cura librorum

An Old Fashioned Girl (Louisa May Alcott)
October 2, 2009, 17:21
Filed under: Book Reviews, Children's & YA | Tags:

(I couldn’t find a cover) This slim volume is about Polly, a girl from the country who goes to visit her cousins in the city. Having grown up with a poor but happy family, she is shocked by the ennui that characterizes her cousins’ lives, and in her own honest way, she is able to bring some happy changes to their family, even if it’s for a brief time. The book then stops and resumes six years later, with an older and more mature Polly, who comes to the city this time to make her own living as a piano teacher. At times she looks longingly on the easy and glamorous life, but comes to take heart in satisfaction of a simple life.

As a young college girl who doesn’t know her vocation yet (in the most Milton-y sense of the word, of course), I often read Louisa May Alcott and sigh a sigh of relief along with Polly. Alcott’s books are little bits of encouragement to those trying, day by day, to struggle with their character in the midst of growing up. Though we’re a century removed from them, their struggles to make their own honest way in the world really resonates. Who hasn’t sighed wistfully when things got hard or when we had to take the shoes off of our wear feet at the end of the day, wondering when it will get easier or when we can be more carefree?

Polly is really about this, then: surrendering a heart that desires an easy and comfortable life for the duress of hard work and discipline required to make a strong woman. It’s interesting to see how the standards of womanhood have changed. If somebody wrote this book now it probably wouldn’t be published. It would be criticized as antiquated, antifeminist, moralizing, restrictive, overly didactic… yet there’s something in it that speaks. In the title, there’s a nostalgia not just for childhood, but for a simpler time and a clearer purpose.

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