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Patty’s Success

September 27, 2007

I had almost finished writing up Patty’s Success when I accidentally let my computer run out of batteries. Maybe now I’ll stop leaving textedit windows open with days worth of unsaved notes. I’m really upset with myself, because I’d been stopping to write down my thoughts as I read the book, and there’s lots of stuff I won’t remember. Also, it’s much less fun to write about something the second time round.

Patty’s Success was pretty good, considering it introduces Christine Farley and Philip Van Reypen, two characters whose advents I’d been dreading. Patty, Nan, and Mr. Fairfield reach New York about a week before Christmas, and are immediately plunged into a whirl of festivities. Patty has so many friends that not even the enormous amount of souvenirs she collected over the course of a year or so abroad will provide presents for them all.

A visit to her friend Clementine Morse, who is helping put together a Christmas party for some poor children, makes Patty stop and think. She helps the Morses prepare the children’s party, but she doesn’t stop thinking .

Patty: “Don’t you think we have too much riches and things?”

Elise Farrington: “What do you mean?”

Patty: “I mean just what I say. Of course, you have lots more riches and things than I have; but I think we all have too much when we think of the poor people who haven’t any.”

Elise, “suddenly enlightened”: “Oh, you mean Socialism.”

Needless to say, that’s not what Patty means. She just thinks she ought to do more for charity, and she doesn’t want to be a social butterfly. Elise, obviously, is not so concerned, and their positions are reversed later, when Elise insists that both Kenneth Harper and Roger Farrington are “devoted” to Patty, and Patty determinedly avoids taking the subject seriously.

Patty soon gets a chance both to do something for someone who doesn’t have any “riches and things” and to learn about what things are really like for people who have less than she does. Mr. Hepworth — oh, and before I go on, I should mention that when Patty first sees Mr. Hepworth at a Christmas party (he was away when she got back to New York) she abandons her dancing partner to say hello to him, and wonders to herself why she’s so glad to see him, exactly. Just saying. Anyway, Mr. Hepworth has been on a trip to the South, and has met a talented young woman named Christine Farley. He wants her to go to art school in New York, but even with a scholarship she can’t afford to — she’d need about fifteen dollars a week for room and board.

Patty thinks that any able-bodied girl ought to be able to earn fifteen dollars a week, so her father says that if Patty earns that much in any one week, he will give Christine the money she needs.

Patty tries several things, most of which involve needlework of some kind. She realizes that in order to earn her own living, she would have to do a lot more work than she’d bargained for. She also finds out just how unfair the options available to poor women are, after having, on a couple of occasions, to pay for the work she’s done.

These episodes are sort of painful, in varying degrees. The funniest of them is the one where Patty decides to become a milliner. She hasn’t been trained for the job, so she can’t cover frames and line hats in the corrects way, but she begs to be allowed to trim a couple of hats, and produces two hats that look as if they could have come from Paris. Having discovered this talent of Patty’s, the proprietor is willing to hire her, but refuses to pay anything like what she’s worth, and eventually Patty walks out in disgust.

Patty finally earns her fifteen dollars by becoming the companion of a wealthy old lady. Mrs. Van Reypen is stereotypically finicky and bad-tempered, so keeping her happy is hard work, but Patty is good at entertaining people, so although she’s bored out of her mind and can’t wait to get home, she thinks she’s doing a pretty good job. She just worries that Mrs. Van Reypen’s nephew Philip is going to mess things up for her: he really obviously likes her, and Mrs. Van Reypen just as obviously doesn’t want her nephew getting involved with someone she thinks is beneath him.

When Patty’s trial of a week — beyond which she doesn’t intend to stay — comes to an end, she feels kind of bad about telling Mrs. Van Reypen that she’s leaving, but it turns out Mrs. Van Reypen doesn’t think Patty is the person for the job anyway — she’s not subservient enough. This is a surprise to no one but Patty. Still, she’s earned her fifteen dollars, and now Phil Van Reypen is free to become one of her many suitors. Also, Christine Farley gets to go to art school. The Fairfields invite her to stay with them while they try to convince her to take their money — Mr. Hepworth says she’s very proud and won’t take charity, but it turns out that she’s happy to look at the money as a loan. She and Patty become good friends, but I don’t like her very much, which is kind of a relief, for reasons that will become obvious later.

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