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Bobbie, General Manager

June 1, 2011

It’s pretty cool to find that an advertising campaign from 1913 can still be effective nearly a hundred years later.

When I go through issues of Publisher’s Weekly and The Bookman from the early teens, I’m usually looking for fluff — things like From the Car Behind, and Pleasures and Palaces. And I love that kind of book, but I consider myself incredibly lucky when I stumble on something like Bobbie, General Manager instead. The premise isn’t anything unusual: we’re supposed to be reading a journal kept by a young woman, as in Phyllis, The Heart of Una Sackville, and any number of other books. What’s different is the content, but I’m not really sure how to describe how it’s different, except that Olive Higgins Prouty never takes the easy way out. On the other hand, she doesn’t manufacture drama, either. Interesting things happen, but in a low-key, sensible kind of way. Money doesn’t solve problems. The heroine’s story doesn’t end with happily ever after. People change and grow. It’s kind of fantastic.

Our heroine is Lucy Chenery Vars, called Bobbie by her family and friends. She’s the eldest daughter in a family that includes one other girl and four boys. Their father is a state senator with a failing business, their mother has been dead for a dozen years or so, and Bobbie keeps house. Tom, the eldest, is making a name for himself out west. Alec is next, and works for their father. He’s the kind, sensitive one. The twins, Oliver and Malcolm, come after Bobbie, and Ruth is the youngest.

Bobbie loves her home and her family, and she’s as good a housekeeper as her limited means allow. The Vars family is poor, but they manage. Bobbie’s troubles begin when she’s sent to boarding school to learn to be a little more like a lady, and from there, things go pretty steadily downhill for a while. The girls at the school dislike her, and she has a thoroughly miserable time until she’s called home because of an illness in the family. They get steadily poorer, Bobbie isn’t always treated very well by her siblings, and finally she loses even her position as “general manager” of the family when Alec gets married.

Other not-so-great things happen, but Bobbie gets moments of triumph, too, and they’re all the better for being reasonable triumphs. Bobbie isn’t a put-upon saint — her reactions to things are always human, and even when she’s championing a more wholesome mode of living, she’s fallible. No one is all good or all bad, and the Vars kids seem as much like family when they fight and when their lives diverge as when they’re affectionate and on the same page.

I really wholeheartedly recommend this book, especially for those of you who like the fluffy books. Bobbie, General Manager does have a certain amount of substance, but really it’s the best of both worlds. Contemporary reviewers compared it to Little Women, and I won’t say it’s better than that, but I definitely liked it more. But then, I’m really not fond of Little Women.

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2 comments

  1. I’m sure I’ll like this. I really like Prouty’s Now Voyager and this sounds like it will be just as good.


    • I’m really anxious to read Now, Voyager now, almost enough to buy google’s ebook, but I think I’m going to read her public domain novels first.



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