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Queen Hildegarde

October 14, 2008

There are a few kinds of children’s stories you see over and over. One that I happen to particularly like is the one where a kid from a city goes to live in the country, or in a small town, and communes with nature and gets their priorities straight. Queen Hildegarde is one of those.

Hildegarde Graham is the spoiled fifteen-year-old daughter of rich parents. She lives in New York City, is very pretty, has beautiful clothes, and is the envy of all her friends. Her parents, though, are sensible people, so they get worried about her, and when they have to go off to California for a few months, they send Hilda to stay with her mother’s old nurse.

Hildegarde is completely horrified by the prospect. She’s basically like, “farmers, ew!” and she uses the word “intolerable” a lot. When she’s picked up at the station by Nurse Lucy and her husband, Hilda tries to be cool and distant, but of course just comes off as rude. Nurse Lucy and Farmer Hartley are very nice to her anyway, but when she goes up to bed, she hears them talking about her below their window. They’re pretty open with each other about the fact that she’s a brat, but not in a mean way — they want to be nice to her and help her to be better because they love her mother so much.

The most interesting thing about Queen Hildegarde, to me, anyway, is that, when Hildegarde overhears this conversation, she almost immediately agrees with everything the Hartleys have to say, and by the time she goes to sleep that night, she has resolved to e a better person. And when she wakes up in the morning, she proceeds to carry out her resolution. For the rest of the book — the rest of the series, in fact — Hildegarde is a different kind of person, one who isn’t afraid of work, has good judgment, and doesn’t discriminate based on social class. But she’s also still essentially the same person — childish, but more willing to admit it, devoted to her parents, fond of poetry and nice clothes, brave, and inclined to get her own way, although she puts her imperiousness to much better use now.

And that’s it. She helps out on the farm, she meets a boy called Bubble Chirk and tutors him, she makes friends with Bubble’s older sister Pink — short for Pinkrosia, believe it or not — and eventually saves the farm from financial ruin, mostly just by being brave and kind. And she’s still believable as a kid, which is the really great thing. That Hilda’s transformation from snobbish young lady to enthusiastic girl is so believable is the thing that made me like this book so much the first time around, and the thing that made me decide to reread the Hildegarde series. That, and how eager I was to read the bits referencing Hilda in The Merryweathers. And that Project Gutenberg has done nice HTML version of Queen Hildegarde, as it did with the whole of the Margaret series. Whatever. It’s not like I really needed an excuse.

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