by Louisa May Alcott
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.