Original date of publication: 1907
My edition: 2011 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, December 2011
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, wealthy young women from the States flocked over to England to marry titled men. It was a win-win for both sides: she would get his title, while he would get her money in order to maintain his estate. One of the most famous of these transatlantic marriages was that of Jennie Jerome and Lord Randolph Churchill (parents of the future Prime Minister Winston Churchill), which apparently helped inspire the characters in The Shuttle. Rosalie Vanderpoel is the daughter of a wealthy American and marries Sir Nigel Anstruthers, an English aristocrat who plans to squander her money and cut her off from her family. When Rosy’s younger sister Bettina decides to go to England to see what happened to her sister, things begin to change.
I really enjoyed Burnett’s story. Her style is engaging and easy to read, and her characters are easy to either like or dislike—there is no in between, especially in this novel. As such, I thought that Bettina as a character was a little too twee, and a little too perfect to be completely believable. There’s not a lot of character development, but everyone is perfectly delineated. One of my favorites was G Selden, the ambitious and engaging American typewriter salesman who somehow helps to hold up the plot and connect people.
The title of the novel comes not from the mode of travel but from the idea of Fate and Life weaving a shuttle between two worlds that are so different. Burnett “shuttled” back and forth between England and America by steamship the way that people travel between the two countries today by plane. As such, Burnett understood well the differences between Americans and the English, and she explores this theme to perfection in this novel. For example, I liked, but secretly abhorred, watching Rosy acclimatize to English customs, especially with regards to money. American women were accorded a lot more freedom than their English counterparts, and it was interesting to see both Rosy and Bettina deal with this over the course of the novel.
This is Persephone no. 71.