Completed: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Kate Douglas Wiggin
US, 1903

Only two hours!” she sighed. “That will be half-past one; mother will be at Cousin Ann’s, the children at home will have had their dinner, and Hannah cleared all away. I have some lunch, because mother said it would be a bad beginning to get to the brick house hungry, and have Aunt Mirandy have to get me something to eat the first thing. It’s a good growing day, isn’t it?”

“It is, certain; too hot, most. Why don’t you put up your parasol?”

She extended her dress still farther over the article in question as she said: “Oh dear no! I never put it up when the sun shines. Pink fades awfully, you know; and I only carry it to meetin’ cloudy Sundays. Sometimes the sun comes out all of a sudden, and I have a dreadful time covering it up. It’s the dearest thing in life to me; but it’s an awful care.” (Chapter 1)

Rebecca Rowena Randall is charming. She is enthusiastic, eager to please, loyal, driven, able to captivate (most) all of those around her. Not quite an orphan—Rebecca’s mother is living, but with seven children is barely able to make ends meet—young Rebecca is sent to live with two spinster aunts who will raise her and see to her education. Rebecca enchants her driver as she makes her way from the train station to her new home in Riverboro, makes a lifelong best friend in Emma Jane, occasionally runs afoul of the hard-to-please Aunt Miranda, and manages to make loyal devotees of more than one adult resident. It is not hard to see many similarities with Anne of Green Gablesan orphan sent to live in a new home among strangers, who enchants those around her, gets into many scrapes, and has boundless enthusiasm. (Although the two are hardly identicalthere is no “Gilbert” in this book, for one.) Published five years after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, it is tempting to compare Anne with Rebecca but to make the comparison may be unfair to the earlier novel.

I found Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm to be enjoyable reading, but a bit uneven. An early chapter made up entirely of Rebecca’s letters to her mother—although it is cute to see Rebecca’s childish misspellings, and works as a method of moving time forward—sticks out oddly in a largely narrated story. Had this method been used more consistently, it may not have seemed so odd to me. I was also disconcerted by the difficulty in determining the rate of the passage of time or Rebecca’s age throughout most of the novel. I can’t even say with certainty her age at the beginning (I believe it is ten), and the jumping from episode to episode was made without reference to how long Rebecca had been in Riverboro or how old she now was. This improved in the latter portion of the book, and once Rebecca left her local one-room schoolhouse for high school, it was always clear how old she was, which season it was, how much schooling she had left. Both Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm are episodic, covering roughly the same number of years and ages of their protagonists, but in my editions, Anne is about 50 pages longer than Rebecca. Without actually rereading both to verify, I suspect that those 50 pages make the difference in the evenness of moving from event to event–Montgomery has just a bit more room to smooth the transitions.

As a children’s book, I understand why Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is not as well-known as Anne of Green Gables. Between the jumps in time and uneventful episodes such as a grammar lesson towards the beginning, I don’t think it would capture the attention of a child as well as Anne, although this is unfortunate as Rebecca herself is every bit as interesting as Anne. I also noticed little touches of subtle humor (my favorite: Rebecca’s father’s name was Lorenzo de Medici Randall and his twin brother Marquis de Lafayette Randall) that I’m pretty sure would go over the heads of most children (I certainly didn’t know who Lorenzo de Medici was at age 10).

Oh dear. I feel like I’ve been far more critical of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm than I intended to be, for I truly did enjoy reading it. I think it safe to say that if you have enjoyed reading Anne of Green Gables you would likely enjoy Rebecca. However, if I had to choose between the two, I would pick Anne. Which brings me to wonder—when is it fair to compare two books? I don’t wish to wander off into a lengthy tangent on this post, so I shall end here with a teaser for the next post (soon—it’s mostly written!) in which I shall discuss my opinions on comparisons. And hopefully justify those above … 😉

Realists and Romantics & Rebecca Rowena Randall

I feel like I need to start off by reassuring everyone that I’ve found a book to read! Of course, I’m only one chapter in (this I blame on busyness, not my reading motivation), but as I read that chapter, I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I’ve never read this!”

The book in question is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (Kate Douglas Wiggin), a children’s classic from 1903. I think I managed in my younger years to devour just about every children’s classic the local library held–all the Anne of Green Gables books, The Chronicles of Narnia, every Madelaine L’Engle book they had, all of Andrew Lang’s Coloured Fairy Books, etc., but somehow I missed this one classic sitting on my very own shelves. (Apparently I’ve always been better at reading library books than my own.) I don’t know what the general consensus is regarding this book, but at only one chapter in, I am utterly charmed. Rebecca reminds me somewhat of Anne Shirley, or rather, I should say Anne Shirley reminds me of Rebecca, as this book was published five years before Anne of Green Gables. I don’t know if Montgomery read Wiggin or if the similarities of the characters in the opening chapters are simply coincidence. This may be something to further investigate as I read more of Wiggin’s book.

It seems appropriate as I start this book that I’ve recently finished compiling shortening another of my lists, one containing many of the Victorian Romantic authors. This from the afterword in my edition of Rebecca (by Phyllis Bixler): “The influence of the Romantic movement on children’s classics of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries is nowhere more evident than in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.” (I honestly have no idea why I happened to flip through and read that line, as I usually don’t read afterwards, especially before I’ve actually read the book.) My new list, which I’m referring to as “Realists and Romantics” comes from my traditional comfort zone of reading, American and British authors from the 1800’s—with a couple Irish authors thrown in for good measure.

I have to admit a certain haziness on the exact definitions of eras in literature. There don’t seem to be actual hard edges for eras. One era bleeds into another, an individual author may be influenced by several trends, trends overlap. My overall impression, however, is that the bulk of English-language literature of 1800s is dominated by Romanticism or related trends. (I distinctly remember a section of high-school English on the “Dark Romantics.”) On the other hand, I wouldn’t categorize Austen as a Romantic. I’ll admit to grave ignorance here, but from what best I can tell, Austen, and perhaps some of the other writers of the 1800s wrote in what is termed a more “Realist” style. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!

The boundaries for this particular list are relatively simple: American/British/Irish authors predominately active in the 1800s. I’ve therefore included works from the early 1900s which were written by already established authors. As this is a rather lengthy list—my comfort era!—I’ve placed it after a break. Continue reading “Realists and Romantics & Rebecca Rowena Randall”