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Patty’s Friends

September 13, 2007

I have two theories about the excitingly and descriptively named Patty’s Friends.

1. In her excitement at discovering the existence of mystery novels, Carolyn Wells couldn’t help sticking mysteries in everything. I haven’t been able to put a date to the story about the first time she encountered a mystery novel (it was one of Anna Katherine Green’s, she was hooked from the first page, and she immediately began turning out mysteries of her own), but the first Fleming Stone book seems to have been published in 1909, while Patty’s Friends was published in 1908, so that seems seems to support the theory.

2. She was kidding. Carolyn Wells was a smart woman with a great sense of humor, and from what I know of her, I think it’s possible that she wrote the entire book with tongue firmly in cheek.

See, it’s set in England — at the end of Patty in Paris, Nan and Mr. Fairfield showed up and whisked Patty off to London, while the Farringtons returned to America. And I think the whole thing is an elaborate joke about the plots of English novels, mixed in with Carolyn Wells’ new fascination with mysteries and Patty’s usual hijinks.

I think you’d have to read the book to really get it, but my main evidence is this: while the Patty books usually contain only faint vestiges of plots, this one features the following:

1) An estranged father and daughter pair who Patty convinces to reconcile with each other. Lady Hamilton is a beautiful but sometimes tragically sad young widow whose father disinherited her when she married. Her husband only lived for a year after their marriage, and because of a request he made, Lady Hamilton always wears white. Someone else could have written this seriously, but not Carolyn Wells. Especially since a) the father is called Sir Otho Markleham, and b) with Patty’s help, he makes his friendly overtures towards his daughter at a children’s party, dressed as Peter Pan.

2) A proposal from an earl, in the moonlight, in a rose garden. Lady Hamilton takes Patty to a friend’s country place for the weekend, but Patty’s trunks are lost on the way, and she ends up having to borrow on of Lady Hamilton’s dresses to go to dinner in. Only Lady Hamilton is about twenty-two, and has been married, while Patty is not quite eighteen. The dress makes her look a lot older, and the Earl of Ruthven is so bowled over by her — his words — that he proposes. Also, he asks her to call him by his first name — just once or twice. Patty: “Sylvester — Sylvester!” It’s hilarious, and not only to the reader: in the following days, Patty is constantly laughing over that “Sylvester — Sylvester!”

3) A hidden fortune belonging to a family on the verge of (almost) ruin. Patty is good friends with the Hartleys — Mabel, Bob, Sinclair, and their mother and grandmother — and they invite her to their country place, Cromarty Manor, for the month of June. Patty knows that they’re not well off and can’t keep the place up as they wish they could, and eventually she discovers why. The grandmother, Madame Cromarty, ought to have inherited a fortune from her brother-in-law, Marmaduke, but he died before revealing where he hid it. Over the years since his death, though, the family have discovered several rhymes that give clues about the treasure, but they seem to contradict each other. Patty of course, soon solves this mystery that has baffled the Cromartys and Hartleys for forty years. And then the grateful family makes her a gift of a painting by Hobbema, and Lady Kitty Hamilton comes to fetch her and bring her to meet Nan and Mr. Fairfield in Switzerland.

A thoroughly fun book — but at this point, I’d be pretty disappointed if a Carolyn Wells book wasn’t fun.

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2 comments

  1. This was one of the ones where I loved the insight into the social mores of the time. Patty has not yet “come out” in Society and so is still a girl in pigtails, more or less. When she has to borrow a dinner dress from her older friend, it has a train and to go with it she has to put her hair up. When the earl who has proposed to her in the moonlight sees her in the garden the next morning, back in her girlish garb, he doesn’t recognize her!


  2. It’s kind of like Clark Kent’s glasses, isn’t it? When I first read this book, I didn’t understand why Patty was so nervous about wearing that dress, but clearly she had reason to be.



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