Friday, March 11, 2011

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett

American heiresses from Fifth Avenue and English aristocrats from the rolling green countryside reminded me of Downton Abbey so I began to read, The Shuttle.  The similarities ended pretty quickly.

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 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  Her fashionable silks are eventually faded and out of date.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


  1. I love this subject. I read Portrait of a Lady last year, another story about an American heiress who ends up in a terrible marriage.

  2. Isn't it fantastic? So glad you enjoyed it. AND Hodgson Burnett wrote many similarly melodramatic and wonderful novels for adults that are all out of print but easy to find second hand - you should give them a go some time!

  3. Oh goodness--must read! But I see you've just started my latest Amazon purchase, so maybe I should read South Riding first?

    K x

    And yes, feeling very guilty about buying a book when I was supposed to be reading from my shelves!

  4. Well, I'm sold. Toronto Public Library has several copies, unfortunately all at the reference library, so no circulation.

    However, has it too, so I can enjoy it at my leisure.

    And of course, the Persephone edition would be a treat to have.

    While we're on the subject, there's also The American Heiress (1980), by Dorothy Eden, which begins with a couple of cliches, but moves to a satisfying ending.

  5. Oh I need to read this. Loved The Making of a Marchioness. I'm planning a trip to the shop for Easter so I'll get it.

  6. Another unputdownable Persephone! I loved this, such a wonderful story & Bettina was a great heroine. Very suspenseful in places too.

  7. I loved this as well! The Making of a Marchioness was wonderful too. It makes me want to read more of her novels for adults. Hmm going to have to post this through my old livejournal account as typepad seems inaccessible -it's Donna though :)

  8. seagreen reader, It's a fascinating topic...don't hesitate to read this one, I think you would really enjoy it!

    bookssnob, It was absolutely wonderful...and those out of print books are calling out to me! An ereader is on my list for just that sort of thing.

    kristina, Oh well, it seems to be the book that loads of people are talking about so we must be in the loop mustn't we! That's my excuse anyway.

    Susan, Well isn't that silly! You could try an inter-library loan as well I suppose. It's a delightful read and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did once you get to it.

    Vintage Reading, If you enjoyed The Making of a Marchioness then you will really...really love this one! And how lucky are you getting to visit the shop *sigh*.

    lyn, Don't know about you but I kept picturing Damian Lewis as Soames in The Forsyte Saga when reading Nigel's character. I just wanted to give him a slap!

    ramblingfancy, Oh yes, I really enjoyed The Making of a Marchioness as well, my copy is a little red cloth-bound edition that looks yonks old! There is such a popularity with reissuing out of print books at the moment, perhaps more Hodgson Burnett will appear on the shelves...fingers crossed!

  9. Oh, I so want to read this. Am a big fan of Burnett's children's books (with The Secret Garden being one of my favourites, and Little Princess coming a close second). Thanks for the review - I'm going Persephone shopping next weekend, so am quite excited. :D

  10. I recently read this and loved it. Okay, and rolled my eyes a bit in places, but was ultimately completely engrossed until I finished it. She really was a remarkable writer. I want to find some more of her adult books now.