Cannonball Read #17: An Old-Fashioned Girl

Inspired by the cheesiness of the last book I read, I decided to go for actual Louisa May Alcott with her ode to hardworking young women in An Old-Fashioned Girl. The first half of the book tells the story of a poorish, working class girl of 14, Polly, visiting her richer, more fashionable friend Fanny and family. Their worlds collide and Polly is scandalized and confused by many of the trends, including dress and entertainment, that seemed to be the only topics of conversation. Lessons are learned that honor good old-fashioned hard work and modesty. Turns out, Polly is the paragon of everything good in this world. More than once I wanted to gag, for Louisa May has a habit of moralizing to her audience directly. The chapter where the kids sit around and listen to their grandmother's old stories is heinously boring to get through, but you feel guilty about skimming it because that must mean that I'm not a good person who is into wholesomeness and learning from my elders and blah blah blah guilt.

Fortunately, the second half of the book, where the kids have grown into young adults is far more entertaining and the fourth-wall breaking side notes are funnier and less pedantic. So anyway, Polly is 20 and moved to Fanny's town to make a living for herself and earn money for her brother in college by teaching music lessons. It's a difficult life; she lives alone with a cat and finds work to be tedious sometimes. But she makes friends with her spinster landlady, makes new friends, and learns to be on her own. Sometimes I wanted to gag some more, but overall, this book contains great lessons for young women (and men if they dare read this book). You've got to give Alcott points for writing a novel that dares a feminist message.

And did I mention the second half of the book has romantic entanglements? Polly ends up mixed up with the man Fanny likes, but Polly doesn't really because she's in love with Fanny's brother Tom, but Tom's engaged to some girl named Trixie who is pretty stupid. The thing is, the situations weren't described as dramatically as they could have been. They're played out naturally with as much awkwardness and second guessing as normal people have all with hilarious sidenotes from Alcott. I mean, when the big love scene is skimmed over with the slightly condescending, although honest description of

"Never mind what happened for a little bit, love scenes, if genuine, are indescribable, for to those who have enacted them, the most elaborate descriptions seems team, and to those who have not, the simplest picture seems overdone. So romancers had better let imagination paint for them that which is above all art and leave their lovers to themselves during the happiest minutes of their lives."

Alcott wins me over. Cheesy, but grounded descriptions that seem shockingly modern albeit rather wholesome. With all these life lessons contained in one book, I think I need some nihilism in my next read.

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