Monday, February 11, 2008

Why I love "The Shuttle" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Shuttle, which I bought at a used book store for $2.00, was written in 1907. I don't believe I have a first edition, but it might very well be. It's not in great condition, it's very much a "reading" copy.

Again, like Skating Shoes, it smells divine. I wish I could hold it up under your nose. See how good it smells?

The book revolves around a young woman, Bettina, the daughter of a man so wealthy that he's ranked among the Rockefellers and Morgans. Her older sister married an impoverished English lord, left America to go live with him and was pretty much never heard from since. The reader finds that the husband, Sir Nigel Anstruther, is abusive. Bettina Vanderpoel (called Betty mostly) is a highly intelligent girl, better educated than most young debutants of the era, and has a decided and stubborn personality. She's determined to go and rescue her sister...and she does. She also has firm opinions on philanthropy and is very practical.

Here's an example of the kind of heroine we're dealing with here: There is an epidemic in a nearby village, and Lord Mount Dunstan (who is in love with Betty, but poor as a church mouse and too proud to ask a wealthy woman to marry him) has to figure out a way to help his villagers and he basically asks himself "What Would Betty Do?" so he makes his grand ballroom (practically the only room without a leaky roof) into a hospital for the sick villagers. But he still has no real way to get them medical help:

...But even before he had left the house, the problem was solved for them. The solving of it lay in the note Miss Vanderpoel had written the night before at Stornham
...[the vicar] opened the note and read it gravely, and then as gravely, though with a change of expression, handed it to Mount Dunstan.
"Yes, she is a creature of action. She has heard and understood at once, and she has done something. It is immensely practical - it is fine - it - it is lovable."
"Do you mind my keeping it?" Mount Dunstan asked, after he had read it.
"Keep it by all means," the vicar answered. "It is worth keeping."
But it was quite brief. She had heard of the outbreak of fever among the hop pickers, and asked to be allowed to give help to the people who were suffering. They would need prompt aid. She chanced to know something of the requirements of such cases, and had written to London for certain supplies which would be sent to them at once. She had also written for nurses, who would be needed above all else. Might she ask Mr. Penzance to kindly call upon her for any further assistance required.
...She had, in fact, gone to London to consult an eminent physician, who was an authority of world-wide reputation...he had experienced a new sensation in the visit paid him by an indubitably modern young beauty, who wasted no word, and whose eyes, while he answered her amazingly clear questions, were as intelligently intent as those of an ardent and serious young medical student. What a surgical nurse she would have made! It seemed almost a pity that she evidently belonged to a class the members of which are rich enough to undertake the charge of entire epidemics, but who do not usually give themselves to such work, especially when they are young and astonishing in the matter of looks.
Betty is basically Sara Crewe, if she had been American and her father had not died after he found the diamond mines. She does rescue her sister. And Mount Dunstan finally comes off his high horse. And the evil brother-in-law gets what he deserves, pretty much.

Oh, it's over-the-top in many ways but it's so goooooood. And it's WAAAAY ahead of it's time in dealing with spousal abuse, rape, and other feminist issues.

I love, love, love this book.

Alas, it's out of print. 5/22/15 ETA: It's available on KINDLE! Not all these versions are unabridged, please choose wisely.


Magpie said...

Cool - I may look for a copy.

I borrowed your "first line" meme...

Madeleine said...

This sounds wonderful. I just looked in my library system and was thrilled to see they have two copies -- but it turns out they are both in the stacks for reference only. Bummer. If I see it used I will grab it!

allison said...

Oh, now I need to go find a copy at ABE. Or perhaps do as madeleine has, and check my local library!

Anonymous said...

Commenting on an old post, but I wanted your readers to know that this book is printed by Persephone Books now and is also available in e-book format on

Anonymous said...

Persephone ABRIDGED it, the fools. What good is a Victorian novel if it leaves out the background details, I ask you. Hmmph!

liz said...

That SUCKS. I'm so sorry.