Did You Know They Had Cute Boys 100 Years Ago?

Hi everyone!

So, there’s this book series I completely missed out on when I was a kid, but apparently it inspires a similar fervent nostalgia to the Little House books: the Betsy-Tacy books, by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Have you heard of them?  They only crossed my radar a few years ago, and I decided this year that it was time to read all ten of them.  I’m not sure what inspired me, except that I own a couple for some reason, and perhaps subconsciously it seemed like the next logical step after reading all the Little House books – something else I never did as a kid, but now I have a couple times over!

The parallels between the two series are kind of uncanny:  they each take the main character (Laura or Betsy) from the age of five up through her marriage.  They’re each based on the author’s own memories of her life, but with fictional tweaks here and there for better storytelling.  Each girl has this warm, wonderful family around her, with multiple sisters she’s very close to, and you can see the early hints of their future writing career in each of them.  (Betsy is more definitive about it, talking about her writing a lot as she grows up and beginning to send out her stories in high school.)  They each meet their future husbands in book five of the series (Heaven to Betsy vs. By the Shores of Silver Lake, although it’s only a passing glimpse for Laura and Almanzo).  Betsy grows up in Minnesota, where Laura also spends much of her childhood, about a generation after Laura, and each series is a fascinating snapshot of the time period (1860-1880’s for Little House, 1895-1910’s for Betsy-Tacy). 

And, if you ask me, in each series the books get better and better as they go along.  But that’s because I like books with relationships and interactions with other people (OK, yes, boys!), and in both series the girls gradually meet more people as they get older and go forth into the world.  I just finished the four books of Betsy’s high school years, and they’re HILARIOUS.  She’s as obsessed with boys as I was in high school!  But it’s, like, 1907!  Who knew girls liked boys in 1907?  I had no idea that was allowed.  😉

If you like the Little House books, the Betsy-Tacy books are definitely worth a read as a follow-up, I think, because it’s amazing to realize that it’s only a generation later, in much the same part of the country, and yet things are so dramatically different in many ways.  It’s like the difference between Mad Men and us!  There’s no butter churning, no wind whistling through the cracks in the log cabin, no wolves howling right outside the windows.  There’s no chance Betsy’s family will ever starve to death in a seven-month blizzard; when it snows, they go out tobogganing and have cocoa and muffins.  Instead of plagues of grasshoppers, they have high school dances and football games, and the amount of time they spend on different hairdos would probably horrify Laura (and Ma even more so).  (Although both series describe what people are wearing, especially the main character, in fascinating detail.)  There are even cars in Betsy’s world; in one of the books she sets her cap for a particular boy because of his shiny red car…did I mention it’s 1908?  1908!  Cars!  Boys with cars!  Consider my mind boggled.

I’ve just started Betsy and the Great World, book nine, where Betsy at age 21 is off on a European adventure, traveling around Europe all by herself for a year.  What’s extra fascinating about this?  Casually, in the first chapter, the author throws in the line: “It was January of 1914.”  So immediately I’m like OMGTHEWAR, Betsy’s about to saunter right into World War I!  But they’re really not those kinds of books…the worst thing that’s ever happened to Betsy was either (a) losing the Essay Contest because she didn’t study enough because she was too busy going to parties with BOYS!, or (b) having the wrong boy ask her to the New Year’s Dance so then the right boy got all mad because he was supposed to take her so instead OH NOES he took IRMA who everybody can’t stand because all the boys are smitten with her because she’s got a figure OMG END OF THE WORLD!  🙂

Well, personally I find it totally lovable.  But I can’t imagine Betsy dealing with German troops or British battleships in, like, the next nine months.  So what’s going to happen?  Maybe she’ll just have to go home early.  THE SUSPENSE!  I know, it’s crazy, because these books started off with a kind of sweet, whatever story about two five-year-olds (Betsy and Tacy) making friends, and I was like, meh, it’s no Little House or Anne of Green Gables.  But I kept reading, and now I feel kind of like I’m friends with all these people, so I’m seriously like, “When is she going to get back together with Joe?  What’s going to happen to Tony?  Will Margaret ever like boys?  Is Tib going to be an actress?  What happened to Larry and Carney?  (Seriously, that storyline was completely dropped after being hinted at for four books!)”  Plus now Betsy is just flitting blithely around Munich, trying to order coffee in German, and it’s very innocent and charming (there were totally CUTE BOYS on the boat on the way over!), but the whole time I’m thinking “the war! the war is coming!”

I wonder if that’s intentional, and whether the author meant for us to be worrying about it as much as I am.  If so, good job, Maud Hart Lovelace!  🙂

Well, I’ll keep you posted (I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats) 😉 — or you can go read them, too!  They’re weirdly adorable little books…I like seeing how Betsy develops in one book, then slides back into her old habits in the next one, because that’s SO REAL.  Especially since her bad habits have to do with socializing and boys and loving being around other people, which constantly battle with her desire to be a good student and an aspiring writer.  It may be 100 years later, but I bet a lot of young writers can still relate to that!  (Not to point any fingers at myself or anything.) (Of course, the cute boy I’m socializing with right now is only eight months old, but he takes up WAY more time than any of the boys before him!) 

Anyway, that’s (one of) the things I’m reading right now (and it’s slightly easier going than either Anna Karenina or the Chaos Walking trilogy!), so I figured I’d share.  :-)  Recommended!  Go forth and read!  🙂

Quote of the Day: 
Joe to Betsy: 
“Say, you told me you thought Les Miserables was the greatest novel ever written.  I think Vanity Fair is the greatest.  Let’s fight.” — from Betsy & Joe by Maud Hart Lovelace