July 22, 2009

The Youngest Girl in the Fifth, Angela Brazil

This wasn't a very good novel but I can see why she's an evergreen author and I will probably read more. Brazil's school-stories novels are widely said to be some of the first stories written from the young protagonist's actual perspective, which is part of the fault in this one. The main character avoids admitting errors, even when she knows they will come out eventually; and she gets away with more than I think she ought. Because it feels rather like the earlier Victorian novels of moral examination (e.g., The Young Step-Mother), I expected her to have to give up something she wanted to make up for having cheated. But no; circumstances and forgiveness conspire, and all she suffers is extended worry and not-too-public embarrassment for having been 'not quite straight'. She is generally forgiven because of her family's reputation, perhaps because of her skill in school competitions.

This isn't unrealistic, I'm sure; that must have been part of the pleasure of Brazil's novels in her day, that occasionally one was successful and admired for something other than self-renunciation. Brazil's young women are as likely to look forward to careers as to marriages; in this story two older sisters are stuck, by bad luck, with each others' jobs, but they are clearly planning to get back into their right lines eventually; one will go in for nursing in the big city (had originally hoped to be a doctor!) and the other will marry, one is sure, and be an excellent housewife and farmwife.

Nor does Brazil pretend that the wrong actions aren't wrong, so she isn't constantly galling to read. On the other hand, it does become noticeable that actually poor people exist only as a background for the virtue of the clerical class. Rowling might actually be more socially lively, there.

Project Gutenberg etext 21687, The Youngest Girl in the Fifth

So wrote clew in Fiction (20th c.).
And thus wrote others:
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