I had one of those moments the other day when I just didn’t know what I wanted to read. The perils of too much choice…
Anyway, I flipped through my ereader thinking “Fantasy, nope, historical romance, nah, urban fantasy, nooooo…”, and then came across my copy of Jean Webster‘s “Daddy-Long-Legs”, which is one of my all-time favourite books (both Kailana @ The Written World and Ana @ The Book Smugglers reviewed it fairly recently). And I was sort of tempted, but I had just re-read the book back in November and wanted to give it a little longer so that the story’s ridiculous charm could once again take me by surprise on my next re-read (am I the only one who thinks that way?).
But it had given me an idea – I checked, and sure enough, I had two other unread Jean Webster books – “Just Patty” and “When Patty Went to College” (both public domain, and I’ve linked to the manybooks.net versions, which are usually well-formatted).
Not knowing anything about either of them, I picked “Just Patty” and within ten minutes, was completely engrossed in the book. Rather than a novel as such, “Just Patty” is a collection of short stories about Patty and her school friends at boarding school. The first story sets the scene, introducing Patty and her two best friends, as well as the teachers and other pupils who we get to know better in later stories.
I’m an unashamed fan of old-style school stories, but haven’t read many with American settings. “Just Patty” is set at St Ursula’s, a “church school” for – and I’m reading in between the lines here – daughters of the more privileged classes. There was talk of dancing dresses for the evening, games of blindman’s bluff and hoop-rolling, and singing school songs – I’m not sure how typical this was of the times, but I enjoyed this peek at a bygone era.
Patty’s impetuous or “exhilarating” nature is possibly over-emphasised at times, but overall, I thought these were a set of genuinely charming stories. My favourites were probably the two loosely-linked ones: when Patty decides to make the most of some “unexpected” free time and explores the grounds of a irascible millionaire – outcome predictable, but fun all the same – and a hilarious one about a failed midnight prank and a burglar, which ends on a sweet and uplifting note.
“When Patty Went to College” is in a similar vein, a series of short stories about Patty at a women’s college (Ms Webster went to Vassar, and apparently both this book and “Daddy-Long-Legs” were based on her experience there, which makes it even more fascinating). Again, the focus is on college life, with Patty making her way though her last year of school in her own happy-go-lucky fashion.
I didn’t realise until now that “When Patty Went to College” was actually written before “Just Patty” (and was Ms Webster’s first book), but it makes sense – I was somewhat puzzled by the lack of connection between the Patty of the boarding school days and the college-age Patty, and I have to say that while I liked the former book, it felt slightly less finished than “Just Patty”.
There is some moralising in these stories, some coming across as more heavy-handed than the others, but I expected that from books written in the first decade of the 20th century and aimed at children/young adults. If anything, I thought there was some rather modern thinking in these books – women’s rights and socialism were amongst themes included in these books, and obviously women’s education. Bearing in mind when these were written, there is also some stereotyping around various socioeconomic groups, so be forewarned if these elements bother you.
“Daddy-Long-Legs” still remains my favourite Jean Webster, but the two Patty books were certainly worth reading, both entertaining reads in their own right, with the bonus of providing an insight into life and norms in the early 1900s. I’ve now grabbed Jean Webster’s other books from manybooks.net and am hoping they are just as fun.