One of these books is Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. It's a children's book about 9-year-old Elizabeth Ann. Elizabeth Ann's parents died when she was very young and she was taken in by her wealthy city relatives, Aunt Harriet and Aunt Frances, who cared for and loved her but also ensured that she led a very coddled and sheltered existence. Thus, Elizabeth Ann is scared of practically everything, is very shy, and often cries, just to ensure that she gets her aunts' full sympathy and attention.
But one day Aunt Harriet is taken ill by scarlet fever and Elizabeth Ann must be taken care of by someone else. She is sent to the dreaded "Putney cousins" in Vermont, and is terrified of what she will find there. She's heard often enough that her Uncle Henry, Aunt Abigail and Aunt Ann are very backwards people who do horrible things like chores, and she has no idea what she will find in a life with them.
But Betsy finds, as you may expect, that life is very pleasant with her new-found relatives, who give her room to grow and learn and gain a great deal of self-confidence. Really, considering the number of books with this theme, one would think that all little city girls in the Victorian era wanted to up and move to a farm somewhere to live an idyllic, happy existence of churning butter, popping corn and eating frozen maple syrup. I thought that I would be immune to this sort of story and would end up rolling my eyes a lot, snorting with smugness and sighing with disbelief, but I DID NONE OF THOSE THINGS. I was, in fact, completely enamored and now am very interested in learning exactly how milk becomes butter. If I move to a quaint and lovely rural home in Vermont with a rosy-cheeked, smiling grandmother-like figure to show me the ropes, will I too gain a lot of gumption and become a self-sufficient young woman who can take charge of the apples and butter for every meal? I think it's possible.
I could take this opportunity to talk about how farm life in the late 19th century was probably not so idyllic, but I do not want to ruin the happy place in my mind wherein the butter churns perfectly, popcorn is made on the stove and never burns and everyone loves my homemade apple sauce. I thought this book was a lovely way to show a girl learning how to stand on her own two feet, and really bloom into (very young) adulthood by being given the opportunity to make her own decisions and learn from them. It's a light, sweet read reminiscent of Pollyanna, Heidi and all those types, and really makes me wish that we could all have a few years living the Little House in the Big Woods lifestyle. But alas, we cannot. So instead, I shall continue to download books that give me the opportunity to live vicariously through other people.
I agree with you that the thought of these stories are always met with a little bit of eye-rolling for me, but obviously I don't often end up feeling that way about them, as I have read the Little House books several times, and am always enchanted. It sounds like this is a wonderfully gentle and comfortable read, and one that I would like to check out at some point. There is something that is so comforting about a book like this that is done well. Great review! I am off to download this one for myself!ReplyDelete
And I am happy that you are reading these books that I never would have heard of otherwise :DReplyDelete
Oh my God. Oh this book. I love this book. I read it when I was a little girl and I have never been one iota immune to its charms. Whenever Cousin Ann is good to little Betsy and gives her a compliment, my heart feels all warm all over. I love it when she gets the kittens, oh!, and they can't drink milk properly.ReplyDelete
I think more people could than do. There was a whole movement of city/suburban kids who moved to rural areas in the late 60s-early 70s, and stayed. They build lives that were quite different from the way they were brought up. In my area, they started artistic businesses, bookstores, organizations to support rural women. They have made a very good life, and I do think the country atmosphere changed them in profound ways. The incomes aren't as high, but neither is the stress or crime or push to succeed, succeed in monetary ways.ReplyDelete
I reread my childhood copy of Understood Betsy seven years ago, and this is what I wrote:
'I so liked reading Anne of Windy Poplars last month that I thought I'd read
another childhood book of mine. Though I didn't feel this was an excellent book, I really enjoyed it very much. It was funny to see something in the book referred to as old-fashioned, and the book itself published in 1916! Even then, so long ago, there was the city/country difference. The book begins in the city where frail Elizabeth lives with older relatives. Because of an illness in the family, she must go live in Vermont with
country relatives. This is a lovely story of the healing power of country, outdoor working life, and the way children can do all kinds of things. A bit of a morality story, with annoying interruptions by the author in her voice.'
I've never read this one but i do love to read books from my childhood.ReplyDelete
This sounds like such a delight. I have her Persephone book for adults, The Home-Maker, and if I love it as much as I expect to I know I'll be reading everything of hers I can find, including this. Good to know the e-book is available online!ReplyDelete
where did you get the e-book? I don't see a kindle version on amazon. I love books like this and I don't like to think too much about the realities either, I love the simplicity and beauty and calm of stories like this one.ReplyDelete
Joanna, if you can't find it on Amazon, I'd look for it on Project Gutenberg. I probably got it there.ReplyDelete
Found it, thanks!! :-)ReplyDelete
I actually love books like these. I wonder if I read it as a kid? It sounds familiar.ReplyDelete
I'm quite sure you most certainly would gain a lot of gumption and become a self-sufficient young woman who would take charge of the apples and butter for every meal, if it happened to you.
Ooh interesting review. I've yet to read The Homemaker by this writer, but I have it on my tbr list.ReplyDelete