Felicity’s Fortune by Bessie Marchant

Felicity’s Fortune by Bessie Marchant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very late stage Bessie Marchant novel, Felicity’s Fortune is also a rather interesting thing. It begins with Felicity who (over)works in an office and lives a relatively impoverished life with her widowed mother and the rest of her family. It is, as ever with many books of this era, a life where the Noble Poor Poorly Noble in the best way that they can and full of ‘even though we don’t have much, we’ve got each other and that’s what counts’ vibes. Out of the blue, they receive a letter from the husband of Felicity’s aunt. He is lonely asks for Felicity to come and live with him (I know, it’s a lot, right?). He will pay her a handsome salary and leave her everything when he dies. Felicity is all “bit weird” and her mum’s all “but your Aunt was noble!” and so Felicity goes “still a bit weird but cool beans” and hops on the next boat. But! Her Uncle Dirk is SECRETLY A BAD EGG (this was published millions of years ago so just deal with some spoilers) and Felicity takes literally the entire book to figure it out (not the quickest, our girl).

So! So far, so Marchant. And a lot of it is very icky from the modern perspective. Not only is the relationship between Uncle Dirk and Felicity a bit ick, but the representations of the indigenous peoples is more than a bit ick, and then there’s the colonialism side of things which is also, you guessed it, ick. It moves around in terms of location and features Singapore and Java before focusing much of its attention on a small island named “Balin”. For somebody who never left the United Kingdom, Marchant gives a good try at describing some of these locations but she’s much comfier in terms of writing people than she is place.

Yet despite all the ick, and despite all of the ‘god, can we try to not be a little bit hideous’ thoughts you will have when reading this, Felicity’s Fortune gives you – essentially – a tale of restitution. Felicity makes right the wrongs of Uncle Dirk (BOO HISS, etc, etc) and I honestly think this might be the first book I’ve ever read of that period where somebody goes “look, I know we’re British and clearly THE BEST in everything, but maybe we’re wrong in this and these people actually know best let’s give the thing back to them”. I suspect some of this subplot stems from Marchant’s religious connections but even if it doesn’t, it’s still rather startling to see from a writer who has spent so much of her career going “empire, empire, rah, rah, rah.”

Do I recommend this book? Both yes and no, really. It’s very uncomfortable for the most until all of a sudden it throws everything absolutely on its head in about three pages. And then it ends with her going home to meet the hottie she’s destined to marry (and who she had previously saved from a head injury on a boat which crashes a little but doesn’t sink, honestly, what on earth are these books).

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