The Turned-About Girls

July 21, 2014

Cathlin recently recommended The Turned-About Girls, by Beulah Marie Dix, and it was already sort of in the back of my head, because someone else — Mel? — was reading it recently. And I’ve been reading a whole string of things trying to avoid reading any more of Bulldog Drummond, so I started it almost immediately. And it’s really, really good.

The girls in question are Jacqueline Gildersleeve, a wealthy orphan on her way to spend the summer with her father’s aunt and cousin, and Caroline Tait, a poor orphan being send to live on her aunt’s farm. Neither of them has ever met the relatives in question, and neither of them is eager to. So when they meet on the train and discover they’re headed for the same town,  Jacqueline, who’s just read The Prince and the Pauper, hatches a plan for them to switch places.

Both of them are clearly happier with each other’s relatives than they would be with their own. Caroline, who is quiet and dreamy and musical, gets pretty things and piano lessons and two women who come to dote on her. Jackie, who is active and fearless and headstrong, gets kids to play with, new skills to learn as she helps out around the house, and an aunt and grandmother who come to love and depend on her, which is more satisfying than the sheltering kind of love that Caroline gets from Aunt Eunice and Cousin Penelope.

If there’s a major flaw in The Turned-About Girls, that’s it. Dix alternates between Jackie and Caroline’s points of view, and succeeds in making both of them sympathetic, but as the book progresses, it’s hard to avoid noticing that Jackie is growing as a person and Caroline is not. Jackie is the one who does things. It’s not just that she’s working hard on Aunt Martha’s farm while Caroline is being pampered in town — Jackie is actively learning new things. Her new skills go with lessons learned. When she learns to cook, it’s not just a new skill; it goes and in hand with her growing desire to be helpful to Aunt Martha and Grandma. When she gets into scrapes, it’s because she’s learning to have consideration for other people’s belongings. Caroline makes use of and improves upon skills she’s already got — sewing, playing the piano — but there’s no corresponding character growth. The closest she comes to growing is prompting growth in Cousin Penelope. And she spends most of the book scared or hiding or on the verge of tears. Jackie acts. Caroline is acted upon.

I actually started out wanting to focus on Caroline, and getting impatient with Jackie’s sections. Caroline, I think, is meant to be the real protagonist of the book. But Jackie is the one that makes the book compelling.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, because the key thing is that the book is compelling. It just makes the ending a little less satisfying, because Caroline is the one  who gets to stay with her family of choice. Jackie will help out the Conways financially, but I can’t be the only one who finished the book worried about how Aunt Martha was going to cope without Jackie or Caroline to help her out around the house. Right?


  1. I couldn’t imagine how the author was going to wrap things up in this book. I wish Jackie could have stayed at the farm but I like to think she came back to visit often.

    • Yeah, I’m choosing to imagine that Jackie boards with the Conways every summer, and, having gotten a taste for being useful, scandalizes Aunt Edie by going out and getting a job when she finishes school.

      • I think that what happens is that Jackie goes running around being herself for a while, having a lot of fun, getting into a lot of trouble, and growing selfish again. She gets into a big mess, and her aunt and uncle decide that she’s going to go home and stay home, period.

        And then Jackie happens to wonder how the Conways are doing, and finds out that Aunt Martha’s overworked herself and the family is struggling harder than ever. She convinces Edie & Jimmie that the Conways are just the right people to civilize her.

        So they buy a little country house with plenty of farmland, move the Conways and Jackie in together– paying Martha a nice salary, which she can put into savings, since room and board are covered in the house– and they all live happily ever after.

        Edie & Jimmie get to run around being popular, Martha runs the house and doesn’t have to worry herself to death, Grandma is comfortable, and the kids all get to have an education– the Conways at school, and Jackie re-learning what they taught her the first time around.

        • Nell, you should write a sequel!

  2. I thought that the intent was that both girls got what they sorely needed–Jackie got all you describe, but Caroline got the rest, peace, beauty, and affection she needed after living with cousin Delia and working hard to help out there. And perhaps the savings to poor Aunt Martha from not having to provide for Caroline was supposed to make up for losing her help.

    • Caroline”s happy ending is definitely exactly what she needed, but it’s like the focus is on Jackie for much of the middle of the book (if only because she’s doing more interesting stuff) and then it comes back to Caroline, and I think that’s what frustrated me. That, and the fact that Aunt Martha now actually has less help and more work than just before Jackie arrived, because of Grandma’s health issues.

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