Friday, February 5, 2010

An Old Fashioned Girl

By: Louisa May Alcott

Published: 1869 (as a serial)


If we said that Miss Alcott, as a writer for young people just getting to be young ladies and gentlemen, deserved the great good luck that has attended her books, we should be using an unprofessional frankness and putting in print something we might be sorry for after the story of the Old-fashioned Girl had grown colder in our minds. And yet it is a pretty story, a very pretty story; and almost inexplicably pleasing, since it is made up of such plain material, and helped off with no sort of adventure or sensation. It is nothing, in fact, but the story of a little girl from the country, who comes to visit a gay city family, where there is a fashionable little lady of her own age, with a snubbed younger sister, a gruff, good-hearted, mischievous brother, -- as well as a staid, sensible papa, a silly, sickly mamma, and an old-time grandmother. In this family Polly makes herself ever so lovely and useful, so that all adore her, though her clothes are not of the latest fashion, nor her ideas, nor her principles; and by and by, after six years, when she returns again to the city to give music-lessons and send her brother to college, Mr. Shaw fails, and the heartlessness of fashionable life, which his children had begun to suspect, is plain to them, and Tom's modish fiancee jilts him, and Polly marries him, and Fanny Shaw gets the good and rich and elegant Sydney, who never cared for her money, and did not make love to her till she was poor. That is about all; and as none of these people or their doings are strange or remarkable, we rather wonder where the power of the story lies. There's some humor in it, and as little pathos as possible, and a great deal of good sense, but also some poor writing, and some bad grammar. One enjoys the simple tone, the unsentimentalized facts of common experience, and the truthfulness of many of the pictures of manners and persons. Besides, people always like to read of kindly self-sacrifice, and sweetness, and purity, and naturalness; and this is what Polly is, and what her character teaches in a friendly and unobtrusive way to everybody about her. The story thus mirrors the reader's good-will in her well-doing, and that is perhaps what, more than any other thing, makes it so charming and comfortable; but if it is not, pleasing the little book remains nevertheless; and nobody can be the worse for it. Perhaps it is late to observe that the scene of the story is in Boston; at least, the locality is euphuistically described as "the most conceited city in New England"; and we suppose Springfield will not dispute the distinction with us." (The Atlantic Monthly, 1870)

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