Three MargaretsMay 13, 2008
I’m hampered in writing about Laura E. Richards’ Three Margarets by the fact that I never posted here about her Hildegarde series, to which the Margaret series is sometimes considered a sequel. It would also have been useful to refer to Aunt Jane’s Nieces (written by L. Frank Baum under the name Edith Van Dyne), but I never wrote about that either.
Three Margarets, actually, can be described almost entirely in terms of Aunt Jane’s Nieces: three cousins are suddenly invited to the house of a relative they have never met. in this case the house is Fernley House, on Long Island, and the relative is their uncle John. There is also an Uncle John in Aunt Jane’s Nieces, and, as in Three Margarets, he disguises himself as a poor man. In Aunt Jane’s Nieces, Uncle John just lets everyone assume he’s poor, while in Three Margarets Uncle John disguises himself as the gardener so he can observe his nieces.
All three nieces are, of course, named Margaret, although two of them go by their nicknames. As in Aunt Jane’s Nieces, one of the girls is haughty and refined (Rita), one is a naive Western girl (Peggy), and one is kind and down-to-earth (Margaret). Unlike Baum, though, Richards doesn’t have the girls competing for a fortune.
One of my favorite typical girls’-book incidents is the one where a group of girls get to play with a chest of old-fashioned gowns. It happens multiple times in the Patty Fairfield series, which kind of tells you a lot about the Patty books, and it happens here, too:
They must have been stately dames indeed, the Montfort ladies who wore these splendid clothes! Here was a crimson damask, so heavily embroidered in silver that it stood alone when Janet set it up on the floor; here, again, a velvet, somewhat rubbed by long lying in the chest, but of so rich and glowing a purple that only a queen could have found it becoming. Here were satins that gleamed like falling water; one, of the faint, moonlight tint that we call aqua-marine, another with a rosy glow like a reflected sunset. And the peach-coloured silk! and the blue and silver brocade! and the amber velvet!
Toward the end there, this passage sort of reminds me of something a friend and I wrote once after becoming slightly hysterical over a Coldwater Creek catalog.
I don’t remember the Hildegarde books being this funny, although I enjoyed them very much,. Nor am I sure whether the humor is always intentional. Some moments that are clearly meant to be funny fall sort of flat. But every few pages of Three Margarets, I found myself smiling, which made reading it a very pleasant experience. That’s the thing about Richards’ books, I guess — they’re not wonderful, and they’ll never be among my favorite books, but they’re pleasant and satisfying to read and I don’t get as invested as I do with Alcott, or L.T. Meade, who wrote similar sorts of books.