Mary Mark Ockerbloom (merrigold) wrote,
Mary Mark Ockerbloom

That Lass O' Lowrie's

I'm delighted to start the New Year by announcing the 260th book to be published on the Celebration of Women Writers website.
"That Lass o' Lowrie's"
by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924)
London: Frederick Warne and Co., Limited., n.d. (First published 1877)

Although she is best known for her children's books, Frances Burnett's first novel was written for adults. After a somewhat slow start, getting used to the Lancashire dialect, I thoroughly enjoyed reading "That Lass O' Lowrie's". The novel portrays working-class life in a Lancashire pit mining town with gritty, even painful realism. For all that Burnett cannot resist involving her characters in romance, this is not a pretty sentimental tale. Class differences, and their implications for the characters, are central issues of the book.

Joan Lowrie, a young woman who works in the mine, is the centre around whom the many subplots of the book revolve. With everything against her -- a vicious and abusive father, a poor education, and the rough environment of the mine -- she stands out as a strong and independent woman. When a young friend returns home, ruined and deserted by a ne'er-do-well "gentleman", it is Joan who she turns to, and Joan who defies the gossips of the town to give Liz shelter. Joan's beauty and strength -- both physical and mental -- clearly merit the regard of others. But the gulf between a pit girl and the parson's daughter, or an engineer at the mine, yawns deep. "I am na a lady," she says. And yet, her most heroic and admirable actions are possible precisely because she is not a lady. Awkwardly confessing a desire to learn more "womanly arts", Joan is subtly diminished. Defying convention and asserting bravely, "If I wur a lady, I could na ax yo' what I've made up my mind to do;" she demands our admiration. In portraying Joan as she does, Burnett challenges not only class but gender roles.

Having written the rest of this announcement last night, it was a shock to pick up the newspaper this morning and read the headline "W. Va. mine blast traps 13". "The condition of the men -- 260 feet underground -- was unknown. Gases delayed rescue efforts for 11 hours." I am reminded most painfully today that the dangers of the coal mines, which Burnett described in 1877, are not a thing of the past. I would like to dedicate this online edition to all miners and their friends and families.

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