A Fair Barbarian, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

ora_fern's review against another edition

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:) So much fun! It reminded me of L.M. Montgomery's writing in some ways.

theadora's review against another edition

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The only thing that made any of this bearable was Lucia's and Mr. Burmistone's affections. And even that was dry. Everyone's demeanor was dreadful and a lot of the time they were contradicting.

wealhtheow's review against another edition

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A young, beautiful American heiress descends upon a tiny sleepy English town. Burnett loves gender and class stereotypes; there is nothing she likes more than to write about a lady's delicate features or a man's strong arms, and certainly every member of the lower classes is flatteringly awed by their betters. Nevertheless, the American Octavia Bassett manages to upset the usual mode just a little--when she is asked to marry a handsome, well-bred and rich Englishman, she refuses with composure. I love the scene:

'"You don't want _me_," she said. "You want somebody meeker,--somebody who would respect you very much, and obey you. I'm not used to obeying people."
"Do you mean also that you would not respect me?" he inquired bitterly.
"Oh," she replied, "you haven't respected me much!"
"Excuse me"--he began, in his loftiest manner.
"You didn't respect me enough to think me worth marrying," she said. "I was not the kind of girl you would have chosen of your own will."
"You are treating me unfairly!" he cried.
"You were going to give me a great deal, I suppose--looking at it in your way," she went on; "but, if I _wasn't_ exactly what you wanted, I had something to give too. I'm young enough to have a good many years to live; and I should have to live them with you, if I married you. That's something, you know."
He rose from his seat pale with wrath and wounded feeling.
"Does this mean that you refuse me?" he demanded, "that your answer is'no'?"
She rose, too--not exultant, not confused, neither pale nor flushed. He had never seen her prettier, more charming, or more natural.
"It would have been 'no,' even if there hadn't been any obstacle," she answered.
"Then," he said, "I need say no more. I see that I have--humiliated myself in vain; and it is rather bitter, I must confess."
"It wasn't my fault," she remarked.'

I love her! There's nothing more refreshing than someone who is aware of the values of her peers, but recognizes their limitations and that they are important only in relative terms. The plot of My Fair Barbarian is not complex or surprising, but it is short and sweet. It is also a good showcase for Burnett's ability at writing Victorian literature that lacks a surprising number of the usual pitfalls of that era--the sentences contain only a few clauses each, the dialog is impressively natural, and the characters are personalities of their own, rather than archetypes acting out a morality pagant.

gemmadee's review

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For anyone with the patience for Burnett's Victorian language, A Fair Barbarian is a charming read. Hidden under the layers of wardrobe lies a biting social commentary. More than a comedy of manners, Burnett wrote a scathing mockery of conformity and social control. It draws a bit from Jane Austen and foreshadows Cold Comfort Farm. One online reviewer called it a simplified retelling of Henry James' "Daisy Miller," but I can't speak to that because I haven't read it. Burnett's fair barbarian is an American girl of nineteen who arrives in a parochial English village and shakes things up a bit. She does this entirely by accident, simply by virtue of not being afraid of what other people think.

For all its attention to century-old fashions and tea party invitation etiquette, the book is surprisingly relevant today. The details of conformity may have changed, but people still make decisions based on appearances and what other people do. It still requires courage and/or cluelessness to present yourself as you really are rather than mold yourself to others' expectations. And it's still worthwhile to do so.