Monday, October 14, 2013

{review} the fortune of christina m'nab

Sarah Macnaughtan The Fortune of Christina M'Nab (1901)

(this is only moderately more yellow than the original)

I haven't posted for ages - no good reasons, just lazy. I have to mention this book though.

I wrote a while back that I'd found a reference to Sarah Macnaughtan in John Betjeman's Trains and Buttered Toast here. Betjeman wrote that he'd been recommended "Miss MacNaughton" (the spelling isn't correct) by "Miss Elizabeth Bowen and Miss Rose Macaulay" (he does seem hung up on "Miss", doesn't he?). Obviously my ears pricked up at this. Betjeman recommended Macnaughtan's A Lame Dog's Diary, but also mentioned "The Fortune of Christina McNab, the story of a raw Scottish heiress let loose on smart London society". 

I rushed off to download this, only to discover it wasn't available and had to go all old school and order a copy out of the store-room of my university library. The copy that turned up dates from 1904. It entered the library from a local circulating library in 1954, so it has had quite a career. It is in terrible condition - loose pages, a quite obnoxious smell, and a number of suspicious looking spots as though someone had bled into it. I really felt like donning some sort of protective suit before next inhaling.

There's also the interesting question of "M'Nab" vs. "McNab". After I'd read the foetid book I then found I could have read a nice hygienic electronic copy if only I hadn't been an ignorant Australian who'd not experienced this Scottish contraction (Mac / Mc / M'). 

Anyway, Betjeman writes - do we think a little patronizingly? - that "Miss MacNaughton specializes in good, kindly people in fairly easy circumstances and her novels have happy and probable endings." 

So what did I think?
'It's an awful lot of money,' said Colin.
'Comfortable,' replied Christina, with a smirk.
''Deed, I think it's more than comforts you will be able to purchase now,' said Colin dryly; and he added as a logical conclusion, 'I suppose you will be marrying some swell, eh?'
'I suppose so,' quoth Christina, matter-of-fact and brief, as is the manner of her nation.
'What sort of man are you thinking to get?' asked her companion.
'A lord,' replied Cristina comprehensively.
May I ask you to imagine that the conversation between these two persons was carried on in the Scottish tongue, of which the accent was broad and a little uncouth, but emphatic. So that when Christina announced her intention to marry a lord she pronounced the word 'lorrrd' and it rolled from her lips with a fine convincing resonance.
Isn't it gorgeous? I was a fan from page one.

Christina M'Nab has inherited 18,000 pounds a year from her father. All her life she was ignorant of his enormous wealth and was brought up in near poverty - although educated - by her miserly father, "an elder of the Free Kirk of Scotland." She is engaged by near default to Colin M'Crae who is a poor "electrical engineer". Colin is quite something (get ready to fan yourselves, dear reader):
He was dressed in workman's clothes, and his boots were big and his hands horny. His face, as nearly as possible, resembled that of the Apollo Belvedere, and his great square shoulders and splendid limbs were those of a graceful young giant.
I'm almost certain one can't use "horny" like that nowadays...

The Apollo Belvedere

Later on he appears in a kilt too... Colin, I mean. 

OK, where was I?

Christina is determined to move in the highest circles - and her massive fortune is sure to be a draw-card for every impoverished son of the nobility. Colin - Colin really is lovely - is happy to stand to one side and let her have her head. But first - that accent! The English nobility won't be able to understand a word she says. And her clothes are not good. Luckily Colin is distantly related via a dubious runaway marriage to the wife of an Earl, and that Earl is desperately short of money. Will Lady Anne Drummond be able to perform a Pygmalion make-over on the rough-tongued Scot? Will she ever..!

I am pretty sure you can all predict what will happen without any difficulty: Christina is done over and revealed to be a stunning red-head with a magnificent figure. She quickly becomes the latest fad to hit society, and winds up established in Grosvenor Square, with a Duke lined up to marry her, and dear, faithful Colin all set to do the elaborate electrical lighting for her splendid ball...

No more spoilers from me. (Also I should cut back on my use of ellipses.)

My only slight criticism of this book is how long it takes to bring what we all know must happen to a happy conclusion. The narrative could be a bit tighter in that respect, though that would lose a number of amusing by-ways such as minor character assassinations of the great and good of society:
Anne thoroughly believed in Alice. She was supposed to have an excellent influence over young girls, and was fond of reading The Christian Year aloud in her bedroom on Sunday afternoons. Her lighter accomplishment was that of 'yodeling.' It was considered by her friends that no one could equal Alice in imitating the well-known cries of the Swiss mountaineers. She was generally asked for a demonstration of her talent before she had been very long in a country house; but if no one made this request, Alice would yodel in her bedroom with the door open, and 'hope that she disturbed nobody.'
Needless to say, I've already downloaded all the Macnaughtan titles I could find, including the enticingly entitled The Expensive Miss du Cane. Incidentally, the back pages of the diseased library book yielded some reading suggestions from the era that one might also file under the same category as 'horny':


  1. Sounds absolutely glorious and definitely worth making the effort to track down!

    1. Oh yes, such good fun Kaggsy - and so many more to explore too!

  2. I'd not heard of this so I'm just delighted to get your take. It will be one that I look for, though I suspect (since I don't do downloads) that whatever copy I find may be as questionable as yours!

    1. I hope you manage to track some Macnaughtan down, Jeanie. There is character in 'real' books, and I do love a wall of books, but this one I think is probably in need of a decent burial after an honest life's work!

  3. oh vicki, you have added to my reading list. I was a goner even before I got to the yodeling, but that sealed it for me. And now I'm musing on Apollo/Colin in a kilt.... (and indulging in ellipses of my own....)

    1. Yes, lots of kilts "swinging about their unfettered limbs" for you to contemplate, Lisa. ;-) Hope you enjoy a Macnaughtan or two!

  4. I am downloading this book right now (I also found the yodeling irresistible). Macnaughtan's Peter and Jane, or the Missing Heir might be next -- I love an "or".

    1. I love an 'or' too - my mind has already raced off about it even before I've opened the book! I think I should read the one Betjeman recommends, but The Expensive Miss du Cane is calling my name...

  5. You have just given me a whole new appreciation for the world of digital books.... "I really felt like donning some sort of protective suit before next inhaling" - I would have felt the same!
    And thank you, for bringing Miss Macnaughtan's works to our attention - I've already downloaded what I could find and I must say, her memoirs about the years during the war are turning out to be very engaging reads!

    1. Oh, so happy we've got a mini-revival happening here! I'm keen to read her thoughts too as she obviously has a great eye for detail.

  6. Oh Vicki, you had me cackling throughout your review and I'm now hunting Macnaughtan titles. Sadly my library has none of her books, not even disease-ridden, page-shedding copies. Ah well, will just have to buy some at dubious secondhand bookshops that smell of pipe tobacco I suppose... ;)

    1. At least pipe tobacco might work as fumigation! I hope you find some -- you could *crack* and go electronic, of course... *goes to wash hands again* ;-)

  7. Great to see you back posting, Vicki.

    1. Thanks Sarah! I'm reading some really old crime at the moment - The Female Detective from 1864. Fascinating.


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