The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett Summary

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will summarize the novel 'The Shuttle' by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is a story about how disparities in wealth complicated romantic relationships.

Abusive Relationships

What are some of the indicators of an abusive relationship? Thanks to modern psychology, many people know to be wary of someone who is controlling, attempts to isolate you from your friends or family, or is intolerant of other's thoughts and opinions.

This was not the case in 1907 when The Shuttle by Frances Hodson Burnett was published. As a result, many women of that period found themselves trapped in unhealthy or dangerous marriages, leaving their bewildered families wondering why their daughter disappeared from their lives. This was the case with the protagonist, Rosalie Vanderpoel, and her husband, Sir Nigel Anstruthers. Let's find out more about this story.

England and the United States

While the story itself is about the Vanderpoels and the Anstruthers, the relationship between the United States serves as an undercurrent for The Shuttle. The title refers to the ships that travel between the U.S. East Coast and England. The political power shift that occurred in the years just before this book was written are symbolized through the relationships between these families.

Even though the colonies won their independence from Great Britain in the late 1700s, Britain was still considered a superpower, while the United States was just starting to establish itself. However, by the late 1800s, the U.S. economy emerged as a clear victor. British colonialism prompted the U.S. to build its military and become more assertive on the world stage. In regards to the difficult history between these two countries, the narrator writes:

''Those who had rebelled against that which their souls called tyranny, having struggled madly and shed blood in tearing themselves free, turned stern backs upon their unconquered enemies, broke all cords that bound them to the past, flinging off ties of name, kinship and rank, beginning with fierce disdain a new life.''

Socially, the countries began to reunite through travel and companionship. Wealthy American women were attracted to the titles, accent, and romanticized visions of castles owned by Englishmen. Englishmen were attracted to the dowries of American women that could potentially restore their crumbling estates. Thus, Rosalie marries Nigel and moves to England.

Rosalie's Marriage

When Rosalie meets Nigel, she does not recognize his faults. However, her 8-year-old sister, Bettina, immediately sees trouble ahead. Nigel is annoyed by Bettina's American upbringing. Bettina fights back and warns her sister that she shouldn't marry Nigel. ''He'll do something awful to you.''

As Bettina suspects, as soon as they return to London and Nigel learns that Rosalie's father has put her in charge of her own money, rather than turning it over to him, Nigel and his mother begin systematically abusing Rosalie in hopes that she will learn her lesson about her proper role as his wife. His narcissism does not enable him to go to his wife to ask for what he needs. Rather, he resents her for not realizing her place, while Rosalie is bewildered by his behavior.

Nigel and his mother make fun of her Americanism, charity, and clothing. When Rosalie learns that Nigel has intercepted letters between Rosalie and her parents, and even refused to allow them to visit while they were in Europe, she confronts him, but is physically abused.

Saving Rosalie from Nigel

The Vanderpoels are shocked that Rosalie has distanced herself from them, but Bettina suspects it is not Rosalie's fault. Bettina becomes even more convinced of this after spending time at a school in France and learning about others who have been in English-American marriages. Believing that Rosalie is potentially being held away from her family against her will, Bettina decides to make a surprise visit to Rosalie's home to investigate the situation.

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