The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
(aka The Making of a Lady)
published 1901 part 2 chapter 1
Lord Walderhurst came in half an hour later and found her standing smiling by the window. ‘You look particularly well, Emily. It’s that white frock, I suppose. You ought to wear a good deal of white,’ he said.
‘I will,’ Emily answered. He observed that she wore the nice flush and the soft, appealing look, as well as the white frock. ‘I wish—’ Here she stopped, feeling a little foolish.
‘What do you wish?’
‘I wish I could do more to please you than wear white—or black—when you like.’ He gazed at her, always through the single eye-glass. Even the vaguest approach to emotion or sentiment invariably made him feel stiff and shy…‘Wear yellow or pink occasionally,’ he said with a brief awkward laugh. What large, honest eyes the creature had, like a fine retriever’s or those of some nice animal one saw in the Zoo. ‘I will wear anything you like,’ she said, the nice eyes meeting his—not the least stupidly, he reflected…
observations: If you know of this book (perhaps from Nancy Mitford –it’s mentioned approvingly in both Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate) but have never read it, you probably have a clear idea of what it’s about. Lovely, poor-but-virtuous girl snares handsome aristo, and gets a giant ring and a title for her trouble.
In fact she is old (34!) and really rather stupid, verging on the simple-minded, she has huge feet (nothing wrong with that) and is described as fatuous. (She makes Fanny Price from Austen’s Mansfield Park look witty and spirited.) Prince Charming is dull, selfish, not particularly pleasant, and at one point the author, trying for something nice, says ‘he looked exceedingly clean’. His comparing Emily with a dog, and being pleased she doesn't look stupid, above, is typical.
Regular blog readers will guess that we are still going to judge that this is a book well worth reading, highly enjoyable, strangely romantic in its way, and with a strong and rather charming implication that Lord Walderhurst marries her on a kindly whim, but actually finds her quite sexy in the end, and that this is reciprocated.
The book has just been adapted for British TV – as The Making of a Lady – and no doubt the strange melodrama of the book's second half will feature strongly, and Emily will be less stupid, and more beautiful, and younger.
Links up with: Francis Hodgson Burnett is something of a blog favourite for her children’s books – here and here. A splendid Noel Streatfeild/FHB crossover here – two favourites in one.
The picture is a reception gown designed by Madeleine Cheruit, as featured in a French fashion magazine.