The Pretty Sister Of José, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Frances Hodgson Burnett is known for a few books , and this is not one of them. That is not to say that this is a bad book. On the contrary, this book is precisely the sort of enjoyable adult romance that the author was probably able to write quickly, and if it has not survived as well as her trio of well-remembered books, it is likely because the subject matter is not the sort that was likely to give one a literary reputation but rather the sort of material that was easy for mass audiences to read, although it must be admitted that there is definitely material here that is worth thinking about deeper than might have been the case for most of the book’s readers. The titular character of this book is someone whose initial behavior provokes the sort of response that readers today would consider appropriate karma, but which indicates the moral universe of the romance novel in the late 19th century in a way that is worthy of deeper investigation. A great many young women nowadays aspire to be like the pretty girl at the heart of this book and do not think of the consequences that a great many readers would wish upon them as a result.
In reading a book like this, it is worthwhile to ponder what exactly is going on with it. IN terms of its plot, it is simple enough. A brother who has made a decent living and appears to be a decent enough fellow brings his attractive sister and their grandmother, who has raised them as orphans, with him to the big city. The young woman herself is the sort of attractive young woman who attracts a large number of admirers but is intensely cruel to them, which she blames on the abuse that her father inflicted upon her mother, and upon the way that so many men ignore their wives once they are married. Naturally, she finds a particularly worthwhile man, a bullfighter, who falls in love with her whose devotion she spurns, leaving him to pronounce a curse on her before abandoning Madrid. The curse, of course, is that she would hurt as much for someone else as he hurt for her. Naturally, of course, this is exactly what happens, and the ending is happy as one would expect from this sort of romance.
A novel like this which does not aspire to literary greatness can be useful in the way that it expresses the worldview of the general public as well as the sorts of antisocial behaviors that are the plagues of not only the author’s age but later ages as well. In this short novel of less than 200 pages we see how a hard-hearted young woman whose dysfunctional family background did not set her up for success in love becomes a person who can love and be loved successfully only when she understands the pain of wanting someone who is not available rather than taking the attraction of men for granted. It is only when she is able to respect and long after her bullfighting beau that she is capable of enjoying a relationship with him after nearly losing him in several different ways–through fears that he has gone to America, rumors that he has a fiance from Lisbon, as well as having been nearly killed in a bullfighting mishap. The author suggests that love is not easy but that there should be a comeuppance for a young woman who holds men in contempt. One only wishes in life it was as satisfying as it is in fiction here.
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