A child’s nursery rhyme books does not have the language in which to speak to a Latin dictionary. Chaucer does not know the words in which Henry James communicates but here they are forced to live together, forever speechless. […] Does Elizabeth Bowen find Swift congenial company? Ah yes, surely, they were both Irish, they have a lot in common. I should like to sit here on the landing in the last glimmer of daylight and listen to them whispering together. […] Can books learn from one another? Can they change as a result of sitting on a shelf beside another for years?
Not that Burnett’s heroine isn’t any less angelic – in fact, she’s a much better person than Helen: always smiling, always being grateful to other people, always happy to run errands for others. No, in The Making of a Marchioness you have to turn to the secondary female characters to get women with some more bite (and, eventually, one dead beastly husband).
Reading both At Mrs. Lippincote’s and The Making of a Marchioness has finally convinced me (if I needed any convincing at all!) to teach a course on women writers of the early 20th century. Next winter, perhaps?