Tuesday, January 10, 2006

the school of pain

A rather abject concept from the young adult novel "What Katy Did" (1872, Susan Coolidge) . . . all about this young girl who is all rebellious and a troublemaker (and she has no mother, but does have a stern Aunt Izzie) and she goes on this forbidden swing and then injures her spine and has to stay in bed for over two years. But when she arises from the sickbed she has learned how to be a perfect housekeeper and a patient and charming young lady.

How did she learn this? In, what the book calls, with a heavy dose of Christianity, "the school of pain" !! How disturbing is that? Granted, this learning to be a lady from a near fatal illness is a kind of children's genre unto itself, but this one is very extreme. My favorite line, imparted by the saintly and disabled Cousin Helen (pictured, and who predates Helen Keller by quite a few years), "A sick woman who isn't neat is a disagreeable object."

Don't beleive me? Read it yourself. With illustrations.

And, apart from the descriptions of Katy's fear and despair, it's emotionally and sensorially not as rich or complicated as Little Women or Anne of Green Gables . . . And it's got almost no irony. It was a recommendation of Madame Librarian - she recommended it with qualifications which is my favorite kind of recommendation. "You'll dislike this and possibly be offended by it, but it's relevent to what you do and think about and like."

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Blogger juniper pearl said...

thank goodness no one read this book to frida kahlo.

8:43 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

ZP, this is fascinating! I will have a shifty at the book and I will certainly be forwarding this link to some folks who should see it. I am reminded for some reason of A girl of the Limberlost a very different children’s book that engages American Christianity and (and, I must add, Midwestern foodways; 19th century Indianans did some very sophisticated salads) in interesting ways. Our girl is a bit of a pill. She asks her young man what is fiancée does and allows that she herself could never bear to be useless. ((What our girl does is collect dead moths. There are other prescient glimmers of Lolita, in which the book was mentioned.

Not that I would say that "A sick woman who isn't neat IS an *agreeable* object." (!)

10:57 PM  

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