Christmas Stories: The Old Peabody Pew

December 17, 2012

I read The Old Peabody Pew last winter, but couldn’t figure out how to talk about it in time for Christmas. Also I was annoyed with it for being a Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin Christmas story about a woman in a small New England town and the man who left town and left her behind, and yet not being The Romance of a Christmas Card. So this year I read it again, trying to keep an open mind and not to skim for things actually happening. It helped to know that they never would.

And on one hand, I liked it better this time. On the other, it’s still not The Romance of a Christmas Card and, well, nothing ever happens.

That’s not strictly true, I know. The Tory Hill church gets a new chimney, fresh paint, and new carpeting in the aisles, among other things. But I’m not sure if Wiggin knew that this was a story about the local Dorcas society renovating the church. I think she thought it was a romance.

Nancy Wentworth is pretty cool, and Justin Peabody seems nice enough, but their story, which consists of a few flashbacks and one conversation that tells you nothing you didn’t already know, isn’t convincing enough to overcome its lack of page time. And while the ending, in which Nancy and Justin leave their small New England town for Detroit, is sort of optimistic in the context of Nancy and Justin, in the Dorcas society context it’s kind of sad.

It doesn’t stack up all that well as a Christmas story, either — the whole thing happens in the lead up to a Christmas which gives it a claim to the Unity of Christmastimes, but nothing very Christmassy happens — even Justin’s return home isn’t Christmas-motivated. The thing is, status as a Christmas story aside, The Old Peabody Pew is a pretty nice portrait of a group of women in a small town where men are scarce. But that stuff’s background, and the foreground is less interesting and less convincing.

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