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[personal profile] badgerbag
I remember Ruth Fielding as being bold, thoughtful, creative, brave, and somewhat of a no-nonsense personality, who works hard on achieving financial independence. She was an orphaned teenager who comes to a small town to live with her mean, crusty old uncle Jabez Potter who runs the local mill on the banks of the Lumano River. His arthritic, hunchbacked, ancient, warm-hearted housekeeper "Aunt Alviry" is not actually Ruth's aunt but is a servant and for a long time is the only person who loves Ruth. Uncle Jabez doesn't believe in educating girls. But Ruth manages to win him over somehow. Anyway, Ruth goes off to boarding school at Briarwood Hall with her rich, beautiful motor-car-driving friend Helen Cameron, makes friends with everyone, and ends a terrible schoolgirl rivalry by creating just one big sorority, the Sweetbriars. I seem to recall their moonlight and candlelight ceremony where they're hanging out in togas by a graceful statue, with a harp. Ruth goes on to have a lot of adventures that center around her solving mysteries, helping poor girls get an education. Her companions include the jolly and popular plump girl, Jennie; and the slightly bitter lame girl, Mercy, as well as a rich friend with a cute brother and a motorcar. Nothing new there, right? But...

Ruth Fielding book cover

The cool thing about Ruth Fielding is that she's a scriptwriter for moving pictures! She saves her school when a building burns down by writing a moving picture scenario for Mr. Hamilton from the Aelectron Corporation! And goes on to become a successful writer, even transitioning from silent film to the talkies.

Note the fashion in the cover picture. It reminds me of the book from the Betsy-Tacy series where Betsy and the other girls try to look like Gibson Girls, with their dresses gracefully draped instead of being tightly fitted, and a "droop" to their figure, slouching rather than standing up straight.

I believe this might be the series where all the girls make graduation dresses from simple white cheesecloth so that the poor girls won't feel outshone by rich girl satin and lace. Or is that Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm? There was an amazingly cunning plan for their class valedictorian, Mercy the lame girl, to be able to graduate on stage by the clever and unprecedented use of a podium or a sort of Grecian drapery on a dais. Because it would be impossible for her to graduate on crutches despite her being the damn valedictorian on crutches! Mercy had a sharp temper because of her pain and illness and difference, and all the other girls take that into stride. She wasn't cured magically like Katy and Pollyanna and she didn't develop perfect patience; she stays crippled and a little bit bitchy. She's my hero!

Alice B. Emerson was a pseudonym used by the Stratemeyer Syndicate. Known authors who wrote Ruth Fielding books include Mildred Wirt Benson, W. Bert Foster, and Elizabeth M. Duffield Ward. Thanks to Jennifer at Series Books for Girls blog, which I've only just now found while searching for anyone... anyone... on the net who is also obsessed with this stuff!

Click through for my re-read and chapter by chapter summary of Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill in all its glorious faily goodness. Or, you can read the full text here from Project Gutenberg. Summary: The miser has a heart of gold; the crippled girl walks again; Ruth wins the spelling bee and gets a new dress; there is a lone page where a Mammy and a young black girl make cameo appearances. The young black girl does not get to go to school or make any friends or get any dresses...

Read more... )
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[personal profile] yatima
As well as borrowing extensively from Rest Of World, at least where crazy monopolistic publishing and copyright regimes permitted, Australia had its own separate and distinct girl literature. Many thanks to [personal profile] damned_colonial for helping with the brainstorming.

Seven Little Australians (1894) is our Little Women (the eldest sister's name is Meg!) and What Katy Did and Laura Ingalls Wilder all rolled into one. It is the ur-text! Such a huge influence! Six of the little Australians are basically peripheral: the only one who matters is Judy who is feisty and spirited and delightful. HUGE SPOILER NOT: she dies in the end. No, more melodramatic still: she gives her life! to save the baby! This is _after_ she gets TB at boarding school and introduces us all to the narrative convention of coughing up blood into a handkerchief.

Judy also introduces the central theme of all great Australian children's literature:

Whatever you love will be horribly killed.

Oh, I am so not joking.

Oh, I forgot that there's a subplot where big sister Meg falls in love with a reformed drunk, who falls off the wagon thus requiring that they be parted for ever. In Miles Franklin's 1901 novel My Brilliant Career the father is the drunk. Eligible Harry Beecham proposes to our heroine Sybilla, but she can't believe he can really love her with her tomboyish ways, so she rejects him and has a nervous breakdown and goes home to drunk Dad. Ironically, given that we are reading about it, it is Sybilla's dream of writing that dies. She is a failed Jo March!

Jeannie Gunn spent a year in the Northern Territory between 1902 and 1903, and got two books out of it: A Little Black Princess and We Of The Never Never. It's been years and years since I read them and I expect they would make me cringe today, but Bett-Bett is important to me as the first female Aboriginal character I encountered in fiction.

The outback idyll ended when author's husband, explorer and pastoralist Aeneas Gunn, died.

From 1910 on, Mary Grant Bruce wrote the Billabong series, featuring Norah and her brilliant bay pony Bobs. Bobs is an equine Mary Sue. For me the most memorable moment in the Billabong series is the deed of Cecil, a Eustace Scrubb type who has his eye on Bobs:

Norah looked at him a moment, and then flushed in her turn. To let her cousin ride Bobs seventeen miles was unthinkable. She had the profoundest regard for her pony's back; and she knew that even Brown Betty's seasoned hide was giving way under the unskilled horsemanship of the city boy. It was very doubtful, moreover, that it would be safe to mount him on Bobs, who was already excited with the coming storm and the prospect of home. She knew every turn, and thought of the high-spirited pony--he went quietly for her, but with a new-chum it might be a different matter.

Cecil eventually steals Bobs and rides him to death.

While there's an interesting tension between characters like Cecil, equated with the city and enfeebled English blood, and Norah and her friends, who are rural, Australian, strong and healthy, it's kind of skeevily eugenic. These books are also notable for their horrible racefail with respect to Chinese, Indian and especially Aboriginal characters.

Also from 1910 is The Getting of Wisdom, Henry Handel Richardson's book about her years at Presbyterian Ladies College (PLC) which is - drumroll! - ETA: NOT [personal profile] damned_colonial's old school! Nothing is horribly slaughtered except our heroine Laura's innocence and class naivete.

1918 was a huge year: The Magic Pudding! Snugglepot and Cuddlepie! The latter, which features adorable naked cherubs, is especially Not Your Cultural Values, Missy and would be impounded as child porn if discovered in 21stC America. Oh! The same applies to C J Dennis's Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, my Dad's copy of which I devoured, mystified.

There's a whole nother post on midcentury animal-book authors: Mary Elwyn Patchett, who I adored as a child but who on rereading turns out to be racefaily and also telling fibs. She wrote the Brumby books; Elyne Mitchell wrote the Silver Brumby books, which never won any prizes because the horses talk and this is Frowned Upon by the Powers That Be, but all horsy girls loved them madly anyway. Elyne Mitchell also wrote a very good book about her father, General Harry Chauvel: Light Horse to Damascus. Joan Phipson wrote a terrific book called The Boundary Riders. (My husband remembers visiting her as a child: she was his great-aunt, I think? by marriage.)

Patricia Wrightson I adored. She wrote An Older Kind of Magic and The Nargun and the Stars, shamelessly appropriating Aboriginal myth for a kind of proto-urban fantasy. You wouldn't get away with it now but I loved it for making my own country real around me. She didn't dream of dragons, but of Mimis, who could travel through solid stone.

But these are all sideshows to the main event which is Colin Thiele! 1964! Storm Boy! Despite being Noble and Magical, Fingerbone is a significant improvement on earlier depictions of Aboriginal characters. Meanwhile Storm Boy saves three pelicans and releases them to the wild! One of them, Mr Percival, returns to him!

Mr Percival is horribly killed!

Really, is it any wonder Australians turn out like we do?


girlycon: A white girl in a school uniform with her horse, from the cover of Leader of the Lower School by Angela Brazil. (Default)

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