When I was a child one of the books I absolutely loved was “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, of course I read and loved “The Secret Garden” too, but “A Little Princess” was my favourite. It wasn’t till years later that I discovered that FHB was a prolific writer, and not just of children’s books. So it was with some anticipation that I finally got round to buying a copy of “The Making of a Marchioness” and I was not disappointed, it was a real treat.
The story of a well-bred but penniless woman in her thirties, Emily Fox-Seton, who against all the odds manages to win the heart and hand of a wealthy nobleman the Marquess of Walderhurst, could be called a Cinderella story, and to a certain extent so it is; but it is much more than that. It defines the obsession with and importance of class in Victorian England, the role of women in that society, and the status of marriage. Emily is not the brightest of women intellectually, but she is an innocent, a truly good, unpretentious woman, and in a venal world she triumphs because of her innocence.
The book is in two parts, indeed it was originally published as two books, the first book being “The Making of a Marchioness” and the second book being “The Methods of Lady Walderhurst”. The second part is about what happens after she has been married, and is far more melodramatic. Emily is not safe in her role. There is a villain, her husband’s heir-presumptive who has returned from a life of loose living in India, accompanied by his Anglo-Indian wife, full of rage and spite at the thought he may loose his hoped for inheritance should Emily produce a child. Captain Osborne and his wife pose a very real danger to Emily and she has to return to anonymity to protect herself from their murderous plans. The plot is not particularly complex but through the various twists and turns which lead, needless to say, to a satisfactorily happy conclusion, the reader is brought up against some quite strong themes, racism, domestic violence, duty and the Victorian way of death.
In all the books I’ve read by FHB the main character has had to struggle against unfair odds to gain their rightful place in the world, together with all the material trappings which she considered so essential (including an engagement ring with a ruby “the size of a trouser button”!), and that is what makes them so popular I think. They are aspirational fairy-tales.
Apparently this was Nancy Mitford’s all time favourite book, and I can see why. It is about a world she would have understood only too well, and there are echoes of 'The Making of a Marchioness' in her books ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’.
The edition I have was published by Persephone Books – one of my favourite independent publishers- and has the benefit of an excellent introduction by Isabel Raphael, and an afterword by Gretchen Gerzina who has written Frances Hodgson Burnett’s biography.
This is very much a feel-good, comfort read, and I do recommend it to you.
What an EGGstrordinary EGGregious decision by the BACC that a 50 year-old, black-and-white advertisement for eggs featuring the late lamented comedian Tony Hancock cannot be re-shown on TV.
The advert shows Hancock having a boiled egg for breakfast, and the catch-phrase – written by Fay Weldon, who is now a famous author – was “Go to Work on an Egg”. Succinct wording with a subtle double meaning made it a classic. According to a BACC spokes-idiot the advert must not be screened because:
"The concept of eating eggs every day for breakfast goes against what is now the generally accepted advice of a varied diet and we therefore could not approve the ads for broadcast."
For pity’s sake! We all KNOW that you shouldn’t limit your diet to one single food – and no one in their right mind would subsist on eggs alone. Anyway who would want to?? Eggs every morning could be quite boring. What about those who eat cornflakes every single morning, or drink too much instant coffee – I notice those ads are not banned.
Do these pillocks think we are all stupid ?..
Just to stick two fingers up to the health nazis, I decided to use eggs for supper this evening, LOTS of eggs. I made my own version of a British classic, Omlette Arnold Bennet. Arnold Bennet was a famous author/playwrite who spent a year living at the Savoy Hotel when writing one of his novels. He loved the smoked fish omlette the chef made and demanded it so often that it was named after him; the true original recipe calls for a spoonful of bechamel sauce and a spoonful of hollandaise in addition to the other ingredients, but not having a large hotel kitchen at my disposal I have dispensed with those and made a version which is not quite as rich. The DH loves it, and it makes a filling meal for one, or a starter for two.
125g smoked haddock (about 2 fillets)
1½ tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
1 tablespoon double cream
Butter for cooking
Salt and pepper
Put the haddock fillets in a shallow microwaveable dish and pour in just enough milk to cover them, add the bayleaf. Cover dish and cook on high in microwave for 3 minutes.
Remove fish from poaching liquid, and break into large flakes, mix the crème fraiche with the flaked fish and put to one side.
Separate one egg and beat the white to soft peak stage. Add the yolk to the 3 remaining eggs in a bowl, add a splash of water and beat till fluffy. Season with black pepper. Don’t add salt as the smoked haddock is quite salty. Fold the egg white gently into the egg mixture.
Pre-heat the grill.
Heat a small frying pan and melt a knob of butter in it- swirl round so the butter coats the base of the pan and then gently tip the egg into the pan. Use a palette knife to draw the edges of the omelette towards the centre of the pan, and then gently spread the fish mixture over it. When it is almost set pour the double cream over the top and sprinkle the parmesan on top. Place the whole pan under the grill for 3-4 minutes until the omelette is puffed up and golden brown.
Carefully slide it onto a plate without folding it.
Crusty brown bread and butter is wonderful with this.