House of Coombe Pits Deserving Orphan Against Her Mother

In The Head of the House of Coombe, Frances Hodgson Burnett gives an unexpected twist to much-used tale of deserving orphan who triumphs over adversity.

Robin Gareth-Lawless might as well be an orphan. Her all-too-alive widowed mother has no interest in Robin at all until she realizes the child is beautiful enough to become her rival for men’s affections.

Frances Hodgson Burnett

“Feather” Gareth-Lawless is a mental and moral featherweight. Suddenly widowed, she agrees to be kept by Lord Coombe, a man of intelligence, impeccable tailoring, and disinclination toward marriage.

Robin is left in the care of a nurse, rarely sees “The Lady Downstairs,” and does not even know the meaning of the term mother.

At 6, Robin meets a Scots lad of 8 who is drawn to the beautiful, lonely girl. When Donal’s mother learns his young friend is the daughter of the woman Coombe keeps, she rushes her son home to Scotland. Momma thinks it’s bad enough Donal is in line to become Coombe’s heir; she draws the line at fraternizing with the bastard of his mistress.

Later, Robin overhears servant gossip that suggests Coombe deprived her of Donal and begins to hate her mother’s benefactor. Coombe, however, continues to act with Robin’s best interests in view.

Burnett tantalizes readers with speculations about why Coombe cares for the child, his relationship to Feather, and the depravity to which he stoops on his frequent “Friday to Monday” trips to the continent.

If Coombe is a mystery, Feather is not. Her particular brand of brainless nastiness makes Becky Sharp look saintly.

This is one romance that even those who hate the genre can love.

The Head of the House of Coombe
Frances Hodgson Burnett
1922 Bestseller #4
Project Gutenberg ebook #6491

Editor’s note: This review was scheduled to run July 25, but I failed to hit the right buttons. I apologize for the delay.

Photo Credit: Photo of Frances Hodgson Burnett from Stories by American Authors published by Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1900, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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