The Shuttle, which I think will most likely end up among my top reads of this year, is a book set in the early 1900s at a time when it was fashionable for American heiresses to marry British aristocrats. These American heiresses were then called “Dollar Princesses.” By marrying into British families they gained titles and social standings, while their husbands got funds to restore their crumbling estates. Those who have watched Downton Abbey might remember that Cora’s fortune had been tied to Downton Abbey as a part of their marriage contract when she married Robert Crawley, the future Earl of Grantham, even though their marriage was mostly a happy one. But such marriages didn’t always work out as we see in The Shuttle.
When Sir Nigel Anstruther, an impoverished English gentleman came to New York in search of a wife, the multi-millionaire Vanderpoel family had no clue as to what Nigel was really after. So they allowed Nigel to court and wed sweet Rosaline, their elder daughter, and take her back to England. Rosaline’s sister, Betty a child of twelve-years at the time was suspicious of her new brother-in-law’s intentions and when Rosaline’s letters became few and far between, she feared the worst. So fifteen years later, as a grown woman Betty crosses the Atlantic to find out her dear sister’s fate, and rescue Rosaline from Nigel, her monstrous abuser.
There is no denying that The Shuttle is one of my favorite Persephones of all time. ‘Sir’ Nigel Anstruther is one of the most deplorable characters I’ve come across. He was a pauper deep in debt with a rank and an estate that counted for nothing, who bullied his wife to get his hands on her allowance. His treatment towards Rosaline (and Betty later on) and his vanity made the hair stand up on the back of my neck through out the novel.
He wanted money, but he wanted it to be given to him as if he conferred a favor by receiving it. It must be transferred to him as though it were his by right. Why did a man marry for? (pg. 34)
“You will do as I order you and learn to behave yourself as a decent married woman should. You will learn to obey your husband and respect his wishes and control your American temper.” (pg. 64)
According to Anne Sebba’s brilliant preface, Frances Hodgson Burnett had started writing The Shuttle while Burnett was going through a painful marriage herself. Burnett’s second marriage to Stephen Townsend had been disastrous. Townsend had been cruel to her and basically blackmailed her into marrying him to take control of her money. So The Shuttle highlights the harrowing truth about domestic abuse, and if I’m being frank, it was an eye-opener for me. In the past, I’ve tried to fathom why women stay with their abusers. Luckily for me, I’ve never faced such unpleasantness in my life. But reading The Shuttle made me realize how cunningly manipulative the abusers can be, leaving their victims helpless. It’s not just the physical abuse, they also strip away their victims’ dignity with constant belittling, and somehow turn the tables to make the victims believe it was all their fault. In Rosaline’s case, to top all of it, Nigel also managed to isolate her from her family, leading the poor woman to believe her family has forgotten her.
So it was exhilarating to see Betty standing up to Nigel. I admired her immensely for the way she handled her dealings with Nigel. She never lost her cool in his presence, and I’m not sure if I’d have been able to control myself that well if I were in her shoes.
My only issue with The Shuttle is it’s ending. This bit is a spoiler, so highlight to see! 😀 I would have liked to have seen Nigel being brought before a court of justice by Betty. But Nigel’s health gets to him first, so that was a tad bit disappointing! Other than that The Shuttle is a page turner and I highly recommend it.