Reading Louisa May Alcott’s next-best book, “An Old-Fashioned Girl”

Summer is such a great time – life is finally slowing down and now I can get back to reading for fun. I’ve been dying to read An Old-Fashioned Girl since I found the 1926 Brown and Little copy that I so foolishly deposed of the first time. I found an audio version on Librivox.org so I started listening last Thursday.

Although I’ve been hesitant to read Louisa May Alcott’s juvenile books, An Old-Fashioned Girl reminded me of why I shouldn’t. Since she is writing for young girls, Louisa’s style is very straight forward and I like that. It’s very enjoyable (and relaxing) to hear/read something that doesn’t required tremendous amounts of thought but rather, stirs memories and engages you with concrete characters.

The summary of the story (from Wikipedia) is this:  Polly Milton, a 14-year-old country girl, visits her friend Fanny Shaw and her wealthy family in the city for the first time. Poor Polly is overwhelmed by the splendor at the Shaws’ and their urbanized, fashionable lifestyles, fancy clothes and some other habits she considers weird and, mostly, unlikable. However, Polly’s warmth, support and kindness eventually win her the hearts of all the family members. Six years later, Polly comes back to the city to become a music teacher.

Polly is a spirited girl and very likable from the get-go: ” . . . a fresh-faced little girl running down the long station, and looking as if she rather liked it . . . Up came the the little girl, with her hand out, and a half-shy, half-merry look in her blue eyes . . .”

Chapter One opens with Polly being met at the train station by Tom, also 14, described by his sister Fanny as “an awful boy . . . the horridest one I ever saw.” Of course, it’s not hard to imagine that Tom will figure in Polly’s life most prominently and I look forward to seeing how that unfolds.

I had two favorite parts of this chapter. Firstly, I enjoyed how Fanny’s grandmother took Polly under her wing. Madam Shaw perceives Polly’s purity and innocence saying, “You mustn’t mind my staring, dear,” said Madam, softly pinching her rosy cheek. “I haven’t seen a little girl for so long, it does my old eyes good to look at you.”

Polly doesn’t understand what Madam means until Madam explains that Fanny acts like a grown-up already at 14, and Maud, her little 6-year old sister, is a “spoiled brat.” Madam appreciates the intrinsic value of Polly’s “old-fashioned” manner of holding on to her childhood just a bit longer.

My other favorite part was the last two pages of the chapter – I particularly related to it and decided that Polly and I had a lot in common. At this  point in the story, Polly accompanies Fanny and her family to the theatre. Being a country girl, Polly has little experience with the theatre and it quite put off by what she perceives as very improper behavior by the actors and actresses in the play. Even though this play was the height of fashion (mirroring the French) Louisa writes, “Our little girl is was too innocent to understand half the jokes, and often wondered what people were laughing at . . .”

Louisa’s description of Polly’s discomfort (” . . . Polly did not think it at all funny, but looked disgusted . . . poor unfashionable Polly didn’t know what to do; for she felt both frightened and indignant, and sat with her eyes on her play-bill, and her cheeks getting hotter and hotter every minute.”) described how I felt when I saw “Bridesmaids,” a movie that came out this spring, with my sister and sister-in-law. “Bridesmaids” is one of those R-rated raunchy comedies and, like Polly, I squirmed through the whole thing, didn’t find it funny, and couldn’t wait to get out of there!  Guess I too am just plain old-fashioned. So it was nice to find a counterpart in literature even if she was 150 years before my time. :-)

Looking forward to reading more of this book!

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One thought on “Reading Louisa May Alcott’s next-best book, “An Old-Fashioned Girl”

  1. Jillian ♣ says:

    I can’t wait to read your thoughts!! I have a couple Louisa May Alcott books waiting for me. So many commitments!! Alcott will be read in freedom and coziness. :-)

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