Monday, February 27, 2012

Why, whenever I'm down, I just imagine that I'm a wildly popular and somehow rich book blogger!

It has been an exhausting week, dear reader. I wouldn't have thought so, except that I'm exhausted and have been for several days now. That's a pretty good indicator, I think. I've had a lot of things on my calendar for the evenings lately, which is good, but does tend to cut into my sleeping time somewhat. But I point the finger in particular at Bad Shoes. With some warmer weather at the end of last week I decided to wear flats, one pair of which turned out to be absolute torture devices (the other was just badly cushioned); and then you know how it goes; between timing and tube fares it wasn't practical to go home and switch. Wearing Bad Shoes plus doing a lot of walking (I'm always doing a lot of walking) results in using some new and exciting muscles which results in being very tired out at the end of the day. (PS, I am crazy in love with these shoes. FYI.)

What's this blog about? Books? Right-o.

One of the tricky things about reading actual paper books is that it becomes harder for me to come back and write a post weeks later without the little electronic "clippings" folder. I suppose one way to solve this would be to write the posts up promptly -- HA HA HA. Another solution would be to use a pencil to mark passages in the book, but despite my high school English teacher scandalously requiring us to mark up our books, I'm still not comfortable with it. Plus, it would mean fishing my pencil out of my bag, which isn't easy. At least these days I'm generally carrying a pencil (due to pens being banned in most reading rooms).

Then again, not having that list of little quotes you thought were funny or significant at the time can help focus things. Yes, that's right, I just used the word "focus" to describe this blog. I do what I want.

Trickier to photograph than I anticipated. The bookmark shows the pattern of the endpapers.
 Here it is, Persephone book number one. Well, actually it's #29, but it's the first one I've read of the three I bought whenever that was I bought them. The Making of a Marchioness was written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and first published in 1901. I think it was before I started this blog that I read The Secret Garden and A Little Princess (or however those articles go). In fact, I'm fairly sure it was before the blog because I live-blogged watching the Shirley Temple A Little Princess on Alice's facebook wall and it ran to something like 200 posts and it was glorious.

Burnett wrote The Making of a Marchioness for adults, in contrast to her more famous children's books, but the main character has the sort of preternatural innocent goodness that seems to be the gold standard in the other books. At least here there's no annoying scene where everyone is baffled by the concept of using your imagination. I can't quite put my finger on what is so distinctive about Burnett's idea of Human Goodness, except to say that it's not especially Christian. It seems to exist independent of any particular beliefs about the world (which is probably the point) and, pace the little brat in The Secret Garden developing into it, it seems like a mindset you have to be born with.

Anyway, Emily Fox-Seton, the main character, has this kind of congenital goodness, being a very sensible and capable gentlewoman-spinster who is completely, genuinely in awe at how good people are to her and how good life is, even as people treat her terribly and her life is objectively fairly awful. She's not just looking at the bright side, she is actually incapable of noticing a dark side. Surprisingly, Emily is not a completely awful, obnoxious character.

The plot sees a rich bachelor marry her, out of his admiration for her odd unselfishness and desire to get the hordes of eligible girls to stop throwing themselves at him. This leads to Emily being targeted by jealous rivals, blah blah blah. Somehow the two develop actual love for one another while being separated, which I gather constitutes the central plot from Burnett's perspective. There's a fair amount of deathly illness, including an extremely dangerous childbirth that I would have swooned over as a teen. Did this feature in the Anne of Green Gables series, Gilbert wracked with emotion as Anne appears to be dying after giving birth? I think it must have; anyway, I thought that kind of thing was the Height of Romance when I was young and stupid. Maybe other people, without this strange background, would find this scene in Marchioness less hokey; but I could hardly believe it was being written with a straight face. Everything, you'll be glad to know, works out in the end.

As you may be able to tell, I was a little dissatisfied with this book. Mostly, I was confused by the lack of character development displayed by Emily. The Persephone afterword quotes Burnett saying, in effect, how taken she was with Emily as this great new character. I think I remember reading that the part up to the wedding was originally published separately from the part about Emily's married life, and not only can I see that, it makes this into a case of "good story, not so good sequel". The second part felt almost fan-fictiony, in that it sort of spins out the main character, introduces an evil threat which is eventually thwarted, and the only major bit of character development is that the heroine's husband falls more in love with her. It's obvious by the end that as far as Burnett is concerned, there's nothing wrong with Emily; and where normally the world would force her to change, Burnett can't stand to let that happen so she sort of shuffles things around a bit so it doesn't have to. Eh, what can I say, I have a hard time taking Emily as an ideal.

Nevertheless, quite a good read. I should maybe note that I've never been terribly happy with any of Burnett's books I've read, so it was probably inevitable I would take issue with this one! The book is full of very sharp observations about marriage and single life at the end of the nineteenth century, and hey, let's not pretend like we don't all love some cheesy romantic drama now and then.



    I'm so into characters like Beth in Little Women and Sara Crewe and Helen from Jane Eyre; I cannot even tell you.

    Also, get me a Persephone book and I will give you moniiiiies. And yes, I want you to carry it back with you so I don't have to pay shipping. This is the whole point.

  2. I seriously don't know how I'm going to bring all these books I've bought home with me. When I get dressed I find myself evaluating my clothes like "this is the last season for this sweater, right? I could give this away in June and not be sad. And I could probably fit two books into that much space..."

    The international ground shipping from Persephone is a mere £4; £6 for airmail. And it would get home before I do. JUST SAYING. I WILL BE HAPPY TO BUY BOOKS ON YOUR BEHALF OBVIOUSLY.

  3. I totally understand your reluctance to mark up the beautiful pages of the beautiful books! I used to be a random-scrap-of-paper-sticker so that I could refer back to the pages/passages that I like. The husband got a little frustrated with the random scraps of paper that showed up all over the house. Hence he got me these little post-it flag doodads. And peace was restored in the house.