Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Lady of Quality - Frances Hodgeson Burnett

I've never really got the point of Kindles and the like - I can't imagine wanting a book that's reliant on batteries or spending the best part of £100 on something that will be obsolete before I know it (I have some Penguin paperbacks bought for pence and still in good reading order after 50 years, I doubt that I would be able to say the same of an ebook in another 50 years time) but a while back I shelved my disapproval for long enough to put a kindle app on my phone. It was free as have been any of the books I've put on it -a couple of obscure Wilkie Collins titles probably destined to remain unread and now some FHB (as a side issue amazon's willingness to do things for no profit are far more worrying than their unwillingness to pay tax or a living wage).

The Frances Hodgeson Burnett choices came after a conversation with Elaine from Random Jottings reminded me that most of her titles were free to download, I don't much like reading on my phone but for odd out of print old books like this it's far preferable to seeking out second hand copies. I chose 'A Lady of Quality' because it reminded me of a Heyer title and I thought it might be fun. It was fun though is by no means amongst Burnett's better books - in fact absolutely not the sort of thing you would want to spend good money on. There will be spoilers...

The lady of quality on question is Clorinda Wildairs. She's born in 1690, the  ninth child of a mother who promptly dies whilst cursing her new daughter for her misfortune of being born a girl and trying to end the babies life by smothering her. Fortunately Clorinda is a strong child who manages to wriggle free of her dead mother. She grows up wild and wilful not meeting her father until she's 6 years old. When she does meet him she attacks him for riding her favourite horse from the stables, his response is to make a pet of her and dress her in boys clothes as it suits him. Clorinda grows up strong, fearless, and exceedingly lovely. At 15 she decides to marry money and a title after seemingly spurning youth and beauty in the form of Sir John Oxen. Sir John it transpires is a rogue. 

Clorinda is first a countess and then when husband number one dies about to become a duchess when Sir John tries to black mail her into giving up her duke. The duke is the first man who Clorinda has ever really loved so she's not best pleased about this, an argument with Sir John turns so nasty that she accidentally kills him with a weighted riding crop, promptly hides the body under a sofa before afternoon callers arrive and then bricks him up in a celler. She marries her duke, devotes her life to good and worthy deeds and basically lives happily ever after. 

It would be a terrible book if Burnett didn't play with a couple of interesting ideas. The first is when Clorinda marries her aged Earl. She talks about the nature of marriage as a bargain and determines to keep her end of it. The marriage is happy enough and I rather liked the defence of women who marry for gain. The second is the murder - now we know Sir John's a rotter, just how much of a rotter becomes increasingly clear after his death but Clorinda's issue with him is that he seduced her as a girl and then abandoned her, coming back when he realised he hadn't broken her spirit. His death is probably manslaughter rather than murder but still it must be unusual for a book like this (romance) to allow the heroine to get away with killing a man in such a way. In the end it turns out that Clorinda's sister had been a witness, but from her death bed she tells Clorinda that it was all right and she needn't confess to anybody. I understand that Burnett was unhappily married, had I been her husband I think this book would have worried me.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if Georgette Heyer read this one! I've only read two of Burnett's adult novels. I enjoyed Emily Fox-Seton very much, but I struggled a bit with the melodrama of The Shuttle. I don't think I'll move this one to the top of the reading list!