Monday, March 31, 2008

An Old-Fashioned Girl

Illness, work craziness, and wasting time on Facebook have kept me from blogging. Must try to do better...I'll pick up where I left off with Miss Polly Milton.

Once I read An Old-Fashioned Girl, I forgot about all the other Alcott books and just kept rereading it; in fact, I still read it at least once a year. I probably love it so much because Polly becomes a music teacher; I remember wanting to live in a cozy apartment like hers with a cat and a piano (apparently I was 13 going on 70). Anyways, An Old-Fashioned Girl follows the friendship between sweet country girl Polly Milton and the wealthy Shaw family, in particular their daughter Fanny. Polly comes for a lengthy visit to the city when she's young, I believe around 12 or so. At first she's not treated very well because she dresses simply and doesn't want to flirt with the boys at school. But in the end she wins over the Shaw family and their circle of acquaintances. She teaches them to be happy with their lives regardless of how much money they have and to take pleasure in living an honest life. And of course there are plenty of fun childhood adventures to be had along the way, but I don't want to give away too many details...

Polly comes back to town as a young adult and sets up her apartment for teaching piano and voice lessons, and continues to be a positive influence in nearly everyone's life. You'd think this would get annoying, since Polly (and Alcott's writing style) can be kind of preachy, but it doesn't really; it's just a perfect piece of escapism literature for a rainy day.

Probably the most random thing I remember about An Old-Fashioned Girl is that it's where I first learned about macaroons:

"The hour was soon over; and when Fan had taken a music lesson in another room, while Polly looked on, it was time for recess. The younger girls walked up and down the court, arm in arm, eating bread and butter; others stayed in the school-room to read and gossip; but Belle, Trix, and Fanny went to lunch at a fashionable ice-cream saloon near by, and Polly meekly followed, not daring to hint at the ginger-bread grandma had put in her pocket for luncheon. So the honest, brown cookies crumbled away in obscurity, while Polly tried to satisfy her hearty appetite on one ice and three macaroons."

Now I grew up in Bellevue, Nebraska, and though there may have been macaroons in the midwest, I certainly never saw any as a child. This "one ice and three macaroons" business was all very exotic to me. These days I'd be totally content to eat macaroons for lunch, but I don't think three would be nearly enough!

But back to the review: if Beth was your favorite character from Little Women, if you enjoy reading about what young girls wore to balls back in the day, if you fantasize about tiny pre-war apartments with cats and birds and whistling teakettles, give An Old-Fashioned Girl a try. Much like those "honest, brown cookies" of gingerbread, it's pure literary comfort food.

Now this might be enough for lunch...

macaroons available from Pierre Herme