The 61st entry on my Classics Club list is Maude: A Story for Girls by Christina Rossetti. Although the novella was written in 1850, it was not published until 1897, after her death. Having very much enjoyed Rossetti’s poetry, I was intrigued to read some of her prose, and thought that Maude would be rather a lovely book to begin with.
Maude opens with a vivid and, I felt, rather lovingly crafted scene: ‘”A penny for your thoughts,” said Mrs Foster one bright July morning as she entered the sitting-room with a bunch of roses in one hand, and an open letter: “A penny for your thoughts,” said she, addressing her daughter, who, surrounded by a chaos of stationery, was slipping out of sight some scrawled paper’.
Maude Foster, a young London girl who professes herself to be out of sorts, is our protagonist. From the very first, she has been well developed: ‘[She was] just fifteen. Small though not particularly short, she might easily be overlooked but would not easily be forgotten… Her features were regular and pleasing; as a child she had been very pretty; and might have continued so but for a fixed paleness, and an expression, not exactly of pain, but languid and pre-occupied to a painful degree’. She has been invited to the countryside by her Aunt Letty, to spend time with her beloved cousin Mary over her birthday. When she arrives, Rossetti draws an immediate contrast between Maude and Mary: ‘One was occupied by a thousand shifting thoughts of herself, her friends, her plans, what she must do, and what she would do; the other, whatever might employ her tongue, and to a certain extent her mind, had always an undercurrent of thought intent upon herself’.
Maude feels like a relatively autobiographical work in places; our protagonist is particularly fond of writing sonnets, and has a little composition book which she carries around with her in order to record everything when inspiration strikes. The whole has been charmingly written, and Rossetti has included some relatively original conversations, particularly between the cousins. The characters are nice to spend time with; they provided rather a lovely diversion from the heavier literature which I have been reading of late.
Maude is a relatively quick read, consisting as it does of 81 pages of relatively large text, and a rather short introduction penned by William Rossetti. I would have liked to give the book a rating of higher than three stars, but plot-wise, it is a little lacking, and the whole is a little too short to consist of much substance. I would certainly like to read more of Rossetti’s work in future, however.