The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1901)

The Making of a Marchioness, Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Making of a Marchioness is a 1901 novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the prolific British-American author better known for timeless children’s classics.

The author of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess wrote many novels for adult readers, though none have been as enduring as those for “children of all ages.”

Relating the story of Emily Fox-Seton, The Making of a Marchioness  was followed by a sequel in the same year: The Methods of Lady Walderhurst was also published in 1901. Soon after, the two books were combined into one volume, Emily Fox-Seton, named for the heroine.

The Making of a Marchioness gained new life when it was republished by Persephone Books in 2007. Subsequently, the story was adapted by BBC radio, also in 2007, and then for television in 2012, retitled The Making of a Lady on PBS.

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Frances Hodgson Burnett
Learn more about Frances Hodgson Burnett
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Plot summary of The Making of a Marchioness

The theme of the story is familiar to readers of Victorian literature — the well-born woman who has found herself penniless. Reflecting the reality of the times, Emily Fox-Seton has few options but to work as a lady’s companion. When the novel opens, she is in the employ of Lady Maria Bayne, a silly and selfish woman of wealth.

While within Lady Bayne’s circle, the Marquess of Walderhurst, a widower twenty years Emily’s senior met an chose to marry her. In Cinderella-like fashion, she becomes an instant Marchioness.

In the sequel, The Methods of Lady Walderhurst Emily has Walderhurt’s child, and the plot thickens. It also goes from merely a romantic Cinderella story to a commentary on Victorian marriage. The author herself was unlucky in love.

The following original review from an America newspaper seemed less than impressed, though despite its flaws, the novel and its sequel have enjoyed a revival and have apparently stood the test of time.

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Original 1901 review of The Making of a Marchioness

From the Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal, August 11, 1901: Old Lady Maria has a house party at Mallowe Court. Her lion is Lord Walderhurst, a widower of fifty-four, who is not shown to have any other attractions than his title and wealth. It is plain, indeed, that he has three places of more magnificence than Mallowe Court.

All the women of the house party, maids and widows — except his kinswoman, old Lady Maria, and Miss Emily Fox-Seton — do their utmost to bag his lordship, though none of them is shown to care a rap for him except as the owner of his title and estates.

Emily Fox-Seton is depicted, at first, as a really fine girl. She makes her own living in London as a purchasing agent, her home being a third-story back room in the house of a poor and kindly family with whom she boards.

She is healthy, wholesome-looking, and thoroughly, marvelously unselfish. Her only failings in common with the group of snobs with which she is thrown is her delight at the opportunity to be thrown with them, and her hyphen.

Emily is at Mallowe Court because Lady Maria has found Emily to be so unselfish. Emily is so appreciative of the privilege of loving upon Lady Maria’s snobs that she is really a better servant than the latter could otherwise obtain.

Emily has never had so much as the shadow of a dream that Lord Walderhurst could stoop to recognize her very existence.

She has never conceived that His High Mightiness could think of her as his wife, and certainly she has never been so brazen, so irreverent, so blasphemous as to think of so august a personage as the remotest possibility in her own humble, unmoneyed, untitled life.

Her only interest in Lord Walderhurst is that she shall be caught by a particular one of the women at Mallowe Court who are trying for him — the particular one who is the prettiest and poorest and needs him most in her business, since she has only the remaining part of the season to catch something or be retired to give her pretty and poor and needy sisters their chances to catch something.

But when Emily Fox-Seton is sent by Lady Maria walking four miles through the hot sun to buy fish for dinner, Emily sits down on the grass and cried because she is tired and has heard that the good London people with whom she lodges are going to leave the city. She will have to hunt some other third-story back room in which to live.

When Lord Walderhurst finds her there, he calls her “my good girl,” and bluntly tells her that he must marry. He tells her too that upon the whole she suits him better than other women — “I generally do not like women” — she is properly astounded at the honor done her, but no so paralyzed that she doesn’t gobble up the mighty personage, with his title and three estates, before she allows his out of her sight,

Of course, there is no hint of love in the whole story. His Lordship doesn’t say anything about love to Emily, and she, in return, has never once thought of him except to hope that he will marry another girl. But she is triumphantly happy in getting the old fellow herself, and everyone envies her, or is rejoiced at her good fortune.

The reader is expected to rejoice over the bewitching and beautiful read of the virtue of a poor, unselfish girl in this dazzling chance to sell herself such a marvelous and altogether irresistible price.

Did Mrs. Burnett write this story in the belief that even the best of women has her price, and that wealth and title are a price which no woman could resist, would resist, or would be expected or desired by her most ardent admirers to resist? And if not, it is for the reader to ascertain the meaning of this perplexing story.

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The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 1907

See also: The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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