Book Review: Daddy Long Legs

I’ve read a couple of books based on the 1912 Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster (Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay and Sincerely, Jem by Kate Willis in A Very Bookish Christmas). But I had never read the original story. I figured it was time to remedy that.

Jerusha Abbott,, who calls herself Judy, has grown up in the John Grier Home orphanage. She has just about aged out of the system. She’s finished high school and is working at the home.

Then she receives word that one of the trustees has offered to pay her way through college. One of Judy’s teachers had told him she could be an excellent writer. The trustee will pay all of Judy’s expenses and give her an allowance. The donor does not want Judy to know who he is. He’ll communicate through his secretary. His only requirement is that she write him a letter once a month about what she’s learning.

The rest of the book is made up of Judy’s letters. She was told to address her letters to Mr. John Smith. She had caught a glimpse of him from behind during one of the trustees’ monthly meetings to the orphanage. She could only make out that he was very tall, so she nicknames him Daddy Long Legs.

Although thoroughly excited by her opportunity, Judy faces challenges as well. An East Coast girl’s college is a different environment from an orphanage. Judy faces a social learning curve as well as an academic one.

But for the most part she faces life optimistically. Her letters are usually lively and cheerful. But sometimes she’s downhearted or angry—sometimes with Daddy Long Legs.

Since I’d read other books based on this story, I knew the surprise twist near the end of who “Daddy” was. But it was still satisfying to see how it came about and to see little clues appear.

The original books contained some drawings by the author (Judy refers to them in her letters). But, unfortunately, the free Kindle version didn’t have them.

One thing that irked me, though, was that Judy seemed to feel obligated to make several “digs” at religion. Yes, this is a secular book, and so I don’t expect it to portray Christian values. But I don’t expect it to poke at them, either. What religious instruction Judy had at the orphanage seemed institutional and cheerless (she says of one dinner with new friends, ““We don’t have to say grace beforehand. It’s a relief not having to thank Somebody for every mouthful you eat. [I dare say I’m blasphemous; but you’d be, too, if you’d offered as much obligatory thanks as I have.”]) Maybe that’s what she’s rebelling against. But I couldn’t help wonder if some of these thoughts were the author’s and this was her way to get them out into the world. One thing Judy shares from her vast amounts of reading in college was that “I didn’t know that people used to be monkeys and that the Garden of Eden was a beautiful myth.” Maybe that’s what starts her on a negative religious path; maybe it was there before and this new “learning” brought it to the forefront. Elsewhere she says, “Thank heaven I don’t inherit God from anybody! I am free to make mine up as I wish Him. He’s kind and sympathetic and imaginative and forgiving and understanding—and He has a sense of humour.”

A couple of quotes I enjoyed:

It isn’t the big troubles in life that require character. Anybody can rise to a crisis and face a crushing tragedy with courage, but to meet the petty hazards of the day with a laugh—I really think that requires SPIRIT.

Most people don’t live; they just race. They are trying to reach some goal far away on the horizon, and in the heat of the going they get so breathless and panting that they lose all sight of the beautiful, tranquil country they are passing through; and then the first thing they know, they are old and worn out, and it doesn’t make any difference whether they’ve reached the goal or not.

Normally epistolary novels aren’t my favorite, but this was a pleasant read. The author has a nice style. Someday soon I hope to get to the sequel, Dear Enemy, focusing on one of Judy’s roommates.

I am counting this book as my classic by a new-to-me author for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2020 Wrap-up

I enjoy participating in the the Back to the Classics challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate. I wasn’t exposed to many classics growing up, and I’ve determined to educate myself with several of them. The categories help me expand my reading horizons. The titles link back to my reviews. I included the publication dates to verify that the books are 50 years old, as required:

1. 19th Century Classic: Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)
2. 20th Century Classic: My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918)
3.Classic by a Woman Author: Eight Cousins by Louisa My Alcott (1875)
4. Classic in Translation (originally written in something other than your native language): Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1910)
5. Classic by a Person of Color: Wynema: A Child of the Forest (1891)
6. A Genre Classic:
1984 by George Orwell (1949)
7. Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle (1883)
8. Classic with a Place in the Title: Lark Rise (1939), Candleford Green (1943), and Over to Candleford (1941), the Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy by Flora Thompson
9. Classic with Nature in the Title: Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott (1876)
10. Classic About a Family (multiple members of the same family as principal characters): Amberwell  (1955) and Summerhills by D. E. Stevenson (1956)
11. Abandoned Classic (one you started but never finished). Billy Budd by Herman Melville (1924)
12: Classic Adaptation (Any classic that’s been adapted as a movie or TV series): Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope (1858)

Anthony Trollope, D. E. Stevenson, and Willa Cather were all new-to-me authors whose other works I look forward to exploring.

We’re allowed up to three children’s books: mine were Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, and Robin Hood.

Karen has a points system where the number of categories we complete gives us a corresponding number of entries in a prize drawing she holds. I don’t get extra points for reading more than one book in a couple of the categories—I did so just because I wanted to keep reading a series. Karen likes for us to calculate our number of entries. For completing all twelve categories, I get three entries.

If you are interested in participating next year, the rules, categories, and sign up post are here at the Back to the Classics 2021 post. Thanks to Karen for hosting! I enjoyed it very much.

Book Review: 1984

George Orwell’s 1984 depicts a futuristic totalitarian state. An oligarchy known as “the Party,” headed by an unseen Big Brother, rules Oceania, one of three superpowers. Telescreens broadcast only what the Party allows, but they also observe people at work and home. Thought Police come for anyone whose words, actions, or even expressions step outside of party policy. Those who do not comply become nonpersons and are “vaporized”: all trace of them disappears and they are never referred to again.

Winston Smith is a member of the party, but he hates it. He remembers fragments of what life was like before the revolution, when the Party took over. He also works for the Ministry of Truth, which, ironically, rewrites and “corrects” news to line up with current Party position. He wonders that no one else seems to see the absurdity in the contradictory reports coming from the party. But he doesn’t dare try to talk to anyone about it.

In an atmosphere like this, everyone is suspect. When one woman seems to have her eye on Winston, he fears she is looking for some reason to report him. But, to his surprise, she gets a secret message to him that she loves him. Through much subterfuge, they arrange to meet, and then embark on an illicit relationship.

Sadly, however, another relationship turns out to be false.

1984 is based on the totalitarianism of Stalinist Russia but also warns against the dangers of totalitarianism in any context. Wikipedia points out many of the corresponding details.

The novel brought many new terms into the mainstream: Big Brother and the phrase “Big Brother is Watching You,” Thought Police, Doublespeak.

I thought I had read this back in high school. Maybe I did. But some of the frank sexual content makes me surprised that the book would have been required reading by teenagers, especially that many years ago. Yet the sexuality is not titillating. It’s not exactly clinical, either. It’s there to show that the Party control reached even into bedrooms: sexual relations were illegal even between married people except for purposes of bringing forth children as their duty to the Party. The novel reveals later the purpose for suppression of sexual desire was to channel all passion to the Party.

What drew me to 1984 at this time was coming across a quote from the book: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” That struck a chord with me because we see traces of it even now in revisionist history and “fake news.”

1984 has one of the most interesting opening lines: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” A few other quotes:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.

Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.

For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?

Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.

One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.

We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.

In the past the Middle had made revolutions under the banner of equality, and
then had established a fresh tyranny as soon as the old one was overthrown.

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

The heresy of heresies was common sense.

If you can feel that staying human is worth while, even when it can’t have any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.

1984 is not a pleasant read. It’s depressing in places. It’s deeply disturbing, but in a way that provokes thought. Hopefully it’s a warning to every generation who reads it.

I listened to the audiobook nicely read by Simon Prebble.This book will fulfill the genre classic requirement for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Book Review: A Very Bookish Thanksgiving

Three factors intrigued me when I saw A Very Bookish Thanksgiving mentioned at Tarissa’s. First, I can generally trust what Tarissa recommends. Second, I don’t think I have ever seen a series of stories based on Thanksgiving before. Third, each of the five stories ties in with a classic book. I was unfamiliar with all of the authors but interested enough to give the book a try.

A Promise of Acorns by Kelsey Bryant is inspired by Jane Eyre. Erin Moore is hired as a nanny to two children cared for by a reserved grandfather. Dr. Manchester has an unusual request: he has not celebrated Thanksgiving in years because it was his deceased wife’s favorite holiday, and it’s too much for him. He wonders if Erin would take on the responsibility of teaching the children about Thanksgiving. He doesn’t know that Erin has her own difficulties with the day, but she agrees to his request.

As Long as I Belong by Sarah Holman is inspired by Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Annalise Marshell comes from a bickering family headed by a father who can’t keep a job. They’ve been offered a place at a Christian retreat center, headed by the Clark family. Mrs. Clark helps Annalise feel welcome and a part of the team, but Annalise feels like she’s in-between her family and the Clarks, belonging fully to neither.

The Windles and the Lost Boy by Rebekah Jones is inspired by Peter Pan. Patrick Quill takes in stray boys in a secret location. Some are running from abusive situations, and he gives them a safe place until they are ready to launch on their own. Arabella Windle and her brothers unexpectedly discover one such boy needing help. They’ve heard stories about Patrick. Is he real, and can they find him?

Grand Intentions by J. Grace Pennington is based on Dickens’ Great Expectations. Pippa Charles’ dream is to write a novel, but helping her mother take care of her brothers doesn’t leave much time. Then she receives a grand opportunity: her grandmother is going away for a few months and asks Pippa to stay at her house and take care of her dog. Pippa relishes the time alone, but then she gets distracted by the new friends she makes. Will this experience bring out the best or worst in her?

A Fine Day Tomorrow by Amanda Tero is based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Essie March suffered from serious illness during her childhood. But she survived and now wants to be a nurse. She feels the need all the more as the Spanish flu rages through the country. But a series of misfortunes stop her in her tracks and make her wonder if she’ll ever be good for anything again.

The stories aren’t a point-for-point retelling of their respective books, but the main characters and some of the details mirror them. The books themselves are almost characters in the stories as they are referred to during the plot.

Each of the stories has a strong and well-woven faith element as well.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Bookshelves told you more about a person or a family than anything else in a house.

Celebrating Thanksgiving was not just about blood family but about creating family among those you celebrated with. I couldn’t be with my parents on this earth anymore, but there were other people for me to love and to love me back.

My favorite thing about any Dickens book was how you could always get something new out of it at each reading, no matter how many times you revisited it.
 
I enjoyed each of these stories—so much so, that I ordered A Very Bookish Christmas based on the same premise by some of the same authors.
 

Book Review: Candleford Green

Candelford Green is the third installment of the Lark Rise to Candleford series, Flora Thompson’s semi-autobiographical account of growing up in a small English village.The books take place in the 1880s and 1890s, and Flora writes as an adult looking back at simpler times and the changes that happened since.

In the first book, Lark Rise, Flora’s alter-ego, Laura, is the oldest daughter in her family, living in the small village of Lark Rise. In the next book, Over to Candleford, Laura spends a lot of time with her relatives in Candleford Green, a slightly bigger village some eight miles away.

In this third book, Candleford Green, Laura works as an assistant in the post office. Young girls often went into service as maids or mother’s helpers at this time. Laura’s mother didn’t feel she was suited for either of those jobs. But when a friend of the Candleford relatives invites Laura to help her out in the Post Office, her family agrees to let her go.

Like the first two books, there’s no real plot. The book is mostly Laura’s observations of how the people lived, worked, celebrated, decorated their homes, etc. Along the way are little vignettes of some of the individuals who make up the village.

Some of the quotes that caught my eye:

Few would care to take that trouble for the sake of a few spoonfuls of jelly in these days. . . it was thought a waste of time in many households. On the face of it, it does seem absurd to spend the inside of a week making a small jelly, and women were soon to have other uses for their time and energy, but those who did such cookery in those days looked upon it as an art, and no time or trouble was thought wasted if the result were perfection. We may call the Victorian woman ignorant, weak, clinging and vapourish—she is not here to answer such charges—but at least we must admit that she knew how to cook.

At fourteen it is intolerable to resign every claim to distinction. Her hair was soft and thick and brown and she had rather nice brown eyes and the fresh complexion of country youth, but those were her only assets in the way of good looks. ‘You’ll never be annoyed by people turning round in the street to have another look at you,’ her mother had often told her, and sometimes, if Laura looked dashed, she would add: ‘But that cuts both ways: if you’re no beauty, be thankful you’re not a freak.’

And she had her own personal experiences: her moments of ecstasy in the contemplation of beauty; her periods of religious doubt and hours of religious faith; her bitter disillusionments on finding some people were not what she had thought them, and her stings of conscience over her own shortcomings. She grieved often for the sorrows of others and sometimes for her own.

‘You’ve got to summer and winter a man before you can pretend to know him’ was an old country maxim much quoted at that time.

This about two single women taking care of elderly parents while trying to run a shop:

No wonder the Pratt girls looked, as some people said, as if they had the weight of the world on their shoulders. They must in reality have carried a biggish burden of trouble, and if they tried to hide it with a show of high spirits and simpering smiles, plus a little harmless pretension, that should have been put down to their credit. Human nature being what it is, their shifts and pretences only served to provoke a little mild amusement.

The new vicar, according to Laura, didn’t mention heaven or hell or sin or repentance, but his sermons made “you feel two inches taller.” The people were what I’d call God-fearing in a general sense, but it doesn’t sound like the gospel was proclaimed except for one or two of the townspeople.

I found the first book sometimes hard to wade through. I didn’t have any problems with the last two: maybe I grew more used to Thompson’s style.

Nowadays, the books are usually packaged together under one title, Lark Rise to Candleford. My copy looks like the one here.

I hope to be able to watch the series, Lark Rise to Candleford. I know some things will be different. Laura is just a teenager in this last book and younger than that in the first two books. Dorcas, the postmistress, doesn’t appear until halfway through the second book, but I understand she’s there at the beginning of the series.

Overall, these were pleasant reads. I’m glad to finally be acquainted with Laura and the villagers.

(Sharing with Booknificent Thursday Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: The Phantom of the Opera

Born in 1868, Gaston Leroux was a French court reporter and newspaper drama critic who liked Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. He started writing detective stories which were serialized in the newspaper. He became intrigued with the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, which had an underground lake and suffered a famous chandelier crash. Leroux wove these details into Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, or The Phantom of the Opera.

Leroux lays the plot out as a detective sharing the details of his investigation into rumors of an “opera ghost.”

Two new managers have taken over the opera house, and the old managers showed them a memorandum book with the ghost’s requirements of a certain sum of money each month and Box 5 to be always available for his use. The new managers think the old ones are pulling their leg, so they ignore the instructions despite increasing threats.

During one performance, the lead singer, Carlotta, is too ill too sing. Her understudy, Christine Daaé, performs the role beautifully. The Vicomte Raoul de Chagny was in the audience and recognizes Christine as his old playmate from childhood. Raoul tries to see Christine after the performance, but goes into a jealous rage when he hears another man talking in her dressing room.

However, Christine and Raoul do meet later. She tries to keep aloof from Raoul, but falls in love with him. She tells him that the man he heard is her teacher, the Angel of Music that her father promised to send her when he died. But the Angel of Music—also known as the Opera Ghost or O. G. or Erik—is very jealous and dangerous.

The O. G. continues leaving instructions for the new managers. He wants Christine to sing the lead in Faust. When Carlotta sings instead, she starts croaking during her aria. Then the great chandelier falls, killing one person.

Now the new managers are angry, believing that someone is trying to extort them.

Christine begins to seek a way to be with Raoul. She plans to sing one last time for Erik and then escape with Raoul. But at the height of her aria, everything goes dark for an instant. When the light comes back on, Christine is gone.

Raoul, of course, goes to search for her and learns more about O. G. in the process.

So, though the format is a crime story, the novel also has several elements of a gothic romance. Parts of it reminded me of Beauty and the Beast and Frankenstein.

As you’re probably aware, there was a famous 1925 movie based on the book with Lon Chaney as the Phantom. Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote a successful musical based on the story in the 1980s which is still being performed today and which was turned into a movie in 2004.

I had read this book several years ago, but forgotten much of it. Though gothic romances aren’t my favorite genre, and parts of this one are a little overwrought, overall I enjoyed getting reacquainted with the story.

I read, or rather listened to this for the Classics in Translation category of the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

Have you read Phantom? What did you think?

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Rose in Bloom Review and LMA Challenge Wrap-Up

Rose in Bloom in Louisa May Alcott’s sequel to Eight Cousins. In the first book, Rose was orphaned as a young girl and sent to live with her uncle Alec. She was also surrounded by several other great aunts, aunts, uncles, and seven boy cousins.

In this book, Rose and a few of her cousins are in their early twenties and about to embark on adulthood. They wrestle with possibly occupations, projects, and potential love interests. Evidently it was considered acceptable to marry first cousins in that era, because there’s a lot of speculation about whether Rose will marry one of hers.

Rose is set to come into a large inheritance, and her uncle has tried to train her well to be responsible and philanthropic rather that frivolous, self-important, and wasteful. She faces some temptations in these areas and wants to try the lifestyle of her friends for a while. This seems to involve a lot of parties and dancing at friends’ houses until the wee hours of the morning. She learns that some people are only interested in her because of her wealth. She has to decide between the “fast” life and a sedate but more useful one.

One of her cousins, Charlie, also known as Prince, has been indulged all his life and is in danger of going the wrong direction, especially in regard to one particular bad habit. Rose tries to help him overcome his wayward tendencies.

Louisa says in her preface that “there is no moral to this story. Rose is not designed for a model girl, and the Sequel was simply written in fulfillment of a promise, hoping to afford some amusement, and perhaps here and there a helpful hint, to other roses getting ready to bloom.”

When I was growing up, I warmed to stories like this that encouraged being good, or becoming better. Modern readers might feel it goes a little overboard. But I still find it a sweet story, and I think others would if they gave it a chance.

I was surprised that young people this age were still considered boys and girls at the time of this writing, and not read to marry or launch out on their own yet.

Much is said about Rose being a strong-minded girl. Evidently this was pushing the envelope even in Alcott’s day. A few sentences from the last paragraph of this exchange were included in the newest Little Women movie:

Rose’s voice was heard saying very earnestly, “Now, you have all told your plans for the future, why don’t you ask us ours?”

“Because we know that there is only one thing for a pretty girl to do: break a dozen or so hearts before she finds one to suit, then marry and settle,” answered Charlie, as if no other reply was possible.

“That may be the case with many, but not with us, for Phebe and I believe that it is as much a right and a duty for women to do something with their lives as for men, and we are not going to be satisfied with such frivolous parts as you give us,” cried Rose with kindling eyes. “I mean what I say, and you cannot laugh me down. Would you be contented to be told to enjoy yourself for a little while, then marry and do nothing more till you die?” she added, turning to Archie.

“Of course not; that is only a part of a man’s life,” he answered decidedly.

“A very precious and lovely part, but not all,” continued Rose. “Neither should it be for a woman, for we’ve got minds and souls as well as hearts; ambition and talents as well as beauty and accomplishments; and we want to live and learn as well as love and be loved. I’m sick of being told that is all a woman is fit for! I won’t have anything to do with love till I prove that I am something besides a housekeeper and baby-tender!”

That’s not quite as anti-domestic as it sounds, because Rose values both housekeeping and baby-tending. But she wants to accomplish something else before that stage of her life.

I enjoyed this exchange about novels with Rose and her friend, Kitty:

“I’m sure I’ve read a great deal more than some girls do. I suppose novels don’t count, though, and are of no use, for, goodness knows, the people and things they describe aren’t a bit like the real ones.”

“Some novels are very useful and do as much good as sermons, I’ve heard Uncle say, because they not only describe truly, but teach so pleasantly that people like to learn in that way,” said Rose, who knew the sort of books Kitty had read and did not wonder that she felt rather astray when she tried to guide herself by their teaching.

In Eight Cousins there was also much discussion of books one aunt felt were harmful to the younger cousins. I wondered how these compared to the “blood and thunder” books Louisa enjoyed writing.

I also smiled at a section where Rose and cousin Mac discuss the benefits of reading Thoreau and Emerson, knowing that both men were friends of Louisa’s family.

Although the Alcotts were ahead of their time in many ways, Louisa still seemed to hold to the idea that different classes ought not to marry: either that, or she was illustrating problems with that idea by her characters. Phebe started out as a maid from the orphan house in the last book, but was so sweet and industrious and bright that Rose and her uncle sought to give her a good education. Now grown up, everyone loves Phebe—until one of the cousins falls in love with her. Since she’s an orphan of unknown origin, her family tree could contain anybody, and what would it do to the good Campbell name if it should be joined with someone that could be unsavory? That seemed to be the thinking of the aunts, but Rose and Alec and a couple of others had no problem with Phebe becoming part of the family. But Louisa had Phebe prove herself worthy in other ways.

Overall, this was a sweet story of the choices and trials of growing into maturity.

Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge

I’m going to wrap up my reading for Tarissa’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge here instead of in a separate post. I read:

I also watched the newest movie version of Little Women that was in theaters last year.

I always love spending time with Louisa and appreciate Tarissa’s challenge every June.

(Sharing with Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Eight Cousins

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott was published in 1875.

Rose Campbell is 13 and newly-orphaned. Her mother had died when Rose was young, but her father just recently passed. She’s sent to live with several aunts (their house is known as the “Aunt Hill”) until her appointed guardian, her father’s single brother, comes home from sea.

Rose had never met her father’s family. The aunts embody the truism of too many cooks spoiling the stew, with their different and sometimes opposite views on how she should be raised. One, something of a hypochondriac herself, has Rose almost convinced she has “no constitution.”

When Dr. Alec finally arrives, he puts his foot down with the aunts that Rose is to be raised his way for a year without their interference. Then they can evaluate how she’s doing and whether they need to make a change. The aunts can’t help but share their opinions occasionally, but they abide by Alec’s wish.

Alec starts slow with Rose, changing her diet and activities to healthier ones, not by decree but by persuasion. Rose regards her newfound uncle kindly because he is so like her father and seems to care greatly for her, so she acquiesces for the most part. She struggles to give up her little vanities, like wearing her belt so tight she can’t take a full breath so her waist looks smaller.

Much of the book involves Rose’s interactions with her seven boy cousins. She didn’t think she would like boys: she had never been around any. But she soon grows to love them. They all inadvertently teach each other lessons.

Alcott gets in a lot of opinions about what’s good and bad for young people. Some of the fashion sense Alec prescribes, we would consider common sense today (like doing away with corsets and having clothes loose enough to move comfortably in). Some of the vices her characters try to steer each other away from might sound funny to modern ears (like slang. Or maybe it’s that slang in that day is acceptable now.)

Wikipedia says Rose’s instruction and training for the wealth she will one day come into was “revolutionary” for the times, because women didn’t have much control over their own “money, property, or destinies” then.

Alcott uses the adjectives “good, old-fashioned” often, and this is a good, old-fashioned tale. Through “frolics” and “scrapes,” gentle admonition and learning by experience, the young people grow and develop good character.

A  couple of quotes I especially liked:

When Uncle Alec tells Rose he wants her to take up something special, housekeeping, she says, “Is that an accomplishment?” He replies: “Yes; it is one of the most beautiful as well as useful of all the arts a woman can learn. Not so romantic, perhaps, as singing, painting, writing, or teaching, even; but one that makes many happy and comfortable, and home the sweetest place in the world. Yes, you may open your big eyes; but it is a fact that I had rather see you a good housekeeper than the greatest belle in the city. It need not interfere with any talent you may possess, but it is a necessary part of your training, and I hope that you will set about it at once, now that you are well and strong.”

When one of the cousins takes Rose on her first pony ride, he chooses a gentle one named Barkis. Then the book says Barkis was “willin’,” an allusion to David Copperfield in which a man named Barkis lets Peggotty, David’s nurse,  know that he’s interested in marrying her by sending the message, “Barkis is willin.'” Hearing that phrase made me smile.

I listened to the audiobook at Libravox, a site for free audiobooks. The last time I used them, there was some disruption in the loading of individual chapters. That process went smoothly this time, but they’ve added some annoying ads every few chapters. The narrators at Libravox just read the books: they don’t put inflection in them like those at Audible. But sometimes a book is short enough that I don’t want to use a full Audible credit on it, and I am thankful for the option of Libravox. They also have some books that Audible doesn’t have.

Rose in Bloom is the sequel to this book, and that’s next on my reading list for Tarissa’s Louisa May Alcott Reading Challenge this month. I had read both books years ago and enjoyed revisiting them.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)

Book Review: Wynema: A Child of the Forest

S. Alice Callahan is regarded as the first novelist of American Indian descent with her book, Wynema: A Child of the Forest. The book was published in 1891 when Callahan was 23; sadly, she died just three years later.

Her only foreword reads as follows:

TO THE INDIAN TRIBES OF NORTH AMERICA

Who have felt the wrongs and oppression of their pale-faced brothers, I lovingly dedicate this work, praying that it may serve to open the eyes and heart of the world to our afflictions, and thus speedily issue into existence an era of good feeling and just dealing toward us and our more oppressed brothers.

THE AUTHOR.

 The story begins with Wynema as a child amidst the peaceful habitations of her tribe. A Methodist missionary opened a school, but most of the Indians did not see the point of it. Wynema, however, was enraptured by the idea of learning. “His was the touch that brought into life the slumbering ambition for knowledge and for a higher life, in the breast of the little Indian girl.” She begged her father for a school in their own village, and he agreed. So the missionary, Gerald Keithly, sent for a woman to come and teach. The call was answered by Genevieve Weir, who believed, “God made the Indians as he made the Caucasian—from the same mold. He loves the work of His hands.”

As Genevieve tries to teach the Native children reading, English, and Christianity, she also learns their ways. When she laments some of the “barbaric” customs, Gerald wisely counsels her that white customs would seem just as barbaric to the Indians if they observed a white doctor or ballroom dance, etc., and that in many ways, they were more civilized than their white compatriots. Wynema and Genevieve become close friends.

But behind these peaceful and informative interactions, the Indians were being cheated out of money and land by the white government. Callahan shares the escalation of events leading up to the battle of Wounded Knee as well as the aftermath.

She has her main characters recognize the distinction between the kind white people who wanted to help and the others who wanted to oppress rather than lumping them all into on category.

I perused a few articles on Callahan and this book. Responses are mixed. Some felt that making Genevieve the main character, or at least equal in importance to Wynema, diminished the Native American influence. But since it was written partly to white people to show that the Native Americans weren’t “savages” and to chronicle the wrongs done to them, it seems natural to show this through a white woman’s eyes being opened as she comes to know and love them.

Another article (which I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find again and have not been able to [Update: it was not an article but the introduction to the book in the Amazon edition]) said that the book rejects the Christianization of the Native American as well as the colonization. But it seemed to me that Callahan presented both. Callahan includes a letter by Hadjo saying that “The Indians have never taken kindly to the Christian religion as preached and practiced by the whites. Do you know why this is the case? Because the Good Father of all has given us a better religion—a religion that is all good and no bad—a religion that is adapted to our wants” and that they have their own Messiah. But Wynema and others accepted the Christian message, and the general tone of the work is Christian.

Perhaps because Callahan had a Native American father and a white mother, her desire seemed to be to bring about reconciliation and understanding rather than further animosity. Part of reconciliation is acknowledging the wrongs done to another.

I’m glad that I discovered this book this year. I am counting it for the Classic by a Person of Color Category of the Back to the Classics challenge.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Summerhills

Summerhills is the sequel to Amberwell by D. E. Stevenson. This book focuses primarily on three of the adult Ayrton children.

Roger is the oldest and the heir since his father died. But he assured his four siblings that Amberwell would always be the family home and they would always be welcome. In the last book, his wife had died in the London bombings, leaving him with their infant son, who nearly died as well. Since Roger was in the military, he sent his son, Stephen, home to Amberwell to be taken care of by his sister, Nell. In this book, Stephen is approaching the age to go to boarding school. But Nell can’t stand the thought of Stephen being sent away. Roger had inherited his wife’s fortune and had been pondering the best way to use it. Now he decides perhaps opening a boarding school nearby would help others as well as himself and Stephen. Summerhills is the name of the new school, and almost all of Roger’s time on leave is spent preparing for the school: consulting with a builder, finding a headmaster, etc. Roger had no interest in other women. He felt his wife was the only woman he would ever love. But perhaps becoming reacquainted with a childhood friend will reawaken the part of his heart that he thought was closed.

Nell had kept Amberwell afloat all during the war. With the loss of most of the staff during the war, Nell continues all of the tasks involved in attending to Amberwell while also caring for her nephew and her confused mother. Nell had always been the shyest Ayrton, content to be at home. When her brother Tom’s friend, Dennis, comes to visit, he is drawn to her. But he knows he will have to win her slowly, through friendship, before he can share his heart.

Ann had been missing from a large part of the last book after her aunt more or less pushed her into marrying a man that her parents would not have approved of. In time, this man proved abusive and eventually died. Ann did her best to provide for her young daughter on her own until the rector of their village found her and urged her to come home. Now she keeps house for the rector. The new headmaster is an old friend, and Ann senses he would like for their relationship to develop into something more. But marriage has been ruined for her.

Tom, the other brother, is away at sea throughout the book but is mentioned. Connie, the oldest sister, had been married and had three children in the last book, and had gotten hold of a book advising against thwarting or correcting children. Consequently, her children are rude, uncontrolled little monsters.

There are comic scenes, often involving Connie’s children, a pretty young governess, and the banter between Nanny and Mrs. Duff, the cook. There’s not a great deal to the plot besides getting the school ready and the various romances. But it’s a sweet, cozy book with some touching moments.

A couple of characters’ fates were left up in the air. There is no other sequel, but, according the this site, some from Amberwell make an appearance in a later book, Still Glides the Stream.

Objectionable elements: a few “damns” and mentions of blacks and Chinese that would be considered racist today. Though I don’t condone such references, I wouldn’t avoid a book with them any more than I would avoid any book where the characters do something wrong in some way.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully read by the same reader who narrated Amberwell, Leslie Mackie.

(Sharing with Carole’s Books You Loved, Booknificent Thursday)