As readers of this blog may, or may not know, I am a huge fan of Frances Hodgson Burnett, not only of her magical children's books, but also of her adult fiction. To her reading audience she was thought of as a writer of books for adults, and was well known for such titles as The Making of a Marchioness, Through One Administration, Head of the House of Coombe and others and was chugging along nicely until she suddenly became the JK Rowling of her day with her smash hit Little Lord Fauntleroy which condemned a whole generation of sullen little boys to the wearing of velvet knickerbockers and long ringleted hair.
I first read Making of a Marchioness when I was about 15 when I came across a copy in my local library and I loved it. The book then vanished off the shelves and was never seen again (and no it did not appear on my shelves instead...) Years later I found a tatty old copy in a second hand book shop and fell upon it with delight and wished that others could read it and love it as I did. Then serendipity turned up an article on the setting up of a new publishing house, Persephone Books, and I immediately got in touch with Nicola Beaumann and suggested reprinting Marchioness. I became quite a bore on the subject, but was delighted when she agreed that it was worth publishing and even more delighted when it turned out to be one of Persephone's best sellers.
As I never know when to shut up and in my determination to leave no turn unstoned, I then started banging on about another discovery, The Shuttle. I attended a lunch at Lambs Conduit Street at which the speaker was Gretchen Gerzina, who had written a wonderful biography of FHB, and felt so much better to find somebody else who loved The Shuttle as I do. To cut a very long story short, The Shuttle is now being published by Persephone this Spring which thrills me no end and what thrilled me even more was to get home this evening and find a copy waiting for me on my doorstep with a note inside from Nicola thanking me for 'being one of the people who persuaded us to publish this'. I am delighted that it is now available again and I am sure that all purchasers and lovers of The Making of a Marchioness will rush out and buy it.
When this story was first written, American heiresses marrying impoverished English aristocrats was quite a common event - how else were England's crumbling castles and estates to be saved? According to the preface by Anne Saba, there was an American magazine Titled Americans: a List of American ladies who have married foreigners of Rank, which was published quarterly - subsription $1 a year. Isn't that just wonderful? I love reading little tit bits like this. It seemed that as elder unmarried Englisdh daughters were shipped off to India to find husbands, the American heirersses targeted England, and with great efficiency too. Anyone who is familiar with Edith Wharton's The Bucaneers will be familiar with this sort of campagin.
The Shuttle tells the story of two American sisters, Bettina and Rosy. Rosy marries Sir Nigel Anstruther who turns out to be a very nasty piece of work indeed and turns his wife into a shattered wreck, cut off from her family. Bettina, who as a young girl had not taken to Sir Nigel at all, and who is made of sterner stuff, then sets out years later to see exctly what is going on and what has happened to her sister. The two sisters who feature in this story have the name Vanderpoel and it does not take much imagination to know that the name Vanderbilt was in the back of FHB's mind when she created these characters. I cannot go into the ins and outs of the plot at this stage without this post turning into a marathon, but I can tell you now this is a simply terrific read and you will love it.
This edition, as always, has wonderfully chosen and complementary end papers complete with matching book mark which adds to the presentation of the lovely grey covers. While I am very happy with my old copy of The Shuttle, this new edition will sit very nicely next to it.
Now, I really love FHB's book Head of the House of Coombe and its sequel Robin and would love to see those republished as well, but perhaps it would be a good idea if I kept quiet about that for a bit...