Friday, October 31, 2014

Peggy Parsons at Prep School

My latest read has been a very indulgent one-Peggy Parsons at Prep School-one of those boarding-school-girl books from the teens and 20s that were a dime a dozen back in the day.  I have a certain fondness for these books and found this particular one in a dusty little, out-of-the-way bookshop that was housed in an old mill.  I think the charming setting went to my head, because I bought three or four of this genre of books, I read all of them except for this one, which I finally got around to reading just this past week.

Peggy Parsons, etc. etc. is, of course, about Peggy Parsons and her multitude of wholesome adventures at her charming prep school.  Of course, there are the characters who have to be won over by Peggy's charming personality.  And there is the problem that is cheerfully solved by the resourceful heroine.

In this book, the main problem is the joining together of a handsome college boy (who conducts a serenade with the glee club for the prep school girls in the first chapter, by the way…that part was pretty fabulous) and his long-lost,  gruff grandfather who has a soft spot for Peggy.  But, along the way, there are picnics and midnight fudge parties and matinee shows at the local theater and strict headmistresses to win over.

Here are two excerpts from the book, so that you get a picture of what this book is like to read:

"The domestic science class, well under way with an excellent teacher, decided to have a 'bacon bat', after the custom of the Smith College girls, all by themselves on some bit of rock that jutted into the river….There was a jar of bacon strips in a paper bag, the bottle of olives in another paper bag, and two dozen rolls, a generous supply in the biggest paper bag of all.  There was a tiny box of matches, too, that Peggy slipped into the pocket of her rust colored jacket."

And…one of those fudge scenes that are so frequently talked about in this type of book:

"The room, with the little whispering group of girls in it, some on couches and some on the floor, garbed in all the delicate shades of boudoir attire, pale blue, pink, and rose, saffron yellow, lavender, and dainty green; with the tiny spurts of golden candle flame dotted here and there on table and mantlepiece; with the hot, chocolate-smelling fudge bubbling away in the chafing dish, looking like some fairy meeting place…When the fudge was done they put the pan out of the window and hoped that it wouldn't fall down and all be lost.  It didn't, and before it had fairly cooled, they cut it and lifted the squares in their eager fingers and ate them with greedy pleasure, down to the last, last crumb."

The book by no means displays good writing and is quite formulaic, but there is something so charming about such adventures, full of pretty 20s clothes and archaic food the likes of which I have never heard or seen.

I don't quite know why these books hold such charm for me.  They are often sub-par-ly written and, after you've read one, you've read them all, but for some reason, that doesn't disgust me.  They were also obviously a huge money-maker (rather like the Nancy Drew books) back in the day and written in large part to secure the attentions of girls for years on end while more and more books were churned out.  In a modern book, I would not hold with any of these things and would firmly refuse to ever pick up such a cheap bit of book, but something about the age of this book keeps me from throwing it out or refusing to read it.

I wonder, did these boarding schools actually exist, or were they romanticizations of a certain school-girl lifestyle that rarely, if ever, existed?  I don't know the answer to this question, but I do know that these authors always present these stories as if every other girl was going to one of these boarding schools that are always full of fun and games and little education.

If this sounds like something that you would enjoy reading, purely for a little enjoyment and light reading, I highly recommend seeking one of this type of book out.  They are fast reads and are an interesting, much-forgotten bit of fiction.  Unless you just happen to stumble upon a few of these at some cheap bookshop, they can be very hard to find and, when found, ridiculously expensive.  Also, most libraries don't have them anymore.  So if you happen to find one, like I did, snap it up and enjoy yourself!

3 comments:

  1. For me, it was the Maida books by Inez Haynes Irwin that I loved. Not a boarding school series, but about a group of kids who were semi-adopted by a rich businessman to live on his estate with his daughter ... of course they had all kinds of adventures. You might enjoy them!

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    1. Huh. Never heard of those! For some reason, growing up, I never read any of these series. It's just been recently that I picked them up. :)

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  2. Oh, I too am a huge Maida fan! My mother owned a few as a child but my grandmother gave them all away when she left for college (the same college attended by Maida's author). It gave me great pleasure to collect a whole set and present her with them about ten years ago. Admittedly, the first book, Maida's Little Shop, is the best.

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