Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Frances Hodgson Burnett Trifecta 2010 I ended up reading three Frances Hodgson Burnett books (two by accident and the third just so I could say I've read three). This will be a joint review of The Shuttle, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden.

I first found out about The Shuttle through Betsy Tacy (of course!). There have been so many interesting books that I have bought/read because of the Betsy books (The Beloved Vagabond, Daddy Long Legs, Helen's Babies, and The Shuttle for example). So I was already familiar with The Shuttle through Betsy Books, and then I read an interesting review of it by a book blogger that I follow. I was intrigued when I realized that Burnett wrote the famous children's books: A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and Little Lord Fauntleroy, as well as many books for adults such as The Shuttle. So last fall I found a nice used copy online, and finally this summer I was able to work through all my other "books to be read" and get to The Shuttle! Here's my favorite passage that I chose to record.

" 'That is American,' she said, 'the habit of comparing every stick and stone and breathing thing to some literary parallel. We almost invariably say that things remind us of pictures or books- most usually books. It seems a little crude, but perhaps it means that we are an intensely literary and artistic people.' "

A lot of this book deals with relations between American and the British (hence the lion and eagle on the book cover) in I would say...the late 1800's. This quote comes from the main character Bettina (which always makes me wonder if this was inspiration to Maud Hart Lovelace for the nickname Julia gives Betsy) when she has just arrived in England. Bettina's sister has married into the British aristocracy and given Americans a bad name, and Betty (Bettina) is coming across the ocean to save the day and the reputation of Americans everywhere. Forgive my sarcasm there, because I really did like the book, but sometimes I just got the feeling that Burnett was really really proud of her created heroine. But I did love this quote.

So....overall, I enjoyed the book all the way through. It was not an easy read. To me it was one of those books where you need to commit to paying attention to every sentence and inference if you want to fully understand the characters and plot. Some of the characters were tiresome with their extreme propriety and just plain uptight-ness. I am tempted to think that Burnett was overdoing things a bit. But she is the one who lived back then, not me, so I guess I should trust her take of society in that time. Personally I wished there had been an extra chapter or two at the end of the book to tie up loose ends. But I find myself wishing that about a lot of books. I am a big fan of epilogues. I will just have to imagine how all of the characters life's worked out, I suppose. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, or Edith Wharton type books. I hope to eventually read more of Burnett's books for adults.

A Little Princess- This was one of Andrew's read alouds for school this year. We read it right before Christmas break. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it held his attention, as he was not thrilled at first to be reading such a girly book (I guess the cover didn't help much). We just happened to have the Tasha Tudor edition, which I was excited about after having discovered her books and illustrations this summer (I may blog more on her later). My quote from this book is a short one.

"Only an Oriental could have planned it. It does not belong to London fogs."

I really enjoyed finally reading this book. I grew up watching the Shirley Temple movie version, which I've come to find out is a lot different than the book. I always loved the part where Ram Dass sneaks to her attic and makes it all cozy and livable, and that is the part where this quote comes from. It's said by the secretary who is helping Ram Dass with the plan, and he's right, it really doesn't belong to London fogs.
I liked all the old timey names in this book, for example: Ermengarde, Lavinia, and Amelia. I liked the "Large Family" (who weren't included in the movie), and all the fancy names Sara makes up for them. I liked the final chapter, because it gives a happy ending for even a very small character. I would have to say the plot of the book makes much more sense than the plot of the movie did. I would recommend this book to both children and adults.

The Secret Garden- So this was a book (and movie) that I always had a strange aversion to as a child. I'm still not sure what it was that bugged me about it (I never read it or watched the movie). But I decided to give it a try now that I'm older and on a Frances Hodgson Burnett kick. =) I don't have the Tasha Tudor edition like I have shown in the picture, but I may buy it one day, because it looks charming (more charming than our Wal Mart bargain book version).

I can't say that I loved this book. And I will definitely say that my childhood intuition was right. I would not have enjoyed it if I had read it anywhere under the age of 18 or so, which is when I started to appreciate more flowery writing styles, and more sedate plot lines. Andrew enjoyed hearing A Little Princess read aloud, but I can't imagine him sitting still and paying attention through The Secret Garden. I can't quite put my finger on why I didn't connect with this book, because I know some people adore it. I found it interesting at times, but once I got about halfway through with it I found myself having to plan to read it, instead of looking forward to each chapter, like I do with books I'm enjoying.

I can say one thing in the book I didn't enjoy was the Broad Yorkshire accent! Agh, I hate when an author insists on writing out an accent throughout an entire book (think Red Badge of Courage)! I would much rather just be told the accent and be left to imagine it myself for the remainder of the book. And in this case it wasn't even an accent I wanted to imagine for myself. In fact it really pained me when Mary and Colin started trying to speak it on kids, just stick with your proper English!!

I'll end with a few quotes that I did like from the book. First from Mary, because I feel like I know exactly what she means:
" 'Don't let us make it tidy,' said Mary anxiously. 'It wouldn't seem like a secret garden if it was tidy.' "

The next is from Mrs. Sowerby, who was maybe my favorite character. She was a good combination of wisdom, bravery, and nurturing. All the talk about "The Magic" kind of weirded me out, but I liked Mrs. Sowerby's take on it because she saw it in a more spiritual sense as opposed to some mystical force of nature (which is the vibe I got from the kids). But who knows if you can even tell what she's trying to say with the camouflage of her very broad Yorkshire. ;)

" 'Th' Magic listened when tha' sung th' Doxology. It would ha' listened to anything tha'd sung. It was th' joy that mattered.' "

And the last little quote I'll leave you with is about Martha (Mrs. Sowerby's daughter, and Dickon's sister). I liked Martha. She seemed like a good sort, even if she was supposed to be more on the simple minded side. At least she wasn't afraid of hard work! This is talking about Martha's day off:

"She went away in high spirits as soon as she had given Mary her breakfast. She was going to walk five miles across the moor to the cottage, and she was going to help her mother with the washing and do the week's baking and enjoy herself thoroughly."

I probably wouldn't read The Secret Garden again, but I'm glad I gave it a chance and finally read it!