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Emily Fox-Seton by Frances Hodgson Burnett (thoughts)

March 15, 2012

As a child, I just adored The Secret Garden and, to a lesser extent, The Little Princess. So when I started seeing mention of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s adult novels on book blogs, I knew I’d have to give them a try! I began with Emily Fox-Seton, which was originally published as two novellas (The Making of a Marchioness and The Methods of Lady Walderhurst). What an odd little book. The first part is a fairly straight forward rags-to-riches tale, centered around Emily Fox-Seton, who has the happy charms of being easily delighted and always seeing the best in people. It’s a bit moralising, but not enough to bother me, and I have to confess Emily charmed me as well as the characters surrounding her. The original title rather gives away the plot, but anyone familiar with this type of literature would immediately see where it was going. Burnett is excellent at capturing studies of people, and her writing here reminded me a bit of L.M. Montgomery. The sequel then follows Emily as she enters married life, and the tone suddenly changes into something much more gothic in nature. There’s an Indian character or two portrayed in the racist terms of the time period, which is unfortunate; at least a straight-up Englishman is also a villain. Anyway, as a fan of gothic stories, I loved this part, until it suddenly changed tones again. The end is a bit too Victorian ‘angel of the house’ for my tastes, but it’s the only flaw in an otherwise very enjoyable novel.

Those with less tolerance for the moralising tone of late nineteenth/early twentieth century authors might not get along with it as well, but for those who have a softspot for that kind of writing (think Anne of Green Gables or Enchanted April, this is well worth hunting down a copy. Luckily, it’s in the public domain, and so you can download one for yourself at Girlebooks. I found it to be an excellent comfort read, and I’ll be reading for of Burnett Hodgson’s adult titles in the future.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2012 8:49 am

    The Making of a Marchioness has been on the TBR for while. I’m usually resistant to moral tales, but when you pick up Frances Hodgson Burnett (or L.M. Montgomery) you should be ready for a good share of it.

    Is Enchanted April also a moral tale? I loved Elizabeth and Her German Garden, so witty!

  2. March 15, 2012 10:30 am

    I do need to check out some of Burnett’s adult titles sometime. I love both Secret Garden and A Little Princess when I was little, so I’m sure I would enjoy this! I’d heard of it as The Making of a Marchioness, but didn’t realize there was a second title.

  3. March 15, 2012 10:51 am

    I thought this was great when I read it, which was several years ago now. A little Cinderella-esque, but there is place for that sometimes!

  4. Chris permalink
    March 15, 2012 11:27 am

    I have just read “The Shuttle” (also available on Girlebooks) and I must confess it was wonderful. Highly idealized — nevertheless an unputdownable comfort read.

  5. Ellen permalink
    March 15, 2012 11:32 am

    Thank you for the suggestion & the link for the download! Have you read My Reading LIfe by Pat Conroy? I downloaded from the library and it was a good read.
    Have a good day!

  6. March 15, 2012 12:19 pm

    I had no idea she was so prolific! I LOVED the Secret Garden – didn’t we all? – so I’m grateful for your review of one of her books for us older folk!

  7. March 15, 2012 6:53 pm

    Whoa, you liked A Little Princess less than The Secret Garden? How much less? Significantly less? But what about how amazing A Little Princess is? And everything that is amazing about it? Oo, and did you read Little Lord Fauntleroy?

  8. March 15, 2012 11:13 pm

    I have never thought of reading her adult books. I really should look into them!

  9. March 17, 2012 5:01 pm


  10. Jenny permalink
    March 19, 2012 10:25 pm

    I think she pushes back against the racism as much as she indulges in it. (And the same in A Little Princess, actually.) She straightforwardly addresses the fact that she’s being racist, even while she’s doing it, and subverts some of the expectations even while she’s promoting others. It’s quite interesting to watch. Same with the gender/ angel of the house/ class stuff. She is playing with it as much as she is fulfilling it. It’s more complex than it looks at first glance. Same with her kid’s stuff.

  11. April 3, 2012 10:29 am

    I’m reading The Secret Garden to my newborn right now! So I may have to find some more Burnett for my own reading in the coming weeks, this sounds like fun. :)

  12. April 6, 2012 5:57 pm

    Burnett’s adult novels are so interesting to me sociologically. I just finished T. Tembarom, which is just delightful – the Victorian-era New York slang is practically a character in itself! I really like her female characters – you can really see, in her novels, how rapidly cultural views of women were changing. Here’s Emily – so docile and compliant – and yet there is Hester too, vicious, tough, possibly criminal, and yet rather sympathetically portrayed.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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