The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Emily Fox-Seton is a very docile, happy and a pretty unremarkable person. Others see her as perfect, she is thoughtful helpful and blissfully ignorant. Burnett makes her reader painfully aware that Emily is not brilliant or even special but manages to appear so in everyone’s eyes under no doing of her own. Really she is very likable even while people around her can be vile and cunning. She never seems to see this in others. Before beginning the book I read parts of the introduction in which a comparison of Emily to a Cinderella type story have been made, and I agree. Emily lives in a boarding house and makes her living as a sort of companion who runs errands and writes letters. She is invited to a party in the country and meets Lord Walderhurst, the Marquis. She believes he is interested in another guest and is surprised and grateful when he proposes marriage. Here begins the story as Emily settles into her new life to become a Marchioness. It is a life far removed from the times when she had to worry about money, furnishings, and dressing herself in economical clothing. What I see as a very interesting statement made by Burnett in this novel is the idea that no matter how kind Emily was or all the things that she did for people she could never escape the negativity of others. In a sort of twist ending we see that kindness still may not always pay.

Class separations and moving between these separations through family and marriage are among the main themes in this novel. Burnett provides almost scathing stabs at the upper class and the way society is structured around class and money.

Days after reading I began to think about the other women in the novel. They all seem to be drastically different but their motives seem to be dictated by their positions in society, particularly their class standings which rely heavily on others. There were few ways in which the women could take control of their lives. There were options of marriage and of course finding work. But really what we see happening is a subversive sort of ill will towards other women as they grapple for a place in society. There is Hester who is very unlikable and rude to Emily and has returned from India with her husband, a somewhat removed heir to Walderhurst’s fortune. This is of course put into jeopardy after Emily’s marriage and the possibility of her having a son. Jane is Emily’s maid who feels threatened by the presence of an Indian maid. She is convinced Ameerah practices the dark arts and will hurt Emily. Even though these women may not have been likable, Burnett enables us to understand where they are coming from.

Written in 1901, there are racist portrayals of Indians and anyone non-English. While I understand the sentiment at the time, it is difficult to read today. Sometimes it makes me wonder if these are just the sentiments of the times as acted out through the characters or if the author really feels this way.

I will admit that I struggled with this one for a bit. The descriptions of the surroundings, furnishings, and garments are rich in detail. And at times what seem like small events to me are turned into dramatic displays. At times I enjoyed it and at others I felt extremely tired. I am glad that I stuck with it and after letting it sink in for a few days I feel that I appreciate The Making of a Marchioness more. I’ll be interested to read The Shuttle, The Secret Garden, and A Little Princess. I know the story of the last two and feel like I read them as a girl, but can’t remember entirely if I really did.

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5 responses to “The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

  • Verity

    It was interesting to read Hodgeson Burnett’s writing for adults I thought – in some ways similar to A little princess but a lot richer and more detailed as you point out. The shuttle is similar; I read it recently and really enjoyed it although it turned out to be not what I was expecting at all!

  • Thomas at My Porch

    This one is high on my TBR. It is one of those where I am waiting for the perfect moment to start it.

  • Mrs.B

    I’m reading this right now and enjoying it so far. I understand what you mean about the rich descriptions though. I’m now halfway through the second part and the suspense is really building. Can’t put it down now.

  • LeaningSun

    Verity, I’ve heard mixed reviews on The Shuttle, which makes me want to read it even more. I also intend to read/re-read her works for children.

    Thomas, maybe now that the spring is peaking it’s head around the corner. I read it when it was cold and snowy and Emily’s positive vibe didn’t seem to mesh as well. I’ll be sure to pop over to see what you thought.

    Mrs.B, I’m glad you’re enjoying it. I’m excited to see what you think once you’re finished. I thought the second part was suspenseful too. I remember being stuck to my chair all afternoon just to see what would happen.

  • Brittanie

    I thought this one was okay. I loved the Secret Garden though. It is one of my all time favorite books. 🙂

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