Monday, November 28, 2011

Vintage Tales: The Rectory Children

When I got a Kindle last January, suddenly it was easy for me to find and read good books from the 19th century.   It doesn't hurt that many, many of these books are free in the public domain! 

In these last ten months, I've found so many good books that I had never heard of before.   When I read one that is freely available on the internet and might possibly be of interest to Catholic homeschooling children and/or moms, I will try to mention it on this blog under the category Vintage Books.

Here's one I read a couple of weeks ago --. 

The Rectory Children by Mrs Molesworth (free Amazon Kindle version)
Also available in EPUB format on Google Books and at Gutenberg. 

Mary Louisa Molesworth was a British author, contemporary to Charlotte Mason. A quote describing her work: 
"Mary Louisa Molesworth typified late Victorian writing for girls. Aimed at girls too old for fairies and princesses but too young for Austen and the Brontës, books by Molesworth had their share of amusement, but they also had a good deal of moral instruction. The girls reading Molesworth would grow up to be mothers; thus, the books emphasized Victorian notions of duty and self-sacrifice."
 I could definitely see this in the book.  It combined a real interest in a child's psychology with a kind of moral cautionary tale. 

Bridget is the youngest of three children who come to live in a seaside Rectory so that their father can recover from illness.    She has just turned eight.  She is short, sturdy,  "roundabout", doesn't much like to run and often gets into scrapes, tearing her dress and making tactless remarks, getting discouraged about her seeming inability to "be good", and things like that.   Her older sister Rosalys is 13, very pretty, and her mother depends on her because she is conscientious and careful.

Here you might be thinking that Rosalys will turn out to be the villain of the piece, and sympathizing with poor young Biddy, who is like an early prototype of Ramona Quimby, but it turns out that Rosalys often defends Biddy when her mother frets over her or thinks her very unfeeling, and is quite a kind sister.   And Biddy, though a sympathetic character, can sometimes be irritating too, so you see why her mother has trouble understanding her.   This seems very realistic when you reflect there is often a "difficult" child in many families that one of the parents has trouble with.   I guess that isn't just a modern thing. 

At a bazaar, the Rectory children meet a little girl, Celestina, who is the only daughter of a bookseller, but brought up very carefully.  Though she is little older than Biddy, she is very quiet and sedate.   She loves to play with her little dolls.  

The two girls, Celestina and Bridget, are both lonely in different ways, and they become friends.    Since Biddy and Rosalys' governess is temporarily away, Biddy and Celestina end up doing lessons together.     They like each other, but Biddy is sometimes resentful of Celestina's carefulness and conscientiousness, and this ultimately leads to a dangerous situation and a cautionary lesson.  

This story seems to be of interest to the 9-13 year old age group, especially for good readers who are somewhat used to old-fashioned language, and is definitely a girl's story.

Personally, this mom (Willa)  felt that the descriptions of the thoughts, feelings and actions of the young children were stronger at the beginning and middle of the book.  Later on, the story seemed to take more of a conventional "moral lesson" form where Celestina is held up as a contrast to young Biddy.    I find myself wondering if reading stories like this in childhood led to the less moralistic portrayals of non-ideal but still lovable youngsters like Anne of Green Gables and Mary Lennox.   

I found this interesting reading from a mother's point of view, because of the strong Victorian interest in the details of education (often homebased) and in character formation.   Biddy's mother is shown to be rather unsure of how to deal with Biddy, but willing to learn, and Celestina's mother (who is of a lower class than Biddy's, but gently educated) gives her some helpful advice which reminds me very much of some things Charlotte Mason writes in her books.  Sorry, this quote is long, but I thought it gave a good taste of the tone of the book:
'Mamma,' she said very gently, 'I'm sorry for being so cross.'

'I am glad to hear you say so, Bride,' said her mother. She spoke very gravely, and at first Bridget felt a little disappointed. But after a moment's—less than a moment's—hesitation, the fat little hand felt itself clasped and pressed with a kindly affection that, truth to tell, Biddy was scarcely accustomed to. For there is no denying that she was a very trying and tiresome little girl. And Mrs. Vane was quick and sensitive, and of late she had had much anxiety and strain, and she was not of a nature to take things calmly. Rosalys was of a much more even and cheery temperament: she 'took after' her father, as the country-people say.

It was not without putting some slight force on herself that Biddy's mother pressed the little hand; and that she did so was in great part owing to a sudden remembrance of some words which Mrs. Fairchild had said during their few minutes' conversation, which, as I told you, had been principally about Bridget.

'Yes,' Celestina's mother had replied in answer to a remark of the rector's wife, 'I can see that she must be a child who needs careful management. Firmness of course—but also the greatest, the very greatest gentleness, so as never to crush or repress any deeper feeling whenever it comes.'

And the words had stayed in Biddy's mother's mind. Ah, children, how much we may do for good, and, alas, for bad, by our simplest words sometimes!

So in spite of still feeling irritated and sore against cross-grained Biddy, her mother crushed down her own vexation and met the child's better mind more than half-way.

A queer feeling came over the little girl; a sort of choke in her throat, which she had never felt before.

'If mamma was always like that how good I would be,' thought Biddy, as she walked on quietly, her hand still on her mother's arm.
If you've read a good "vintage" book recently, you are welcome to mention it in the comments.  Chari and I are always looking for good books to read!

Literarily yours,


1 comment:

  1. Looks good, Willa! I'm hoping to get an e-reader for Christmas and can't wait to try all these recommendations!


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