I know I keep going on about my back, and I apologise, but when you can barely stand up straight without grimacing and wincing, it looms rather large. Heaven knows what I would be like if I was really ill. Anyway, getting better and can actually move about today but the need for comfort reading is still there, and I found myself pulling down my copy of The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I have mentioned this before HERE and make no apologies for talking about it again as you may have recently become a reader of Random and I really love this book so much, I would hate anybody to miss it.
The Persephone edition is an edited version (do read all about it in an excellent summary on their website here) as it is a very long book and though I have a copy of this on my shelves, I turned to my full book yesterday and within ten pages was totally immersed for the umpteenth time and could not put it down until it was finished. Since my last readingI have also read the excellent biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett by Gretchen Gerzina, and this study casts an intriguing light on the author. I reviewed this on Amazon as it was pre-Random and here is what I said about it at the time:
"Nowadays Francis Hodgson Burnett is known as the author of The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy but in her day she was an incredibly successful writer with over 50 adult books to her name. Her books and short stories sold in their millions but it was when she produced Little Lord Fauntleroy that she reached mega-stardom. Just think JK Rowling and Harry Potter and this will give you some idea of how popular this book was at the time. Merchandising is not new, there were Little Lord Fauntleroy cups and plates, picture books etc and thousands of little boys were condemned by their mothers to wearing velvet suits with knickerbockers and to sport long curls. This biography is the first new biography of Frances Hodgson Burnett for over 30 years and makes fascinating reading. She came from a very poor family in England and her widowed mother made a huge leap of faith and emigrated to the US during the Civil War. Not something that really can be viewed as a sensible decision and there the family nearly starved and perished. From her teen years Francis wrote stories and for the rest of her life she supported her family by her writing. Nothing she wrote was ever turned down. This is a fascinating book revealing a complex woman whose attitude and behaviour towards her children may surprise some of us who remember her superb writing of childhood fears and emotions in books such The Little Princess and, of course, Secret Garden. I know it surprised me.... highly recommended"
This time when I finished The Shuttle I felt more strongly than I had before that this is a book, not just about the American/Anglo marriages of the early 20th century, but about the power of love, and I know this is a cliche but in this particular story the narratiave is propelled by family love, that of a sister for her elder sibling who married into the English aristocracy and disappeared from sight. It is also about the love of the rescuer for England and for the man she meets when she comes to Stoneham Court to rescue her abused sister from her vicious husband. Betty Vanderpoel meets with an impoverished aristocrat who is totally against these marriages as he feels a man should not sponge off his wife and who will not contemplate such a commercial transaction. They love each other, a powerful passionate love, but he pulls away, his pride not letting him admit his feelings. FHB uses the device, a not unoriginal one but it works, of the hero being near death and the power of the prayers of Bettina pull him back from the brink. He then later appears in response to her silent cries for help when in a dangerous situtaiton and, in his turn, saves her.
In The Making of a Marchioness by FHB we have the same situation - the Marchioness is dying, her husband has been abroad for some months and comes home to find her ill. She has always loved him, though he has never loved her in the same way, but during the months of their separation and through their letters, he realises that his love for her has grown and when he returns it is he who calls her back from the brink of death.
This afternoon I have read, once more for the umpteenth time, The Head of the House of Combe, another one of FHB's adult books which I would love to see reprinted. Robin, the neglected and lonely daughter of a society flibbertigibbet, makes friends with a boy in the park when they are both 6 and 8 respectively:
"So they stood and stared at each other and for some strange, strange reason - created perhaps with the creating of Man and still hidden among their deep secrets of the universe - they were drawn to each other - wanted each other - knew each other"
They are separated as their feelings for each other are not childlike and Donal's mother, in particular, mistrusts the child of a woman with a bad reputation, but they never forget each other and meet up again as young adults. He, Donal, goes off to fight (it is 1914) and though he disappears, the mysterious kinship and contact that they have never fails even when he is believed dead.
Yes, I know this all sounds rather melodramatic, but somehow it works. This calling across is not new - don't forget the scene in Jane Eyre when Jane is on the verge of accepting an offer of marriage from St John Rivers and she hears the voice of Rochester calling her name across the moors. She calls back and later when they are reunited he tells her that he heard her cry.
On recently re-reading Lucy Maud Montgomery and her series of Emily books, the same thing happens. Emily is accidentally locked in a church and trapped with her is a demented widower always searching for his lost wife. She is terrified and cries out to Teddy, her friend and kindred spirit to help her, and he does. He says he 'heard' her, even though he was miles away.
I suppose what I am trying to say, though not very coherently, is that these authors have written with such passion and strength about the power of love. Charlotte Bronte, LM Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett all yearned for this kind of love for themselves, to no avail. Charlotte, instead of the Zamorna of her Angrian fantasy, married her father's curate Arthur Bell Nichols and though it proved to be a happy and contented marriage for its brief length, one wonders if she had lived would she have felt stifled by it all. FH Burnett was unhappily married as was LM Montgomery, whose journals recnelty read, have revealed how much she suffered from her husband's depressions and the pain of her unsatisfactory elder son. No wonder they wrote so passionately about love in their novels.
These thoughts were going through my head as I read today and I just wanted to put them down as they are tumbling in my mind, so if this is a slightly disjointed post, then I do apologise. Sometimes when you have things you want to say and want to say them quickly before you forget, it can get a bit jumbled.
But I am sure you will all understand....