I’ll be honest. The first several paragraphs of this post are me sharing my random thoughts and research about Louisa May Alcott, and the random things that happened leading up to me joining the LMA reading challenge. While I find my random thoughts to be most interesting, you might not.
So if you’d rather skip to the actual review of An Old-Fashioned Girl, just scroll down until you come to the novel’s cover.
I had no idea I’d be reading a Louisa May Alcott novel this summer. There wasn’t one on my list. In fact, up until a few months ago I didn’t know about 99% of what LMA wrote.
So how did I come to read An Old-Fashioned Girl? Well, about 2 weeks ago, Tarissa over at In The Bookcase invited me to take part in a Louisa May Alcott reading challenge. The challenge was to read 3 books either by or about LMA within the month of June. I couldn’t complete the full challenge because I came in and got started so late, but I wanted to read at least one LMA novel that I had never read before.
Since the only novel by LMA that I’ve ever read was Little Women I had tons to choose from. Louisa May Alcott wrote a lot of novels and short stories. She is definitely one of the most underrated, under appreciated classic authors. Her work, and the amount of it, should be just as well known and as much celebrated as Dickens and Austen. True, there is ample respect, admiration, and reverence for Little Women, but LMA did so much more!
So, as I was saying, there was a lot to choose from. Tarissa, as well as some others at In The Bookcase, chose An Old-Fashioned Girl as one of their reading challenge selections. I remembered coming across that title a few months ago when I did a little research on LMA after a chance encounter with one of her short stories, Ripple The Water-Spirit.
Also suggested on In The Bookcase: The Skipping Stones, a short story by LMA found in the book Faerie Gold, Jo’s Boys by LMA, March by Geraldine Brooks, Pedlar’s Progress: The Life of Bronson Alcott by Odell Shepard, Little Women Next Door by Sheila Solomon Klass, and Illuminated by The Message by Susan Bailey.
Susan Bailey also took part in the LMA reading challenge and is creator and host of the website LouisaMayAlcottIsMyPassion. And here’s an interesting little coincidence- I actually came across that website a few months back when I was doing my first round of research on LMA after finding Ripple The Water-Spirit. My review of that story is how Tarissa came to find me and invite me to take part in the LMA reading challenge. Talk about coming full circle! Wow! What are the odds that this would happen?! …..Amazing.
Well, back to the actual review I’m supposed to be doing…..
So, as I said, there were several good LMA options suggested on In The Bookcase. Through my own research I also came across Rose In Bloom and A Long Fatal Love Chase– one of LMA’s gothic novels. Apparently she wrote several somewhat dark and edgy gothic novels. Who Knew!? Again, something I was not aware of and very pleasantly surprised to discover. I am now very curious to read some of those and compare them to the more tame stories that LMA is better known for. However, I decided that I wasn’t in the mood for a gothic novel, so I narrowed it down to Rose In Bloom and An Old-Fashioned Girl. My final choice was Old-Fashioned Girl.
No surprise, I really enjoyed reading An Old-Fashioned Girl– memorable characters, themes to make you think, and that beautiful language! I absolutely love the “old-fashioned” language of 19th century literature. They just don’t write them like that anymore.
At first I thought for sure I was going to go with Rose In Bloom by LMA because I felt that I could relate more to the independent Rose rather than the “old-fashioned” Polly. In order to decide which book to read I read the first chapter of both books then slept on it. An Old–Fashioned Girl was the one that stuck with me the most. Even though I didn’t feel that I completely related to either Polly or Fanny Shaw, I wanted to see how things would play out in this story of “Old-Fashioned Meets (or collides with) Modern & Trendy”.
Besides, its clear that the personality of Polly and Fanny were somewhat exaggerated (purposely), so it was no wonder that I didn’t completely relate to either of them. No matter- a good story is a good story, and excellent writing is excellent writing. Also, it would be fun to see if I could find within myself a little bit of each girl/character. I suspect it’s true for most of us.
One thing that definitely struck me about Polly was her strong sense of self and her resolution in her beliefs and morals- and I admired her for this. She is shy, yes, and self-conscious at times, but when it came down to it she defended herself and her family, their “country” way of life and their values. That type of character was very new and interesting to me. In my reading experience, when a character compares herself to others, or finds herself in situations where comparisons are inevitable, she initially doubts herself quite a bit.
Polly was almost unshakable, even when she experienced moments of uncertainty about herself and her un-modern ways they were very brief, and she kept her doubt to herself. Again, I found all of this very interesting. I’m used to Jane Austen characters who either show their vulnerability at all times, or have at least one confidant to whom they admit their insecurities. I think this is what usually happens in real life.
Most of us experience a lot of self-doubt, sometimes even to the point of trying to be something, or someone, that we’re not. But Polly never did that. She has her own brand of confidence; a confidence that obviously stems from her loving family, the bond she has with them, and the respect she has for them- especially her mother.
I’m sure I read somewhere a comparison between Polly and Melanie Wilkes from Gone With the Wind. I definitely see their similarities, but Melanie always seemed to me to be unaware of how different she was, whereas Polly is aware of the differences between herself and Fanny, and Fanny’s friends. Speaking of Fanny, it is the character by the same name (Fanny Price) in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park that Polly most reminds me of. They would both be considered “goody-two-shoes” and old-fashioned, both have very high moral standards and stick to them even when faced with ostracization.
Polly is a unique and interesting character, but not realistic. However, maybe she wasn’t meant to be realistic; she represents an ideal, a model to follow- LMA said as much in her preface to An Old-Fashioned Girl.
I think I do have a little bit, just a teeny bit, of an inner Polly. My morals and feelings regarding some things probably would seem old-fashioned to many people today. In fact, I know they are because my husband tells me so! (Haha!) However, I do also have a wild side and I’m certainly not the most conservative person I’ve ever known. I’ve got a little bit of an inner Fanny Shaw too- sometimes I have a temper (like she did with her brother!), I make mistakes, sometimes I have to go back and apologize, and, of course, sometimes I like to dress up, go out, and have fun!
Like many others, I was definitely more of a Fanny Shaw when I was young but- I grew up. The older I get and the more I grow as a person, the more I become like Fanny Price, Melanie Wilkes, and Polly too- smart, kind, and confident.
3 thoughts on “Review and character analysis: An Old-Fashioned Girl”
Thanks for sharing all your thoughts on Miss Alcott and An Old-Fashioned Girl. When I first saw your (somewhat-lengthy) post, I was so THRILLED — and now I’ve read it through TWICE! Basically, this made my day. 🙂 I’m so glad that you were able to take part in the challenge this month and, if you will, benefit from it in a literary sense.
Susan Bailey has, hands down, the best website EVER if you want to research Louisa May Alcott. I’ve been following her blog for years now, and can’t believe all the history she digs up on the Alcott family!
Now, concerning An Old-Fashioned Girl (I’m so glad we read the same book, so it’s fresh on both our minds!). I did like how Polly was illustrated as a girl who stuck to her old-fashioned roots and “country” ways (I personally connected a lot more with Polly than with Fanny, but as you said, each girl was exaggerated in her ways, so that you can’t be 100% relatable with just one of these girls). Louisa May Alcott always does a fantastic job showing the reader morals and how to find good qualities in people. That’s one of the reasons why I like every book I read from her — and I still have a ways to go to read everything she wrote — but that’s why I enjoy this summer challenge, to remind myself to continue reading her books and stories!
Anyways, thanks for being a participant this year in the challenge — also for being a knowledgeable and well-read one who brings a lot of insight to the table. 🙂
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Thank you Tarissa! I’m so glad that you enjoyed my post and that I was able to make your day! This reading challenge has been quite a journey for me and it’s been great. And, yes, Susan’s LMA site is amazing. I’ve learned so much! I think the most interesting thing I learned was that Ralph Waldo Emerson was a close friend of the Alcott family! I was totally floored when I found that out.
You mentioned that LMA’s writings always involve morals and finding people’s good qualities, I’ll have to read more of her novels. The only other Alcott novel I’ve read is Little Women. I read it as a young adult, and it had a tremendous effect on my life and the kind of person I decided I wanted to be. The family and foundation of love that the March girls had was the exact opposite of what I had growing up, I think that’s why it spoke to me so much. There are definitely similar themes in Little Women and An Old-Fashioned Girl– family, personal growth, kindness, selflessness, appreciating the little things in life… And it seems like you’re telling me this is typical of Miss Alcott’s stories, well then count me in!
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