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?
The 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