Emily Fox-Seton is poor—not desperately so, but genteel. She’s a simple soul really, content in the simple pleasures of life, hating the life she was born into but not knowing that she deserves much better. For work, she takes on odd jobs for wealthy women. When Lady Maria invites her to a country house-party, Emily meets the marquis, Lord Walderhurst, who, to her surprise, asks her to marry him. What follows is “the making of a marchioness,” as Emily adjusts to her new life. There, she meets two of Lord Walderhurst’s relatives—his disgruntled heir presumptive, Captain Osborn, and wife Hester, just back from India.
Frances Hodgson Burnett is better known for some of her other books (including The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy), but The Making of a Marchioness is a fine novel as well. Emily is a bit too perfect, sometimes, but she’s a sweet woman, blissfully ignorant of the bad feelings and thoughts of those around her. You just can’t help but to like her. According to the preface, the author called Emily “a sort of Cinderella… with big feet instead of little ones.” And indeed, this is a kind of Cinderella story. Walderhurst isn’t a Prince Charming, though—he married not so much for love as for comfort, and he’s taciturn at the best of times. Still, he loves Emily in his own strange way.
This is a story that tries so hard not to be sentimental that it is, in a way. Like some of her other books, The Making of a Marchioness is about class—the pretension or lack thereof to enter into high society. It’s also, on a way, about contrasts; nobody could be more different than Emily than Hester, and nobody could be more different from the very English maid Jane Cupp than Hester’s ayah Ameerah. The novel was published in 1901, and in some ways it suffers from late Victorian and Edwardian prejudices towards Indians (there’s even an Uncle Tom’s Cabin reference in there somewhere). But if you can overlook this, this really is a charming little book.
This is Persephone #29 (endpaper below)