Walderhurt’s prospective offspring by taking Emily’s life. Emily, of course, is largely left undefended from Osborne’s attacks and must figure out how to cleverly avoid them with the help of her friend and maid.

The first section is quaint exploring the seemingly impossible romance between a Marquis and a poor woman over the more expected pairing of the Marquis and an American heiress or Lord Walderhurst and Lady Agatha Slade. Predictable, of course, and marked with characters who plaintively live out the ideals for the time but a diverting read filled with lovely descriptions.

The second part is presented as a gothic thriller but reads like today’s regency romance novels with the heir presumptive on a murderous rampage and the woman married for her genteel character keeping a large secret from her often distant husband. Given the time at which the novel was written, I was surprised Burnett would explore life after marriage let alone allow her characters to kiss or address alcoholism and domestic abuse. The overall chasteness and comforting quality of the book reminded me of those by Georgette Heyer.

The Making of a Marchioness was sweet and a pleasant read, but I have read Burnett’s more well-known childrens’ books and missed the magical qualities of those books in this one.

(Note: The endpaper (above) is a 1901 figured cotton called ‘Tulips’, “which is simple, cheerful and graceful; Emily might have picked tulips at Mallowe Court”. I read the novel as issued by Persephone Classics (right) so the endpaper in my copy was grey-scaled.)

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