29/03/2005

An Old-Fashioned Girl (by Louisa May Alcott)


This is a wonderful, somewhat weepy old-fashioned kind of book really intended for teenagers but probably read more by younger girls and adults these days. Louisa M Alcott wrote 'An Old-Fashioned Girl' back in about 1870 so inevitably the language is dated, and the style peppered with comments from the author about good mothers and the benefits of trials and tribulations. But these don't particularly worry me; I skim them and either smile or nod inwardly depending on how quaint or accurate her perceptions are.

Of course Louisa M Alcott is best-known for 'Little Women' and its sequels, but I think this particular book is probably my favourite. It's a character-driven novel charting the growing up of Polly, a minister's daughter from the country, and her friend Fanny Shaw who is wealthy and lives in the city. The book starts with them both aged 14, when Polly pays her first visit to the Shaws' home and finds herself taken to their hearts for her goodness, despite her rather old-fashioned ways. There are some charming interludes as Polly contrasts her own simple - but loving - lifestyle with that of her grand friends, and delights their grandmother with her attentions and interest in her anecdotes.

Then it fast-forwards six years to Polly coming back to the city to earn her living, and there are inevitable romances afoot. The plot isn't very exciting but in places it was very moving and despite having read this before (many years previously) I found myself almost unable to put it down. I can easily see why this author's books haev remained popular for over 130 years - no doubt they will still be around when today's children's books are long forgotten.

(Note: I also wrote a longer review of 'An Old-Fashioned Girl' on re-reading six years later)

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