Most people are familiar with Frances Hodgson Burnett because of her children's books The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, or Little Lord Fauntleroy, but Burnett was also quite popular in the early 1900s as an author of adult novels which included The Shuttle, The Making of a Marchioness, and its sequel The Methods of Lady Walderhurst. But not surprisingly most readers have never heard of the last three as, until recently, they have been out of print.
I first learned of The Making of a Marchioness from my friend Alison, who stumbled upon it while browsing a list of books on the Internet. It was suggested as a "you might like this" read for fans of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. As long-time readers of this blog may recall, both Alison and I really enjoyed Miss Pettigrew, so we both added Marchioness to our TBR list.
So what exactly is a Marchioness? It is the female version of the title Marquis. A Marquis' wife is generally referred to as a Marchioness. Set at the turn of the last century (published in 1901), The Making of a Marchioness is the story of Emily Fox-Seton, a beautiful yet poor woman in her mid-thirties who isn't especially clever, but who is extremely generous and thoughtful, and tries to be useful to everyone she meets.
In this story Emily is invited to the country to help out Lady Maria Bayne entertain a houseful of guests at the country estate Mallowe Court. The guests include several eligible and very beautiful women all who've set their minds on winning the very eligible widower, Lord Walderhurst, a Marquis and also a guest. Emily's job during her stay is to take care of the little things that make a country visit special, thus allowing Lady Maria to rest. Emily quickly sets to work arranging this outing or that event, all the while putting the guests at ease and helping one of the guests, Lady Agatha, put forth her best self in order to win a chance at love and happiness.
As the story progresses things do not turn out quite as one might expect and Burnett waits until the last chapter to wrap up the story, but when she does it is neatly and happily.
I enjoyed The Making of a Marchioness. The story is nothing like The Secret Garden, but it wasn't supposed to be. At first I wasn't sure what to think of Marchioness, the first chapter consists of mostly narration as it is an introduction to Emily Fox-Seton. But by the second chapter the dialog starts to flow as does the story plot. The story turns out to be relatively short, less than 200 pages, and is a fairly quick read.
My only complaint is that sometimes Emily comes across as too naive. In her natural humility and wide-eyed innocence she is often used by those around her. This annoyed me, but in the end everything works out fine for Emily, so it was really just a minor annoyance.
Apparently The Making of a Marchioness was such a popular read at the time it was published that Burnett went on to write a sequel. While Marchioness is a Cinderella type story, its sequel is more of a sensational/drama that follows the adventures of Lord and Lady Walderhurst after their marriage. Who gets to be Lady Walderhurst.... one must read The Making of a Marchioness to find out.
Some copies of Marchioness come complete with the sequel, but they are not readily available. My copy of Marchioness was purchased online in paperback for $15. I've since located a used and inexpensive hardbound copy of The Methods of Lady Walderhurst out of curiosity for how the story continues.
I've always loved The Secret Garden and am excited to have the chance to read some of Burnett's other works. After finishing Marchioness I did a little reading about Burnett. She wrote such wonderful stories, but led a rather sad life. Another interesting fact is that while she was born in England, Burnett immigrated to the United States after her father's death when she was 7 years old and spent the rest of her life in America. This is interesting when one takes into consideration that all of her novels are set in England.
I definitely recommend The Making of a Marchioness to readers looking for an Edwardian romance. And fans of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day are likely to find another great read in this book. On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate The Making of a Marchioness a 4.5. I really enjoyed the story.