Three Margarets

May 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.



  1. I had not heard of Aunt Jane’s Nieces, but your description does make it seem like Three Margarets is derivative. It also reminds me of one of my Jane Abbott books, “Harriet’s Choice,” where Harriet, a girl from the West, is invited by her aunt, her father’s older half-sister, to visit her in New York. She arrives to find that two other girls have also been invited. They are hosted by her aunt, who is often away, and her aunt’s personal secretary, who usually ends up taking them places and having dinner with them. Of course, in the end, we learn that the secretary is really the aunt and vice versa. Sounds like much the same plot.

    I have a huge Jane Abbott collection. Have you read anything of hers? (early 20th century–some younger girl stories, others more young adult)


  2. The plot does sound really similar. Do you think Baum and Abbott purposely took the plot from Richards? I wonder if there are any more books like this out there.

    I haven’t actually heard of Jane Abbott before–my knowledge in this area is awfully patchy. Project Gutenberg has two of her books: Red-Robin and Keineth. Are either of those particularly worth checking out?

  3. Keineth is one of my favorite Jane Abbott books, although the heroine is a little girl (maybe 11 or 12), not a young lady. There are two other related Jane Abbott books, Larkspur and High Acres, which aren’t sequels, exactly, but characters from one book appear in another, either as school chums, or members of the same Girl Scout troop, or family friends, so you feel that you’ve reconnected with someone you already know and like (kind of like when Gerald Merryweather first shows up in Margaret Montfort, or the Tucker Twins get mentioned in the later Molly Brown books).

    I bought a copy of Red-Robin simply because it was always on the list of other Jane Abbott books in the back of the ones I already had, but it didn’t really do much for me. I’ve only read it once, though, so maybe I should give it another try and see if it grows on me.

    My other favorite Jane Abbott books are: Happy House, Aprily (I love, love, love this one), and Barberry Gate.

  4. Just finished Keineth this morning. I kind of love it. Her letters to the president! And the bit where she has to tell Billy to play square! You should email me so we can talk about it at length–my email is glassglue at gmail dot com.

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