A Grand Tour on the eve of destruction

Betsy and the Great World (Betsy-Tacy): Lovelace, Maud Hart, Neville, Vera: 9780064405454: Amazon.com: Books

Over three and a half years have passed since Betsy’s high school graduation, and she’s been at loose ends for some time. Early in her freshwoman year at the University of Minnesota, a bout of appendicitis interrupted her studies, and she went to her grandma in California to recover.

When she returned to school, she was overcome by depression at being a year behind her old friends. Though Betsy became actively involved in a sorority and the school newspaper, academia just didn’t agree with her. She also sort-of cheated on her almost-fiancé Joe, which led to their breakup.

Finally, Betsy confesses to her parents that she’s not getting much out of her education, something that’s been obvious to them for a long time. She only wants to write, and her parents feel a trip to Europe would provide wonderful inspiration and hands-on experience.

Betsy and the Great World: Lovelace, Maud Hart: 9780606141628: Amazon.com: Books

But the book doesn’t open with that. No, it opens as Betsy is preparing to board a ship sailing to Europe in January 1914. The story of the last three and a half years is told in a long backstory infodump in the second chapter. We also learn in this chapter that Mr. Kerr’s grooming and aggressive pursuit of Tacy was successful and that they’re now married.

Why couldn’t there have been a few books about Betsy’s university days, year in California, and split with Joe? These events have less emotional resonance because we’re told about them after the fact instead of experiencing them along with Betsy as they unfold.

The death of Tacy’s father merits a single line in this long infodump. There was a lot more time and care given to the death of a secondary character’s father in Betsy Was a Junior! How do you just gloss over such a huge event in the life of a main character?!

Amazon.com: Betsy and the Great World/Betsy's Wedding (9780061795138): Lovelace, Maud Hart: Books

Anyway, Betsy has a grand time on the S.S. Columbic, making lots of new friends, enjoying dances and dinners, hobnobbing with society people, flirting with a much-older guy who turns out to have a wife and five kids, taking daytrips to a few islands and cities along the way to Naples. These first seven chapters were my favorite part of the book.

The first stop on Betsy’s itinerary is München (Munich), where she stays in a pension (i.e., a boardinghouse that provides meals) full of people from all over the world. She falls in love with the city, and makes several good friends.

During this time, Betsy also gets $100 for a story published in Ainslee’s magazine.

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Betsy comes off really poorly during a daytrip to Sonneberg, the toy and doll capital of the world. Despite initial opposition, she manages to talk her way into touring a doll factory. After learning the doll heads are assembled in people’s houses, Betsy peeks in windows to see the process.

None of the children have any dolls of their own, which greatly puzzles Betsy. Shouldn’t they have their pick of the best dolls when they live in a city renowned for making them? But Betsy is reassured everything is peachy-keen when a little girl shows her a headless doll.

Betsy returns to the factory to buy a fancy doll she admired earlier, though she feels very silly walking through the streets with a doll in her arms at her age. She doesn’t give it to one of the children, but keeps it for herself.

She still shows no self-awareness when she decides to give the doll to Tacy’s potential daughter.

Another daytrip is to Oberammergau, which has been putting on Passion Plays since the 17th century. Betsy is enthralled by the town and how seriously people take their roles. If she’d stayed long enough to see the next play, I doubt she would’ve picked up on the blatant antisemitism built into this play until a major update in 1950.

Betsy then jaunts off to Venice, where she spends six weeks. During her stay, a young man named Marco falls in instalove with her.

Then it’s off to Switzerland and Paris, skimmed over in a chapter written by Mrs. Lovelace’s daughter Merian. So much of this book reads like a shallow travelogue instead of an actual novel!

Amazon.com: WW1 Newspaper Poster Replica - GERMANY DECLARES ALL EUROPE IS IN ARMS - Size 8.3x11.7 inches - WWI 1914 Military Memorabilia Wall Decor: Posters & Prints

During Betsy’s stay in London, where she happily acquires a group of friends called The Crew, war is declared. Though the events described are gripping, there’s never any real doubt Betsy will get a ticket for a ship home. She’s upper-middle-class and has many well-connected friends.

This book is the weakest in the series. Not just writing-wise, but in Betsy’s lack of emotional growth. She never goes off the beaten path in any of her travels, and reacts with naïveté and willful blindness when confronted with people who weren’t lucky enough to be born into the privilege she takes for granted. She develops zero perspective or class consciousness from seeing how the other half lives.

Betsy also never has to navigate her travels all by herself, as she always has multiple people looking out for her. And what 21-year-old goes around telling people about her pretend maid Celeste like she’s a real person?!

BBC News | Enlarged Image

Betsy’s declaration of support for women’s suffrage also comes from out of left field. There was never so much as an indirect hint in any of the previous eight books she deeply cared about this issue!

At least this Grand Tour helps Betsy to realize she needs to try to make things right with Joe already, and the ending sets things up for the final book.

Author: Carrie-Anne

Writer of historical fiction sagas and series, with elements of women's fiction, romance, and Bildungsroman. Born in the wrong generation on several fronts.

4 thoughts on “A Grand Tour on the eve of destruction”

  1. Some of the better travelogues are novelistic – and they have their own writing technique [or a technique proper to them, which is tricky to master and maintain].

    The islands of Italy really are special – especially Sicily and Sardinia.

    If the writing was as decent as the idea – I can see why it might be your favourite part of the Great World.

    A few strategic flashbacks on the ship would have filled in the material.

    Especially if Betsy were feeling distrait or indisposed or even really good.

    Flashbacks being tied into emotion in general. You see yourself now and you see yourself then. [or was Betsy autopiloting through those years?]

    I am glad that Betsy wasn’t fully engaged at 20 [or even at 18 or 19] – and not to Joe.

    Often the best – and/or the worst – bits of these books [thinking in particular of WHAT KATY DID NEXT – on a Susan Coolidge kick] are in the pensions. [or in youth hostels or backpacker’s houses].

    [The best bit of WHAT KATY DID NEXT was Naples because of the emotional growth of Katy and Amy].

    But women’s suffrage was in the air and she might at least have thought about it from her university days and later on in London if not in Switzerland or Paris.

    World War I’s London really was the centre of women’s suffrage [even if certain dominion nations and states had it 10 to 20 years before].

    1918 was when married women finally voted [or were able to vote].

    “Another daytrip is to Oberammergau, which has been putting on Passion Plays since the 17th century. Betsy is enthralled by the town and how seriously people take their roles. If she’d stayed long enough to see the next play, I doubt she would’ve picked up on the blatant antisemitism built into this play until a major update in 1950.”

    No – Betsy would not have done.

    And when I think about characters – and authors – who most certainly WOULD have – and been distressed.

    Celeste is the doll, right?

    The whole thing about dolls and daughters and self-awareness …

    And does Betsy put her language studies to good or at least reasonable use? Like German in München and the doll town.

    The London illustration is great – where the fog and Betsy’s clothes are concerned. [Kolasch was responsible for that illustration?]

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    1. Betsy acquires pretty good German during her long stay in Germany, though she’s not a stickler for proper grammar, and often uses Du instead of Sie with everyone. She also seems to become proficient in French, and learns some Italian.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Carrie-Anne:

        I am so relieved about that.

        [I might end up saying something like Mir so …]

        I imagined Betsy would be a good user of the languages she found in practice, even if she weren’t a stickler for proper grammar [and in German that is important – in French in a different way].

        In Switzerland you would get practice in all three depending on what parts of Switzerland you would travel in – for example, French in Vaud [like Heidi Grows Up] and Good Wives. And Italian – Betsy did have something of a Latin background in her high school.

        Had thought you would cover the T-V distinction.

        Wondered if she did the same thing in French – used the familiar pronoun?

        If people were about your age or your generation Du is fine – or if you met them in the travel situation.

        I would probably worry about Betsy if she didn’t Sie the customs people or those who look after passports and visas and borders.

        Had been watching a FluentU film about talking about love and relationships in English [the best time for that was 25 years ago – the second best time is today] and especially how modal verbs soften requests and emotional demands – for example: “Could I see you tomorrow?” instead of “I want to see you tomorrow” or “We will see each other tomorrow”.

        There is one modal verb I depend on a lot – it begins with W.

        It began with “Would you like” … and “I would like”.

        And some of the relationship words and phrases would be things Betsy and The Crew would probably say.

        So Betsy is starting on her polyglot journey.

        [and that is another way she doesn’t tread the boards [as you said *go off the beaten path*].

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