Book Report: The Lilac Lady by Ruth Alberta Brown (1914)

Book coverAs I mentioned, gentle reader, we have taken in some kittens, which means that they spent the first couple of weeks at Nogglestead sequestered in my office while the other cats got used to their smell and presence and until the veterinarian could pronounce them with a clean bill of health. As such, it has been quite an adventure, as they scamper and romp, most excitingly among the cords and cables that power my QA laboratory–many mornings, I would come into the office and have to troubleshoot what they turned off or unplugged overnight before I could get to work. They’ve also made some book recommendations by knocking the books off of the bookshelves, so I have started to take their advice and read what they’ve knocked down, starting with this book.

This book is the middle of a trilogy, apparently–and the first book, At The Little Brown House, ends in the moments before this book begins, so it took me a minute to figure out who the people are. The story centers on Peace Greenfield, a middle child in a set of six orphaned sisters. As the book begins, they’re adopted by a university president who is grandparent aged, and they go to his house and learn various and sundry lessons there.

Peace likes to give to the poor, and she’s often duped by ragamuffins and hoboes who show up for a handout, but she learns that some individuals who arrive are not in desperate straits but want the money to fund their non-working lifestyle or for alcohol. So her adopted father explains she should give to charities that can filter and follow-up on giving.

She meets the Lilac Lady, an injured and dying former singer from a well-to-do family who lives next door but behind vast hedges. The Lilac Lady shut herself off from the world after her accident that left her invalid, but Peace comes over and gets her to open up. Peace meets kids at the local orphan home and gets an inside view after briefly changing places with a resident who looks like her. She then gets the Lilac Lady to host a party for the orphans to the benefit of both.

When she returns to her old town to visit old friends, a scarlet fever outbreak at her new home forces her to live with her friends for a number of months, and she makes friends and has adventures there, too.

So it’s not a single plot piece, but some of the elements come together at a big Independence Day party at the end (as I assume happened in the first book, as they are leaving a party early on). But it’s a series of smaller adventures with little life lessons in them an examples of a child having a good heart. She’s like an older generation Ramona Quimby.

So this is a children’s book, presumably geared to little girls, perhaps even to be read to little girls. But let’s look into the language used, ainna?

Having a naturally light-hearted, merry disposition, Peace did not find it hard work to “smile and talk,” but it was hard, very hard, to restrain her generous impulses to give away everything she possessed to those less fortunate than herself, and it soon became a familiar sight to see her fly excitedly into the house straight to the study where the busy President spent many hours each day, exclaiming breathlessly as she ran, “Oh, grandpa, there is a little beggar at the door in perfect rags and tatters! Just come and look if she doesn’t need some clothes. And she is so cold and pinched up with being empty. Gussie has fed her, but can’t I give her some things to wear? I’ve more than I need, truly!”

This is not diction from a children’s book in the 21st century.

So a good book to read to your kids, but also a good artifact of the way we were.

The book itself only bears the copyright date, 1914, but not a printing/publishing date–but it doesn’t look as though this would have been in print for decades. So the pages are a bit brown, but the binding is tight, and it’s not disintegrating like The Saint Meets His Match. So that’s kind of nice. And helpful considering how it was suggested to me.

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