Marcia Schuyler

December 23, 2015

I’m obviously falling down on the Christmas story job this year. Here, have another Grace Livingston Hill instead.

I’m not sure if Marcia Schuyler is considered typical of GLH’s output. It’s not typical of the books of hers that I’ve read, but it works really well for me. I mean, the religious stuff is a lot more palatable in a historical fiction context. (Sure, I kept giggling about David’s temperance newspaper, but I can’t fully explain that.) But also this is a he/she fell in love with his/her wife/husband book, and the protagonist overnight finds herself in possession of a dream house and a fabulous trousseau, and there’s an awful older sister, which I enjoy for probably the same reasons that I find inexplicably evil younger brothers difficult. The chances that I wasn’t going to like this book were very low.

I mean, I don’t love it, but I do like it a lot. It’s got more in common with things like Janice Meredith and To Have and to Hold than it does with GLH’s other books, but it’s also got her patented lack of self-awareness. Very few things are less charitable than her attitude towards characters she doesn’t like, and, much as I enjoy that, it’s so at odds with her professed philosophy that it kind of bugs me, too.

Anyway, Marcia Schuyler. She’s a teenage girl from an old and respected family in upstate New York, circa 1830. She’s smart and pretty and totally overshadowed by her beautiful older sister, Kate, who is an asshole. She also has a crush on Kate’s fiancé, David, but she’s not aware of it. It turns out to be sort of helpful, though, when Kate elopes with another man and her father basically offers Marcia to David as compensation. I’m pretty sure that even in 1830 this is a weird thing to do, but Marcia goes along with it and everyone stresses a lot about how they’ve deprived her of her womanhood, or something.

There are some things you want to happen here: you want Marcia and David to fall in love. You want Marcia to do well in her new environment. You want Kate to get her comeuppance and, very specifically, to be humiliated by David. All these things happen, against a backdrop of the launch of the first steam locomotive in New York State. It’s not a great book, but it’s very satisfying.



  1. Offering another daughter in place of the elopee may not have been common in real life, but I seem to remember reading a Regency or two (and at least one Barbara Cartland — forgive me, I was very young) based on that principle.

    • It’s the kind of idea that’s made for romance novels, for sure, whether or not it has any basis in fact.

  2. If you remember that marriage was a contract about property, substituting one daughter for another really isn’t that strange since it keeps all the property arrangements in place.

    I admit I’d find it more unbelievable in NY even in the 1830s then in England with the nobility but daughters and wives are chattel in both countries at the time.

    • Yeah, I think I’d buy it in other contexts–historical or personal. But here it’s framed as being about David’s embarrassment if he goes home without Kate, and Mr. Schuyler’s shame at having such an awful daughter, which makes it super weird.

  3. If you’re not big on Christian novels you probably won’t enjoy much of GLH’s oeuvre, since her main theme across all her works is the relevance of the Bible to modern life. David’s struggle is overtly Biblical: Kate the sinful, cosmopolitan temptress vs. Marcia the chaste, virtuous housewife.

    Religion aside, GLH’s setups are certainly original. She has one called The Best Man, where a spy in a fake moustache is taken for the groom of a wedding happening next door and has to bring his new wife on his mission. I also like The Man of the Desert, where a disillusioned society girl finds religion after being rescued from a runaway horse by a cool reverend, and A Voice in the Wilderness, which ends with the schoolteacher heroine being abandoned in the desert by some gypsies.

  4. I forgot to say, the nuttiest part of Marcia Schuyler is when the bride and groom both fall asleep on the wagon while driving home! What was that about!

    • I thought that was cute, and probably realistic–like, how exhausted must they both be, emotionally? And it gives them a private shared experience.

  5. Were you aware that this book is the first of a loose trilogy? Remember Miranda Griscomb? The red-headed neighbor? She continues her loyal devotion to friends in another book, Phoebe Deane. Finally, she gets her own book, Miranda.

    • Ooh. I did not know that. I’ll have to check those out.

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