How's this for a perfect February read? Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Making of a Marchioness? Actually I picked it up specifically for the 1901 slot of my Century of Books project. Every so often I do a little update, think of some way to fill in more blanks, ask for suggestions and then get distracted by some other book. The poor first decade of the 20th century is far too neglected and needs a little attention, however, so no distractions for the short term. Besides I am in the mood for something along the lines of a comfort read. It's more a matter of chance that I noticed one of the blurbs on the back of the book which promises a, "wildly romantic tale whose hero and heroine are totally unromantic". Sounds like just my sort of 'romantic' February read.
Have you ever heard of the "hot-water bottle genre of fiction"? I hadn't before I started skimming the preface (the age old dilemma of whether to read the intro before the novel or wait until I've finished--solved here by skimming just a bit as a teaser to get an idea of what I am in for). I actually have another "February" read all picked out, but I hope to still get to it as well this month. Actually the (and I plan on adopting this phrase as my own now) 'hot-water bottle' reference comes from a quote from the introduction a novel I read and loved a few years back, Mariana by Monica Dickens. (A book I have been wanting to reread by the way). It is referenced in the Burnett.
"It possesses the same bespoke qualities that make Dusty Answer, I Capture the Castle, Rebecca and The Pursuit of Love (I've read all four books! And loved them all!) such thrilling, absorbing, galloping reads. A whole world is conjured up quite effortlessly . . . In other words, Mariana belongs, quite triumphantly, to the hot-water bottle genre of fiction."
It would seem that The Making of a Marchioness can fall tidily into that category (and I bet I could add a few more titles of my own to that list . . . and maybe before the week is out I might just do so), too. The author is best known for her children's classics, The Secret Garden (which I only read as an adult a few years ago), The Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy. The Making of a Marchioness, however entertaining it was known to be, fell out of print and was largely forgotten until (am guessing) Persephone Books came along and rescued it.
It is, like her other novels, a story of class and one woman's entry into the upper classes. All very Edwardian. The heroine is Emily Fox-Seton who is living in genteel poverty. She must work for her keep, but is savvy in looking after herself. She is also thirty-four and likely suffers no illusions of what the world is really like or her place in it. My teaser is a description of Emily--best to get to know her since I'll be spending the next 300 or so pages with her.
"She was a big woman but carried herself well, and having solved the problem of obtaining, through marvels of energy and management, one good dress a year, wore it so well, and changed her old ones so dexterously, that she always looked rather smartly dressed. She had nice round fresh cheeks and nice big honest eyes, plenty of mouse-brown hair and a short straight nose. She was strikingly and well-bred looking, and her plenitude of good-natured interest in everybody, and her pleasure in everything out of which pleasure could be wrested, gave her big eyes a fresh look which made her seem rather like a nice overgrown girl than a mature woman whose life was a continuous struggle with the narrowest of mean fortunes."
She seems quite practical, don't you think? Imagine just one good dress a year? I might even learn a little bit about frugality from her. I'm hoping to finish by Valentine's Day (so I can fit in my other February read in the second half of the month) so Emily will be tucked away in my bookbag this week. I have lots of really good books on the go at the moment. If I can get organized, I'll be telling you all about them this week.