The Vanderpoels are rich beyond imagination with two beautiful daughters. Rosalie is described as a 'slim little creature, with quantities of light feathery hair and childlike simpleness'. The younger daughter, Bettina, had abundant glossy dark hair, long legs and an inquisitive mind...as near to the son Mr Vanderpoel wished for but would never have.
The title of the book refers to the many transatlantic crossing which took place during the passenger liner era beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. The vile, Nigel Anstruthers, Lord of the crumbling Stornham Court crosses the Atlantic in hopes of securing an heiress to pay his debts and afford him a living. Rosalie makes an easy target and Anstruthers rubs his hands with despicable glee at her malleable personality.
In no time at all, the new Lady Anstruthers is a shadow of her former self, shrunken from being tormented and bullied. Her fashionable silks are eventually faded and out of date. While she lives as a penniless prisoner, aged beyond her years, with her debilitated son, Ughtred (poor child), the despicable Nigel fulfills his every whim whilst abroad. There are whispers that he keeps the company of women other than his wife.
As Bettina matures, she remembers how uneasy she felt in Anstruthers presence and realizes he is the reason her sister has become a stranger to her family. She sets about a plan to cross the ocean for a visit and to perhaps even rescue her sister. With her fiery spirit and ability to argue any point she stands up to the spoilt Lord Anstruthers in a confident manner which thwarts and frustrates him to no end.
'Her eyes, which were well opened, were quite the blue of steel, and rested directly upon him. 'I, for instance, would let you make a scene with me anywhere you chose - in Bond Street - in Piccadilly - on the steps of Buckingham Palace, as I was getting out of my carriage to attend a drawing-room - and you would gain nothing by it - nothing. You may place entire confidence in that statement.'
Hodgson Burnett wrote this character with passion and it is her powerful heroine that made the story for me. Bettina also possesses a keen social awareness and sets out to restore the village providing work and income to the long-suffering villagers. There is a new respect for Lady Anstruthers who is once again socializing in pretty silks while gaining strength, confidence and spirit.
I would be remiss in not mentioning the wonderfully colourful, G Seldon, who provides comic relief as a travelling typewriter salesman hoping to break into the English market. His catalogue of various makes and models is always close at hand!
This was a brilliant read, sweeping me away with its epic family saga on both sides of the Atlantic. And don't despair, to level things with the grim storyline of a dysfunctional marriage there is also a love story contained in these pages!
The endpaper in my Persephone edition is called 'Tulip Tree' designed by Lewis F Day, 1903