Patty Blossom

May 18, 2017

For once, we’ve got a reasonably coherent plot in Patty Blossom. Wells uses the advent of a pair of ridiculous Bohemian types to draw out Patty’s feelings about Phil and Bill, and she finally comes to decisions about both of them.

Sam and Alla Blaney don’t call themselves Bohemians — they claim that only fake Bohemians do that. They’re pretty caricaturish, though. Alla wears shapeless cloths in ugly colors and parts her hair in the middle, and Sam has long hair and writes odd poetry. And actually, if there’s something that’s solidly in Carolyn Wells’ skillset, it’s parodying poetry, and I feel like there should be more of that here. I’m not a huge fan of Wells’ verse, and if one of her mysteries entertains me more than in irritates me I count it as a win, but I do like it when Wells’ other selves find their way into the Patty books.

Patty likes Sam Blaney, for reasons that I think owe more to necessities of the plot than any kind of consistent characterization for Patty. Certainly she’s never seemed more stupid than she does here.

Philip is more consistent: consistently awful. As usual when Patty appears to like people other than him, he makes it very clear how much he dislikes the Blaneys, to the point where Patty has to remind him multiple times that he has no right to control what she does or who she does it with. I wish Wells would be clearer about how bad this is, but she seems to think it’s only mildly frustrating. Oh well. At least he doesn’t have complete authorial approval.

The other Phil issue — and, I think, the worse one, is that he doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “no.” I mean, it’s nice that he didn’t hold Patty to the promise his aunt extracted from her, but his attempts to badger her into falling in love with him aren’t any more praiseworthy. He keeps giving her deadlines for giving an answer to his proposal, and then assuming it’s going to be yes, and also not shutting up about it. And when the time comes for her answer and she tells him that if she’s got to give one right then it’s going to be no, he’s like, oh, never mind, you don’t have to answer now.

And, okay, Patty is equivocal. She wants to be able to give him what he wants, so she constantly doubts her own feelings — or lack thereof — and gives him qualified and temporary answers. But even when she does make up her mind for real, even when she tries to impress upon him the fact that this is her final answer, he refuses to take it as such. And I get how the not giving up hope thing could be read as romantic — and is meant to be, probably — but there’s a difference between waiting patiently and asking the same question over and over again, hoping the answer will be different. Phil never takes the pressure off.

Now that the “I hate Phil” portion of the post is over, we can talk about other things. Other things mostly being Bill. I mean, there’s Mona and Roger’s marriage, which is nice. Roger is maybe the only one of Patty’s male friends I’ve never had an issue with, and I enjoy the way Wells treats Mona, her faults making her more of a person instead of less of one. And there’s a sort of repeat of the Daisy Dow pageant plot from Patty’s Butterfly Days, and a bazaar, because you can’t have a Patty Fairfield book without a charity event. But mostly there’s Bill.

I like Bill, in general. I like that he’s not from Patty’s insular New York society world, that he has an occupation that gives him responsibilities, and that people are occasionally a little snobby about him, and that he has an appreciation for poetry that’s as deep as it is incongruous. And I like how little he demands of Patty. This is a guy who’s up front about his own feelings and isn’t always asking about Patty’s. And when he does, he accepts her answers and non-answers. He doesn’t think he has a right to her — he credits himself with less of a hold on her than he’s got, not more. And when he thinks it’s time for him to bow out, he does it gracefully.

Not that Bill’s not also a little domineering at times. When Patty dances barefoot at the Blaneys’ Christmas party, Bill literally picks her up and carries her out. And I think Wells feels that this is okay, but only because Patty loves him. I’m still undecided as to whether it’s okay.

But yeah, that’s mostly it. Phil, and Bill, and the Blaneys being pretentious, and Patty’s endless swirl of romantic choices finally, finally being resolved. And, as I recall, it’s all downhill from here.

Note: I found this in my drafts? I’m pretty sure it’s been there for a couple of years. It seems to be complete. Does this mean I have to reread Patty-Bride now?



  1. I recently re-read Patty-Bride. Having also semi-recently read The Setons, it doesn’t hold up well. Yes, they’re in different genres (or something), so I shouldn’t be holding Carolyn Wells to that standard, but the ultra-high-pitched treatment of the War… in some ways it seems like the war is for the convenience of the characters, which was somehow wince-inducing for me in a way it hadn’t been when I hadn’t just read something where the war was real.

    I do think Patty-Bride would beat the first Grace Harlowe WWI book, though! That one’s really baffling and terrible. (baffling in so many ways! Why did the “war” books of the series apparently not come out until well after the war was over? Why is subverting military discipline applauded as independence/smarts/individuality, even when you do the math and realize that if she’d told what she knew when she ought to have, fewer people might have died? Why are totally unnecessary risks applauded as courage, even when they bring additional danger to others and waste material?)(actually, the first question might be answered by the following two, possibly; you do not want to teach people going off to France that the *cool* thing to do is to defy military orders and also to not wear your life jacket even in situations where other people depend on your staying alive. But then the question is why were they published at all…?)

    • I haven’t read the Grace Harlowe war books, and it really sounds like I shouldn’t. But in general, American WWI books feel more propaganda-like to me than British ones. I think it’s about the distance. Convincing Americans that they should be in the war at all is always a prerequisite. That shouldn’t apply to books written after the war, though.

      Also, there’s a huge difference between a girls’ series and a semi-autobiographical novel by someone who lost family in the war. And, much as I love Carolyn Wells, her books aren’t exactly great literature.

      • I usually have no particular problem swapping between fluff and not-fluff – they’re different species and I enjoy both – but in this case, having just read Anna Buchan’s treatment of the war (plus recently reading The Purple Heights, which also has more of a serious approach to the war despite being American-origin)(I agree that American books of the time do seem to tend more propaganda-ish than British books of the time, in general; I’d be interested to compare Canada as well; but The Purple Heights reads to me more restrained), the Carolyn Wells girls-series use of it was actually off-putting to me to a much greater degree than it was the last time I read Patty-Bride. Last time, I still found the Abrupt War Work and Patriotism and Spies Everywhere! rather silly, but it didn’t seem… in bad taste?… in the same way.

        Yeah, the Grace Harlowe Overseas books are a publishing mystery to me; my best guess is that she wrote them during the war but then, for whatever arcane reasons, they didn’t get published until after the war, and with no revisions (or the dates on the internet for when the books were first published could all be wrong?). The last one is actually kind of fun, although still fairly silly/unrealistic (and with occasional idiotic-action-approved-by-narrator) – codes! kidnapping! hot air balloon! – but the first one was too far off the rails for me, in the direction of character stupidity being lauded by the narrator. Eh, can’t win them all…

  2. Oh, my lord. I haven’t read the Patty books in ages… but I think it’s time to do it!

    • Yeah, same here. I need to review the last two books, but I might reward myself with a reread of the whole series afterwards.

      • Changed my mind, started re-reading Alcott’s trashy novels. Damn, I love “Behind a Mask”.

        • I’ve actually never read any of her books for adults. Is that a good one to start with?

          • Yes yes yes yes yes! I can’t really explain why I love it so much without spoiling it– but I will say that Alcott gives away her own plot twist and STILL keeps you reading to find out what’s gonna happen next. Easily one of her best stories.

            Also in love with “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment” because it’s so dramatic– ditto for “A Long, Fatal Love Chase” and “Modern Mephistopheles”, all three of which I need to re-read now.

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