Saturday, June 4, 2011

A well-woven tale

The Shuttle, Frances Hodgson Burnett

I was so intrigued by a review of this book over on Shelf Love that I went straight to ABE to look for a copy.  I was lucky enough to find a 1907 hardback, for less than $10.  And as a bonus, it has an inscription: "Mother from Owens  Xmas '07,"  which made me wonder not just about Mother and Owens, but also the other hands through which this book has passed since 1907, before ending up in Houston.  I love finding an inscription, especially for a gift (though I loathe underlining and margin notes).

Jenny at Shelf Love described this book as "plotty," which is an understatement.  The plot involves two sisters, Rosalie and Bettina Vanderpoel, daughters of an Upper Ten Thousand family in New York that seems to be modeled on the Astors.  Rosie, the elder, marries an English baronet, Sir Nigel Anstruthers, who put up a good front before the wedding but turns out to be impoverished, a libertine, and an abusive husband.  Betty, only eight at the time of the marriage, dislikes Sir Nigel intensely and makes her feelings plain.  (In one loose plot element, Sir Nigel also has a sister, Emily, who is mentioned once but is never referred to again.)  Sir Nigel takes Rosie home to England and his equally unpleasant mother, and her family loses almost all contact with her.  Twelve years pass, and Betty decides to go to England to see Rosie.  What she discovers there, and what she does about it, make up the bulk of the story. 

I was sorry that the hateful Dowager Lady Anstruthers had died some years before Betty's arrival, because I was looking forward to seeing her get her comeuppance.  But Betty has her hands full with Rosie and Sir Nigel, their son Ughtred, various villagers, county neighbors including the mysterious Lord Mount Dunstan, and a delightful American on a bicycle tour.

I have to say that "Ughtred" may be the most unfortunate character name I have yet come across.  I can't figure out if it's meant to be Celtic or Olde Englishe, but it's awful.

In addition to being plotty, this book is wordy.  I don't remember this from others of Burnett's books, but her phrasing is convoluted and her sentences are long. I frequently found myself lost in the verbiage, which made for slow reading.

Betty Vanderpoel is a consciously literary tourist in England, as I tend to be myself: "It was the England of Constable and Morland, of Miss Mitford and Miss Austen, the Brontes and George Eliot...The village street might be Miss Mitford's, the well-to-do house Jane Austen's own fancy, in its warm brick and comfortable decorum."  The frequent discussions of American and English characteristics and habits reminded me of both Isabella Bird's and Anthony Trollope's 19th century American travelogues.  I was also reminded of Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan's account of her marriage to The Duke of Marlborough, The Glitter and the Gold, as well as one of my favorite O.Henry stories, "The Marquis and Miss Sally."

I was left with one question: what about Mr. Ffolliott?  I can imagine a whole scenario leading to a satisfactory ending, but someone will have to take the first step.  It will probably have to be Betty, now that I think about it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!