osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
I finished reading A. T. Dudley’s At the Home Plate, which is one of a series of sports stories that I inherited from my great-great-uncles. (In fact I believe it’s the last of the series. I am not sure why I read it first.)

It’s moderately amusing if you’re interested in books from the early twentieth century, but in the end I think my great-great-aunts had better taste in literature: they received the Little Colonel series for their Christmas presents, and not only can I reliably tell all the characters apart (by no means an assured feat in A. T. Dudley), but I have strong feelings about many of them. My mother and I once got into a shipping argument about Lloyd’s eventual paramour, who is eminently suitable - I cannot argue that he’s not suitable - but it’s just so bloodless: she chooses him by gazing at him and totting up all his virtues that would make him a good husband.

But at the same time there is not really another contender - they have been knocked out by going on a gambling spree, falling in with Demon Alcohol, or being kind of controlling - and Lloyd’s vocation is clearly to be a great hostess and leader of society, for which one needs a husband, so there you are.

This idea of vocation is actually quite important in these books; the main characters discuss it seriously, and they end up with a wide range: Lloyd is a hostess, but there’s also an illustrator, a writer (Johnston’s readers seem to have identified her, semi-correctly, as a self-insert), a social worker, and a homemaker (which is a distinct calling from hostess: it implies less wider responsibility). I liked the range, and the fact that all these vocations are treated as fine and noble callings (not all women need to follow the same life path!), and the fact that many of them don’t get married and that’s just fine. In fact there are important single women throughout the books - and important married women - plenty of female mentors for these girls all round.

I could have written so much more about these books in my senior thesis had I but thought of it at the time.

I really think the Little Colonel series might have the same kind of continued popularity as the Anne of Green Gables books - except that they’re so darn racist. And not in the way where the author used a racial slur or two but the book would be fine if you cut a couple lines. The racism is baked into the premise: there are scenes and thematic points that revolve around it. The glowingly patriotic take on the Spanish-American War is irremovable.

It’s a crying shame that Johnston could be so thoughtful and compassionate about some things and so completely wrong on others, but so it goes, I suppose.

Date: 2017-07-30 03:24 pm (UTC)
evelyn_b: (Default)
From: [personal profile] evelyn_b
It’s a crying shame that Johnston could be so thoughtful and compassionate about some things and so completely wrong on others, but so it goes, I suppose.

I'm just going to point to this sentence and nod sympathetically, I think.

The Little Colonel sounds really interesting, but I don't know how much I'm up for baked-in racism, or reading books I don't already own. Maybe next year!

I'm glad somebody saved those books so that you could read them! Not only do I not have anything belonging to a great-great-aunt or uncle, I don't even know who they were.

Date: 2017-07-31 01:24 pm (UTC)
asakiyume: (miroku)
From: [personal profile] asakiyume
Echoing Sovay in the"I'm glad somebody saved those books so that you could read them!" sentiment. So much depth of an era is lost when all we remember are the so-called highlights;** your reading these books lets us recall something more than that.

**to take a semi-trivial example, it's frustrating to hear so-called 80s throwback hours on the radio, because you hear the same handful of songs, but THERE WERE SO MANY MORE. Even so many more *popular* ones.

Date: 2017-08-02 01:09 pm (UTC)
asakiyume: (definitely definitely)
From: [personal profile] asakiyume
This is an excellent idea. Why are you not running a radio station?

Date: 2017-07-30 05:39 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Psholtii: in a bad mood)
From: [personal profile] sovay
The racism is baked into the premise: there are scenes and thematic points that revolve around it. The glowingly patriotic take on the Spanish-American War is irremovable.

Oh, that is always fascinating and headbangingly frustrating.

(I've never even heard of these books, so thanks for the gloss!)
Edited Date: 2017-07-30 05:39 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-07-31 03:06 am (UTC)
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)
From: [personal profile] sovay
There's the same whiplashy "hey, there's some really interesting stuff going on here! Wait, that was just super racist," thing going on.

I was thinking of Girl of the Port as I was reading this post . . .

But they've fallen into total obscurity since then; I did my senior thesis in college about American girls' literature in that era and if I hadn't actually owned them I probably wouldn't have realized they were a thing I ought to know about, because I don't think any of the secondary sources I read referenced them.

Do you have any idea why they fell into total obscurity? (I feel like the racism would not, sadly, account for it alone.)

Date: 2017-07-31 09:54 pm (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)
From: [personal profile] sovay
And of course there's always the possibility that the publisher dropped it for whatever reason and it faded because pre-internet it could be awfully hard to hung up books.

This is a valid point. Good books fall off the map for that reason. I've spent years trying to track down things I encountered as a child in libraries that no longer have their copies.

Date: 2017-07-31 01:31 pm (UTC)
asakiyume: (miroku)
From: [personal profile] asakiyume
It’s a crying shame that Johnston could be so thoughtful and compassionate about some things and so completely wrong on others

This selective blindness surely isn't a problem only of the past, so it makes me wonder how we can try to address it in the present. A thing you said when you were visiting sticks with me: that the direction in which people work hardest is often not the direction that needs the work.... so then, how do we find what does need the work?

One guideline that seems to be key is not allowing whole categories of people to be legitimate targets of derision and hate--probably derision and hate are actions/states that we're better off not lingering in--but I suspect we need more guidelines than just that.

That's cool about there being acceptable life roles for both married and unmarried women. Realistically speaking, there had to be a fair number of women who didn't get married--in any era, but especially coming out of a world war--and it's encouraging to realize that writers could write happy futures for them.

Date: 2017-08-01 04:28 am (UTC)
sovay: (Rotwang)
From: [personal profile] sovay
You don't have to prove so-and-so's a Nazi to get out of having to hang out with them all the time.

I feel very strongly about this. You can just not want to do something; it doesn't have to be because it will hurt you or because it's wrong. Maybe it's just not fun.

Date: 2017-08-02 01:08 pm (UTC)
asakiyume: (definitely definitely)
From: [personal profile] asakiyume
Exactly. And, furthermore, how you feel about someone (whether you like them or not) isn't the determining factor in how you behave!

Date: 2017-08-02 01:06 pm (UTC)
asakiyume: (miroku)
From: [personal profile] asakiyume
Yeah, I think it's perfectly fair to just dislike someone without contorting things so that they = irredeemable bad. We're not required to like everyone we meet! There's a difference, anyway, between how we feel about a person and how we treat people. We can dislike someone and still treat them decently--and should!

And yeah, labels get stuck on people in order to make them dismissible and hatable, and it's (I'd argue) people assigned to the most disgusting categories that you have to be most careful not to apply automatic hatred to. (I mean, actually, people shouldn't be applying automatic hatred to anyone, but it's not something people are tempted to do about categories of people they feel benign to).

I don't think it's very good for people's souls (or psyches) to spend time thinking about who they're allowed to hate. It's like that whole Nazi-punching business. I always just scroll on by posts or tweets on that theme, but not without thinking to myself that the energy people are expending on arguing about who it's okay to punch would be better spent, oh, being a Big Brother or Big Sister to a kid, or picking up trash in a playground, or saying hello to an old guy walking his dog or whatever.

Re: the Little Colonel books being published pre WWI, all the better! Hurray for happy single women AND happy married women.

Date: 2017-08-02 04:14 am (UTC)
missroserose: (Default)
From: [personal profile] missroserose
I picked up an omnibus of Poirot mysteries at the Airbnb where I stayed in Boston, and while they've clearly held on to more popularity than the Dudley books, oh man is the casual racism glaring. It probably doesn't help that this particular collection is "Poirot in the Orient"; we're spending a lot of time in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the basic assumptions on the part of the main characters that the Arab servants are inherently lazy, or one character observing "how funny they all looked with their heads bound up like they had the toothache!"...man. I didn't realize I could cringe to that degree while sitting down. But then, given the original title of And Then There Were None, which was shocking even for the time, perhaps it's not surprising that Christie held Particular Views.
Edited Date: 2017-08-02 04:15 am (UTC)


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