A collection of observations, questions, and thoughts I didn’t mention or go into detail about in my book review posts (in no particular order):
1. What kind of high school only makes students take 4-5 classes a year?! Even in the Edwardian era, when high schools were rather uncommon in the U.S., that seems odd! And to only have to take two years of math and science?
2. How did Betsy choose which classes to take? Did her parents decide for her, did they confer together, or was she given free rein to study whatever she wanted? I’m particularly interested in why she chose Latin as her foreign language for the first three years.
3. I know the Establishment Clause was treated like a joke in many public schools of the era, but it always jolts me to see the school day starting with Protestant prayer, hymns, and Bible-reading!
4. Also jolting, but in a good way, to see a depiction of school before it became common to do a creepy daily loyalty oath to the flag. Seriously, almost no other countries in the world make kids do that! And a lot of people believe it’s against the law to refuse to take part in that ritual, instead of protected free speech since 1943.
5. What’s the point of the first day of school just being a morning assembly and scheduling classes? Why didn’t they register for classes during the summer?
6. My jaw dropped when Betsy gave a speech, in her debate team, supporting the restriction of immigration. I don’t associate that kind of attitude with her at all! Well, she got her wish when racist, xenophobic, nativist, eugenics-inspired, severely restrictive quotas were passed in 1921 and 1924.
7. Speaking of immigrants, I loved the respectful depiction of the Lebanese in Little Syria (so called because Lebanon was part of Syria at the time). I just wish they’d been featured more often.
8. I know this was a common attitude many immigrants felt compelled into in that era, but it made me sad to see Naifi, in the third book, declaring that she has to ditch her lovely native culture so she can become a whitewashed “real American.”
9. I’m far from the only reader who doesn’t like all the over the top, jingoistic flag-waving at the end of the third book. Though it was published in 1943, when that attitude was considered important for the war effort.
10. What a different world when students were expected to memorize everything, even their graduation speeches and research for essay contests! Now kids whine about having to memorize and recite very short poems.
11. I wish we’d gotten more insight into Betsy’s conversion to Episcopalianism. It seems she only liked superficial things like music and social life. I know that’s what initially motivates a lot of conversions, but it should gradually lead to more substantial theological convictions.
12. Many times, old-fashioned words are used without any context to picture what’s being referred to. E.g., I had to search around for awhile before I finally figured out what exactly a dressing sacque, foolscap, and hair rat are.
13. Such a big deal is made out of Betsy’s first visit to her town’s new Carnegie library, but we never find out just what she thought of the books she checked out, nor do we see her making many non-school-related future visits.
14. No-longer-famous writers’ names are casually dropped with the expectation that readers will automatically know who they are, like Mrs. Muhlbach (who?).
15. People back in the day were so trusting of strangers inviting their teen daughters to spend a summer or school break on their farm in another town!
16. I hate how Betsy is made to feel she should only read literature that improves her mind, and that anything mass-market, popular, and/or sensationalistic is trash she should shun.
17. Judging from the types of magazines she submits to and the few glimpses we get of what exactly Betsy’s been writing all these years, she doesn’t exactly aspire to follow in the footsteps of writers like Dickens and Longfellow!
18. The old-fashioned, then-common spelling Mamma is used. I always mentally pronounced Mamma and Papa the normal English way, not the pretentious Ma-MAAAAAAAAA and Pa-PAAAAAAAAA.
19. It’s not fair that Tib’s name is only in the second book’s title. She takes equal part in Betsy and Tacy’s adventures in most of the other books!
20. What are the names of all of Tacy’s other siblings? I didn’t expect all ten of them would be major characters, but why not at least provide their names? We only get to know older sister Katie. A few brothers are briefly mentioned in the earliest books, and Tacy’s baby sister Bee passes away in infancy.
21. I was afraid to Google the type of winter hood Betsy struggles to put on in the first book, since I knew it would yield lots of porn.