The Shuttle

At the beginning of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Shuttle, there is a metaphor that grows and is extended and embellished through the whole book. Two countries, the United States and England, once divided, are being woven together through ties of culture, custom, art, travel, commerce, and most of all affinity. (Even the title comes from this metaphor — the shuttle works back and forth on the loom.)  This is a time when wealthy American heiresses marry debt-ridden landed gentry; a time when steamers cross the Atlantic; a time when questions begin to arise about independence and heritage and the value of money.

Burnett examines these ties in what is, after all, basically a romance novel. In the first few chapters, poor, silly, foolish (and extremely wealthy) Rosie Vanderpoel marries the absolutely vile Nigel Anstruthers, who has concealed from her that he is in debt up to his ears, with a tumbledown estate. When Rosie cannot or will not understand that in England it is the men who ought to control the fortune, Nigel coolly sets about breaking Rosie’s spirit. Skip forward twelve years, and Rosie’s sister Bettina comes from America to visit Stornham, and with characteristic intelligence, cool-headedness, strength, poise (and, of course, stunning beauty) begins to set matters right.

The plot is… plotty. It’s great storytelling. I happily raced to the finish of this book in one long plane flight. There aren’t any big surprises for anyone who knows this sort of book, from the blossoming of the ruined estate gardens (strong, strong hints of The Secret Garden here, which Burnett had not written yet) to the presence of a strong, stubborn, proud man on the estate next door, to the final righteous comeuppance of various villains at the end. But who needs surprises?

What makes this book wonderful is the way it’s told, all in a breathless rush. Burnett is such a satisfying author, as many of you will know from her children’s books. At the beginning of the novel, she works Nigel’s wickedness and cruelty — without quite making him ridiculous — so well that I wondered in agony how long it was going to go on before it got better. Later, the suspense is breathtaking as we wait for news of a favorite character’s illness, or for another’s blackmail. There is a comic character who made me laugh every time he came on the scene. There are explorations of the roles of husbands and wives that I thought were quite bold and interesting; there were frank discussions about what money can and cannot do, both for the rich and for the poor. The novel may be your basic romance novel, but — or maybe I should say “and” — it’s huge fun. Definitely recommended, and I was so delighted that I put The Making of a Marchioness on my list for next time!

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33 Responses to The Shuttle

  1. Alex says:

    The Secret Garden is probably my favorite children’s book (together with The Railway Children) and it’s strange how I’ve never even wondered what other books she wrote. I think I was put out by Little Lord Fauntleroy, which, to her defense, was her first.

    I’ll add The Shuttle to the wishlist :)

    • Jenny says:

      You and I love the same kids’ books (I adore The Railway Children, too.) I think I heard about her adult novels over at Random Jottings, and couldn’t resist! Definitely try this one. It was such fun, and much the same spirit as The Secret Garden or The Little Princess.

  2. litlove says:

    I loved this too! Great review, Jenny.

  3. Deb says:

    How interesting! I was unaware that Burnett wrote “adult” fiction; I shall have to look for this one. BTW, If you like stories about the Guilded Age and about how rich American women married into the declining British aristocracy, Edith Wharton’s THE BUCCANEERS can’t be beat.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, yes, Edith Wharton is just the thing for this age, you’re exactly right. Definitely seek this one out. It was so enjoyable, right from the first page.

  4. I was also unaware Burnett did have other stories! I guess I never looked..

    • Jenny says:

      She was a very prolific author, and while she’s most famous for her kids’ books, she wrote quite a few adult novels.

  5. bibliolathas says:

    You really get under the book’s ‘skin’ with this review – really enjoyable. I loved The Shuttle – and you’re in for a huge treat with The Making of a Marchioness.

    • Jenny says:

      I’m really looking forward to it. I think those two are the ones Persephone has reprinted, but there are also a number of others. I’ll have to look into it.

  6. I loved this too! For all its melodrama (which, I have to admit, kind of bothered me at the climax), it is a wonderful read.

    • Jenny says:

      The climax was definitely melodramatic, but I don’t mind some melodrama in a good cause. :) I had a lot of fun with it!

  7. savidgereads says:

    I really LOVED this book so everytime I see another review singing its praises I just feel happier and happier. I havent yet gotten my hands on The Making of a Marchioness but its one that I certainly want to read… in fact why oh why have I not been and seen if the library have it?

    • Jenny says:

      You should! I read this one on my Kindle and I’ll probably read the next one the same way. Most enjoyable!

  8. Amy says:

    I was so excited to read this review and thrilled to discover how much you enjoyed The Shuttle! I adored The Secret Garden and have wanted to read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s other books for a while now. I am planning to put in an order with Persephone next week and wanted to get at least one of Burnett’s books. I wasn’t completely sure how good her other books are so to read your review and know that this one is better than good is very reassuring! thank you!

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, my pleasure! I know there are a number of bloggers out there who have enjoyed this one, so I think you can order this with confidence.

  9. Karen K. says:

    Aaargh! This is one of the Persephones that I had borrowed via ILL and didn’t have time to read. I kept putting it off because it was the longest one, and now I’m so annoyed that I didn’t read it!! Well, I am consoled by the fact that there are a bajillion copies out there in various libraries, so I should have no trouble getting it back again. I wonder how long I should wait before I request it again. Or I could just break down and buy my own copy, couldn’t I? There are lots of used copies for sale.

    I have read Making of a Marchioness and I liked it, though I found the ending quite surprising. I’ll say no more.

    • Jenny says:

      It was long (something like 600 pages, right?) but it was a fast read. And now you have me really intrigued about The Making of a Marchioness!

  10. Iris says:

    I somehow never fell in love with The Secret Garden, I struggled to read it at all. I really hope I will have better luck with this one & The Making of a Marchioness.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, dear. I just love The Secret Garden, mostly because I love Mary, the main character. She is so peevish and ornery, and never stops being herself even when the garden begins to transform her. But I hope you enjoy the adult novels more!

  11. Jenny says:

    I’ve read and loved Frances Hodgson Burnett’s kids’ books but only a few of her (generally a bit silly) grown-up books. I liked the very silly The Head of the House of Coombe and Robin — have you read those? They are very silly indeed, and feature spiritualism! :)

    • Jenny says:

      This is the only one of her adult novels I’ve read. I’d love to read one that featured spiritualism! I’ll have to put those on my list after The Making of a Marchioness!

  12. She says:

    Hot dang, I didn’t know Burnett wrote romances! I think I will have to check it out, as I loved The Secret Garden. It’s always neat to see where connections lie from an author’s older book to a newer one.

    • Jenny says:

      I agree. I could see connections between this one and both The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, but more The Secret Garden. You’ll see!

  13. Aarti says:

    Gosh, I wish Burnett’s other books were easy to find here! I want to read this one and The Making of a Marchioness. I admit I don’t remember anything super-positive about The Secret Garden, but hopefully I’d like these more…

  14. Ok, I definitely need to read this one. You had me at plotty.

  15. rebeccareid says:

    This sounds so great! I cannot wait to read anther Persephone! This may be one of the next ones.

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  17. Lisa says:

    I immediately found a copy through ABE, which arrived suprisingly quickly, and I’m deep into it.

    I think you’ll really enjoy The Making of a Marchioness!

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, it sounds lovely. Have you read others of hers as well?

      • Lisa says:

        Just the children’s books – A Little Princess might be one of my desert-island books. But I never knew she’d written adult books until I saw Marchioness mentioned.

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