Friday, March 15, 2013

The Carved Lions by Mary L. Molesworth

The Carved Lions is another title from my personal Victorian challenge.  It was published in 1895 and is the story of a little girl sent to an English boarding school because her father has been assigned a job in South America.  She’s very unhappy, but manages to squeeze a cheerful ending out of all of her trials.  (The definitive book with the same theme is, of course, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess, which had been published seven years earlier.)

There was nothing dreadfully wrong with this book.  It was not overly didactic or moralistic - even though young Geraldine reads quite a few preachy books that were popular in the 1850’s.  My main complaint against the book is that Geraldine is an unappealing heroine. As narrator, she makes too many excuses for herself and for the faults of others. All the mistakes she made in her school had to do with her being sick and not hearing well, or being naive and not responding well.  She never seems quite real.  Or likable.

The end of the book contained fascinating reviews written during Moleworth’s lifetime:  “Christmas would hardly be Christmas without one of Mrs. Molesworth’s stories.  No one has quite the same power of throwing a charm and an interest about the commonplace everyday doings as she has, and no one has ever blended fairyland and reality with the same skill.”  Her stories were referred to by one Victorian critic as “neo-fairy” stories. Another referred to her as “the queen of children’s fairyland.”  The words “healthful moral tone,” were often used to describe her writing.  

That last phrase made me wince since I'm suspicious of any author who sets out to write a book to teach children something. I don't mind books with a healthful, moral tone, IF they don't make me feel like I'm taking my vitamins.

Chesterton mentions Mrs. Molesworth in his The Victorian Age in Literature
as a writer of true talent and compares her with two other writers for children, Juliana Ewing and Charlotte Yonge. (p. 32) Both Ewing and Yonge are on my list to read this year so I look forward to comparing them myself.

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