Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Shuttle

I just finished reading The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett and I have to say, it might be my favorite Persephone book yet. I know for a fact that I have said this before about other books, but I may really mean it this time. It combines elements that are reminiscent of Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austen, and Edith Wharton, features a heroine that is equal to any of their classic characters, and just may be the latest addition to my list of favorite books of all time.

The Shuttle takes place in the early 20th century, when American heiresses were just beginning to marry into the British aristocracy. The shuttle of the title refers to the steamer ships that crossed the Atlantic, ferrying prospective brides and bridegrooms back and forth across the pond. The novel opens during the first wave of this phenomenon. The wealthy Vanderpoel family (fictional counterpart to the Vanderbilts) marries their eldest daughter Rosalie to Lord Nigel Anstruthers, an evil philanderer hiding behind the mask of a respectable title. As soon as the sweet, simple Rosy reaches England, she's easily overpowered by her husband, cut off from her family and money, and forced to live a reclusive life in Nigel's dilapidated manor house, Stornham Court. This section of the novel is pure Gothic fare.

Cut to twelve years later when younger sister Bettina Vanderpoel enters the scene as both the heroine of the novel and the hero of the day. Unlike Rosy, Betty is clever, composed, and courageous. She is close with her millionaire father and has inherited his practical business acumen along with his money. She brings both with her to find and rescue Rosy. She sweeps into the Gothic decay of Stornham and immediately begins to rehabilitate both the house and her sister. Gothic elements reappear as Nigel tries to plot and scheme against Betty, but they are always counterbalanced by her modern outlook, one that comes from a world where there's law and order and where people cannot be held captive against their will. This push and pull between the Gothic and the modern reflects the similar dynamic that occurs as American and English cultures mingle throughout the novel. Of course, there is a climatic scene in which Betty nearly does fall prey to Gothic horror at Nigel's hands--I won't reveal any spoilers, though. This is a true page-turner that's satisfying on many levels. (Did I mention that there is a romantic male lead who is at least as dreamy as Mr. Darcy? And characters with wonderfully ridiculous names like Ughtread and Mount Dunstan?) I can't recommend  this book highly enough!

Do you have a "favorite" Persephone book? Or at least a current favorite that has yet to be dethroned?


  1. This sounds SO good! My book club is reading it in October and I almost can't wait until then to get to it. I might have to sneak ahead. Do you think it will be a good book to discuss?
    My two favorite Persephones so far are They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple and The Expendable Man by Dorothy B. Hughes.

    1. I think this will be a great book club book! There are many levels to discuss: the social and economic themes of Britain vs. America, the suspenseful threads in the plot, the romance...I'd love to hear how your discussion goes!


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