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Patty Fairfield

May 19, 2007

I intend to reread as many of Carolyn Wells’ Patty Fairfield books as I can get my hands on this summer. Seven out of the seventeen books are up on Project Gutenberg, and I own one of the others. I’ve never found a Patty book in a bookstore, but they’re not terribly hard to find online, and…well, the Patty books somehow seem more worth owning than other girls’ series. I hope to own the whole series someday.

The Patty Fairfield series is odd in more ways than one. First, it lies somewhere between series like those turned out by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and things that are thought of as “children’s literature” — like, say, Louisa May Alcott’s stuff. Maybe it ranks similarly to Pollyanna, but only because Pollyanna‘s considered a classic. Patty is more fun any day.

But that’s all kind of meaningless, really. A more practical oddity is that the Patty books rarely have anything resembling a normal plot. The first one, Patty Fairfield, probably has the most plot, but even then it’s only provided by the framework — Patty’s father sending her on four thee-month-long visits to four different sets of aunt and uncles in order to learn how different people live. The rest of the time, it’s all parties, clothes, games, and friends. Patty is a rich girl, and while schoolwork makes the occasional intrusion — most noticeably in Patty’s Summer Days — Patty gets to spend a lot of time just having fun. And what’s really special about these books is that the fun that the characters have is fun for the readers, too.

Patty’s Summer Days is the one Patty book I own, and I’ve had it for years and read it a number of times. Aside from the aforementioned bit where school kind of intrudes, it’s weddings, carnivals, and dancing bears — no, literally — the whole time. So when I found that a number of the Patty books were online and decided to read the first one, I was a little surprised by a) something vaguely resembling a plot and b) something very definitely resembling a moral.

See, Patty has grown up in Virginia with her widowed father. They’ve lived in boarding houses since her mother died and Patty has never even left the state. But now she’s fourteen, and her dad kind of wants his own house, probably in New York, and he wants Patty to help him set it up and stuff. It’s going to take him about a year to wrap up all his business in Virginia, so he comes up with a plan: Patty will spend the year visiting her relatives, and at the end of the year he’ll meet up with her and they’ll decide where to live. She’ll miss him a lot, but she’ll see how people live when they don’t live in boarding houses, and, more importantly, she’ll learn about Proportion with a capital P. Mr. Fairfield has to explain to Patty what proportion is, but he catches on pretty quickly, and as she visits each set of relatives, she’s able to explain to her father exactly what is out of proportion.

With the first set, the St. Clairs, it’s all about wealth. Uncle Robert indulges his family to a ridiculous extent, and, what’s worse, insists on telling people the prices of all the expensive things he buys in the most obnoxious way possible. Aunt Isabel cares only about outdoing the neighbors, and Reginald, Ethelyn, and Florelle are about as bratty as you’d expect. But they’re nice people, and Patty is an adaptable girl, so she gets along okay, living as the St. Clairs do, but taking away her lesson about proportion.

Next are the Flemings. They’re a very literary family, and an overly busy one, always rushing off to attend readings or educate bootblacks. They too are nice, but a little absent-minded when it comes to anything but their own schedules. They’re also not much for fun and games, much to Patty’s dismay. Ruth, who’s about Patty’s age, doesn’t seem to have a sense of humor at all.

After her literary summer in Boston, Patty goes to spend the summer on Long Island with the Barlows: Grace, Ted, Helen, and Bob. Helen and Bob are twins about Patty’s age, and are lots more fun than Ruth. Plus, there’s Nan Allen, a friend of the Barlows, who, although she’s about twenty, is happy to hang out with the kids. Also, she’s bald.

The Barlows’ issue is organization. None of them can ever remember what they’re supposed to do, and so nothing gets done. When they set out to have a party, they don’t make any of the preparations until the day of, and then they realize they’ve forgotten to send out any invitations. I guess they can’t be blamed for their house catching on fire, but then they don’t remember to replaced the burned-up staircase until after they’ve left at the end of the summer.

Patty’s final stop is with the Elliots in Vernondale, NJ, where, like Goldilocks, she finds that everything is just right. Her Aunt Alice teaches her to cook and sew, and her cousins Frank and Marian and their friends are nice and welcoming, especially after Patty saves her littlest cousin, Gilbert, from drowning. She likes Vernondale so much that when her father arrives at the end of her visit, she tells him she wants to live there always. Their search for a house in the neighborhood is the start of the next book, Patty at Home.

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21 comments

  1. I confess I got very excited about this series until I reached the “Proportion with a capital ‘P'” and realised there would be no dancing bears. :/


  2. Ssdly, the bear doesn’t show up until book four. But by that time, the moral has been cast by the wayside.


  3. I read all of the Patty Fairfield books when I was in high school, and I loved them. In fact I read them all several times. My first acquaintance with Carolyn Wells was the Marjorie Maynard books, which my mother read to me whenever I was home sick. I still have all of the Patty Fairfield books. When I was in college, I met two girls who had also read and loved them. They attended my wedding and called me the perfect Patty Bride. I much preferred them to the Nancy Drew series. I think they affected my relationships with boys I dated in a good way and kept me out of trouble.


  4. I love them too. They’re sort of frivolous without encouraging any kind of bad or unrealistic behavior. Just out of curiosity, when did you read them? Were they still in print at the time?


  5. I am thrilled to find some other Patty fans. I only had access to “Butterfly Days” until I was about 16. I read and reread it a million times and would look at the list of other Patty books and wonder what happened.

    Then one day I was in an antique store with my Mom and we found the whole set- a buck a piece– that was in 1979. I did nothing for an entire week but read those books.

    I still today, at age 43, find myself saying and doing “Patty” type things. The books gave me a vocabulary and taught me how to flirt with boys!

    Last year I nabbed an autograph of Carolyn Wells’ off of ebay: “Cordially Yours- Carolyn Wells” it reads.

    I have it on my desk.

    I will love Patty forever—

    Lyn


    • I also fell in love with the “Patty” books when I was about 12. I have read and re-read almost every one of them. I am now 61 and I still read them on-line. I’m glad to see I’m not the only adult who still enjoys these books. When I first started reading them I thought Patty had the best life a girl could have. Rich, beautiful. She had everything. Then I got to really know her. The only disappointment was that she didn’t marry Phillip. He would have been my choice. I thought Patty and Azaela was a little far-fetched though. I guess that was the end of the series but it kind of left me in limbo. There was no closure. I wish the author would have written more.


      • Philip, really? I never liked him, for some reason.

        And yeah, Patty and Azalea was pretty strange.


  6. I had a similar experience, only with “Summer Days.” I’ve had it since I was little, I read it so many times, but I never saw any Patty books in used book stores. Finally I decided that it was the one series I needed to have all of, so I found the entire series for sale on eBay.

    The Patty books really are amazing. I’m pretty sure there’s no other series that’s quite as much fun, and I don’t understand why almost nobody knows of them today.


  7. I adore the Patty books for the very reasons you mentioned. In fact, I just broke down and bought her other series as well (Marjorie, and Two Little Women). I admit that I’m completely jealous of all the parties and pasttimes the characters enjoy–including a “ghost party”, where everyone is disguised by a sheet and tries to guess others’ identities. It seems odd that more people aren’t familiar with her works, given the popularity of vintage girls series in general.


  8. I think the Patty books are in a funny in-between place. They’re not so important that people think they have to read them, and they were never so popular that huge numbers of people read them and now have nostalgia associated with them. And yet they’re more purely fun than pretty much any other girls’ books.

    I love all the parties, too. Especially the ones where they have to build things, like Patty’s going-away party in Patty in Paris and the fair in Patty’s Summer Days. And I’m madly jealous of Marjorie’s tree house.


  9. My Grandmother gave a full set of “Patty” books for my 16th birthday…to this day (I’m now 40) I still pull out a book and read it all over…


  10. They never really lose their appeal, do they? I tend to thinks it’s because Wells conveys a clear sense of her characters’ enjoyment. They genuinely seem to be having fun, so when you read about them, so do you.


  11. It’s interesting that several of you started with one book from the set. I found Patty’s Pleasure Trip floating around our house when I was a kid, and read it many times before my mother told me that there was almost a whole set in a box in the basement. Then I read all of them over and over, except for the two that I didn’t acquire until I was an adult. I don’t know when or how my mother had gotten them–some of hers are original editions (from before she was born) and some are reprints from the 1930’s (when she was a teenager).


  12. I think my grandmother bought my copy of Patty’s Summer Days at a flea market when I was a kid. The set I’ve acquires is all the Grosset & Dunlap reprints — the Dodd, Mead & Co. editions are pretty hard to find. Do you have any of the ones with illustrations by E.C. Caswell?


  13. This is so surreal. I have most of this series except for two vital books – “Patty Blossom” and “Patty Bride”! I don’t know what happened; I was supposed to inherit the entire set from my grandmother, but oh, well. I used to spend entire summers curled up in chair reading these at my grandmother’s. :) Such nice memories!


  14. Patty Blossom is awesome and you should try to get your hands on it. Patty-Bride less so.


  15. In a blur of a recent recovery from bronchitis, I just googled “patty fairfield” to see where it would lead. I am awed and amazed by this site. For the last month when I all I could was sleep, cough and drink tea, it seemed the only thing I could read was (ahem) my (ahem) entire series of original Patty Fairfield books, in order… I can’t believe I survived. (I can’t believe people want these books.) (I have a few extras and we should talk.) My extensive library is the 20-year-or so work of an old high-school friend, who has been supplying me with old girls’ books whose titular star is named “Patty” or a similar variation. Together over many years we have read of the chiffon-clad sunshiny Patty and her book-by-book adaptable standards of useless living (Her father interrupts me at this point, saying sternly but kindly, “Now you know, Patty is not strong… she may not read or do puzzles for the next summer season from May until September.) (Oh, except when Nan demands her time to shop and decorate…see Patty’s Success.) (And Little Billleeee chimes in at this point about apple blossoms) I just finished the motor-car and Mona books (admittedly, I was feverish anyway) and was amazed at how quickly Patty’s character changes… I hate Mona, now she’s my bff; everytime I drive my new car in the course of a month I have emergencies (stuck in sand; flat tire; flat tire with rescue by uncouth man; errant night-flight with Philip saved by Patty’s chocolate wrapper; sneaky picnic trip with Phil to avoid the “proportional” shared drive home from the picnic, which Patty didn’t mind; final near-death experience w car smashed into rocky ledge). So what happens?? Father and Nan leave her to stay a month or 2 with the disreputable Mona and no known chaperone and the all-clear to driver the (repaired?) motor car, where Patty goes off driving again (yet never seems to need those coursing drives in Swift Camilla that she was addicted to just 2 days before??)–and ends up again out of gas and in yet another state of “nervous prostration” where they break into a house and turn the owners’ silk cloths into dressing gowns (and I’ll bet, don’t put them back).

    Other annoyances: from one book to the other, she reads, she hates to read, she hates books, she is suddenly a student of architecture, or Roman history, or whatever. She finishes 2 years at the oliphant school (with honors, esp in french) then a month later in France she can’t say a sentence. She doesn’t read but knows to quote Thackeray and Shakespeare.
    She learns to sew for about a day with auntie in Vernondale, then hates to sew and is portrayed as a useless seamstress until the book where she shows off her fine embroidery and her use of a sewing machine….
    She loves Auntie in Vernondale and is bff with Marian and saves Gilbert but once she goes to Europe they are dead to her…and Marian is turned into a sniveling greedy fool. Of all her friends in NY she picks Elise and then slowly Elise is turned into a nasty shrew.
    She kidnaps/rescues one baby, auctions off another one (I forget which book)and kidnaps a cook (Motor Car)–so why would she not then deserve to wear the coarse underwear and housedres she is forced to submit to when she is finally kidnapped herself.

    Why do the mean girls have names with the same initial??–Minnie in the Rome book, Daisy Dow in MotorCar?? There must be more.

    And don’t get me started on Nan.

    ANd OMG Mr. Hepworth, who has been lusting after Patty since she was 14.

    What a week this has been!!

    Patti not-fairfield


    • You are absolutely right about this series. You should have read instead another series of books,FAR better than Patty Fairfield. The Pollyanna books are a wonderful set fit to read not only during illness but any time. There is no comparison whatever. Patty Fairfield is a charming series for children while Pollyanna is for any age and the level is by far better. The mistress of this website has written about the Glad Books of Pollyanna but there are a few gaps in the description. I would be happy to provide more information about this series as I am very well acquainted with all the books. Maybe someone is interested. Thank you.


  16. Yes, there are inconsistencies. Yes, Elise is a shrew.

    Yet somehow I love these books unreservedly. Anyway, at least they gave you something to think about when you couldn’t do anything else.


  17. does any one have book one? I have book two and would love to start reading this whole series.


    • The first book, Patty Fairfield, is available here on Project Gutenberg



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