by Maud Hart Lovelace
And here we have it–the long-awaited grand finale to the Betsy-Tacy books! And while I was mildly disappointed in Betsy and the Great World, Betsy’s Wedding fulfilled all of my desires for happy endings and brought everything together wonderfully.
This book would probably be more appropriately titled Betsy’s Marriage, as the wedding takes place within the first couple of chapters. The only slightly unbelievable part of the entire story is that Betsy and Joe have been estranged for three years, and yet decide to get married within two weeks of being reunited. But still, more power to them! They settle down in Minneapolis, near Betsy’s family, and begin their life together, and it’s adorable and sweet and profound, just like the rest of the books.
I touched on my review of Betsy was a Junior/Betsy and Joe on how incredibly annoying it has been to read the forewords of these beautiful editions of these books, as the forewords are invariably written by a rabid feminist who insists that Lovelace was a rabid feminist as well (apparently because she wrote about girls who were happy and not very good at cooking), so hopefully you will excuse me while I address a few of the issues raised on this topic.
First off, the foreword of this book insists that Betsy is a wonderful example of a feminist because she always wanted to be a writer, not a housewife. And yet the entirety of Betsy’s Wedding is about Betsy being a housewife, and loving every moment of it. In fact, Betsy actually bemoans, on multiple occasions, the fact that she didn’t devote more time growing up to learning housewifely skills. At one point, Joe has been working for a lady named Mrs. Hawthorne, but has now been promoted to working for a major newspaper, owned by Mrs. Hawthorne’s husband.
After dinner, when Joe’s transfer to the Courier was being discussed, Mrs. Hawthorne turned to Betsy.
“It will be hard for me to fill Joe’s place,” she said. “Would you like to try? I know you write. You might enjoy working in a publicity office.”
Betsy was very pleased but her answer came promptly. “Oh, Mrs. Hawthorne, I know I’d love it! Joe has told me how delightful your office is. But, Mrs. Hawthorn, I already have a job.”
“You have?” She sounded surprised.
“Yes. And it’s important, and very hard. It’s learning how to keep house.”
Ah yes, she definitely sounds like a career woman, doesn’t she?
Later in the book, Betsy and Joe have their first real trouble when Joe’s aunt (who raised Joe) wants to come and live with them. Betsy is sad to see their happy honeymoon time broken up, and although she’s agreed, she knows that her heart is still in rebellion. And so, she goes to church to pray.
Betsy dug her head into her arms. “Help me, God! Please help me!” she prayed.
This was the first real problem of their marriage. Up to now, everything had been perfect. Her struggles with cooking, Joe’s low moods hadn’t mattered, really. This was different. This was a real disagreement.
Joe had decided it. “But I wanted him to. one person in a family has to have the final word. I want it to be Joe, always.”
Betsy’s prayers help her to realize that by asking Joe to tell his aunt no, she is actually asking Joe to be less than himself–to do something that his conscience tells him would be wrong. But the point is, Betsy makes an important decision at this moment. It’s more than agreeing that Joe’s aunt can come stay. It’s acknowledging that she wants Joe to be the leader in their home. Betsy will always tell her thoughts and opinions and share her insight, and Joe will always listen, but she has decided that when it comes down to it, she wants Joe to have the final say, because she knows that a harmonious home exists when each person fills the role they were meant to play.
All this to say–I think that Betsy is a beautiful example of true femininity. She is intelligent, she has dreams, she is true to herself, she is independent, but she also embraces her role as a housewife, prioritizes her husband and household’s needs above her own, and in general tries to mature into a true woman–changing and shaping her character because that’s what maturity does: it changes us from selfish, self-absorbed, self-adulating children, into outward-focused, selfless adults.
The feminist of the foreword (Anne Quindlen, if you’re interested) insists that Betsy (and, consequently, Lovelace) was a feminist because she had dreams and aspirations. But I believe that that simply makes her a person. It is Betsy’s goodness and yearning to do what’s right that helps her to grow into a woman. Betsy becomes content and happy with her life when she is filling the role of a help meet–for Joe, for her parents, for her friends–because Betsy has learned that dreams are good and beautiful, but that no shame is to be found in simple loving service.
(Also, note that I started to really rant about Quindlen’s foreword specifically, but it didn’t really fit this post. So it will be appearing as its own post very shortly. Feel free to ignore it if you like, but you will not believe what that woman had to say about Anne Shirley and Jo March!)