Patty in Paris

September 8, 2007

As I reread the first few chapters of Patty in Paris, I contemplated just posting large chunks of it here, instead of describing it. And I’m not going to do that — at least, not exactly — but it’s even lighter on plot than the other books in the series, so I’m going to use it to illustrate a couple of things about the series in general. like Patty’s personality, and parties. It’s funny that I haven’t said that much about the parties before, because about a third of  each book is usually taken up by loving descriptions of them.

This book opens at the end of the summer described in Patty’s Summer Days. Mr. Fairfield had promised Patty that if she graduated early, she wouldn’t have to go back to school the next year, only now it’s the next year and he’s trying to go back on his word(!). He’d like her to go to college, but Patty and Nan agree that if someone neither has to go to college or wants to go to college, then they, you know, shouldn’t go to college. And, as Carolyn Wells generally seems pretty smart, and this book was published in 1907, I guess they’re right.

Mr. Fairfield says that if she won’t go to college or to a boarding school, Patty ought at least to go abroad to finish her education. And then the Farringtons — not all of them, just Elise and her parents — invite Patty to go to Paris with them for the winter, and everyone is happy. And they sail for Europe, and have a nice time on the boat, and have a nice time in Paris itself, and meet lot of nice people. The usual.

Except that I think it’s pretty obvious now that I adore these books, and want to make other people read them. So instead of describing the book at length, I’m going to force-feed anyone reading this  blog chunks of this book in the hope that someone will be intrigued enough to want to read it for themselves.

First, Patty has an actual personality. That would be unheard of in a Stratemeyer series, but having only one writer seems to lend itself to things like, you know, consistency, and character development. Kenneth Harper knows Patty pretty well:

“There is no sense in Patty’s going to college,” he declared. “I’m an
authority on the subject, because I know college and I know Patty, and
they have absolutely nothing in common with each other. Why, Patty
doesn’t want the things that colleges teach. You see, she is of an
artistic temperament–”

“Oh, Kenneth,” cried Patty reproachfully, “that’s the most fearfully
unkind thing I ever had said to me! Why, I would rather be accused of I
don’t know what than an artistic temperament! How could you say it? Why,
I’m as practical and common sensible and straightforward as I can be.
People who have artistic temperaments are flighty and weak-minded and
not at all capable.”

But Mr. Hepworth is an artist, Nan points out.

“That’s different,” declared Patty. “Mr. Hepworth is a real artist, and
so you can’t tell what his temperament is.”

And that, says Kenneth, is exactly what he means about Patty.

Patty isn’t an artist, exactly, but she is sort of artistic. Aside from being a very good singer and dancer and being rather good at trimming hats, I mean. Whenever there’s any kind of performance being put together, Patty helps arrange it, and whenever any of the characters moves into a new home — which is pretty often — Patty is called upon to help decorate.

The Fairfield library was a most cosey and attractive room. Nan was a
home-maker by nature, and as Patty dearly loved pretty and comfortable
appointments, they had combined their efforts on the library and the
result was a room which they all loved far better than the more formal

The fall was coming early that year, which gave an excuse for the fire
in the big fireplace. This fire was made of that peculiar kind of
driftwood whose flames show marvellous rainbow tints. Patty never tired
of watching the strange-coloured blaze, and delighted in throwing on
more chips and splinters from time to time.

Nan and Patty get along better than any stepmother/stepdaughter pair could ever be expected to. Patty has lots of friends, and is funny and outgoing and all, but she doesn’t joke with any of the other characters quite the way she does with Nan.

“I can’t see what makes your father so late,” said Nan, as she wandered
about the room, now adjusting some flowers in a vase, and now stopping
to look out at the front window; “he’s always here by this time, or

“Something must have detained him,” said Patty, rather absently, as she
poked at a log with the tongs.

“Patty, you’re a true Sherlock Holmes! Your father is late, and you
immediately deduce that something has detained him! Truly, you have a
wonderful intellect!”

“I don’t wonder it seems so to you,” said saucy Patty, smiling at her
pretty stepmother; “people are always impressed by traits they don’t
possess themselves.”

And that’s another thing: Characters make jokes and they’re funny. Not really hilarious, but reliably funny. Carolyn Wells was known for parodies and nonsense verse as well as mysteries and girls’ books. And books about idle rich people enjoying themselves — and that really is what these books are — are a lot more fun when the author has a sense of humor.

As they followed the hurrying people across the deck, Mr. Chester went
on: “After you have crossed the ocean a few more times you will discover
that there are only two things which make the people rush frantically
and in hordes to the rail. The one that isn’t a porpoise is a passing

“That isn’t a real steamer,” said Patty whimsically; “it’s a chromo-
lithograph. I’ve often seen them in the offices of steamship companies.
This one isn’t framed, as they usually are, but it’s only a chromo all
the same. There’s no mistaking its bright colouring and that badly
painted smoke.”

One thing they’re invariably very serious about, though, is organizing a party. Maybe it’s just a 1907-not-translating-well-to-2007 thing, but it’s crazy. The Fairfields’ parties are more elaborate than the biggest, most ostentatious fundraisers today, but they’re a lot smaller.

For me, the strangest thing about the parties that the Fairfields’ crowd tends to throw is that they always include some kind of construction. They’re always putting up temporary buildings and things, and I can only recall one occasion (In Patty’s Summer Days) where someone decides to actually keep a structure that was put up for a party. And even then, it’s on;y one of many.

Of course they need to throw a going-away party for Patty, and Nan decides that it will be an Aquatic Party. What’s an Aquatic Party? Something Nan made up, really.

So busy was Patty herself that she took no hand in the preparations for
the party, and indeed Nan required no help. That capable and energetic
young matron secured the services of some professional decorators and
able-bodied workmen, but the direction and superintendence was entirely
in her own hands.

Patty was consulted only in regard to her own costume for the occasion.

Nan gives her a choice: pixy or kelpie? Patty doesn’t have a very clear idea of what either is, but Nan makes her choose, and finally she decides to be a kelpie. “What’s the latest thing in kelpie costumes?” she asks.

“Oh, it will be lovely, Patty! I’ll have it made of pale green silk,
with a frosted, silvery, shimmering effect, you know, and draped with
trailing green seaweed and water grasses.”

“Lovely!” agreed Patty. “And what would the pixy costume have been, if I
had chosen that?”

“Just the same,” confessed Nan, laughing; “but it’s easier to have
something definite to work at. You can wear my corals, Patty, and, with
your hair down, you’ll be a perfect kelpie.”

I suppose it’s because none of these women work that they have to make their fun into work. Anyway, this is what the finished product looks like:

The large front drawing-room represented the arctic regions in the
vicinity of the North Pole. Frames had been erected which, when covered
with sheets, simulated peaks of snowy mountains and snow-covered
icebergs. Here and there signs, apparently left by explorers, told the
latitude and longitude, and a flag marked the explorations Farthest
North. Over these snow peaks scrambled white polar bears in most
realistic fashion, and in one corner an Esquimau hut was built.

The ceiling represented a clear blue sky, and the floor the blue water
of the open polar sea.

By a clever arrangement of electric lights through colored shades a fair
representation of the Aurora Borealis was made to appear at intervals.

The library, which was back of the drawing-room, had been transformed
into an aquarium. All round the walls, waves of blue-green gauze
simulated water, in which papier-mache fish were gliding and swimming.
The illusion was heightened by other fishes, which, being suspended from
the ceiling by invisible threads, seemed to be swimming through the air.

Altogether the effect, if not entirely realistic, was picturesque and
amusing, and coral reefs and rocky cliffs covered with seaweed gave
aquatic impressions, even if not entirely logical.

But Nan’s pride was what she chose to call the Upper Deck. This was a
room on the second floor, a large front room, which had been made to
represent the upper deck of a handsome yacht. Sail-cloth draped and held
up by poles formed the roof and sides, and a realistic railing
surrounded it. A dozen or more steamer chairs stood in line, strewn with
rugs, pillows and paper-backed novels. Coils of rope, lanterns, life-
preservers, and other paraphernalia added to the realism of the scene,
and at one side a carefully constructed window opened into the steward’s
cabin. The steward himself, white-duck-suited and white-capped, was
prepared to serve light refreshments exactly after the fashion of a
correct yachting party.

Patty’s kelpie costume was a great success, and the girl never looked
prettier than as she stood receiving her guests in the pretty green silk
gown, trailing with seaweed and shimmering with silver dust. Her curly
golden hair was wreathed with soft green water-grasses, and her rosy
cheeks and dancing eyes made her look like a mischievous water sprite.

Nan’s fish-wife costume is equally elaborate.

There’s another party that they have in Paris, a fundraiser for a poor young art student that Patty’s friends Alicia and Doris Van Ness discover in the Louvre. She’s near to starving, apparently, so the Van Ness girls decide to hold what they call a “Bazaar of Arts and Manufactures.”

It works like this:

After a large crowd of people had assembled Guy Van Ness mounted a
platform and announced that there would now be held a contest of arts
and manufactures. Everybody present, on the payment of a certain sum,
would be allowed to compete, and prizes were offered to the successful
competitors in each department.

Then, greatly to the amusement of the audience, he announced that the
various achievements arranged for were such easily accomplished feats as
the trimming of hats, the painting of pictures, modelling in clay,
making paper flowers, and various other arts and handicrafts, among
which each might select a preference.

After every competitor had qualified, and was fully prepared to begin, a
gong would be sounded. Exactly at the end of a half hour another gong
would sound, when every one must cease at once, whether the work was
finished or not.

As soon as the guests thoroughly understood what they were to do great
interest was displayed and competitors were rapidly entered for the
different contests.

Those who were artists took their places at a table provided with water
colors, oil paints, pastels, and drawing materials. The clay modellers
were at another table, with ample provision for their art.

Many ladies who declared they had no talents prepared to trim hats. All
sorts of material, such as velvet, lace, flowers, feathers, and ribbons
were provided, as well as the untrimmed shapes.

In another booth ladies prepared to make Japanese kimonos or dressing-
jackets, and in another booth were materials for paper flowers.

There was a burnt-wood outfit and sets of woodcarvers’ tools, and Robert
Van Ness declared that he knew he could take the prize for whittling.

Another booth held crepe paper for lampshades or other fancy work, and
it was not long before every one had selected an occupation and was
prepared to begin work.

When the half hour is over, and all the works collected, they are auctioned off. Considering the extravagance of the people Patty hangs out with, I imagine the art student girl is set up for life.

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