Monday, 15 July 2013

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett

published 1907   chapter 15







[American visitor Bettina Vanderpoel is out walking]

She caught sight of someone, a man in leggings and shabby clothes and with a gun over his shoulder, evidently an under keeper. He was a big, rather rough-looking fellow… [he helps her, she offers him a gold piece as a tip]

"Hang it all," he said, "I can't take this, you know. I suppose I ought to have told you. It would have been less awkward for us both. I am that unfortunate beggar, [Lord] Mount Dunstan, myself…Why shouldn't you take me for a keeper? …You came upon [a fellow] tramping over a nobleman's estate in shabby corduroys and gaiters, with a gun over his shoulder and a scowl on his ugly face. Why should you leap to the conclusion that he is the belted Earl himself? There is no cause for embarrassment."

"I am not embarrassed," said Bettina.

"That is what I like," gruffly.

"I am pleased," in her mellowest velvet voice, "that you like it." Their eyes met with a singular directness of gaze. Between them a spark passed which was not afterwards to be extinguished…



observations: The Shuttle is a terrific melodrama about US heiresses marrying into the British nobility - very
long, with weird incidents interspersed with quite dull descriptions of this and that. It has the distinction, apparently, of being the only book Persephone have felt they had to abridge in one of their attractively-presented reprints. There is probably no harm in shortening it (though they haven’t done it exactly as I would have) though they should be a bit more upfront – it’s hard to tell from my edition that it isn’t the full whack. The full version is available online.

Bettina, a millionaire’s daughter, has come to England to find out what happened to her sister: Rosalie married a titled man some years previously, and has virtually lost touch with her family, who suspect, correctly, that all is not well. Bettina finds a very bad situation when she gets there, and proceeds, slowly, to solve all the problems, and win everyone’s hearts at the same time. But the book isn’t as twee as that makes it sound – some of the melodrama is unbelievable, but other aspects are horribly convincing, and seem to reflect some aspects of FHB’s own life. She paints an awful but very real picture of a sadistic, cunning and manipulative husband. And Betty really is an unusual heroine for her time – FHB is annoyingly adoring of the character she created, but at least she shows a capable, independent, intelligent woman who doesn’t rely on others for help.

Special note for Margot - linguist and proprietor of the Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog:  there’s quite a discussion of ‘New York slang’ – words and phrases that the Brits are fascinated to hear and haven’t come across before. They’re mostly very familiar now – to butt in, a looker, up against it – but it’s always intriguing to find out when phrases first started appearing.

Tomorrow the blog will feature a modern book with strange similarities to this one.

The photograph is from the National Library of Ireland, the picture is a German lithograph of The English Gamekeeper from Wikimedia Commons: the Lord probably looked like a mixture of the two pictures.

2 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, thank you for this recommendation! I remember reading Burnett's books as a child, but this is one I haven't read. I definitely must now, even if the book does need some editing... Oh, and thank you for the kind mention!

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  2. As soon as they started talking about language differences I thought of you Margot, I knew you'd be intrigued. It's a charming scene, in that neither side is getting at the other - the gentlemanly scholar is saying 'Oh what lively language you are bringing to us' rather than saying 'oh what dreadful slang.'

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