Tuesday, 10 March 2015

'An Old-Fashioned Girl' by Louisa May Alcott (1870)

Synopsis: Polly Milton is a 14 year old girl from the countryside who goes to visit her friend Fanny Shaw for six weeks. Fanny lives in Boston and the two girls met during the previous summer when Fanny paid a visit to her cousin. Polly is soon troubled by the Shaw's behaviour. The Shaws have become distracted by worldly, fashionable things and have forgotten the importance of family. Fanny is vain and selfish and is embarrassed of Polly's simple clothes and "old-fashioned" tastes. Her brother Tom is running wild and her sister Maud is whiny and spoiled. Mr Shaw is a workaholic, Mrs Shaw is a hypochondriac, and Grandma Shaw is lonely and overlooked. But over the course of Polly's visit the Shaws begin to recognise Polly's virtues and become a happier family under her influence. They all become extremely fond of Polly and are sad to see her go. Six years later, 20 year old Polly comes back to Boston and finds a job as a music teacher so she can financially support her younger brother through university. She rents a room in a boarding house and continues to visit the Shaws. When Polly then discovers that the once wealthy Shaws now have serious financial problems and are in danger of going bankrupt she does her best to help the family.

Despite Little Women being a childhood favourite of mine I've never actually read any of Louisa May Alcott's other novels up until now. I was pretty excited to read something else by her!

An Old-Fashioned Girl didn't really live up to my expectations though. Apart from Polly I didn't find the characters as likeable and well-developed as the characters from Little Women and I found Alcott's narrative quite draggy and preachy at times - much more so than Little Women! That being said it has a sweet story and I did really like Polly. She's quiet, sensible, kind, gentle and sensitive but not at all sickly-sweet or too good to be true. She has her flaws and makes mistakes just like the March sisters. The book touches on early feminism as well. In one chapter Polly takes Fanny to see some of her friends, who are all working women, and a famous author called Kate King happens to be present. The author seems to be based on Louisa May Alcott herself and there's an interesting discussion about the "modern woman" in the chapter. It's concluded that the modern woman doesn't need a husband or children but must have the right to vote - which was actually very progressive for the time.

I can't see An Old-Fashioned Girl becoming a favourite of mine but I'm glad I read it and I do plan on reading more of Louisa May Alcott's works. I'm especially interested in the Rose Campbell books.

Rating: 3/5


Miss Dashwood said...

I read this book very shortly after my first exposure to Little Women and its sequels so it was a big part of my growing-up years, and I think that may color my enjoyment of it to a certain extent. That is to say, I love this book but I can see where you're coming from regarding the preachiness and somewhat underdeveloped side characters. I think you'll enjoy the Rose Campbell books though. Great message and a really fun read. The heroine's a little overly perfect in the sequel, just to warn you, but the first book is delightfully human.

Hayden said...

An Old-fashioned Girl is actually one of my all-time favorite books- I read it ALL the time during my middle school years, probably because I related to Polly so much.

Anyway, I'm sad it didn't live up to your expectations. LMA *can* be rather preachy sometimes, haha. :D

Hamlette said...

I read every LMA book I could get my hands on when I was like ten, and enjoyed them all. I've learned, doing a bit of light research for the Little Women read-along, that LMA actually kind of didn't enjoy writing these "books for girls" that everyone wanted from her after LW was so successful. She preferred the "blood and thunder" books and stories she wrote before them. So I expect that, if I read them now, I would probably react the way you did, finding some of them less than lustrous.

Hannah said...

Miss Dashwood - Mmm! I really enjoyed your review of the book and I wish I'd liked it as much as you did! And I'm looking forward to the Rose Campbell books even more now. Thanks! :)

Hayden - I can totally understand why you loved it! I think I would have probably loved this book too if I'd read it as a child.

Since you related to Polly so much is Meg your favourite March sister? :) I think Polly and Meg are very similar. They're both calm, ladylike and practical.

Hamlette - Really??? LMA preferred to write her "blood and thunder" books? I'm shocked! It's been about 5 years since I last read LW but I remember a part from the book where the Professor tells Jo off for writing adventure stories. I assumed that was LMA's own attitude to her early works coming through - that she was kind of ashamed of those stories. I guess that wasn't the case after all! Thanks for telling me! :)

Hamlette said...

Yeah, I know, I thought the same thing. I figured Professor Bhaer showing Jo that her "blood and thunder" books were junk was LMA's way of admitting her own early works were too. But nope, she referred to her books for girls as "moral pap for the young" (according the introduction to my copy, which cites LMA's journals) and resented how, for economic reasons, she had to keep writing them instead of things of more literary merit or more interest to her.