A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett

19080048._sy475_Fiction – Kindle edition. Project Gutenberg, 2012. Originally published 1896. 256 pgs. Free download.

In 1690, the wife of Sir Jeoffry, Daphne, dies soon after giving birth to her ninth child. Her husband is disappointed with the birth of a ninth daughter and refuses contact with the baby, banishing Clorinda to the other side of the castle with her only living siblings, Anne and Barbara. Blessed with better health than either of her sisters, Clorinda grows up to be an accomplished rider by the age of six, finally attracting her father’s attention.

Sir Jeoffry encourages his daughter’s sharp tongue, crude manners, and manly dress. Yet, when Daphne’s family hears of Clorinda’s wild ways, they dispatch a minister to advise her to dress and behaved in a more lady like fashion. Clorinda assents to the change in dress and the wishes of her family that she marries a wealthy, older Duke.

Despite their difference in age, the marriage is by all accounts a happy one, lasting blissfully up until Clorinda’s husband dies of old age. Only then does Clorinda allow herself to consider reuniting with the young man she actually loves. But the villain appears — a man with designs on Clorinda’s fortune whom she eventually murders by a bashing on the head.

With any other character, murder might complicate one’s ability to be considered a “lady of quality”, but Clorinda’s crime is justified by the revelation that the man sexual abuses the poor, young girls living on his land. And she goes to be the perfect, loving wife to the man she really loves and a charitable patron to her sister, Anne, and the villagers.

One of the hallmarks of a Burnett novel is the sheer perfection of her main characters. None of them — Clorinda in this story, Bettina in The Shuttle, Cedric in Little Lord Fauntleroy – can do wrong, and this characterization can either be seen as charming (as is the case with Cedric) or implausible (as is the case with Clorinda).

I never grew to like Clorinda as her perfection was off-putting, especially in comparison to her more humanized sister, Anne. (Side note, I’m still wondering what happened to Barbara. She was there and then she wasn’t.) Plus, Clorinda’s ability to compartmentalize her murderous act and continue on with her life presents are more psychopath and less “lady of quality”.

But the plot moved quickly and unexpectantly enough that I was intrigued till the end. I wouldn’t recommend this as a good starting point for anyone who loves her children’s novels or wants to start reading Burnett. However, it is always interesting to see how an author’s style evolves over time, and I’m glad I gave her first historical novel a chance.

The Classics Club:

This is my 44th book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. This deadline has since come and past, but I am still trying to work through my list. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post or project post.

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