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An Old-Fashioned Girl (Dover Children's Evergreen Classics) Paperback – 1 Jan 2007
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About the Author
Louisa May Alcott (1832 –1888) was an American novelist. She is best known for the novel Little Women and its sequels Little Men and Jo's Boys. Little Women was set in the Alcott family home, Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, and published in 1868. This novel is loosely based on her childhood experiences with her three sisters. Alcott's literary success arrived with the publication by the Roberts Brothers of the first part of Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood with her sisters in Concord, Massachusetts. Part two, or Part Second, also known as Good Wives, followed the March sisters into adulthood and their respective marriages. Little Men detailed Jo's life at the Plumfield School that she founded with her husband Professor Bhaer at the conclusion of Part Two of Little Women. Jo's Boys completed the "March Family Saga". In Little Women, Alcott based her heroine "Jo" on herself. But whereas Jo marries at the end of the story, Alcott remained single throughout her life. In her later life, Alcott became an advocate for women's suffrage and was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts, in a school board election. Alcott, along with Elizabeth Stoddard, Rebecca Harding Davis, Anne Moncure Crane, and others, were part of a group of female authors during the Gilded Age who addressed women’s issues in a modern and candid manner. Alcott, who continued to write until her death, suffered chronic health problems in her later years. Alcott died of a stroke in Boston, on March 6, 1888, at age 55, two days after visiting her father's deathbed. Her last words were "Is it not meningitis?"
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Teenage Polly Milton is arriving in the city (New York?) for the first time, to stay with her uncle and aunt. She immediately sticks out because of her prosaic clothing and lack of chic. Her cousin Fan Shaw (also about fourteen) is already dressed like a young woman, and hangs out with a gang of shallow, trendy girls. On the other hand, Polly befriends old ladies, sings Scottish airs, and reads books on history. Can she fit in? What's more... does she really want to?
Fast forward about five or six years: The Shaw family learns that Polly is returning to the city, intending to give music lessons to help support her brother. Time hasn't really changed Polly -- she's still sweet-natured, morally upright and kind to everyone. But the Shaw family is in serious financial trouble -- and Polly will help out the only way she knows how.
Like "Little Women," this book was written in two halves, which might explain why the second half is so much better than the first. The first isn't bad, but it suffers from too much prissiness. Virtually every story centres on Polly's moral struggles, in a very preachy manner. Her story is far more engaging when she learns confidence and strength, not when she's wavering about peer pressure.
Despite the preachy edge, Alcott's writing withstands the test of time -- strong, descriptive and pleasant. She also writes a good understated love story, in Polly's gradual interest in her cousin Tom. You'll know that these two really need to get together, but it's going to take them awhile to mutually realize it. So sit back and enjoy the ride.
Polly initially seems like a disastrous character, given her goody-two-shoes attitude, but she proves to be far better over the course of the book. Her spoiled, grumpy or flaky cousins are far more engaging, since they have immediate flaws. And they do progress as people over the course of the story, whether it's becoming more down to earth, or falling in love.
A real story is wrapped around this lesson on peer pressure, although occasionally Alcott goes a bit over the top. Charming, sweet and sometimes very funny.
At first, Alcott gets you really excited about the story ahead, but this enthusiasim soon bubbles away to nothing as the droll, boring story line plays out in a rather too stretched space. Perhaps if this book had been shortened, it could have been more interesting and enjoyable.
Three hundred pages seem wasted on the boring recital of Polly's stay with her cousins as nothing INTERESTING actually happens. In most classics, this domestic based style normally fascinates and keeps the pages turning but this time I was falling asleep.
By the time the second half of the book begins, continuing the story three years on, the reader really wants to finish the book and start on something new. If this extra section had to be added, it should have been made into another book.
Sorry, Louisa, but this could have been a good book if the editing was better.
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