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The Shuttle

by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Persephone book no:

70 71 72

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155615

The Shuttle, which was was first published in 1907, four years before the author's most famous book, The Secret Garden, is about American heiresses marrying English aristocrats; by extension it is about the effect of American energy, dynamism and affluence on an impoverished English ruling class.

Sir Nigel Anstruthers crosses the Atlantic to look for a rich wife and returns with the daughter of an American millionaire, Rosalie Vanderpoel. He turns out to be a bully, a miser and a philanderer and virtually imprisons his wife in the house. Only when Rosalie's sister Bettina is grown up does it occur to her and her father that some sort of rescue expedition should take place. And the beautiful, kind and dynamic Bettina leaves for Europe to try and find out why Rosalie has, inexplicably, chosen to lose touch with her family. In the process she engages in a psychological war with Sir Nigel; meets and falls in love with another Englishman; and starts to use the Vanderpoel money to modernise ‘Stornham Court’.

But The Shuttle, which is five hundred pages long and a page-turner for every one of them, is about far more than the process by which an English country house can be brought back to life with the injection of transatlantic money (there is some particularly interesting detail about the new life breathed into the garden). It is mainly about American energy and initiative and get-up-and-go; this is symbolised by G Selden, the typewriter salesman on a bicycling tour of England, who meets, and charms, Bettina and her sister and, back in New York, their father. 

Above all it is about Bettina Vanderpoel. She is the reason why this is such a successful, entertaining and interesting novel – one could almost say that she is one of the great heroines, on a par with Elizabeth Bennet, Becky Sharp and Isabel Archer. This is because she is so intelligent and so enterprising – she has a strong business sense, inherited from her father, and instinctive management skills (as we would now call them). If every man in England married a girl like Bettina Vanderpoel, we are meant to think, England’s future would be as glittering as America’s.

The book’s title refers to ships shuttling back and forth over the Atlantic (Frances Hodgson Burnett herself travelled between the two countries thirty-three times, something very unusual then) and also to the weaving of the alliance between America and Britain. ‘As Americans discovered Europe, that continent discovered America. American beauties began to appear in English drawing-rooms and Continental salons... What could be more a matter of course than that American women, being aided by adoring fathers sumptuously to ship themselves to other lands, should begin to rule these lands also?’

One of the first and best known of all the Anglo-American matrimonial alliances was that of Jennie Jerome to Lord Randolph Churchill; their son, Winston Churchill, was to be the most illustrious offspring of all such transatlantic matches. Another well-known American heiress was Consuelo Vanderbilt, whose picture is reproduced above. When she married the 9th Duke of Marlborough (Winston Churchill's cousin) in 1895, her dowry was said to be in the region of two and a half million dollars, and was used to renovate Blenheim Palace.

All during the ten years of the Marlboroughs’ life together at Blenheim – they separated in 1907 – the newspapers were full of gossip about them, gossip which Frances Hodgson Burnett would certainly have read. And although the house lived in by ‘Sir Nigel Anstruthers’ and his wife is small in comparison with Blenheim, some of the details came from there; the actual model for ‘Stornham Court’, however, is Great Maytham Hall, near Rolvenden in Kent. This had, and still has, a wonderful garden which, in The Shuttle, Bettina sets about restoring and which, in 1911, inspired the walled garden in The Secret Garden.

Also available as a Persephone eBook.


Endpapers taken from 'Tulip Tree', a roller-printed cotton designed by Lewis F Day for Turnbull and Stockdale in 1903.

Picture Caption

Conduelo, Duchess of Marlborough née Vanderbilt, from Country House Camera by Christopher Simon Sykes.

Read What Readers Say

JW, Australia

I have today finished ‘The Shuttle' by Frances Hodgson Burnett and wanted to write & tell you how much I have enjoyed it. The theme engaged me from the outset and I loved all the characters (except Sir Nigel, of course!) – they fill the pages as very much warm, living people with believable dilemmas and solutions. The descriptive passages of the English countryside as seen for the first time through the eyes of the American visitors certainly mirror my own as a tourist many years ago. I found it compelling reading on many levels and a wonderful portrait of the life of the times.

Amanda Craig via Facebook

‘The Shuttle’ is one of my all-time favourites and comfort reads - the Persephone version, slightly edited, is much better than the original. Its account of spousal abuse and coercive control is masterly, presumably drawn from Hodgson-Burnett’s own miserable marriage, and its heroine and hero both splendid. Incredibly suspenseful and deeply engaging. As in ‘The Secret Garden’, she’s great at describing how effort and will (and money) can drag a place back from ruin, and also provide healing.

CW via email

Thank you for highlighting this one. Just read it. Revolutionary for its era and reflecting many timeless themes. Excellent narrative construction, reworking of the melodrama genre and Feminist aspects. Thoroughly enthralling and an absolute page-turner. What an intelligent, strong and interesting woman FHB was. Interesting to compare her with Edith Wharton…

Categories: America History House and Garden Love Story Woman and Home

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