Molly Brown, 1/2 — or maybe 3

June 23, 2013

People have been bugging me about reading Nell Speed for a long time. LadyMem on Twitter, in particular, reminds me every so often that this is something I have to do. And since it seemed like last week was coming late to the party week for me, I have finally started reading the Molly Brown series. This post deals with the first half of the series — Molly Brown’s Freshman Days through Molly Brown’s Senior Days.

And yeah, they’re fun. Really, really fun.

This is actually the first college girl series I’ve read in years that hasn’t made me feel like a lousy person for not liking college. I don’t know if that’s because they’re less intent on preaching the gospel of their fictional college, or just that I’ve moved past that. I think it might be a little of both.

Basically, these series are all the same. An appealing central character arrives at college as a freshman and makes two or three close friends in her own year, gains a wealthy senior as a friend and a spiteful sophomore as an enemy, and becomes generally beloved for her friendliness, honorable behavior and general attractiveness. Add in three more years, plenty of fudge parties and autumn walks, a handful of theatrical and/or musical performances, and a sense of oncoming nostalgia, and you’ve got yourself a series. The Molly Brown books do all of this and do it well, so probably the thing to concentrate on is what’s different.

There’s not a lot. I think the Molly Brown books are more lighthearted than similar series. They’re rarely emotionally intense, and when disaster looms, it doesn’t loom all that convincingly. For me, that’s part of these books’ charm. It’s nice to read something this unsuspenseful once in a while. But it also meant that the characters didn’t touch me as much as they do in, say, the Grace Harlowe books, which are objectively not as well-written. I liked the characters quite a bit, but didn’t have any stronger feelings about them.

The romance level was a little unusual. I don’t think I’ve ever read a college girl series where the romantic subplot was so obvious and kept so much to the forefront throughout the series. And I’m sort of in favor of that in this particular case, because the college girl heroine never falls in love with the balding English professor and probably she should. But I also like it when thoughts of marriage don’t intrude on a college girl’s career, because thoughts of marriage intrude in almost every other book of this age centered around young women. Often in series like this the girls are sort of implicitly paired of with some of the young men they hang out with, but not in a way that implies anything will come of it later. That’s not really the case here. And there was a lot of jealousy, a lot of girls disliking each other because they’re both interested in the same man, which isn’t actually as fun as a lot of authors seem to think it is. And then, there were times when the relationship between Molly and Professor Green bothered me in the same way that romances developing too early in books about significantly younger girls do.

If I had written this post before I started the fifth book, it would be a lot more positive. I really enjoyed the college books; I raced through them, barely able to put them down to go to sleep. But the series rapidly goes downhill after Molly graduates (is this the one where Nell Speed died halfway through and her sister took over?), and I think these are also just the kind of books I like better while reading them than while thinking about them. I know some people are really, really into Nell Speed though. What am I missing?


  1. I love Nell Speed’s books. They’re light and a little funny and kind of charming. And they have weird romances. You should read her “Tucker Twins” series too.

    The thing about the series going downhill after college is something I’ve noticed in every college book series of the era – the Grace Harlowe books do it too, and the Betty Wales ones. I think it’s because they no longer have the college structure and setting to work from, and they all sort of flounder as they wonder what to do with their heroines now.

    • I definitely want to try the other series — and at this point I’m more likely to go on to them than to finish the Molly Brown books. I absolutely agree that college series always get worse after college, but I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t like any of the characters anymore.

  2. Even the old Judy Bolton mystery series wasn’t as much fun
    after Judy marries Peter . . .

    • Yeah. I can’t think of a girls’ series that doesn’t go downhill when the heroine gets married.

  3. I prefer the Tucker Twins books, even though the romantic subplot is way creepy if you think about it too much (or at all).
    Mainly because Page, the central character/narrator, is rather wickedly funny at times. (They were Emma books.)

    I agree about the Molly’s; the 1st four were better than the later books. There is a third series, about the Carters, which has a cool premise; the dad has a nervous collapse, family is broke, mom is useless, and dad must be packed off for a rest-cure and not bothered–so spoiled southern belles have their mettle tested.

    The main thing for me with a lot of Nell Speed books is remembering that there is a lot of casual racism, as is common with books of that period and southern background.

    • At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m going to read all the Nell Speed books — and I might even end up reading the other series before I finish the Molly Brown books, because I’m not sure I like any of the characters anymore.

      And yeah, the racism. I expect the stuff with the black servants, up to a point, but the stuff with Otoyo Sen threw me for a bit of a loop.

  4. I really cannot remember much about these books except that I did enjoy them, but with the Otoyo Sen character, I was reading bits aloud to my husband so that he could share in my O_o reaction.

    • Yeah, I think I read those same bits aloud to my mom. Otoyo is kind of an excellent example of how a characterization can be broadly positive and also massively racist and xenophobic.

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