A Lady of Quality


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Isaac Bickerstaff but not presented to the World of Fashion through the pages of The Tatler , and now for the first time written down by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Uncivilised and almost savage as her girlish life was, and unregulated by any outward training as was her mind, there were none who came in contact with her who could be blind to a certain strong, clear wit, and unconquerableness of purpose, for which she was remarkable. She ever knew full well what she desired to gain or to avoid, and once having fixed her mind upon any object, she showed an adroitness and brilliancy of resource, a control of herself and others, the which there was no circumventing.

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She never made a blunder because she could not control the expression of her emotions; and when she gave way to a passion, 'twas because she chose to do so, having naught to lose Although known today primarily for her children's books, Burnett also wrote novels for an adult audience, and A Lady of Quality is emphatically one of the latter. Even in this more jaded era, it's hard to imagine a children's book that opens with a dying mother trying to kill her newborn, or one that features a six-year-old attacking her father with a riding crop. A Lady of Quality , a historical novel set during the reign of Queen Anne, gives us a protagonist almost comically at the opposite end of the spectrum from Cedric, the sunny-tempered seven-year-old who charms or annoys readers of Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Clorinda Wildairs is a strong girl, and then a strong woman, in every sense of the term — physically powerful, mentally acute, and possessed of an indomitable will.

A Lady of Quality by Francis H. Burnett

Indeed, the adult Clorinda could easily be comic-book super-heroine Wonder Woman transplanted into the early 18th Century, albeit without a Magic Lasso. Unlike many of Burnett's child protagonists, Clorinda is, at least at the outset, not a painfully noble character — or even a nice one.


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She drinks, she swears, she bullies everyone around her, and she gives free rein to her ferocious temper and unswerving determination to have her own way. Fortunately for Clorinda, she is a beauty as well as a hellion; otherwise, as the narrator admits, Clorinda's brutal father "would have broken every bone in her carcass without a scruple or a qualm" rather than submitting to her infant tyranny and "shrewish will".

A Lady of Quality follows this fearsome female prodigy as she grows to adulthood and faces the challenges of love, marriage, betrayal, and danger, as well as the demands, both great and small, of the fashionable society in which she moves. Although her demeanor is far from that of the typical romantic heroine, Clorinda manages to win and keep our sympathy; we want her to succeed, even when she engages in acts her fictional contemporaries — or, indeed, the original readers of the novel — might have viewed as crimes.

Despite her deviation from the traditional romantic-heroine pattern, Clorinda Wildairs is no Becky Sharp. Clorinda speaks truthfully when she says, "I have no virtues — where should I have got them from, forsooth, in a life like mine?


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I mean I have no women's virtues; but I have one that is sometimes — not always — a man's. The heroine is once again a twenty-something woman shepherding a teenager through informal Bath social events deemed suitable for teenagers. She is once again living with an older female relative devoted to her interests, but with a habit of babbling foolishly.

The hero is once again a man despised by Society but immediately liked by the heroine, for no good reason that she can discover, who comes into her life thanks to the teenager. Her older brother once again deplores her choice. A gazette fortune hunter is once again chasing the teenager and the protagonist is having problems showing the teenager his true motives.

A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett -

The young teenager once again forms a close friendship with another young teenager with a sympathetic, wonderful mother. The protagonist once again has a thoroughly respectable and boring suitor.

And, sure enough, various characters come down with a severe case of the flu. I was more or less trying to avoid the similarities until the flu episode, at which point I found myself kinda gritting my teeth. What did I do last time?

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A Lady of Quality

Oh, right, flu. Tell me again why I agreed to write another book?

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Heyer had been retreating further and further from her derring-do plots of previous years, but this is arguably her most static book. He remains static throughout the entire book.

The same can be said for nearly every other character, with the arguable exception of Maria Farlow, who becomes more whiny and annoying and jealous—not exactly positive changes. Most of the characters, too, are weaker versions of their counterparts in Black Sheep , with fewer redeeming qualities. Ninian Elmore lacks the calm good sense of Oliver Grayshott, not to mention his usefulness. Annis is more subdued and less funny than Abigail Wendover. The fortune hunter is less charming and less evil and more easily dismissed.

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Selina in Black Sheep , after all, does have some admirable qualities despite her lack of intelligence: she has exquisite taste, she is more than willing to defend Abigail against the rest of their family, and is an excellent and popular hostess. Maria Farlow, on the other hand, starts off as incredibly dull, and descends into hysteria and ongoing whining. Nearly every character expresses hostility to her at one point or another, with only a few of the minor characters grudgingly admitting that Miss Farlow is good with children and willing the help.

Even the closest thing she has to a defender, Amabel, admits that she finds Maria trying and boring. Maria Farlow, unlike Selina, has no money of her own, and her prospects, should she lose her position, are worse than poor. The resulting portrait, of a desperate and terrified and yet oh so boring is not just unkind but more than once painful or irritating or both to read.

The worst change, however, lies with the hero.

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