Sunday, September 21, 2008
An Old-Fashioned Girl
A couple of weeks ago I read and reviewed two Louisa May Alcott books - Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, both of which I enjoyed so much that I bought a copy of each book for myself. I also bought another of Alcott's books - An Old-Fashioned Girl. I hadn't read it, but I had heard it recommended somewhere, and, being one of Alcott's books, chances were it would be worth reading.
I finished reading it a couple of days ago. It was worth reading.
An Old-Fashioned Girl is a town-mouse-country-mouse story about a little girl by the name of Polly Milton. Fourteen-year-old Polly leaves her poor but loving family for a few weeks to visit her well-to-do friends in the city, the Shaws. (Just in retrospect, I managed to pack a lot of hyphens into that last sentence!) In spite of their fine house and fashionable lifestyle, the Shaws are family of unhappy, dissatisfied people, largely unconnected to one another. Polly, with her simple, unaffected ways and her bright demeanor manages to bring a little bit of sunshine into the lonely house.
Six years after her first visit to the big city, the story picks up again. Polly is now an independent young lady, hoping to strike out on her own and establish herself as a music teacher.
It's an engaging little story, even though it doesn't have quite the same emotional impact for me as Little Women or Rose in Bloom.
Although the heroine of the book is supposedly Polly Milton, An Old-Fashioned Girl is really the story of the Shaw family, with the rise and fall of the family's fortunes. The dysfunctional relationships, the superficial, pretentious way of life with all the stress of keeping up appearances, and the general unhappiness of the Shaws. . . it all reminded me a little of the Bertrams, from Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Mr. Shaw, the overbearing father, bore some resemblance to Sir Thomas Bertram, and the indolent mother Mrs. Shaw was a little like Lady Bertram; but here I think the similarities to Mansfield Park end. Unlike MP, An Old-Fashioned Girl is a charming story with a highly satisfactory happily-ever-after ending. It's also chock-a-block full of excellent moral principles. . .
It should be said that this book won't appeal to everyone (if the title turns you off, chances are you won't like the book). Polly seemed a little too saccharine at first, but as I got to know her better, I realised that she was in fact a slightly stubborn, very human girl, all the more likable for her not being Pollyanna-esque-ly perfect to the core.
Personally, I think it's a lovely book, with a sweet little romance to finish things up nicely at the end. Here's a classic quote from the final chapter of the book:
. . . I now yield to the amiable desire of satisfaction, and . . . intend to pair off everybody I can lay my hands on.
. . . which Alcott does, extremely well!!
Summing up: if you, like me, are an old-fashioned girl who enjoys sweet, simple, old-fashioned stories, I think you'll like An Old-Fashioned Girl, and you'll probably find a kindred spirit in Polly Milton.
You can buy it from Amazon, or read it for free at Project Gutenberg.