It seems like there was a whole genre in the early twentieth century, before the horrors of WWI, devoted to the spunky girl character. She was usually an orphan, full of enthusiasm for life, a passion for education, and a general belief in the goodness of people. While I’d read many of these as a child, I’ve been lucky enough to rediscover them in the last month or two as my youngest Samantha has been discovering them for the first time. While it’s been heartwarming to listen to Samantha talk about her new literary friends, it’s been sweet to revisit these friends myself.
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, was originally published in 1908 and has remained a beloved favorite from pretty much the beginning. Brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert have decided to adopt a boy to help out on the farm but when Matthew arrives at the train station, red-headed Anne is there instead. It doesn’t take long for her to win a place in the hearts of the Cuthberts with her vivid imagination, ability to constantly make new mistakes and her overwhelming enthusiasm for everything. Coming back to this book after decades, the story was still incredibly touching and hilarious, and still as enjoyable now as it was the first time.
The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter was my reading recommendation to my daughter when she finished Anne, with her picking up my childhood copy. While published in 1909 as a sequel to Freckles, it has become a stand alone favorite. This one stayed on my bookcase because of its combination of tragedy combined with optimism, spunk combined with fate, and outstanding writing peopled with interesting characters. Elnora Comstock has lived on the edge of the Limberlost all her life, learning all about the plants, animals, and insect life that resides there, turning to her neighbors for the love and affection her grief-stricken mother isn’t capable of showing. Now she’s sixteen and she’s ready to start high school against the wishes of her mother. Elnora shows up the first day in shoes and a dress that screams country, and soon realizes that the cost of books and school fees are covered. Overcome by despair at first, she quickly realizes that the moths she has been collecting will pay not only for high school but also college if she’s careful. With her optimistic determination, Elnora forges ahead, working hard to gain an education. But circumstances beyond her control threaten to keep her from getting that treasured diploma. Elnora is the epitome of the struggling girl character, filled with compassion and determination, and a beautiful face and character that she is unaware of, that filled literature 100 years ago.
My final beloved read is Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, which reached the century mark this year. I’d had a really bad week, and was feeling incredibly grumbly. So when I saw Pollyanna on my “want to read” shelf, I knew I needed to give it a reread. I’ve read this classic before but it’s a treat worth repeating. I’m sure most people are familiar with the Disney classic featuring Hailey Mills, but the book is worth picking up on its own. Pollyanna is an orphan sent to live with her spinster aunt who is willing to perform her “duty” and raise Pollyanna. Little does she expect Pollyanna to change her outlook and life with her optimism and her “glad game”, that soon infects that whole town as well. Pollyanna’s enthusiasm for life and belief in the basic goodness of people serves as a good reminder for me to have a more positive outlook, and I will try to play the “glad game” more often when I’m feeling grumbly. I was ecstatic to discover there was even a sequel written called Pollyanna Grows Up and I’m eagerly awaiting a copy through our inter-library loan system.
Popular then, these books still speak to readers today, and serve as a positive example for young women still. Along with such favorites as Heidi, The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, there are a slew of female character based books with a good basic story and timeless joys just waiting to be rediscovered by adult readers. I’m happy to not only revisit these childhood friends but introduce them to a whole new generation of readers through my daughters.