Dirty Book Covers of 1870

...a little story about Young America, for Young America

I re-read one of my favorite books a few weeks ago, Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned-Girl. I first discovered it in grade school, in an edition that had belonged to my mother when she was a girl, which turns out to be this Saafield edition first published in 1928. I suspect I read it more than once because the pictures seem embedded in my memory.

I read it again shortly after college, probably in a library edition, and remember being astounded at how contemporary some of the sisterhood-of-feminism passages sounded.

The most recent reading came about because I acquired a Kindle and An Old-Fashioned Girl was a free download. I thought I’d miss the drawings from the version I read as a child, but I found they were still with me after all these years; I “knew” what the characters looked like, especially Fanny’s French-style fashions.

And then I went prowling about online, and found the very edition with that killer pink and flowery dress on the cover {sighs}. I always wanted a dress like that…which is so not the message LMA was trying to convey. In lieu of the dress, I bought the book, which puts to lie the notion that ebooks will be the death of hard-covers, at least in this house.

Parts of AOFG are a tad preachy, but I can forgive that in a book written in 1870. This time through, what smacked me in the face were Alcott’s little asides to the reader, especially this one that resonates with every MG and YA author/aspiring author who worries that what s/he is writing will upset some people.

Main Character Polly and Love Interest Tom are all dressed up to go to a concert, but a puppy makes off with Polly’s bonnet and gloves. A merry chase through the house ensues, leaving both parties somewhat disheveled by the time they retrieve the missing items. As she goes upstairs to become respectable again, Polly overhears Tom saying to Maude, his younger sister: “Dress that girl up, and she’d be a raving, tearing beauty…”

Polly heard it and instantly resolved to as “raving and as tearing” as her means would allow, “just for one night,” she said as she peeped over the banisters, glad to see that the dance and the race had taken the “band-boxy” air out of Tom’s elegant array.

I deeply regret being obliged to shock the eyes and ears of such of my readers as have a prejudice in favor of pure English by expressions like the above, but, having rashly undertaken to write a little story about Young America, for Young America, I feel bound to depict my honored patrons as faithfully as my limited powers permit. Otherwise, I must expect the crushing criticism, “Well, I dare say it’s all very prim and proper, but it isn’t a bit like us,” and never hope to arrive at the distinction of finding the covers of “An Old-Fashioned Girl” the dirtiest in the library. (Chapter XII. Forbidden Fruit)

I suspect that Miss Alcott of Orchard House knew exactly what sort of double-entendre she was making in that last sentence.

As for the folks who were shocked by the casual speech of the young in 1870, I dare say they had no idea what was coming down the pike.

© 2011 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

This entry was posted in MG novels, Porch Books, The Writing Life, YA novels and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Dirty Book Covers of 1870

  1. Donna says:

    Love LMA, but never read this one. I’ll have to download it to my iPad and read it soon!


  2. I’m with Donna, I’ve never heard of this and will have to check it out. It sounds delightful!


  3. Just came back from ordering it for my Kindle. Still free 🙂


  4. JLD says:

    I have to admit to being a “Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore” fan myself. I could never get enough of reading about those Bobbsey twins! But I don’t remember any shocking parts. Maybe I should re-read it.



  5. Jenny Phresh says:

    Anne, thanks for the visit to my blog and the tweet! I am reading Little Women on my Kindle for iPhone app and find it a fine diversion. Now I will have to seek out this other title. I find the little asides from the author amusing. How she would have been slammed for such behavior in today’s world!


    • Anne Bingham says:

      Thanks for visiting, Jenny. I forget how I happened on that particular post and your blog; it must have been while I was procrastinating this afternoon, er, I mean, catching up on other people’s blogs. The comments are pretty funny, too!

      I love Little Women also and will be reading that once I renew my acquaintance with Jane Eyre, which I also downloaded. I find it deeply ironic to be using 21st century technology mainly to re-read 19th century best sellers!


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