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An Old-Fashioned Girl

by Louisa May Alcott

published 1897

So, here’s yet another winner!  The other day I talked about two of my favorite Alcott books, Eight Cousins and its sequel, Rose in Bloom.  An Old-Fashioned Girl is another of those dear, dear favorites, a book that I’ve returned to time and again, and come away with some new lesson – or an old one remembered – to strengthen and challenge me.

In this story, Polly, a quiet country girl, comes for an extended visit with her city friend, Fanny.  Fanny’s family, the Shaws, are well-off  and comfortably placed in society, while Polly comes from a large, poor family – the daughter of a country pastor who has frequently received clothes from charity, and has learned the importance of work and determination.  Polly struggles a bit to find her place in the Shaw’s home, so different from her own, but by being true to herself, Polly becomes an beloved friend and a quiet example of selflessness and kindness.

The second half of the book jumps forward several years to young adulthood.  Polly returns to town (although she has obviously been back for visits in the meantime) to live and earn her way as a music teacher while her younger brother attends college near by.  The challenges of adulthood are different, and Polly does not always succeed in resisting her small temptations, but she grows and learns, as do her dear friends the Shaws.

While many may scoff at the idea of Polly having anything to teach to the modern girl, I believe that the truths she discovered then are just as relevant over a hundred years later.  Who can argue with the validity of “When you feel out of sorts, try to make someone else happy, and you will soon be so yourself”?

Alcott deals well with deep subjects, keeping them light enough to be refreshing reading, but with a strong challenge underneath.  Her preface for this book is telling:

The “Old-Fashioned Girl” is not intended as a perfect model, but as a possible improvement upon the Girl of the Period, who seems sorrowfully ignorant or ashamed of the good old fashions which make woman truly beautiful and honored, and, through her, render home what it should be – a happy place, where parents and children, brothers and sisters, learn to love and know and help one another.

Lessons of true femininity run strongly throughout this wonderful story, and it is a story I strongly recommend.

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4 thoughts on “An Old-Fashioned Girl

  1. YES YES YES! I’m so glad you reviewed this book! I still need to pick up Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom (I was hoping to get physical copies from the library/bookstore, but I might just read them on Project Gutenberg so that I don’t have to wait ahhh). I don’t think we talked about this before, but have you read or heard of L.T. Meade’s “sequel” to An Old-Fashioned Girl, called Polly? I’m torn between reading it and not reading it, since I don’t want it to ruin the wonderful image that Louisa May Alcott created.

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    • I’m confused, though – I looked up Meade’s book, and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Alcott’s?? Other than the title, which is ‘Polly: A New-Fashioned Girl’ – was it published as a sort of answer to Alcott? I can’t really find any information about it, although I can apparently read it online… hmmm, mysterious.

      But yes, you definitely need to read ‘Eight Cousins’ and ‘Rose in Bloom’, especially if you enjoy ‘An Old-Fashioned Girl.’ They are similar in their lessons and morals, but still very different stories. Rose’s love story is one of my favorites, and ‘Rose in Bloom’ is probably one of Alcott’s more “romantic” books, as it is focused entirely on the group of young adults as they all begin to find their way in the world.

      I keep meaning to read ‘Little Women’ again, as it’s been a long while since I have – then I will have read my quartet of Alcott favorites within a few months of each other, always a worth goal. :-D

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      • It might be kind of like fanfiction, since it’s not really a sequel? But it reminded me of those Gone with the Wind sequels written by not-Margaret-Mitchell, haha.

        And definitely supporting rereading Little Women! I’m pretty sure I never read the whole book (oops), and the last time I read it was when I was 12 or 13…

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  2. Pingback: Pollyanna Grows Up | The Aroma of Books

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