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A Sweet Girl Graduate

March 4, 2007

L.T. Meade is a favorite of mine. She wrote a couple of hundred books, mostly for girls, in the late 19th century.

The first L.T. Meade book I read was A Sweet Girl Graduate. Obviously I couldn’t resist a title like that. It’s set in a women’s college in a fictionalized version of Oxford called Kingsdene. The heroine–or one of them–is Priscilla Penywern Peel, a girl so poor that even before her aunt scrapes together the money for her to attend college, Priscilla and her sisters are pretty undernourished. But considering that they have no income, somebody needs to start earning money, and so Priscilla has to go off and get educated so she can become a teacher.

This makes her a hell of a lot more serious than the other girls at her school. When I first came to college, I had an idea that I was going to use some wildly inappropriate book as a guidebook for each stage of my life, and ASGG was going to be the college one. I’ve never managed to successfully use a book as a guide to any part of my life, but it wouldn’t have been so wildly inappropriate if I had. Women’s colleges haven’t changed so much in the past century or so. Priscilla, who spends all her time studying and doesn’t seem to know how to have fun, doesn’t fit in so well.

Maggie Oliphant, on the other hand, is rich, beautiful, talented, and popular. She’s also prone to weird mood swings–she has “bad half hours” during which she broods about her friend Annabel Lee, who, of course, died young of a fever or something. Maggie takes Priscilla under her wing, saying “The poor girl is as queer as her name, but it gives me a kind of aesthetic pleasure to be good to people,” which is a favorite line of mine.

It’s at this point in the summary that I always want to say “hijinks ensue”. I don’t know if it’s really true. Things that do ensue: an auction of one of the wealthier girls’ belongings, a theft of which Priscilla is suspected, and romantic complications. There’s also a character called Rosalind who is beautiful and mildly evil, which, you know, is always a plus.

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8 comments

  1. My favorite LT Meade book is “A Ring of Rubies.” Have you read it?

    Elizabeth


  2. I have not. What is it about?


  3. LOL. I had to go and reread it to get the plot straight for you.

    The Ring of Rubies is told in first-person by Rosamund Lindley, a poor (“not poor in an interesting way, but poor enough to have to turn dresses twice, look at each penny twice”) girl in a family with two older brothers, her father and her mother, who had grown up with a mysterious and rich Cousin Geoffrey. Rosamund decides that she wants to study art, and boldly goes to find Cousin Geoffery and ask him for money. Geoffery turns her down of course, but he is intrigued/delighted with her nonetheless, because she doesn’t come fawning and wheedling but is bold and confident.

    The next week, she and her mother learn that Cousin Geoffrey has died. They attend the funeral and the reading of the will. His solicitor does not read the will, but says there are heirs, but they may or may not be found, and the only bequest he made was a ruby ring to Rosamund. The ring is intricate and odd, with one large stone and two smaller stones that were the eyes of snakes wrought into the sides of the ring.

    Rosamund gets the ring appraised by going to an aquaintance in London who tells her that her mistress sometimes hires out jewels to fine ladies. Rosamund files this information away, then needs it soon, when she discovers that her brother Jack has not only secretly married, but has stolen 20 pounds from his employer to take care of his wife, who has fallen ill with scarlet fever. Now Jack has taken ill as well and can neither care for the wife or hope to repay the money before its loss is discovered.

    Rosamund takes her ring to her friend’s mistress and lets her hire it out for one night only. Of course, it turns out to be the replica of one Lady Ursula Redmayne’s engagement ring, which she has lost. She needs the ring so her fiance, Captain Rupert Valentine, wont’ be angry with her, as the ring was an old family treasure.

    Lots of stuff happens, Lady Ursula eventually confesses to Rupert, who is intrigued that there are two rings, and realizes that he and Rosamund are distant cousins. He also discovers a secret compartment in Rosamund’s ring. She then finds a minute scrap of paper with the words “Chamber of Myths” on it. (She is able to read this by using her mother’s microscope, which had been a gift from Cousin Geoffrey.) Rosamund knows that the Chamber of Myths is a room in Geoffrey’s house, and borrows the keys from the solicitor to begin searching the room for its secrets. She does find the envelope left to her by Cousin Geoffrey and learns that she has been left half of his estates, on the condition that she marry the other heir, Tom Valentine (brother of the aforementioned Captain Rupert.) Tom knows nothing of this arrangement.

    Of course, Rosamund is appalled at this, even though when she meets Tom, he is wonderful and they are attracted to each other. However, by now, her mother had fallen ill and needs food and wine and a change of scenery to the Riviera to get well.

    There is a wonderful scene at a dinner party hosted by the solicitor, where Rosamund refuses to wear the evening gown he bought for her and instead appears in her mother’s old wedding gown. Of course, this makes Tom crazy about her. In the end, she agrees to marry him, and he, finding out the terms, is very noble and agrees to wait as long as it takes for her to be comfortable. The solicitor, a decent chap, advances her the money needed to take care of her mother and the rest of the family, and she agrees to marry Tom immediately with no reservations.


  4. That is amazing. I’m going to have to find a way to get hold of a copy. (I see that the New York Public Library has a copy in the non-circulating collection. Not sure how I’ll find time to read it there, but clearly I must.)

    Any other recommendations? :)


  5. My two other favorite L.T. Meade titles are “Polly: a New Fashioned Girl,” and “A Girl in Ten Thousand,” both of which are available to read on The Gutenberg Project.


  6. I’ve read Polly, which I liked a lot, and I might have read A Girl in Ten Thousand, unless I’m getting it mixed up with A Girl of the People–whichever it is that I’m thinking of wasn’t one of my favorites.


  7. Usually find LT Meade’s books forgettably bland, but while scrolling through her list of works I spotted a title I positively must hunt down: “Dumps: A Plain Girl”.


    • Weirdly enough, that has just been posted to PG.



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