Gleanings of An Old-Fashioned Girl

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

My Alcott Reading Challenge Book of Choice

I am so enjoying this reading challenge. For those who haven’t heard or missed that post please see here. And I would say it is never too late in the month to indulge in a bit of Alcott.

I am almost half-way through An Old-Fashioned Girl  and enjoying it immensely.  I can clearly see why at 12 or 13 I related so well to Polly. I loved the idea of wearing simple clothes that made me look like a child not a miniature adult, a devotee of Peter Pan I was not ready to grow up. While there might be those who consider her a milquetoast it actually takes a great deal of determination follow your conscience and stand out from the crowd.

The Synopsis

The old-fashioned girl whose adventures we follow is Polly Milton, a simple country girl whose family, while very respectable is  on the poor, by the Shaw’s standards. Polly leaves her happy country home for a month of early winter city fun with her friend Fanny Shaw, who is two years her senior, very sophisticated and rich enough that her six year old sister has a French maid to dress her.

The Shaws consider themselves very fine indeed and try to make Polly conform to their ideals. Polly finds she doesn’t fit in at all with their fashionable ways but slowly and quietly finds her place among them, all the while trying very hard to follow her mother’s wise directions. By the end of 6 weeks they none of them want to see her go.

The Characters

  • Polly Milton-at 14 years old is the old-fashioned girl and herroine elect
  • Fanny Shaw– at 16 she considers herself a young woman, wears her hair up, promenades in the park and has daily meet ups with her ‘set’ of young ladies and gentleman of whom her father disapproves
  • Tom Shaw-also 14 and the red headed plague of the girls lives
  • Maud-spoilt tantrum throwing 6 year old who can’t pronounce her ‘r’s and cant decide which little boy should be her beau.
  • Mrs. Shaw-a semi-invalid who suffers from nerves, attacks are mainly brought on by her children
  • Mr. Shaw-a man of his time so engrossed in the business of making money he has very little time for his children
  • Grandma (Madame Shaw)-who lives quietly upstairs sadly looking on at the state of her sons family

Some people will consider the story “preachy” or a little “too good”, not me. I like stories about children who try to be good who sometimes fail and  other times succeed, but then I always was a little odd.

The difference between me and Polly was that all the grown-ups around me as well as my peers wanted me to get my ears pierced, wear lipstick and try to be that bit more fashionable and “feminine” or at least cut off that “dreadful mop of hair”. (Like Jo I rather fancied my hair was my one beauty and resented any suggestion that it should be chopped off, of course it wouldn’t have hurt to brush it a trifle more regularly)

I was dreadfully dull preferring old fashioned girlish things like patchwork and embroidery, both of which I tried to teach myself using as my guide such descriptions as could be glean from Laura Ingalls, Louisa May Alcott and L.M. Montgomery, to varying degrees of success.

My chin was every bit as white and set as Polly’s and the more people tried to push me into the modern mold the more I fought to break it. Which I fancy I did rather well.

I spurned boy bands, teen magazine and make-up guides. Oh horror of horrors what to do with a girl who wasn’t pining after the New Kids On the Block!  Give me Newsies any day. 

Gems of Old-fashioned wisdom

Polly shut her door hard, and felt ready to cry with vexation, that her pleasure should be spoilt by such a silly idea; for, of all the silly freaks of this fast age, that of little people playing at love is about the silliest.

“Yes; i love to cut.” And Maud’s face brightened; for destructiveness is one of the earliest traits of childhood, and ripping was Maud’s delight.

Polly had a spice of girlish malice, and rather liked to see domineering Tom eat humble-pie, just enough to do him good, you know.

How about you? Are there any other Old-Fashioned girls out there who can relate to Polly Milton?

And don’t forget it’s never too late to join the challenge!


How I Met Charlotte Bronte and Her Sisters


Who can resist a biography of a favourite author written by another favourite author

Who can resist a biography of a favorite author written by another favorite author

I was going to indulge in more cakey goodness today but realized I could not let this week’s celebration of Charlotte Bronte and her sisters go by without comment.  So instead of writing about revolutions in  home cake production I write about Charlotte, Anne and Emily.

Books are like friends. That is an indisputable fact, no? Sometimes though an acquaintance takes time to develop before it blooms into devoted enduring friendship. So it was with me and the Bronte’s.

I first bumped into the Bronte’s in a way as unobtrusive, as diminutive as Charlotte herself.

How does a Victorian obsessed 1880’s girl get to the ripe old age of 14 without knowing who the Bronte’s are?

I don’t know.

My only excuse is my late acquisition of competent reading skills due to dyslexia and my mother’s prejudice against big books, she is more of a  Reader’s Digest Condensed person than a Charles Dickens person.

That being said Mom’s favorite Bronte is Emily. The impression Wuthering Heights made on her at 13 never left her. She told me it was the most romantic book she ever read and it remains her favorite.

I did not read Wuthering Heights until my late teens and while I loved the writing I did not like Catherine and detested Heathcliff. I don’t know about you but it is pretty hard to root for a character you don’t like. However I do love her use of language and like so many others find her personally fascinating.

But Emily was not the first Bronte I met. My first acquaintance was with Anne. I bumped into her quite by chance when I picked Agnes Grey up somewhere. I read it. I enjoyed it but it did not send me flying to the card catalog looking for more. I had no inclining she was part of a famous threesome. 

In fact I forgot all about the book until some years later I decided to read all the books by all the Bronte’s and found Agnes Grey earily familiar, like I had been there before, and low and behold I had.

Some time after Agnes Grey I picked up The Proffesser at a second hand book store, a small hardback edition in faded blue with black embossed letters. When I went to take today’s shelfie I was surprised to find it has been replaced by a paper back edition. The whereabouts of the original remains a mystery.  I liked  the Proffesser and the name of Bronte rang a distant bell. But only Distantly.

Then sometime during my fascination with Charles Dickens in 7th grade I began looking for other authors of the Victorian age and discovered THE Bronte’s.  And what a discovery!

I was not an immediate fan, indeed on first reading Jane Eyre at 14 I found it heavy going, especially the paragraphs of untranslated French.  But I enjoyed it enough to seek out Villette. It was Villette that hooked me. There was something in Lucy that resonated with me. I identified with her, championed her and rejoiced in her triumphs. I really wished I could learn German the way she learnt French.

I could not understand why Villette was not more popular than Jane Eyre and said so to anyone who would listen.

I’ve decided Jane Eyre is one of those books you must grow into. With each re-reading I gained greater understanding of the forces at play and so the story took on  greater meaning. Now every few years I go through a great craving for Jane Eyre and binge watch all available movie versions while re-reading it.  I have read it at least six times, in fact I think I might feel a binge coming on.

So from a series of inauspicious accidental meetings I grew to love the Bronte’s and count them among my closest literary friends as do thousands of others.

How’d you meet the Bronte’s? Do you have a favorite?

leave a comment or tweet me @seahamber.