What I Read in December Part VIII . . .
Shawl Straps (Aunt Jo's Scrapbag) by Louisa May Alcott -- Historical Fiction novella/Travelogue
A travelogue featuring three spinsters traveling through Europe on their own. There isn't much plot - the point of the story is women can do anything they set their minds to and don't have to rely on men. This isn't Louisa's best book but I admire her dedication to women's rights.
Aunt Jo's Scrap Bag: My Girls, Etc. by Louisa May Alcott -- Historical Fiction/short stories
This volume of Aunt Jo's Scrapbook features several unrelated stories. The frontispiece of the first edition features an illustration that isn't in this volume. There are two more illustrations that follow. The first story My Girls is a tract about how virtuous young girls can become whatever they want to be with a little encouragement and not become idle and empty-headed. Of course she ignores the fact that she came from a very progressive family and most girls could never dream of becoming lawyers or doctors in 1877! This story represents Louisa's stance on women's rights and why I adore her so much.
The second story Lost in a London Fog is the story of two sisters, one being based on Louisa and the other her sister May, take a cab in London with a cabbie who has not only been drinking, but has no idea where he is going! They're out all night in the London fog in despair of ever getting home again. This story is pretty bland and not in Louisa's usual vein.
The Boys' Joke and Who Got the Best of It is more in Louisa's usual line. It features a charming dolls' Christmas party and a bunch of boys who try to outwit the girls with a sweet little party of their own. Animal rights activists beware - there are certain gruesome elements to the story that apparently didn't bother anyone in the 1870s. Even with that, this was my favorite story in the book. It's a lot of fun and if you like Little Men you will probably enjoy this story.
The fourth story Roses and Forget-Me-Nots is one of Louisa's moral tales in which a rich girl learns to really see the poor and help a poor girl find happiness. It's a little heavy handed but not too bad. The writing is typical of Louisa's moral tales. Nothing new or special here. Old Major is an unusual story because it's about saving an old horse and rewarding him for his years of hard work. Unlike Black Beauty it's not from the horse's point-of-view but very much the same idea. I didn't remember Louisa was a champion of animal rights as well. I knew I loved her for a reason!
What the Girls Did is a forgettable moral tale. A once wealthy girl learns to leave off the frills of Society and live plain and simple with middle-class folks and give back to those in need. The descriptions of the culture and social life are really interesting and give a good feel for the time period.
Little Neighbors features a lonely boy, an old professor and a cheerful little bird. This story is sweet without being overly moral and didactic. It's a nice little domestic story and I can see Emerson in the role of professor.
Marjorie's Three gifts is another moral tale rewarding the virtuous poor. I wish Louisa's poor people weren't so abnormally good. I prefer her blood and thunder tales because the characters show more human emotion. Marjorie is a sweet girl and deserves happiness as a reward. I like how the story COULD be mystical if interpreted from a child's point-of-view.
Patty's Place is a moral Christmas story about an orphan who is in need of some love and kindness. I've read this one elsewhere so I skipped it for now. It's not a bad story and full of heartwarming Christmas cheer.
Autobiography of an Omnibus is unlike anything I've ever read as it's told from the POV of a bus! It ends up being a moral tale about the virtuous poor. It's a little slow until the final section and I was wondering what the point of the story was until then.
Red Tulips a moral tale of the same idea as Roses and Forget-Me-Nots. This time the virtuous poor girl happens to be "colored." Little Betty, a colored girl, loves bright flowers but does not have a garden and is not allowed to pick any flowers in private gardens. Along comes a young woman with the power to make Betty happy and find her own path to happiness along the way. This is a sweet story that though moral, is fun to read. I liked Betty's enthusiasm for flowers and how it all turned out. This is my second favorite story in the volume.
The final story A Happy Birthday is a forgettable, boring story of an old woman's birthday and the happiness being with her family brings her. There is a bit of racist content but the boys were influenced by Barnum's circus so it's not really the author's fault because that's what boys did back then.
This collection is a must have for any Louisa May Alcott fan. As of Christmas 2014, The Barrow Bookstore in Concord had one early edition left on the shelf and one first edition pristine volume containing "An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving" and other stories.