A black dress, and a jewel the size of a trouser-button

the book:

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

aka The Making of a Lady

published 1901  Part 1   chapter 1 & chapter 3


A black net evening dress, which a patron had good-naturedly given her the year before, could be remodelled and touched up delightfully. Her fresh face and her square white shoulders were particularly adorned by black…

Lord Walderhurst lifted his eye-glass and inserted it in his unillumined eye. He looked also across the room. Emily wore the black evening dress which gave such opportunities to her square white shoulders and firm column of throat. The country air and sun had deepened the colour on her cheek, and the light of the nearest lamp fell kindly on the big twist of her nut-brown hair and burnished it. She looked soft and warm, and so generously interested in her pupil’s progress that she was rather sweet. Lord Walderhurst simply looked at her. He was a man of but few words. Women who were sprightly found him somewhat unresponsive. In fact, he was aware that a man in his position need not exert himself. The women themselves would talk. They wanted to talk because they wanted him to hear them.

observations: Should be read with Saturday’s entry.

The key moment of the engagement between Lord Walderhurst and Emily occurs less than a third of the way through – on first reading you’re expecting it to be the whole point of the book, but far from it. (Burnett originally planned two separate stories, but quickly decided it should be one book.) Unlike Jane Austen (who never married herself) Frances Hodgson Burnett (who had an elaborate & complex marital life) wants to tell us what became of her heroine after the wedding. The subsequent 200 pages contain dramatic and evil scheming by a displaced heir - Emily has to be very brave – and culminate in a near-deathbed scene of quite extraordinary unbelievability.

An adaptation of the book has just been shown on British TV, with considerable changes– sadly, Lord W does not propose on the moors with a big parcel of fish between them – and some simplification which does not reduce the melodrama. It is sumptuously done, lots of pretty dresses, and made for very easy watching. (Though the final battle with the villain went on far too long.)

A final point about the proposal: Lord W famously has a revered family engagement ring on him when he asks Emily to marry him, which Nancy Mitford (in
Love in a Cold Climate) implies is ‘the size of a pigeon’s egg’. It is actually 'the size of a trouser-button', which seems a bit indecorous, and not all that big, either. How would Miss Poor-but-virtuous Emily know what a trouser-button looked like anyway?

picture is of Frances Cleveland – she was a First Lady of the United States, married to President Grover Cleveland.

Links up with: This book featured before. There are black dresses all over the blog – click on the label below. More
Presidents and their women in our November entries to mark the US election


  1. Moira - I love that dress! So elegant! Now of course, I remember Burnett as the author of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. I'd forgotten, I'll be honest, that she wrote adult fiction too. Thanks for the reminder. And good point about the trouser button...

    1. I failed to answer you back in the day! Haven't been in these parts of the blog in many a long month. Thank you for always taking the time and trouble, and always having something interesting to say.

  2. I think only someone like Emily could stand being married to Waldenhurst. A more intellectual woman would probably have thrown the teapot at him on a regular basis- or put poison in his claret.

    Re the trouser button, Emily did her own shopping and must have bought buttons at some point, she could have seen them then. Or before her father died, she might have had to replace buttons on his clothing since they were not rich.

    1. Yes, I agree with you - it's surprising Burnett didn't make him a bit more attractive really. And I take your point about the buttons...

    2. Waldenhurst was easily one of the least interesting "heroes" I've ever read. I found myself hoping he'd be run over or something, leaving Emily a wealthy widow. (And yes, she is rather stupid, but at least she's kindhearted and helpful. He's just spoilt.)

    3. Yes, a very unusual hero! I had heard about this book a lot before I read it, and was astonished by how unattractive he was. She didn't even pretend he was a good thing, just that he was rich and would give her an easier life...


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