badgerbag: (Default)
[personal profile] badgerbag posting in [community profile] girlycon
Tonight I picked up The Motor Maids' School Days by Katherine Stokes, published in 1911. Three school girls in the little seaport town of West Haven see an automobile approaching... Keep in mind this is before power steering, and cars broke down constantly, so you had to be pretty strong and know how to fix stuff.
It was a graceful little machine large enough to hold five or six people comfortably, its body painted a warm and pleasing shade of red, its cushions upholstered in a slightly darker shade which harmonized perfectly with the red of the body. A young girl, sitting on the front seat, was running the car as easily and steadily as an experienced chauffeur. Making a graceful curve, she turned into the driveway which led to the school grounds and presently drew up under a large shed, where people were in the habit of hitching their horses and vehicles on Field Day, or when football was in season.


The Motor Maids' School Days

It's Billie Campbell, come home from abroad where she was living in hotels with her widowed father, to spend her sophomore year with some "real schoolgirls" who like to do things outdoors. Nancy, Elinor, and Mary, who are nice, sporty, and have jolly outdoor times, invite her to be in the Bluebirds school club. Belle Rogers, the class snob, invites her to be in the "Mystic Seven" with only the richest girls who dress up in frills all the time and have tea parties. DRAMA!

Belle the snob goes home to have a migraine, plots her revenge, and is given "headache powders" by her over-indulgent mother. When she's angry, she loses all her beauty!

In contrast, the Bluebirds have a rule that they must NEVER QUARREL.

In short order Billie is abducted by suspicious looking men, probably smugglers. One has one arm and one eye and a scar across his face and the other one is named Pedro. Like I said, totally smugglers. They steal her car and leave her in a shack. Billie thinks, "Oh, how I'd like to be a man for about five minutes! Then they wouldn't dare!"

She's at the very shack where coincidentally the Bluebirds and their very nice boy chums come by to investigate a rumor of some smugglers!

Then there's some totally half-assed action where one of the nice boys, Charlie Clay, changes clothes with Billie. We see her short red petticoats (!) He fits in her clothes and shoes perfectly. The smugglers come back and have a gun. Charlie fakes it with a wrench. They all drive off. I wonder if we're supposed to think that Charlie possessed a mysterious manly quality that let him scare away the bad guys? Or should we be thinking that if he's the same height and build as Billie, who surely also has a wrench about her person, why is Billie so down on herself and her ability to fight? It comes off like a badly done attempt to girly Billie up a little after saying what a great, confident driver she was.

Then, a picnic - lemonade - A mysterious beautiful dark-haired woman with flashing eyes is wounded and tells the girls to retrieve a small box from the wreck of her car - Then the woman is abducted but drops a card in the road with a short note explaining they have to keep the box VERY SECRET. Billie's Cousin Helen, a spinster, takes the girls on a trip to a country hotel a few miles away for a "ball" ... and has, without telling them, arranged for some nice boys to be there to dance with them. They mix up suitcases with Belle (the evil snob girl from the Mystic Seven) and Belle sees the box, which is crammed full of JEWELS. They dance. The hotel burns down. Belle and Billie end up on the roof of the burning building with the one-armed scarfaced man! Belle the Snob goes down the rope first, without knowing how to do it right, and cuts up her hands terribly. She'll never be able to play the piano again! I predict this is not one of the books where The Bluebirds teach the snob girls how to be nice and they all end up in one big school club.

This is not how I spent my sophomore year of high school, at ALL.

Political assessments:

Gender: Women's Liberation through healthy outdoor sports and being chums with boys.
Race: Dark flashing eyed Spanish speaking smugglers.
Class: It's okay for your parents to work, or be poor, as long as you go to a nice school.
Age: 55 year old spinsters are ANCIENT.
Able-ism: One armed, one-eyed, scarred people = evil.

Predictions:

Cousin Helen the Spinster has a mystery in her past. I predict her long lost beau (lost at sea?) will be a real European prince. The dark haired lady with the jewels and auto wreck might be his sister. The family of Belle the snob will lose all their money.

Coming soon, the end to Motor Maids (in comments on this entry. Will there be more racefail? Will my predictions turn out correct?

Next week I promise to write a giant dissertation sort of thing on Louisa May Alcott's Eight Cousins, the best book ever.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-31 10:32 pm (UTC)
al_zorra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] al_zorra
I know Eight Cousins, like the rest, by heart!

Love, c.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-31 10:33 pm (UTC)
al_zorra: (Default)
From: [personal profile] al_zorra
Also, just soze ya all noze, I currently am wearing a pink top.

Love, C.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-06-03 12:00 am (UTC)
adrian_turtle: stubborn little quilted turtle (Default)
From: [personal profile] adrian_turtle
Yikes! Too bad there's so much racism buried in the plucky girl stories of our foremothers. (Or not buried. It would be nice if they had the grace to be ashamed of some of this garbage.)

Or should we be thinking that if he's the same height and build as Billie, who surely also has a wrench about her person, why is Billie so down on herself and her ability to fight? It comes off like a badly done attempt to girly Billie up a little after saying what a great, confident driver she was.

Just based on your description, I read it as showing Billie as nonviolent, rather than incompetent. A good girl can be strong and brave, she can fix machines and make good plans, she can be admired for being clever and loyal rather than only for being kind or beautiful...but she must NEVER QUARREL. A girl loses her good girl status right quick if she's at all aggressive. (I think this is related to the military regulations of many countries where women served in support roles but were formally forbidden from "combat" jobs.)

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