An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

In An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott, Polly Milton visits her wealthy cousins in the city over the holidays and stays over the course of a few months. A country girl, her mother has raised her with many simple and wholesome virtues, preparing the girl to become  a woman who cares about not only her family, but also about the plight of others. Polly laments the fact that she doesn’t see the same depth of character and goodness in her cousins, Tom and Fanny.  Tom mostly harasses others and is careless of anyone but himself, and Fanny is not only shallow, but runs with a fast crowd – often deceiving her parents about her activities.

Her cousins’ relationships with their families are strained – the father distant, the mother nervous and strange, and the grandmother ignored and shoved up in a room upstairs. Polly sets about cultivating relationships with each of the family members and restores the adults in part to the children.  The first half of the book ends when Polly returns home after brightening all the lives that she touches. The novel resumes when Polly returns to make her own living by giving music lessons, and once again this old-fashioned girl sets out to make changes in big city lives.

Have you ever read a book that you frustrated you so much and that you disliked so much that it calls into question everything you have ever felt about other works of the same author? An author you thought you loved?  This is that book for me and it is totally unexpected. I’ve read quite  a few of Louisa May Alcott’s books growing up.  I loved Little WomenLittle Men and Eight Cousins. The heroines have never ended up marrying whom I wanted them to, but I have found a way to make peace with that. I’ve read Little Women as recently as college and still enjoyed it, but An Old-Fashioned Girl, which in all honesty probably isn’t that much different from the books I’ve mentioned loving, made me want to throw things.

It is so preachy and full of moralizing that I couldn’t even take it.  And that goody two shoes Polly, is a thousand times worse than Melanie in Gone With The Wind.  She’s not just good herself, but hopes and dreams for others to be good.  I wanted to beat her up.

“I don’t know much, and that’s the reason why I’m grateful for your kindness to Will.  I don’t care what stories they tell about you, I’m sure you won’t lead him to trouble, but keep him straight, for my sake.  You know I have lost one brother, and Will takes Jimmy’s place to me now.”

The tears in Polly’s eyes as she said that made Tom vow a tremendous vow to himself to stand by Will through thick and thin and “keep him straight for Polly’s sake,” feeling all the time how ill-fitted he was for such a task.”

“I’ll do my best, he said heartily as he pressed the hand Polly gave him with a look that assured her that he felt the appeal to his honor, and that thenceforth the country lad was safe from all the temptations Tom could have offered him.

Gag me!

I really don’t have that much to say.   I suffered through a whole book full of quotes like the ones above, and far from inspiring goodness and kindness in my heart, they put me in one of the foulest reading moods I’ve ever experienced in a lifetime of reading. I rolled my eyes so much that I gave myself a headache – several times a page sometimes.  I think I even caught myself grinding my teeth, and I definitely had to make myself relax my jaw.

A morality tale that I might have been been enamored of as a child strikes me as treacly and annoying as an adult.  Don’t read past the age of twelve.

Leave a Comment