A recent post on the Life in a Pink Fibro blog about the Trixie Beldon books made me think about novels I read as a youngster. I was never a big fan of Trixie, but I did read all the Nancy Drew mysteries and before them, everything Enid Blyton ever wrote, though the Famous Five were my favourites.
Much as I loved those books, I don’t have copies of them as an adult, unlike some relics of my childhood reading. For reasons which escape even me, I still have most of the Sue Barton books by Helen Dore Boylston. Sue was a nurse, and the stories progress from Sue Barton, Student Nurse to Sue Barton, Staff Nurse, by which time she has married a handsome doctor (of course) and had four children. Every now and then I’ll dip into them, but I really don’t know why. I never wanted to be a nurse and they were out of date when I first read then, having been written in the 1930-50s.
Then there’s Jean Webster’s Daddy Long-Legs, a 1912 novel composed almost entirely of letters from orphan Judy Abbott to the generous but anonymous trustee who is funding her college education. The letters are full of personality and charm, and manage to unfold a sweet love story even though Judy never receives a reply. I also have the sequel, Dear Enemy, which uses the same literary device. (If you like stories composed of letters, Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road is a delight, though one I first read as an adult.)
I also have all of the Anne of Green Gables series by L M Montgomery, right through to Rilla of Ingleside. I loved all these stories, though the original is my favourite, when Anne was raw and unpolished, with a tendency to dye her hair green, bake cakes with liniment, and ask to be called Cordelia because “it’s such a perfectly elegant name”. I also enjoy her relationship with the elderly brother and sister who give her a home, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, and particularly like Marilla’s gradual thawing as she grows to love Anne. The more mature Anne of the later novels was still appealing but not as endearing and entertaining.
I also have all of Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women novels. Now these are classics, but I find their very overt morality rather tiring. The entire March family is too good to be true, and even the sisters’ well know failings – Jo’s frankness, Meg’s materialism, Amy’s vanity and Beth’s introversion – are always used to point a moral, and in less than subtle ways.
The first novel opens with the four March girls bemoaning their lack of Christmas presents but soon agreeing to give up their breakfast to a poorer family, leaving them hungry but merry after “loving our neighbour better than ourselves”. Then there’s this description of the family patriarch which appears on the first page of Good Wives, the sequel to Little Women: “A quiet, studious man, rich in the wisdom that is better than learning, the charity which calls all mankind ‘brother’, the piety that blossoms into character, making it august and lovely”. (A more nuanced imagining of Mr March can be found in Geraldine Brooks’ novel March.)
And yet …. I come back to them from time to time, and in writing this post reread the chapter in which Beth is given a piano by crusty old Mr Lawrence, and Laurie’s proposal to Amy in Good Wives is another favourite.
All of these novels feature young female protagonists, which I guess makes them reasonable reading material for an adolescent, but all were also very dated when I read them the first time. I’m not sure what to make of that. Maybe I was an old fashioned teenager!
Do you still have any novels you first loved as a child? Leave a comment and tells us about them.
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