Burnett, Frances Hodgson: The Head of the House of Coombe
(researched by Hanni Goodman)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description
1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)
Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Head of the House of Coombe. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1922. Copyright statements: 1922 by Frances Hodgson Burnett 1921 by The International Magazine Company Parallel First British Edition: Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Head of the House of Coombe. London: William Heinemann, 1922.
2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?
The first American edition is published in trade cloth binding.
3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available
4 Pagination
194 leaves, pp. [4] 1-374 [3]
5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?
The first American edition is neither edited nor introduced. However, there is a ìPublisherís Noteî at the end of the book, on the page facing page 374. This note tells the reader that the magazine form in which The Head of the House of Coombe first appeared left out too much of the story due to space constraints. It claims that the publisher desires to produce the story in its entirety, as two separate volumes. The first is The Head of the House of Coombe, and the second will be entitled Robin.
6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?
There are no illustrations in the first American edition.
7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available
8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)
The overall presentation of the book is good. There are wide margins and the print is small, but well spaced. The print is also very crisp, not at all smeared. There are no type descriptions in the book itself. The type is Roman and appears to be sans serif. There is no difference in the type of the text, chapter headings and title pages. Italics are occasionally used throughout the text, and the ìPublisherís Noteî has been printed in italics as well. Type size: 85R. The page is 127mm in width and 190mm in height. The margins are 22mm in width and 27mm in height.
9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available
10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)
The paper used in this book is a wove paper with an even, granulated texture. It is a lower quality paper, probably a step up from newsprint. However, the paper does seem to be holding up fairly well; there are no rips or tears. The paper is acidic, as is witnessed by the yellowish hue that it has assumed over the years. There are no stains, nor is there foxing.
11 Description of binding(s)
The cloth used to bind the book is a dark green or olive color, with dotted-line grain. There is no dust jacket. The title is stamped in black on the cover and is placed at the top and centered. The author is stamped in black and is at the bottom of the cover. There are three blind design imprints stamped on the cover as well. A small indistinguishable imprint is to the left of the word ìHouse,î there is an imprint of a crown between the title and the author, and there are small floral imprints on either side of the authorís last name. The spine of the book has the title and authorís name at the top, and the publisherís name at the bottom, both stamped in black. The endpapers are the same paper as the text and they contain no writing or illustrations. Transcription of front cover: The HEAD of the | HOUSE | of COOMBE | [crown imprint] | FRANCES HODGSON | [flower imprint] BURNETT [flower imprint] Transcription of spine: THE HEAD | of the | HOUSE | of | COOMBE | BURNETT | STOKES
12 Transcription of title page
Recto: THE HEAD OF THE | HOUSE OF COOMBE | BY | FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT | AUTHOR OF | ìTHE SHUTTLEî | ìTHE SECRET GARDENî | ìLITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROYî | ETC. | [publisherís seal] | NEW YORK | FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY | PUBLISHERS * There is a double-line frame around the words on the recto side of the title page. Verso: COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY | FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT | [rule] | COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY THE INTERNATIONAL MAGAZINE COMPANY | [rule] | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED | PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
13 JPEG image of title page, if available
14 Manuscript Holdings
15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)
Both the American and British first editions are housed in the Barrett Collection in Special Collections at the University of Virginia. The copy of the British first edition in the Barrett Collection contains an inscription by the author that reads: ìTo Gertrude & Ray to read on the holiday, with gay good wishes, Frances Hodgson Burnett 1922.î The American first edition contains some pencil marks on the front and back end pages; the number 2.00 appears twice and there is an illegible signature on the front end pages.
Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History
1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A
Prior to the publication of their first edition, Frederick A. Stokes Company released a Special Edition for booksellers to read in advance. The first edition came out February 10, 1922. An advertisement in Publishers Weekly from January 22, 1922 reads, ìWe have prepared a Special Edition (free on request) to enable salespeople to read the book before publication and appreciate what a wonderful story it is.î Several ads by Stokes Co. also mention both cloth and leather editions of The Head of the House of Coombe, the former selling for $2 and the latter for $2.50. It is possible that these two editions differ only in the binding.
2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available
3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available
4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?
It is unclear how many printings or impressions were made of the first edition. One ad in Publisherís Weekly from February 11, 1922 states, ì2nd large printing, ordered February 1, now running on six presses.î An advertisement in Publisherís Weekly from August 12, 1922 mentions a third printing of The Head of the House of Coombeís sequel, Robin, but does not state any further information about printings of The Head of the House of Coombe.
5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A
Original publication: Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Head of the House of Coombe. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1922. Subsequent publications by different publishers: Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Head of the House of Coombe. New York: A.L. Burt, 1922. Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Head of the House of Coombe. London, William Heineman, 1922. Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Head of the House of Coombe. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1922.
6 Last date in print?
As of April 2001, The Head of the House of Coombe was still in print. At this time Classic Books issued a reprint edition of The Head of the House of Coombe as part of the ìBestsellers of 1922î series. The book was printed in English, had a library binding, and sold for $48.
7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)
It is unclear how many copies of The Head of the House of Coombe were actually sold. Alice Hackettís 80 Years of Bestsellers gives a list of hardcover bestsellers that sold more than 750,000 copies, and The Head of the House of Coombe does not appear on this list. Hackett claims that bestsellers published before 1930 typically sold between 500,000 and 1,000,000 copies. In the January 14, 1922 edition of Publisherís Weekly there is an ad stating that the publisherís goal for this book is 500,000 copies. An ad from the August 12, 1922 edition of Publisherís Weekly indicates that the release of the sequel, Robin, had increased the demand for The Head of the House of Coombe and boasts, ìCoombe is now in its 80th thousand!î
8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)
An ad in the August 12, 1922 edition of Publisherís Weekly indicates that six months after its release The Head of the House of Coombe had sold 80,000 copies.
9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)
Many ads for The Head of the House of Coombe appeared in Publisherís Weekly. The book was heavily promoted to booksellers in hopes that they in turn would promote it to their readers. The first ad for The Head of the House of Coombe ran a full page in the January 14th edition of Publisherís Weekly. After the sequel, Robin, was released, the two books were advertised together. The last ad ran January 27, 1923. Transcription of advertisements: a. January 14, 1922: Coming February 15 | FRANCES HODGSON BURNETTîS | Greatest Novel | THE HEAD OF THE | HOUSE OF COOMBE | Big Advertising and | Publicity Campaign | With Display and | Advertising Helps for | Booksellers, including | Posters Postcards | Counter Display Materials | Streamers for Windows | Advertising Mats for Local Newspapers | Extensive Display Ads in Newspapers and Magazines| $2.00 | 500,000 Frances Hodgson Burnettís The Head of the House of Coombe Our Aim | ADVANCE COPIES | We have prepared a Special Edition (free on re- | quest) to enable salespeople to read the book before pub- | lication and appreciate what a wonderful story it is. b. February 11, 1922: Published February 10 | FRANCES HODGSON BURNETTíS | greatest novel | THE HEAD OF THE | HOUSE OF COOMBE | First large printing sold out | before publication. Second | large printing, ordered Feb- | ruary 1, now running on six | presses, will be ready in a few | days. Order now ñ first come | first served. | $2.00
10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available
11 Other promotion
The Head of the House of Coombe continued to be promoted heavily by Frederick A. Stokes Company in Publisherís Weekly for a year after its initial publication. The first ad for the novel speaks of a huge advertising campaign and mentions several forms in which advertisements will occur. As outlined in a Publisherís Weekly ad from January 14, 1922, these include the use of posters, postcards, counter display materials, streamers for windows, advertising mats for local newspapers and extensive display ads in newspapers and magazines. The novel was advertised as ìa beautiful and absorbing love storyî and suggested as a gift for Valentineís Day, Christmas, birthdays, or any special occasion. It was also promoted as a boxed set with its sequel, Robin.
12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A
N/A
13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A
Burnett, Frances Hodgson. Atten Coombes Huvudman. Stockholm: Albert Bonniers, 1923. [Swedish]
14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A
The Head of the House of Coombe was initially published in a condensed serialized form in a magazine. The first edition contains a publisherís note indicating that this was the case and a copyright from 1921 to the International Magazine Company, but not the name of the publication in which the story first appeared.
15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A
Burnett, Frances Hodgson. Robin. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1922
Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author
1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)
Frances Eliza Hodgson was born on November 24, 1849 in Manchester, England. Frances was the third child of Edwin Hodgson, a shopkeeper, and his wife, Eliza Boond. She enjoyed a comfortable middle-class existence until her father died in 1853. By 1855 the family's dire financial situation forced the to Islington Square, deep in the heart of industrial Manchester. Frances was an intelligent, happy child with a strong imagination (Laski 73). She first learned to read at age three, and wrote her first poem at age seven. After her family's move to Manchester, Frances briefly attended the local dame school, the only formal education that she ever received. The American Civil War hurt Manchester's textile industry and dealt another blow to the Hodgson family finances. In 1865 Frances' mother received a letter from her brother, William Boond, suggesting that the family move to America and join him in Tennessee. May of 1865 saw the Hodgson family settled in New Market, Tennessee. After the move, the Hodgson family continued to struggle financially. In an effort to raise money for her family, Frances began to write stories and submit them to magazines. At age 19 she sold "Hearts and Diamonds" to Godey's Ladies Book, and with these launched her long and successful literary career. In 1873 Frances Eliza Hodgson married Dr. Swan Burnett of Knoxville. Her first child, Lionel, was born the following year and shortly afterward the young family moved to Paris, where her second son, Vivian, was born. Upon her return to the United States, Hodgson Burnett's literary career blossomed. In 1877 she published her first novel, "That Lass o' Lowries," which met with both popular and critical approval. Hodgson Burnett returned to England in 1887 and for the next 25 years held residences both there and in the United States. In 1896 she divorced Swan Burnett and two years later married Stephen Townesend. In 1902 this marriage dissolved as well. The realities of married life never managed to live up to Hodgson Burnett's romantic expectations (Garraty 3). Throughout her long literary career, Hodgson Burnett dabbled in many genres. Her earliest writing was all popular adult romance. Hodgson Burnett is most remembered as an author of children's literature such as "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1886), "A Little Princess" (1905) and "The Secret Garden" (1911). She experimented with play writing, most successfully in "The Lady of Quality" (1896). Hodgson Burnett devoted her last years to long romances of social life for adults. "The Head of the House of Coombe" (1922) falls under this last genre. This nostalgic book is biographically of interest because in it Hodgson Burnett longs for the lost values of the "old civilization" (Bixler 115). Written in the twilight of her career, this book, "had the worst press of any Frances had written" (Thwaite 240). Frances Hodgson Burnett lived the last years of her life at her home in Plandome, Long Island. She died there on October 29, 1924. Today many of her manuscripts and professional correspondences can be found in Princeton's Scribner's Archives. Works cited: Bixler, Phyllis. Frances Hodgson Burnett. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984. Garraty, John and Mark Carnes, ed. American National Biography, Volume 4. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Laski, Marghanita. Mrs. Ewing, Mrs. Molesworth, and Mrs. Hodgson Burnett. New York: Oxford University Press, 1951. Thwaite, Ann. Waiting for the Party: The Life of Frances Hodgson Burnett. London: Seckers and Warburg, 1974.
Assignment 4: Reception History
1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Head of the House of Coombe" was released in February of 1922 and its sequel, "Robin," followed a few months later. The two books each form half of one cohesive story. As a result, they were frequently reviewed together and subjected to the same praises and criticisms. "The Head of the House of Coombe" and "Robin" are both romances intended for an adult audience. By the time of their publication, Hodgson Burnett had a firmly established literary reputation and a strong reader base. Her critical esteem, however, was on the decline. Consequently, reviews of "The Head of the House of Coombe" were mixed: they ranged from unmitigated approval to complete dismissal. Those who criticized "The Head of the House of Coombe" did so on the grounds that its romance and sentiment were extremely excessive. A critic from The Times London Supplement wrote, "Lush sentiments flow from her pen with a sweetness that suggests syrup rather than plain ink? this is a pity because once upon a time Mrs. Burnett could write differently." The Independent reviewer labeled the book as, "The apotheosis of Burnettian slush." The Spectator declares "The Head of the House of Coombe" to be, "Unmitigated sentimentality." Although the book met with a great deal of criticism, it was also not without its fans. Hodgson Burnett's supporters applauded her use of romance. They sung her praises as a masterful story-teller and a creator of delightful characters and interesting plots. Some criticized Hodgson Burnett for being too Victorian, but many reviewers claimed to prefer the old-fashioned romance. The reviewer in Bookman addresses the critics when she writes, ?The character of Robin will meet with scant favor from the admirer of the modern, hard, brilliant, individualistic heroine with whom we are now supplied. [Robin is] the beautiful sensitive child?with her unappeased hunger for affection? Some of us may prefer Robin." Alexander Black of the New York Times referred to "The Head of the House of Coombe" as "Mrs. Burnett's seriously conceived and finely proportioned work." The Literary Digest claims that this story is, "?shining with the light of true romance... Mrs. Burnett is a real story-teller? ?Feather' is a marvelously well-done little creature." In the end, "The Head of the House of Coombe" is most accurately assessed as somewhere in between these two extremes. Most reviewers agreed that this book and its sequel were not Hodgson Burnett's finest works. However, the general feeling seems to be that, despite their flaws, these books do retain some of the charm typical of the writings of Hodgson Burnett. E.F. Edgett of the Boston Transcript speaks for many when he says, "Mrs. Burnett has written better stories than ?The Head of the House of Coombe,' but Mrs. Burnett not in her best mood is far better than the average story-teller of the day." Sources: -Black, Alexander. "Mrs. Burnetts Venture in Romantic Realism." The New York Times Book Review, January-June 1922. New York: New York Times and Arno Press, 1922. (2/12/22 pg 8) -Booklist, Volume 18, October 1921-July 1922. Chicago: American Library Association, 1922. (pg 189) - Bookman, Volume 55, March-August 1922. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1922. (pg 195) -Knight, Marion and Mertice James, ed. Book Review Digest, 1922. New York: HW Wilson Company, 1923. (pg 82) - Literary Digest, Volume 73, April-June 1922. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1922. (pg 68-70)
2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)
Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Head of the House of Coombe" was released in February of 1922 and its sequel, "Robin," followed a few months later. The two books each form half of one cohesive story. As a result, they were frequently reviewed together and subjected to the same praises and criticisms. "The Head of the House of Coombe" and "Robin" are both romances intended for an adult audience. By the time of their publication, Hodgson Burnett had a firmly established literary reputation and a strong reader base. Her critical esteem, however, was on the decline. Consequently, reviews of "The Head of the House of Coombe" were mixed: they ranged from unmitigated approval to complete dismissal. Those who criticized "The Head of the House of Coombe" did so on the grounds that its romance and sentiment were extremely excessive. A critic from The Times London Supplement wrote, "Lush sentiments flow from her pen with a sweetness that suggests syrup rather than plain ink? this is a pity because once upon a time Mrs. Burnett could write differently." The Independent reviewer labeled the book as, "The apotheosis of Burnettian slush." The Spectator declares "The Head of the House of Coombe" to be, "Unmitigated sentimentality." Although the book met with a great deal of criticism, it was also not without its fans. Hodgson Burnett's supporters applauded her use of romance. They sung her praises as a masterful story-teller and a creator of delightful characters and interesting plots. Some criticized Hodgson Burnett for being too Victorian, but many reviewers claimed to prefer the old-fashioned romance. The reviewer in Bookman addresses the critics when she writes, ?The character of Robin will meet with scant favor from the admirer of the modern, hard, brilliant, individualistic heroine with whom we are now supplied. [Robin is] the beautiful sensitive child?with her unappeased hunger for affection? Some of us may prefer Robin." Alexander Black of the New York Times referred to "The Head of the House of Coombe" as "Mrs. Burnett's seriously conceived and finely proportioned work." The Literary Digest claims that this story is, "?shining with the light of true romance... Mrs. Burnett is a real story-teller? ?Feather' is a marvelously well-done little creature." In the end, "The Head of the House of Coombe" is most accurately assessed as somewhere in between these two extremes. Most reviewers agreed that this book and its sequel were not Hodgson Burnett's finest works. However, the general feeling seems to be that, despite their flaws, these books do retain some of the charm typical of the writings of Hodgson Burnett. E.F. Edgett of the Boston Transcript speaks for many when he says, "Mrs. Burnett has written better stories than ?The Head of the House of Coombe,' but Mrs. Burnett not in her best mood is far better than the average story-teller of the day." Sources: -Black, Alexander. "Mrs. Burnetts Venture in Romantic Realism." The New York Times Book Review, January-June 1922. New York: New York Times and Arno Press, 1922. (2/12/22 pg 8) -Booklist, Volume 18, October 1921-July 1922. Chicago: American Library Association, 1922. (pg 189) - Bookman, Volume 55, March-August 1922. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1922. (pg 195) -Knight, Marion and Mertice James, ed. Book Review Digest, 1922. New York: HW Wilson Company, 1923. (pg 82) - Literary Digest, Volume 73, April-June 1922. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1922. (pg 68-70)
Assignment 5: Critical Analysis
1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)
In 1914 World War I rocked the world. The war and its aftermath marked the end of a way of life, and left a world forever changed. "The Head of the House of Coombe," by Frances Hodgson Burnett, attempts to recreate this lost word through both form and content. Published in 1922, in the aftermath of the war, the book nostalgically recalls the Victorian years preceding the assassination in Sarajevo. The author mourns for the loss of aristocratic values and childlike innocence. "The Head of the House of Coombe" provides an opportunity for both author and readers to revisit this lost world one more time, right on the eve of its destruction. "The Head of the House of Coombe" tells the story of Robin Gareth-Lawless. It takes place in the early 1900's in London. Robin's father is dead and her mother, Feather, is a careless, frivolous woman with absolutely no mothering instincts. Lord Coombe, whom Robin inexplicably detests, financially supports feather and Robin. Robin's first six years are lonely and loveless. One day Robin, age 6, meets Donal Muir, age 8. The two fall in love, but his mother takes Donal away and Robin is heartbroken. The years go by and Robin grows up. She is taken care of by her governess and maid, and Lord Coombe supervises from afar. Frau Hirsch and Lady Etynge kidnap Robin, for the use of Count Von Hillern. At age 18 Robin becomes a companion for Coombe's old friend, the Duchess of Darte. Throughout the book Coombe and Darte discuss the impending World War I. It is at a party thrown by the Duchess that Robin is reunited with Donal. On the same night Archduke Ferdinand is assassinated in Sarajevo, signaling the imminent collapse of the old aristocratic Victorian order. The dying world portrayed in "The Head of the House of Coombe" was the world to which Frances Hodgson Burnett belonged. She was, or imagined herself to be, of this "old order." She believed in the aristocratic values of the Victorian age and said, "she hoped some of the best values from the old civilization would survive after the war was over" (Bixler 115). Burnett was born in England in 1849 and, though she moved to America as a young child, she returned to London in 1887 for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. From this point forward she maintained close ties with the country of her birth, and her affinity for the Victorian aristocratic values can be seen in works such as "The Head of the House of Coombe" and "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1886). Burnett was 65 years old when World War I shattered her world, and she never managed to reconcile herself to the change. "The Head of the House of Coombe" and its equally nostalgic sequel, "Robin" (1922), were the last books that Burnett wrote. She died in 1924. Before her death Burnett wrote many books in many different genres, and enjoyed great popularity as an author. She began writing "potboiler" romantic fiction in ladies magazines while still in her teens, and later expanded to adult fiction, plays, and most notably children's literature. As a proven marketable author with a strong fan base, any book by Burnett was guaranteed to be a success. Frederick A. Stokes Publishing Company sold many advance copies of "The Head of the House of Coombe" purely on the basis of Burnett's reputation. The book enjoyed short-lived success, appearing on the Publisher's Weekly Bestsellers list for a total of 20 weeks and climbing as high as #2 (Justice 57). This popularity, however, resulted more from Burnett's reputation than from the book's merit. This is not an uncommon theme amongst best-selling books: many sell on the basis of the author's popularity or the success of a previous work. This trend is indicative of the importance of precedent in bestsellers; readers find something that they enjoy and then seek further enjoyment through the original source. With regard to "The Head of the House of Coombe" the readers were not so lucky. One of her last books, "The Head of the House of Coombe" is also one of her worst. One critic wrote, "Lush sentiments flow from her pen with a sweetness that suggests syrup rather than plain ink?this is a pity because once upon a time Mrs. Burnett could write differently" (Knight 82). This book not only details the end of a way of life, but also marks the twilight of the author's literary career and decline in critical respect. The critical lashing taken by "The Head of the House of Coombe" can be attributed to Burnett's stubborn stagnancy in the face of a changing world. Her style remained what it had always been: flowery, sentimental, and romantic. Long, vivid descriptions fill the pages and similes to flowers can be found with astonishing regularity. "'She's got such a pretty mouth and cheeks,' he touched a Jacqueminot rose. ?They are the color of the that'" (Burnett 100). This romantic style of writing, however, had begun to loose its appeal and was nearing its end in 1922. Contemporary authors and critics preferred a more modern, realistic style of writing. One critic succinctly states the difference in styles when she compares Burnett's heroine and the heroines of more modern works. She writes, "The character of Robin will meet with scant favor from the admirer of the modern, hard, brilliant, individualistic heroine with whom we are now supplied. [Robin is] the beautiful, sensitive child" (Bookman 195). Despite criticism, however, Burnett would not or could not abandon her romantic style, even as it faded into obscurity. And it must be noted that not all of the reviews of "The Head of the House of Coombe" are negative. Interestingly, the romantic and nostalgic nature of the book was the subject of the praise as well as the criticism. Burnett was not alone in her yearning for a lost world, and her recreation of this world found favor with many readers. "The Head of the House of Coombe" offered a flight of fancy through a world sorely missed by many readers. The book tapped into the nostalgia of many of the readers and allowed them to vicariously experience something that they sorely missed. At the same time it provided an escape from the post-war world, a world marked by fear and insecurity. In this way, "The Head of the House of Coombe" is indicative of many best-selling books. Bestsellers provide their readers with something they want, whether it is an escape from the present or a recreation of the past. A longing for a lost past in "The Head of the House of Coombe" is characteristic of not only the author and the readers, but the characters as well. In fact, the entire plot depends upon Lord Coombe's sentimental nostalgia for an old love. Lord Coombe chooses to support Feather and Robin because Feather resembles Princess Alixe, whom he once admired. Additionally, many of the characters are referred to throughout the course of the book as being the last of their breed. The Duchess says, "?You have an elderly nurse you are very fond of. She seems to belong to a class of servants almost extinct" (Burnett 309). The discussions that Darte and Coombe engage in also regret the loss of the past. In discussing the inevitability and imminence of the coming war, Darte and Coombe lament the changes that will ensue. They equate these changes with death and destruction. Coombe says, "It's damnable! And it will be so not only in England, but all over a blood drenched world" (Burnett 324). These discussions present Burnett with a vehicle through which to air her opinions about World War I. This acknowledgement of the horror of the war would have reflected the opinion of contemporary readers. Capturing the opinions commonly held by the readers is another common feature of bestsellers. Burnett captures the common sentiments of 1922 not only in the overt discussions of Coombe and Darte. Her portrayal of the German characters in "The Head of the House of Coombe" speaks to residual fears and prejudices of the war years. Every German character introduced by Burnett turns out to be a spy. Von Hillern is portrayed as not only pompous, but downright wicked, and Frau Hirsch is not just plain, but traitorous. Both are automatons of the Kaiser's war machine. Coombe claims, "'Their God is an understudy of the Kaiser" (Burnett 325). Another commonly held fear in the post-war years was that the world was changing and unstable. People felt that they had lost control of their lives and that they were helpless, powerless and incapable of action. Burnett's characters in "The Head of the House of Coombe" embody these feelings. They are, for the most part, passive. Forces beyond their control act them upon, and others determine their fates. When Feather finds herself alone and desperate, she becomes hysterical and helpless. Coombe shows up at her door to save her; she does not actively seek him out. Donal's entrance brings light into little Robin's world and his departure casts her again into darkness and despair. She can do nothing in either case; she is at the mercy of fate. "Robin could only wait in the midst of a slow, dark, rising tide of something she had no name for? The world had been torn away" (Burnett 127-9). Robin's lonely and friendless childhood is also beyond her control. Children are not allowed to play with Robin because of her mother's reputation. Robin's feelings of aloneness reflect the losses of society in the aftermath of the war. Just as Robin lost Donal, the light of her life, so did many people loose friends and lovers in the war. A feeling of loneliness and loss can be assumed to have been almost universal in 1922. Change is only just beginning to stir in "The Head of the House of Coombe" in 1914, but devastation was complete in London in 1922. With the end of the "old days" in the book come not only a loss of friendship, but also a loss of values. On the night before Robin is to leave to begin her new job with the Duchess of Darte, Feather comes to give her some motherly advice. She says, "'Mothers are not as intimate with their daughters as they used to be when it was a sort of virtuous fashion to superintend their rice pudding and lecture them about their lessons'" (Burnett 314). Although Feather's tone is mocking, Burnett greatly valued such old-fashioned virtue. Donal's mother provides a direct contrast to Feather. She embodies all of these virtues of doting motherhood, and Burnett clearly means for her readers to prefer Mrs. Muir to Feather. It is for such types of people that Burnett is nostalgic. As the "old days" draw to an end, Robin looses something else for which Burnett mourns: innocence. It is interesting to note that Robin's maturation is regarded as a lamented loss of innocence rather than a desired attainment of knowledge. She says, "I'm BLACK with knowing" (Burnett 292). This negative and nostalgic spin is indicative of the mood that Burnett tries to create in "The Head of the House of Coombe." Robin's great awakening comes when she is kidnapped by Lady Etynge. Robin had believed Lady Etynge to be good and trustworthy, and when this trust is betrayed, Robin is crushed. Previously utterly sheltered, Robin is suddenly directly confronted with evil in the form of a personal assault. The fear and horror that result leave her totally devoid of trust and faith. She says, "I have been so frightened that I shall be a coward ? a coward all my life. I shall be afraid of every face I see ? the more to be trusted they look, the more I shall fear them" (Burnett 292). Many people at the close of World War I, as mentioned above, shared this attitude. Just as Robin's sheltered world had been shattered, so too had the innocent age before the world been utterly destroyed. However, by the end of the book, Robin's world has been reassembled. She is safe and happy in the employment of the Duchess of Darte. Her future is secure and her present is stable. Donal has come back to her, filling the void caused by his abandonment twelve years earlier. For Robin, the "old world" is still in tact. At the close of the book Robin is dancing in the arms of her beloved Donal. On the very same night, the Archduke is assassinated in Sarajevo. In fact, the end of the book coincides directly with the end of the "old world." In the coming days and weeks everything will change and all that Coombe and Darte have foreseen will come to fruition. The fact remains, however, that the book itself has a happy ending. Robin is safe and loved and, for the moment, the old order has prevailed. It is this last moment for which Burnett and her readers yearn. A successful bestseller will give the readers what they want or wish for. "The Head of the House of Coombe" provided its readers with a glimpse into a lost social order, a lifestyle that was sorely missed. It offers an escape from the post-war world of 1922 and a retreat back into the years before the world changed forever. The opening paragraph immediately assures the readers that this will be the case. It says, "The history of the circumstances about to be related began?years before all belief in permanency of design seemed lost, and the inhabitants of the earth waited, helplessly?in a degree of mental chaos" (Burnett 1). "The Head of the House of Coombe" is deeply and unavoidably colored by the time in which it was written. The fears and feelings of people in the post-war era manifest themselves in the pages of the book. The portrayal of Germans, the discussions of Darte and Coombe, and Robin's loneliness and loss of innocence all speak to readers in 1922. The ultimate appeal of the book, however, is its nostalgic retreat into a past that no longer existed. Through plot constructions, character portrayals, and a romantic style, Burnett returned to the end of the Victorian era. The nostalgia and theme of loss in "The Head of the House of Coombe" reflect the time period in which it was written. Its popularity reflects timeless elements of best-selling novels: give the readers what they want in a familiar and comfortable style. "The Head of the House of Coombe" and its continuation, "Robin," do this. Frances Hodgson Burnett's last work may not have been her best. It was panned by the critics and retains no lasting appeal today. In 1922, however, it gave the readers what they wanted. Perhaps this is enough. Works Cited: Burnett, Frances Hodgson. The Head of the House of Coombe. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1922. Bixler, Phyllis. Frances Hodgson Burnett. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984. Bookman, Volume 55, March-August 1922. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1922. Knight, Marion and Mertice James, ed. Book Review Digest, 1922. New York: HW Wilson Company, 1923. Justice, Keith L. Bestseller Index. North Carolina: McFarland, 1998.
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