Robin, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Robin starts – after the “previously on Robin” bit at the beginning – right where Coombe left off, with the joyous happiness of Robin and Donal’s reunion.  Good news: They still love each other.  I wasn’t surprised by that, but I have to confess I was a little unsettled by the scene directly following it, where Donal goes home to tell his mother about his evening.  I quote:

Throughout his life he had taken all his joys to his closest companion and nearest intimate – his mother.  Theirs had not been a common life together.  He had not even tried to explain to himself the harmony and gaiety of their nearness in which there seemed no separation of years.  She had drawn and held him to the wonder of her charm and had been the fine flavour of his existence.  It was actually true that he had so far had no boyish love affairs because he had all unconsciously been in love with the beautiful completeness of her.

Or, Are You There, Freud?  It’s Me, Donal.

Well, then Europe kicks of World War I, and on account of that Donal is brave enough to talk to Robin straight away, overcoming his customary boyish shyness, and they have a touching conversation about how they would have a much slower courtship if it weren’t for the distressing thing about Donal being all set to get shipped off to war.  This is Robin’s reaction to thinking that thought:

“No! No! No! No!” she cried four times.  “Belgium!  Belgium!  Oh!  Belgium!”

Maybe it’s best for Robin to just not think any thoughts, ever.  What I want to know is, does she cry No No No No four times, for a total of sixteen No!s, or is this just Ms. Burnett’s narrative version of those legal documents that say “four (4) shrill negations”?

Anyway, Robin and Donal decide to keep their love a secret.  Actually not a secret (Robin asks about this and Donal is boyishly glad to explain); actually it’s “a sort of sacred, heavenly unbelievable thing we own together.”  Uh-huh.  A sacred, heavenly unbelievable thing that we never tell anyone about and we pretend doesn’t exist.  Nothing like a secret at all.  Just not telling anyone, ever.  Not a secret in any way, no sir.  They love each other a lot, secretly sacredly, and then Donal gets called up and then they get word that he’s died, and Robin takes sick, and it turns out – Ms. Burnett is very coy about this – it turns out she’s preggers.

(I am less coy.)

She’s too busy mourning to worry much about this pregnancy business, so all the grown-ups around her worry about it for her.  They’re very worried and can’t decide what to do, because they don’t want everyone to laugh at her and call her Big Slut Robin when everyone who loves her knows that she is actually Sweet Angel Robin; so after a while Lord Coombe brings it up with her, and she says, with a Barbara-Cartland-worthy delivery, “Did you – think we were – not married?”

Yeah!  Get your mind out of the gutter, Lord Coombe!  Donal would never have sacred boyish romps in the garden with Robin without marrying her first!  (Did I mention they only ever meet in this garden?  They can’t go to his place or her place so they always meet in this garden.  Gold star to Ms. Burnett for the unsubtle Eden reference there.)

Unfortunately it was all about the marrying in secret and not getting the documents, so to shield her from getting called Big Slut Robin, Lord Coombe marries her in secret.  After some long-term high-quality moping on Robin’s part, a period during which everyone who hangs out with her tells each other what a Sweet Angel Robin she is, the book suddenly turns into a massive spiritualist tract.  Donal, who we later learn is a prisoner of war, starts talking to Robin in her sleep – he very luckily met an American in his POW camp, who taught him this trick – and Robin perks up right away because of the Comfort ™ that she is getting from her Spiritual Encounters with Donal.

And then he comes back alive.  And they’re reunited.  Oh, and Lord Coombe swings it so it’s like his marriage to Robin never happened.  I don’t know how that works because the whole point was that everyone was going to think he was an icky old pervert, marrying his ex-mistress’s daughter, and that was why it was so noble of him to marry Robin; but apparently nobody had noticed yet.  Anyway the marriage with Lord Coombe is then off the table, and Donal confirms that he married Robin.  Still no documents but I guess the word of a Lord’s Heir is good enough.  Donal takes his sweet time going to visit Robin, and then cheats us of the good reunion scene we are entitled to suspect by telling Robin in her dreams the day before he comes back to her.  It’s lame.

I mean, I liked the book a lot – especially when everyone was being coy about Robin and her pregnant state – but hey, man, I wanted my reunion scene.  Stupid spiritualism ruins everything, and don’t let American POWs tell you any different.

The Head of the House of Coombe, Frances Hodgson Burnett

Seriously, how can it be that I have never before known about this book?  This is exactly my kind of book, and I am in total love with its amazing greatness, and I am way, way psyched about reading the thrilling continuation of the story in its sequel, Robin.

Basically there is little angelic Robin and her standoffish airhead twit of a mother, Feather, and Robin is sweet and innocent and only ever makes one friend, the manly gallant eight-year-old Donal, who is promptly whisked away from her because of how sinful and naughty Feather is, being supported financially by the presumably-sleeping-with-her Lord Coombe.  And Robin grows up and gets kidnapped by German spies and then rescued – no, it’s true.  She does.  German spies.  You can’t make that shit up.  It ruins her sweet innocence and rosy outlook on life, which I don’t know why she had one in the first place considering how vile her life was.

There are just so many good things about this book.  Like when Robin, who has been living in a crappy attic room with a wicked pinching nurse while her mother parties downstairs, asks Donal, “What is – a mother?” and also, my personal favorite, “What is – loves you?”  God, it’s amazing.  Oh yeah, and when you find out that Lord Coombe is the way he is because of this lovely frail woman he used to be in love with that looks just like Feather and got beaten to death by her brutal brute of a husband?  That was SO AWESOME.

This is not your mother’s Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I mean, it is my mother’s Frances Hodgson Burnett, because my mum knew about this all along, but it is way not the same as The Secret Garden and The Little Princess.  This is a for-real two-volume novel with young lovers and trials and tribulations.  Loves it.  In some small measure it helps to ease my Ligeia-paper pain, and I will be a-reading Robin (the sequel! in which Robin scandalously gets herself PREGNANT and Donal unsurprisingly gets himself DEAD) this evening before I go to sleep.