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Patty’s Summer Days, 1/2

September 3, 2007

I don’t know when or how I came by Patty’s Summer Days. I’m pretty sure I haven’t always had it, but I certainly had it — and had read it quite a few times — before I came to think of old children’s books as a separate part of my library. That puts it in sort of the same mental category for me as An Old-Fashioned Girl, Bunny Brown and his Sister Sue on an Auto Tour, and Five Little Peppers Midway, which is to say that my love for it is due as much to how long I’ve had it and when I first read it — whenever that may have been — as to any merit it may have.

I hadn’t reread Patty’s Summer Days since before I read any of the rest of the series, but as much as I’ve enjoyed to other Patty books I’ve read, I was kind of blown away when I picked it up yesterday. Maybe it wasn’t just me. Maybe this is really the best one. Okay, maybe it’s not a smart, funny book compared to — okay, the first thing that comes to mind is The Mouse and His Child, but that’s an entirely inappropriate comparison. How about Anne of Green Gables? It’s of comparable age. Patty’s Summer Days is less funny, I guess, but not by all that much, and it’s barely less smart. You have to bear in mind that there’s also a lot more fluff — but fun fluff! — but on the other hand, there’s a hell of a lot less sentimentality.

Before I go any further, I’d better say that if I am exaggerating this book’s virtues, I really don’t know that I’m doing it.

In Patty at Home, Mr. Fairfield, Patty’s father, got engaged to a young woman named Nan Allen. Now they’re getting married. Patty of course, is in the thick of all the festivities. Some of her cousins — the disorganized Barlows and the perfectly proportioned Elliots — are there, as well as other friends like Kenneth Harper and Mr. Hepworth, and Patty is determined to get all the fun she can out of the occasion before it’s time to go back to school. She’s recently discovered that she’s ahead of her class in several subjects, and if she gets ahead in the others. too, and works really hard on all of them, she can graduate a year early. Patty hates study, but is a very hard worker and she’s determined to do it. Until the end of her Easter vacation, though, she’s equally determined not to think about books at all. So we get Nan and Mr. Fairfield’s wedding, and Patty being very popular among all the Philadelphian boys — Nan’s family lives in Philly — and we get Mr. Hepworth’s thoughts on Patty.

Mr. Hepworth’s regard for Patty is touched on in Patty at Home, for sure, and possibly also in Patty in the City — I forget — but it gets a lot more attention here. The situation is this: Mr. Hepworth is a self aware kind of guy, and he knows that he’s in love with Patty, but he also knows that he’s 34 and she’s seventeen and that she doesn’t think of him as anything but a friend. So he behaves just as if he only wanted to be a friend, except that he also goes out of his way to do things for her a lot. I’ve always adored Mr. Hepworth, although in recent years I’ve realized that the whole set-up is a bit creepy.

On this reread, I decided that Carolyn Wells originally meant for Patty to end up with Mr. Hepworth. Three reasons:

  1. He’s really the only character whose head we get to see inside. Period. I can’t remember another character in any of the Patty books whose feelings towards Patty — or about anything, really — are explained in half as much detail as Mr. Hepworth’s are.
  2. He’s always rescuing her. More on this later.
  3. He’s differentiated from Patty’s crowd of friends in a way that no one else is. The only other character who is differentiated from the rest to this extent is the guy who Patty ends up marrying, and he doesn’t show up for many books yet.

I should probably shut up about Mr. Hepworth and get on with the story.

After Patty’s got her father safely married off (as she puts it), she and Nan’s parents are invited on a trip to Atlantic City by Patty’s new friend Ethel Banks and her father, who is a millionaire and has an automobile, which he calls “The Flying Dutchman”. Patty’s never been in a car before (it’s 1906), so the trip in The Flying Dutchman is very exciting for her.

Then it’s time to go back to school. As if Patty needed any more work, her friends have decided to put on a play at Commencement, and naturally Patty is chosen to write most of it, direct it, design the costumes, act in it and generally supervise everyone else. Then, when Nan and Mr. Fairfield get back from their honeymoon and the three Fairfields move into their new house on 72nd Street, Nan is always pestering Patty to come shopping with her, or help to entertain guests. And while those are things Patty enjoys a lot more than studying, she’s got work to do, and she ends up staying up later and later at night to get it all done. Eventually Nan notices that Patty’s getting pale and hollow-eyed(!) and tries not to bug her so much, but then Patty feels guilty for making Nan feel guilty and tries to make it up to her, and soon Patty’s staying up way past her bedtime again.

Rescue of Patty by Mr. Hepworth #1: overworked Patty misses her appointment to go costume shopping for the play with one of her teachers and ends up going by herself. When she arrives at the costume store, she finds that her purse has been stolen and she hasn’t got enough money to pay for her cab. The cabbie is very threatening, but eventually he agrees to let her telephone for someone to pay her fare. Her father and Nan aren’t home, so obviously the next person she calls is Mr. Hepworth. He recognizes her voice over the phone(!), asks the cabbie to take her to his studio, takes her to a soda fountain(1906!) for some hot broth(!), as she is on the verge of collapse(!), and then helps her choose the costumes for the play.

Speaking of the verge of collapse, Patty’s not doing too well even when she’s not being browbeaten by angry cabbies. It’s pretty evident to her family and some of her friends that she’s headed for a nervous breakdown, but she herself doesn’t realize how exhausted she is. She just keeps going.

Finally exams come, and Patty gets through them fine. But it’s still a week until the play, and there’s lots more to be done. The day she finishes her exams, Patty goes out and buys an alarm clock. I’m not sure whether this is something she should have done a while back, or a bad, bad idea. Anyway, now she starts getting up at five in the morning every day and working on the play full time. At this point she’s running on caffeine and highly recommended nerve tonics (again, 1906).

The morning of Commencement, Nan calls the doctor in and he gives her something to slip into Patty’s food. That gets her through graduating, but after a nap and some food, she’s back at school to deal with a few last details of the play. She’s acting a little crazy, now. You know — so tired she’s wide awake, and so focused she’s unfocused. Finally it’s time for the play, and although it’s a bit of a cliffhanger, I’m going to stop there for now, because I’ve written a bunch and I’m tired. Stay tuned for part two.

And here‘s the new reference page.

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2 comments

  1. This has been my *least* favorite so far! Maybe because she hates studying so much that she almost “kills” herself from overwork, and all that anti-intellectual stuff from everybody about studying not being good for a girl. And the doctor’s magic drops are a bit creepy. It seem so very dated.


    • Those are all good points, and I’m sure the fact that I grew up with it is part of why it’s my favorite. But I also feel like there’s a lot more going on in this book than in a lot of the others. And Patty taking on too much work and overdoing things is, independent of gross gender stuff, a lot more relatable than most of Patty’s problems.



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