I am having one of my bursts of re-reading books I have read dozens of times before. I find I tend to do this when I have a lot on my mind and organising and getting ready for my Oz trip is the reason behind it all I think. I am used to organising, have done it all my life, both in the workplace and the home but sometimes I get the odd wobble and am having one at the moment so turn to What I Call comfort reading. I recently read A Little Princess (loads of lovely comments and responses to that post) and now I have turned to T Tembarom one of Frances Hodgson Burnett's books for adults and not very well known. The main theme is one she recyclyed in Little Lord Fauntleroy, that of an unknown American inheriting the title and lands of an English estate.
Having read a biography or two about the author and knowing that her marriages and life was not totally satisfactory, I feel that she created stories with a Cinderella like quality and a happy ending to fulfil a need for happiness that she never achieved. The Making of a Marchioness is another one these lines, poor, lonely and poverty stricken woman achieves a rich and wealthy marriage as well as love; A Little Princess where Sarah Crewe goes from wealth to poverty to wealth and happiness again; The Shuttle, an abused and unhappy wife is saved by her strong sister who also finds love in the doing; The Lost Prince in which the hero comes into his own kingdom and, of course, Little Lord Fauntleroy where a young child redeems the miserable and unhappy life of his grandfather, alone and lonely in his great house.
T Temberom is an orphan in New York. Left alone by the death of his mother who was married to a feckless Englishman, he has nobody to care for him and has to live by his wits. This he does and gradually achieves a second hand society column in a local paper and a room in a boarding house. Here he meets Mr Hutchison, a Lancashireman who has come to the USA with an invention which will make his fortune, only it doesn't and he and his daughter Ann are on their uppers and soon to go back to England. Ann or Little Ann as everyone calls her, is a wonder of virtue, wise advice and motherly instincts who could be a rather irritating character but she isn't, she escapes it somehow. Burnett has the knack of knowing how far she can go with a 'good' person and stops short of making them totally insupportable and nauseating. I mentioned in my post on A Little Princess that Sara Crewe was a rather interesting child and not at all swollen headed by the luxuries heaped upon her, that is her saving and so with Ann.
T Tembarom falls in love with her and she with him but then the unexpected happens. An English solicitor calls at the boarding house to inform him that he is the last surviving relative of Temple Temple Barholm and the heir to a mighty estate in England. He has to go there to claim his inheritance and Ann refuses to marry him until he has been there a year, seen and met with the cream of society before she will allow him to think of making her his wife.
So off he goes and with him goes a man who he rescued in New York when he discovered him homeless and ill with memory loss and not knowing who he was or where he came from. He was an Englishman so T Tembarom thinks that being at home in his country might help him recover his health and strength and restore his memory.
Then we find out that the heir to the title and estate vanished in disgrace years before, accused of cheating at cards and fled to America and went gold prospecting and his death was reported after a mine explosion in which many perished. He left behind the woman he loved, Joan, now bitter and unhappy and locked into a dreadful hateful relationship with her mother as they both clung to the edges of society, the only way out being a marriage for either of them.
The scene is set: a rough New Yorker inheriting the title, a missing heir, a man who has no recollection who he is, a bitter unhappy woman mourning her lost love, her scheming and malicious mother and the possiblity that the missing heir might just be alive after all............
I love this book. T Tembarom is an immensely likeable young man who takes everything thrown at him with cheerfulness and steadfastness, he sticks to his love Ann through thick and thin and the story of his rags to riches career is delightful. While some of the servants despise him for an upstart, those he takes into his confidence and who help him with the everyday etiquette and dress and manners that he knows he lacks, become his devoted admirers and supporters. His easy way with the villagers and his care of their needs endear him to them as well and he is a character very easy to like and love.
This book is sentimental and warm and, of course, you know what is going to happen and what the ending will be but though I have read this many times and am familiar with the outcome, I find myself breathlessly reading the last few chapters and waiting for the denoument with great excitement. I never tire of it and I never tire of reading and re-reading books by this author. I think Frances Hodgson Burnett is a wonderful writer and though she is known and rightly so, for her children's books, I maintain that her adult books are her best. She was writing them long before Little Lord Fauntleroy sent her into JK Rowling territory and popularity.
As I said, sentimental and warm but at the heart of all of her books there are characters who are good and true and who are determined to do the right thing come what may. I was very tired when I came home yesterday, looking after grandchildren is a joy, but totally exhausting and I went to bed early and took this with me and it was just what I needed.
Do try it - if you have a Kindle you can download it for free. Hard copies are more difficult to find at a reasonable price, though Alibris does have one for about £4, Amazon rather more expensive; I have a 1913 edition which I bought online for £10 several years ago, it has wonderful illustrations and I would not part with it for the world.
I am now looking at Little Lord Fauntleroy and thinking I might read that one next...