Saturday, December 02, 2006

It is distinctly eerie - every book I'm reading at the moment appears to have variations on the same theme (quite accidental I assure you!). I commented previously on the "ordinary lives of women" theme; have a look at this:
'Now, there is Agatha Slade, poor girl! She's of a kind I know by heart. With birth and beauty she is perfectly helpless. Her people are poor enough to be entitled to aid from the Charity Organisation, and they have had the indecency to present themselves with six daughters - six! All with delicate skins and delicate little noses and heavenly eyes. Most men can't afford them, and they can't afford most men. As soon as Agatha begins to go off a little, she will have to step aside, if she has not married. The others must be allowed their chance...But Agatha has not had any special offer, and I know both she and her mother are a little frightened. Alix must come out next season, and they can't afford frocks for two. Agatha will have to be sent to their place in Ireland, and to be sent to Castle Clare is almost like being sent to the Bastille. She'll never get out alive. She'll have to stay there and see herself grow thin instead of slim, and colourless instead of fair. Her little nose will grow sharp, and she will lose her hair by degrees.' (p.31)
This delectation is from THE MAKING OF A MARCHIONESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett (yes, she of THE SECRET GARDEN fame!). Originally published in 1901, republished by Persephone in 2001. Isn't it extraordinary how women's lives in the west (regardless of class) have changed in the past century?

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Ann said...

I love FHB. I teach 'The Secret Garden' every year and although so much of the physical world she describes has changed what makes it constantly relevant is the emotional truth of what she observes. What she says about children and their spiritual needs is as true today as it was in 1911.

2:36 pm  
Blogger The Traveller said...

I've just noted the same thing in my own recent reading! I've been enjoying different takes on the same themes though, it makes for very satisfying reading.

10:58 pm  
Blogger emasl said...

I recognised this immediately from the first line. This is one of my favourite books and have read it several times. I am going to boast now of my one claim to any sort of fame, in that I suggested this book to Nicola Beaumann at Persephone as worthy of publishing. I was asked to write my reasons for this, which I did, and the following year out it came to my utter delight. I was even mmore pleased with the pre-publication copy that came through my letter box! Since then I have been lobbying for Persephone to reprint The Shuttle, another superb novel by FHB telling the story of an American heiress marrying into the English aristocracy, and this is now due to be published next year. More delight. May I recommend Gretchen Gerzina's biography of FHB? Great book and you might learn some surprising facts about FHB...

9:31 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Ann - so true about SECRET GARDEN; also what makes GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM such a good book.Stories like this I think will endure because of that gut recognition on the part of the reader.

traveller - sometimes you can carefully plan these things out and select books around a theme; it has been a lovely surprise this time around to find that the books have picked themselves and suit each other so well!

Elaine - I bow at your feet! You have probably realized by now how much I love Persephone as a publishing house, and your absolutely excellent taste in referring this book to them means that I'm now having a fabulous read! Coincidentally, I had just read in their web newsletter about the new FHB to be timed specially with an exhibition on in Bath in the Spring - so interesting; perhaps a trip westwards is in order?!. Thanks for the recommendation on the biography of FHB: I will definitely look out for it.

5:40 pm  
Blogger emasl said...

ys I have just noticed that the Shuttle is being brought forward. As I adore Bath a visit west would certainly be a good idea. Let me know if go...

11:40 pm  
Blogger equiano said...

Will do Elaine. I'll keep tabs on the Bath exhibition - should be an interesting exhibition, a good excuse to buy another Persephone title, and Bath has some wonderful restaurants!

6:50 pm  

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