Monday, April 21, 2014

On the track of Fifth Columnists

N or M?  Agatha Christie

In discussing Agatha Christie's books, many people pick Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot as their favorite of her detectives.  I always put my vote in for Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who appear in four of her books (and some short stories).  I realized though that it has been quite a while since I actually read any of them, and I thought I'd better see if that was still true. It was probably the lingering effects of reading Jambusters that made me take this one off the shelves.

Tommy Beresford and Prudence (Tuppence) Cowley were introduced in the 1922 book, The Secret Adversary.  It is set in 1919, when both are looking for work after service in the Great War, Tommy in the army and Tuppence as a VAD.  N or M, published in 1941, is set in the early days of the Second World War.  Tommy and Tuppence are on the sidelines this time, both desperately wanting to do something for the war effort.  Their son Derek is flying bombers in the Air Force, their daughter Deborah doing hush-hush work somewhere in the north, yet they are considered too old to serve (in their 40s, mind you), though Tuppence is kindly encouraged to knit.  The frustrations of the older generation, and the rather patronizing attitude of the younger toward their aged parents, are also familiar themes in the war-time novels of Angela Thirkell.

One evening a non-descript young man named Grant arrives at their door, ostensibly to offer Tommy a desk job in Scotland.  But Grant has really come to enlist his help tracking Fifth Columnists in Leahampton, a seaside resort on the South Coast.  (I couldn't help thinking that this is DCS Foyle's territory, and they should really be consulting him and Sgt. Milner).  The catch, for Tommy, is that he has to go alone.  Tuppence isn't even to know of his assignment.  However, they have always been partners in detection, and she proves too smart for Tommy and the mysterious Mr. Grant.

Tommy is sent to Leahampton in place of another agent, whose recent death was not an accident. Farquhar was on the track of "N" and "M," code names for the top Nazi agents in Britain, the head of a chain of traitors that reaches even into the top military and the government itself.  With the German invasion looming, Grant's agency must locate and eliminate N and M.  The dying agent's last words point to "San Souci," a guest house in Leahampton, where Tommy and Tuppence take up residence, separately, under assumed names.  They then proceed to investigate their fellow boarders, who include Carl von Deinim, a research chemist and a refugee from the Nazis; the home's owner, Mrs. Perenna, who claims to be Spanish but looks and sounds Irish, and her rebellious daughter Sheila, often seen with von Deinim.

I have read quite a few mysteries from the period, featuring spies and disguises, secret codes, last-minute rescues and breathless escapes, threatened by traitors and sabotage from within.  They must have spoken to the deep anxieties of the times, as well as providing some welcome distraction, with traitors unmasked, bombs defused, invasion plans thwarted, the country saved.  This one feels a little over-the-top now, but it's still a diverting read, and less hyper-patriotic than some I have read.  It made me want to read The Secret Adversary again, and maybe Partners in Crime too.  That's one of the things I like best about Tommy and Tuppence: their partnership.  He's more the solid, steady type, she's more energetic and impulsive, but they work well together - even if they sometimes stumble onto the solution.  They may lack something in the "little grey cells" department, and they don't yet have the experience of Miss Marple, but together they manage to work things out in the end.  And they have fun doing it!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Women's work in winning the war

Jambusters, Julie Summers

I began seeing posts about this book I think even before it was published in 2013.  I knew it would take a while to get to the United States, and I didn't expect my libraries would have a copy.  So I had to wait not just for the U.S. publication, but then six months longer for it to become eligible for interlibrary loan.  Audrey's recent review came just as the right time to remind me, as the book was finally available.  And it was certainly worth the wait.  (Sadly, it came without the evocative cover.)

The Women's Institute has been in the background of some of my favorite books, including Angela Thirkell and The Provincial Lady.  But it's been just that - in the background, taken for granted, never explained.  So I found this book very informative not just on the WI's work in the Second World War, but on the organization as a whole.  I hadn't realized that it began in Canada, where the first branch formed in 1897.  The first WI branch in Britain came almost 20 years later, in 1915.  I had no idea that the WI exists only in rural areas, with a population of less than 4,000, and that it is dedicated to improving rural life, particularly for women.  I did know (from "Calendar Girls") that there is a national governing body, but I learned only from this book how highly organized the structure is, including the county levels.  It was also interesting to read that Scotland formed its own separate organization, so the National Federation of Women's Institutes comprises the English and Welsh branches.

While I found this book very informative on the WI in general, the focus of the book, as the subtitle states, is "The Story of the Women's Institute in the Second World War."  After an overview of the history of the WI, Ms. Summers focuses on the organization's main activities during the war.  These were often undertaken at the request of government agencies like the Ministry of Food, whose director Lord Woolton understood the power of a well-run and committed national organization with county and local branches.  According to Ms. Summers, the WI is best-known for its communal canning and jam-making, which not only preserved tons of fruit and other produce that would otherwise have gone to waste, but also added to the nation's food supplies as imports dwindled.  They did far more, however.  The women of the WI also coped with the floods of evacuees, especially in the first months of the war; planted gardens to increase food production (and then canned and preserved the harvests); knitted and sewed for the armed forces and refugees; and ran entertainments for themselves as well as for evacuees and soldiers stationed near-by.  I was particularly struck by the fact that not only was all this work was voluntary, but generally the women did not benefit from it.  After their heroic work canning or making jam, for example, all the production was turned over to be sold under the rationing program.  And above and beyond this, while the women were carrying on their own work in home and farm, under the difficult war-time conditions, not to mention housing evacuees, many branches were also raising separate funds for the Red Cross, or to provide ambulances for field service.

To tell this story, Julia Summers relied first on the records of the WI itself, housed in the archives of The Women's Library in London (a place I need to visit).  She also had access to the records of local branches, and to women who were members of the WI during the war (some in person and some via letters or diaries).  She quotes frequently from first-hand accounts, which bring her story to life as the women speak for themselves.  My only quibble is about her methodology: Ms. Summers did not document these quotations as she did the published works, in her end notes, nor are they listed in her bibliography.  It isn't always clear if she is quoting from interviews she conducted, oral histories, written reminiscences, or other sources.

I had begun to suspect that Ms. Summers has a personal connection to the WI even before I read that her maternal grandmother was a long-time member who helped found a local branch, often serving as an officer.  The author's admiration and respect for the WI is clear, and she makes a compelling case for the heroism of their service.  It was not glamorous work, knitting and canning and growing potatoes, but it was a crucial part of the war effort on the home-front and to victory in the end.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The rightful heir?

If I Were You, P.G. Wodehouse

When I go into a bookstore, there are certain names I automatically check for, starting with Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope and Angela Thirkell.  P.G. Wodehouse is also on that list, and it was a pleasant surprise the other day to find a title I didn't recognize.  The blurb on the back sold me with the first line:
If I Were You is Wodehouse's comic variation on a favorite theme of Victorian melodrama - the changeling.  Did old Nannie Price really substitute her own child for the infant son of the late Lord and Lady Droitwich while they were away in India?  If so, Tony Droitwich is the heir, not to rolling acres and a stately pile, but to a barber's shop in London's West End.  With Socialist Syd Price determined to prove himself the new earl, and Tony's haughty relations determined that he shall not, the stage is set for an amusing battle, waged by a familiar Wodehousian cast of fat butlers, tough aunts, lively American girls and drawling dandies.
I should point out that there is actually only one of each from the above list (butler, aunt, girl and dandy).  The cast also includes Tony's uncle and former guardian, Sir Herbert, married to his aunt Lydia  (the Prices usually call him Sir Rerbert, which made me giggle every time, and sometimes picture Kermit the Frog).  There is also Tony's new fiancée Violet Waddington, heiress to a soup fortune.  She is one of those pillish young women you meet in Wodehouse, usually engaged to some hapless male, who you know are destined to grow up into termagant aunts.  Tony, on the other hand, is a gentleman and a good guy.  I figured he was going to get the happy ending he deserved, though I wasn't sure exactly how.

In a light-hearted way, this book is about Nature vs. Nurture.  Syd may be the heir to a hundred earls (or he may not be), but hairdressing is in his blood too. Tony's aunt and uncle want to deny him the title in favor of Tony, who may or may not be the rightful heir, but who fits their idea of an earl much better than the Cockney Syd.  Yet they don't seem as concerned about Tony himself as they do about having a proper Earl of Droitwich in place.

The reference in the backcover blurb to the stage being set for the cast is very appropriate.  The story could easily be adapted for the stage, and I wondered if in fact it had started as a script.  The cast is small, with a couple of walk-on roles.  The action is divided into three scenes, two of which take place in the drawing room at Langley End, Lord Droitwich's estate in Worcestershire, book-ending one set in Syd Price's barber shop near Hyde Park.  Langley End is described in glowing terms, nestled like Blandings Castle in its gardens and terraces, but unusually for Wodehouse (at least in the books I've read), the action is confined to the drawing-room, and to Syd's shop.  The characters move constantly in and out of the rooms, like actors exiting stage left and right.

This book was published in 1931, and for the first part of that year, Wodehouse was in Hollywood under contract as a screenwriter for MGM.  Maybe that explains why it reads rather like a script at times.  But however it was written, this is a fun book, and I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Returning to Sarantium

Lord of Emperors, Guy Gavriel Kay

This is the sequel to Sailing to Sarantium, one of the best books I've read so far this year, which will certainly be on my "favorite books of 2014" list.  I had to wait until the end of the TBR Triple Dog Dare to read this one, and when I finally started it, it was with some mixed feelings.  In my experience, sequels don't always live up to the promise of the first book.  But my main concern was because, in the meantime, I read another of Guy Gavriel Kay's books, and I just loathed it, almost as much as I loved Sailing to Sarantium.  I hated the way that the female characters existed only in relation to the male characters, while the men became friends, enemies, partner, rivals, mentors, to each other, as well as to the women, in a rich web of relationships.  I counted only two conversations between female characters in the entire book, and one of those was about the heroes, thus failing the Bechdel test.  I was equally irritated in that book by the frequency with which Mr. Kay used false foreshadowing and misleading clues, to make us think for example that Character X had been killed, only to reveal five or ten pages later that it was really Character Y.  About the third time that happened, I began to find it annoying, and my annoyance increased with each new occurrence, until I just started leafing ahead to find out what had really happened.  I finished the book with gritted teeth and immediately gave my copy away.

Though I began this book with some trepidation, I was so happy to find it just as engrossing and entertaining as the first book - a worthy sequel.  It was wonderful to meet the characters again, six months later, to catch up with them and then see where the new story took them.  I admit, as I started to suspect where events were heading, I began to fear for two of my favorite characters.  I skipped  ahead at that point, because if Mr. Kay had killed them off, I think I might have given up on his books altogether (despite the two that are still on the TBR stacks).  Fortunately, they both were spared.  I also admit to my own inconsistency, though, because I don't quite believe in the happy endings that he gave them either.

But that is really my only quibble with the book.  I had noted in Sailing to Sarantium that the women characters lacked female friendship or support, but here they have found that, in relationships that sometimes cross social lines but feel authentic.  I think Mr. Kay is very good at creating strong female characters, intelligent, forceful, active women.  I know he is a major fan of Dorothy Dunnett's books, so I don't think he would mind the comparison if I say they remind me of Philippa Somerville, Gelis van Borselen, and Groa - not to mention Margaret Lennox and Queen Carlotta.

I don't want to say too much about the plot, which as in the first book concerns imperial politics, theology, liturgical art, and racing at the Hippodrome.  This book actually opens outside the Sarantine Empire, in the lands ruled by the King of Bassania, to the east and south of Sarantium (standing in for our world's Persian empire).  From there a doctor named Rustem travels north to the great city, ostensibly both to study and to teach, but also with a mission from his king.  Like Crispin, the master mosaicist of the first book, he soon makes new friends and new enemies, and in the process he becomes enmeshed in events whose effects will reach far beyond the city walls.

The subtitle of this book is "Book Two of the Sarantine Mosaic."  I think of these books as two halves of a story, and I'm sure that's how I will re-read them in the years to come.  At the same time, I can't help hoping that there are more pieces of the Mosaic to come.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A subversive Scottish heroine

Kirsteen, Margaret Oliphant

I have only read a few of Margaret Oliphant's ninety novels, the "Chronicles of Carlingford," for which she's probably best known, and The Curate in Charge. I've enjoyed them, particularly Miss Marjoribanks and The Perpetual Curate, though I found Salem Chapel a bit dreary. None of them prepared me for this story, though, with its independent and really subversive heroine.  It is also the first of her books that I've read to be set in her native Scotland, and it's thick with Highland Scots dialogue.

The subtitle of this book is "The Story of a Scotch Family Seventy Years Ago."  Published in 1890, it opens in 1814, just as the Napoleonic Wars are ending.  Kirsteen, the title character, a young woman of twenty, is the third of four daughters of the Laird of Drumcarro.  His small estate in Argyllshire is a constant reminder of how far the once-powerful Douglas family has fallen over the years, particularly since Culloden.  Neil Douglas is counting on his seven sons to rebuild the family's fortune, and with it their proper place in Scotland.  Everything he can wring from the estate goes to them.  As the story opens, the fifth, Robbie, is being sent out to India to join his brothers, while the two youngest wait their turns.  The daughters are left to themselves, and to the care of their mother, worn out with constant pregnancies and her martinet of a husband.  Drumcarro considers his daughters just a drag on the family's resources, costing him money that should go to the boys. His eldest daughter Anne escaped this neglect and her father's tyranny by eloping with a young doctor.  Her enraged father has cast her out of the family, forbidding anyone even to mention her name.  Finally his cousin Miss Eelen Douglas convinces him that his daughters must be introduced into society, if they are ever to find husbands who will take them off his hands.

Aunt Eelen, a comfortable spinster, escorts the two oldest girls, Mary and Kirsteen, to a ball in Glasgow. There Kirsteen meets a contemporary of her father's, John Campbell of Glendochart.  He is immediately drawn to the young woman and begins visiting Drumcarro regularly, though Kirsteen has no idea that he is courting her.  Her heart is already given to another, though secretly.  When her father informs her that she will marry Glendochart, threatening her with blows and beatings if she refuses, she is afraid she will be forced to yield.  Her only option is to leave home, to run away, even if it means being cast out in her turn.  She decides to go to London, to seek her fortune.

Her story is quite an adventure, as she walks across the moors to Glasgow, to catch the coach to London.  Arriving dazed and exhausted in the great city, larger than she could ever have imagined, she goes to the sister of the family's devoted housekeeper Marg'ret (whose small savings funded her flight).  Miss Jean is a successful dressmaker, who is at first reluctant to take a lady, one of the great Douglas family, into business.  But Kirsteen talks her way in, and she soon proves to have a gift for design.  As she settles in to her work and her new home, the story shifts back to Drumcarro, where her older sister Mary takes a leaf from Charlotte Collins in Pride and Prejudice.  The third sister, Jeanie, the beauty of the family, will have her own adventures, more along the lines of the Brontës than Jane Austen.

There is so much to enjoy in this book, starting with the heroine.  Kirsteen is young and naive, but also strong and quick to learn.  Like many of Margaret Oliphant's heroines, she has to care for the more feckless members of her family, starting with her afflicted mother.  But in contrast to her mother, she also has staunch role models in her Aunt Eelen, the local dressmaker Miss MacNab, her surrogate mother Marg'ret, and Miss Jean.  All are independent and self-reliant, none of them rich but each content in her own way. I love stories about dress-making businesses, second only to tea-shops.  I was reminded of "The House of Eliott," as well as Susanna's shop in Eva Ibbotson's Madensky Square.  I also enjoyed the Highland setting, though I was sometimes a bit puzzled by the dialogue, and Regency London as well.  I couldn't help imagining one of Georgette Heyer's characters driving up to Miss Jean's door, to order a new gown.  (The author, who was born in 1828, is rather dismissive of the fashions of 1814, though to my eyes they look more comfortable than the layered outfits of the 1890s.)

It is a shame that so few of Margaret Oliphant's books are still in print, though they are available as e-texts.  The introduction to this book mentions several other titles, and I think I'll look for The Ladies Lindores next.  It's about a family who suddenly inherits a fortune. Knowing Margaret Oliphant, I'm sure complications arise.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A woman soldier and a nurse, though probably not a spy

Memoirs of a Soldier, Nurse and Spy, Sarah Emma Edmonds

I first learned about Sarah Emma Edmonds from a book about women soldiers in the Civil War, They Fought Like Demons.  When I saw this on the shelves at Half Price Books, the title caught my eye, and then the author's name.  Sarah Edmonds enlisted in the Union Army in May of 1861.  As "Franklin Thompson," she served in the 2nd Michigan regiment for two years, much of the time as a hospital nurse or orderly.  In 1863 she deserted, resumed dressing as a woman, and spent the rest of the war working as a nurse in army hospitals.  After the war, she married and had several children.  Twenty-one years later, like many aging veterans she applied for a military pension, for which she had to document her service as "Franklin Thompson."  Before she could receive the pension, the charge of desertion had to be expunged from her record, which wasn't difficult, since if she had been outed as a woman while serving, she would have been immediately discharged.  The military records of her service and of the pension granted her prove that Edmonds, a woman, served as a soldier in the war.  That much is clear.  The memoir she wrote about her service rests on that fact, but she seems to have taken some liberties with the details of what exactly that service entailed.

Sarah Edmonds first published her memoir in 1864, under the title Unsexed: or, The Female Soldier.  It was reprinted in 1865, by a new publisher, as Nurse and Spy in the Union Army.  The annotated edition I read was published by Northern Illinois University Press in 1999.  The editor, Elizabeth Leonard, does not discuss why the title to the present edition was changed yet again, not just with the addition of "Soldier" to the title, but also with the subtitle, "A Woman's Adventures in the Union Army."  I am sure it was to highlight what made those adventures ground-breaking.  Lots of women served as nurses, many served as spies.  While other women served as soldiers, none is as well-documented as Edmonds, and only one other (a Confederate woman soldier) wrote a memoir about that service.

Changing the title to emphasize Edmonds' role as soldier highlights an ambiguity in the book: nowhere in it did Edmonds state that she was a soldier.  She was incredibly coy about it. According to the introduction, Edmonds left her home in New Brunswick to come to the United States, probably in 1859, and probably already presenting herself as a male.  Her readers wouldn't have known that, so when she talked about feeling the call to serve her adopted county in its hour of need, and being "employed by the government" as a "FIELD NURSE," they would have assumed it was as a woman, not a newly-enlisted volunteer soldier.  At this time, though, all army nurses were male soldiers.  In answering the call to serve, she wrote, "I could only thank God that I was free to go forward and work, and was not obliged to stay at home and weep."  Maybe her readers took it for granted that she was "free" because she was unmarried, with no family ties.  They couldn't have guessed that her freedom was based on her male persona.

In telling stories about her spying missions, Edmonds mentioned that she wore male civilian clothes when she snuck through the Confederate lines to gather information. She just didn't mention that she took off "Private Thompson's" Federal uniform to do so.  At one point "Thompson" disguised "himself" in women's clothes, so à la "Victor/Victoria," we have a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman.

Watching these convolutions was fascinating.  They carried me through some of the less entertaining parts of the book.  Edmonds wrote in the first chapter that she came to America because she wanted to be a foreign missionary (I don't think she meant it was to evangelize godless Americans, but maybe so).  That should have prepared me for the piety that permeates this book.  The pages are filled with prayers and poems and portions of sermons.  There are frequent stories of camp meetings, conversions, and soldiers dying holy deaths.  These are interspersed with gruesome accounts of the battles that brought the soldiers to the hospitals, and the primitive medical care that could not save them (and may have killed some of them).

One soldier's death highlights the tensions in Edmonds' story.  After the battle of Antietam, in September of 1862, Edmonds was crossing the field, searching for the wounded among the dead, when she "was attracted by the pale, sweet face of youthful soldier who was wounded in the neck."  The soldier confided to Edmonds that she was a woman, an orphan who had enlisted with her brother, killed earlier that day.  Edmonds called a chaplain, and then stayed with her until she died, and helped with her burial, to keep her secret safe.  I wonder if it would have comforted that unknown soldier, to know there was a woman comrade by her.  Edmonds chose not to tell her.

Edmonds wrote that the nursing work was a terrible strain, which I can imagine it was.  As she told it, she learned that the army "Secret Service" had an opening for a spy, and she volunteered.  Part of the interview included a phrenological exam, which showed that her "organs of secretiveness, combativeness, etc., were largely developed," which qualified her for the job (though the exam apparently missed the fact that the head in question was a woman's).  Even before I read the editor's note that Edmonds' service as a spy has been called into question, I had begun to have my doubts.  The first assignment she recounted was to dress as a (male) contraband, an escaped slave, to cross to Confederate lines.  In her account, on the Confederate side she was pressed into a work gang, before she was given a rifle and sent out alone on picket duty, which allowed her to escape back to the Union lines.  No Confederate would have given an African American a gun in the first place, let alone allowed him out of his sight with it.  In another adventure, while she was trying to buy food for the hospitals, a Confederate woman shot at her.  Edmonds returned fire, deliberately aiming at the woman's hand.  She immediately treated the wound, converted the rebel from the Confederate cause, and escorted her new friend "Alice" to the Union lines, where she became a devoted nurse herself.  However fanciful, her adventures are definitely entertaining.

Of course, writing about her exploits in disguise as a contraband, Edmonds used the broadest "Gone With the Wind" dialect, both for herself in character and for all the African Americans she encountered (usually referring to them as "darkies," which is at least slightly less offensive to modern readers than the n-word).  But they are not the only characters spouting stage dialect.  Edmonds later impersonated an Irish pedlar woman (in another bit of cross-cross-dressing), with the worst "Faith and begorrah" Oirish accent I think I've ever read.  In the course of that adventure, she met an H'inglishman, who h'only wished 'e was h'at 'ome with 'is family, far from Jeff Davis.  There is also a "Dutchman," as 19th-century America labeled Germans, who sounded just like Professor Bhaer in Little Women.

Though I rolled my eyes frequently reading this, it is still a fascinating book.  Despite the probably fictionalized elements, it is an eye-witness account of the Civil War, from a unique perspective.  Edmonds included a lot of information about hospitals and nursing care, as well as the daily lives of soldiers in camp and on the march.  She was present at many major battles, including the surrender of Vicksburg in 1863.  She analyzed the officers she served under or met, including Generals George McClellan and Ulysses Grant, both of whom she admired greatly.  And there is a genuine poignancy in her accounts of the young soldiers, suffering and dying for a cause they believed in, far from their families.  Parents often traveled to the battlefields to help care for their sons, but many arrived too late.  I think it's to Edmonds' credit that she dedicated not just her book, but the proceeds from it, "To the Sick and Wounded Soldiers of the Army of the Potomac," among whom she served.

What really floored me was to learn that Sarah Edmonds and her husband, a fellow Canadian, ended up right here in Houston, in the 1890s.  Here Edmonds was inducted into the Grand Army of the Republic, the premier Civil War veterans' organization, and she was inducted as a woman.  She died near Houston in 1898, and the GAR later had her buried with full military honors here in the city.  I plan to visit her grave as soon as I can.

N.B. As I mentioned above, the publication history of Edmonds' memoir is convoluted.  The 1865 version reprinted the text of the 1864 original with no changes except to the title.  The 1999 edition I read reprinted the 1865 version, again with no changes except to the title.  I am using the 1865 date for the "Mid-Century of Books" challenge.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'm glad I read this book

Pollyanna, Eleanor H. Porter

I heard the term "Pollyanna" growing up, sometimes in reference to my mother, but I never knew its origin.  I came across the 2003 TV version during an infatuation with the actor Aden Gillett (after binge-watching all three series of "The House of Eliott").  That was my introduction to the story, but I didn't know it was based on a book until I came across a copy on the library sale shelves.  That's also when I discovered that the story is actually set not in England, but in Vermont.  I've had it on my "Mid-Century of Books" list, and then a recent review by Melanie at The Indextrious Reader (and comments from Vicki) moved it up the list.  I came home yesterday on a cold rainy evening, after a frustrating afternoon at work and a horrendous commute, and all I wanted was a cup of tea, a hot bath, and a comforting book.  Pollyanna fit the bill perfectly. And I was glad that I hadn't read it earlier.

I remembered something of the plot from the TV version.  The orphaned Pollyanna is sent to live with her only surviving relative, her mother's sister Polly, who accepts her much like Marilla Cuthbert did Anne Shirley - from a sense of duty, at heart unwillingly.  There is no Matthew to welcome her, but Pollyanna makes friends wherever she goes, starting with Nancy, the young maid of all work.  Pollyanna goes everywhere, and everyone she meets is invited to play "the glad game," of finding something to be glad about no matter what the circumstances.  Pollyanna and her widowed father, a minister poor as the proverbial church mice, began playing the game one day when the regular missionary barrel arrived (which reminded me of Polly's family, in An Old-Fashioned Girl, unpacking theirs, and the Little House family theirs).  Pollyanna had been praying for a doll, her father had even requested one for her, and naturally she was disappointed when her father fished out a little pair of crutches instead (I'd like to think some Ladies' Aid societies re-thought their donation policies after reading this).  Anyway, Pollyanna's father tried to distract and comfort her with the idea that at least she could be glad that she didn't need the crutches!  And that was the start of the game. As she tells Nancy,
"I was playing the game - but that's one of the times I just did it without thinking, I reckon.  You see, you do, lots of times; you get so used to it - looking for something to be glad about, you know.  And most generally there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it."
Maybe, Nancy replies, "with open doubt."  But she is soon playing the game too, along with the crotchety invalid Mrs. Snow.  Pollyanna also befriends the town's miserly recluse, John Pendleton, though he is too cranky really to play the game.  Aunt Polly isn't playing either, because she doesn't know about the game - though she gives her niece lots of scope for practicing, starting with the hot bare attic room she assigns to her.

In the wrong hands, this could have been an awful book, one of those treacly pious morality manuals for producing saintly children (often by sending them to heaven early).  But while Eleanor Porter has moral lessons to impart, she weaves them into an entertaining story with interesting characters, many of whom need some kind of lesson, including the adults.  Pollyanna is energetic and exuberant, and I found her foot-in-mouth tendencies really entertaining.  She is a chatterbox, with a fund of slyly funny stories about the Ladies' Aid Society in her old home-town, who helped care for her after her parents' deaths.  But they come off better than the Ladies' Aid Society in Beldingsville, who would rather give to the foreign missions, with their contributions published in an annual report, than help a small orphan boy that Pollyanna finds by the side of the road (not in a basket - Jimmy is willing to work for his keep).

That sort of sharp-eyed social commentary, with the Vermont setting, reminded me of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's books.  And Pollyanna's friendship with John Pendleton reminded me of another wealthy man with an interest in orphans, Jervis Pendleton of Daddy-Long-Legs.  I took it off the shelf this morning to check something on "Master Jervie," and almost broke the Triple-Dog-Dare to re-read it then and there.

My copy of Pollyanna is a 1947 reprint (with rough paper that is browning and crumbling).  It was a gift to Margaret, from "Daddy and Mother,"  On the cover, the title is followed by the words "Trade Mark," as is another phrase, "The Glad Book."  I see from the back cover that there is a series of "Pollyanna" books, only the second of which was written by Eleanor Porter before her death in 1920, Pollyanna Grows Up (1915).  The titles of the others, the "Glad Books" (all Trade Marked), fill me with dread: Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms, Pollyanna's Jewels, Pollyanna's Western Adventure [my eye started twitching], Pollyanna in Hollywood [shudder], Pollyanna's Castle in Mexico [a distinct tremor], and finally, Pollyanna's Golden Horseshoe. Not to judge a book by its title, but I don't think you could pay me to read them.  Maybe these books explain why calling someone a "Pollyanna" is not a compliment.

Today was another miserable day at work, and I did find myself trying to play the game.  The best I could come up with was, "Well, I'm glad it's 4.30 and I can go home."  Maybe I'll get better with practice.  And maybe I'll look for Pollyanna Grows Up.  It involves a trip to Europe, and a mysterious "Jamie."  Has anyone else read it?

N.B. Pollyanna was originally published in 1912 as a serial, in The Christian Herald - an interesting choice, since despite the two ministers and those Ladies' Aiders, it isn't what I'd consider a real church story.  It was published in book form in 1913, so I'm using that date for my list.