12th Blogiversary/Polly of Pebbly Pit

March 4, 2019

I read the first five books in Lillian Elizabeth Roy’s Polly Brewster series in 2007, right around when I started this blog. I had to stop there, because the sixth book wasn’t out of copyright yet, but since then, when I’ve thought about the public domain expanding in 2019, I’ve thought, “Oh, then I’ll be able to read the next Polly and Eleanor book.” 2019 felt really far away in 2007, but it’s finally here, so it feels appropriate to celebrate this blogiversary by revisiting this series.

This is making it sound like these books are really great, and if I recall correctly, they’re not. Polly of Pebbly Pit certainly isn’t, but it’s not bad, either–it’s just a decent girls’ series book for people who like girls’ series books, with an emphasis on sensible parenting and some mean-spirited comic relief.

Polly Brewster is the 14-year-old daughter of Colorado ranchers. She’s smart and adventurous and good with animals, but she’s got some things to learn before her parents let her go to high school in Denver like she wants to. That’s the second of the birds the Brewsters hope to kill with one stone when they have Anne Stewart and Barbara and Eleanor Maynard board at the ranch for the summer. Anne is a teacher, hired to take charge of the Maynard girls for the summer, but she’s also interested in Polly’s older brother, John, and the Brewsters want to get a good look at her.

Anne is a nice girl, and Eleanor, who’s about Polly’s age, is unaffected and prepared to be pleased with Pebbly Pit, but Barbara is a snob. She’s really startlingly rude to the Brewsters and their neighbors, and when Anne said something about how Barbara was a good person underneath, I cringed. But then Anne realized that, not, Barbara wasn’t showing any signs of developing a better nature, and Roy won me over again.

The plot consists mostly of wilderness adventures (reasonably exciting) and a gold mine (of course), but it cuts off halfway through when Roy or her publisher decided the book was long enough and the rest could wait for the next volume. I wish I could go back to 1922 and gently suggest that she could cut the unfunny comic relief instead. It consists mostly of making fun of the Brewsters’ widowed “help.” Her appearance, her manners, or lack of brains, and her matrimonial ambitions all come in for ridicule, and it’s just…uncomfortable. Barbara’s snobbishness starts to feel excessive, too, when you remember that it’s a choice by the author and not a trait a person happens to have.

I like Polly of Pebbly Pit, though. I like the Brewster parents, and Anne Stewart and Mrs. Brewster’s mutual respect. I like the sense of place and the details of the mine plot. And I really like Polly and Eleanor’s friendship, which they both need, and which strikes a nice balance between running too smoothly and incorporating unnecessary conflict. I remember the next few books giving them more page time, and I’m looking forward to that.


  1. Happy blogiversary!

    I think it’s somewhere in that series that’s the most explicit refutation I’ve found to the weird modern notion that “confirmed bachelor” in old books is *always* simply a euphemism for “man we suspect or know to be homosexual”. Starting somewhere in the series, but I don’t remember at which book, there’s a man who refers to himself as a confirmed bachelor after being married to one woman and before quite definitely falling in love with and getting married to another woman. (In the context of the series, it’s in excuse for not having a female-run household and his other indications seem to point to “I consider myself totally off the market due to being divorced/separated with a wife alive – and also that marriage was very traumatic – please call off the matchmakers and socializers and let me live in peace.”) From all I’ve seen, the term “confirmed bachelor” in Project Gutenberg books most commonly simply means “we solidly do not expect this guy to get married” – but it’s for a wide variety of reasons, sometimes explicitly laid out (such as: is very attached to single life and freedoms; does not want to financially set up a Household; enjoys flirting broadly a great deal, does not expect to enjoy monogamy; has escaped the carefully-laid marital snares of many women so far, etc.). The category certainly included “those who we socially presume are not going to get married because they appear to not be sexually/romantically interested in women” (or appear to be specifically interested in men instead) – and some of that slice of its meaning may have been conveyed in person by a wink and a nod or something on top of the phrase (somewhat in the same way as “she has a headache” can mean “she has a headache” or can mean “she just wants to be alone” or “cramps, but we can’t say that in polite society” and the method of statement can suggest whether it’s a headache or a “headache”) – but the label alone, especially in books, didn’t simply mean homosexuality, but merely includes that category of Not Likely Marital Candidates. But while it’s not rare for Project Gutenberg people labeled by others as Confirmed Bachelors to fall in love with and marry women (heeey unlikely-marriage heroine-is-so-amazing-that-ironclad-obstacles-fall-over-like-matchsticks plots!), it could be *possible* for the people around all those Confirmed Bachelors to think they’re gay and just be wrong. It’s comparatively rare for someone to self-label in a book as a confirmed bachelor, and far more rare to self-label as a confirmed bachelor in a junction between romantic experiences rather than simply before they’ve had any romantic experiences – but those aspects of the case seem to eliminate the possibility of it being that specific euphemism in at least this instance.

    (if you have contrary Project Gutenberg-y opinions about the phrase, though, I’d be interested in hearing about them! I’m convinced that it’s not *always* a euphemism for known-homosexual-man, but perhaps it is more often a euphemism than my readings suggest?)

    Anyway! I think I abandoned the series when they were… yachting somewhere? Off to South America, maybe? And I have since very much forgotten most of the books aside from isolated incidents. So I will follow your reviews with interest. :-)

    • I think the yachting in South America book was the one I couldn’t get my hands on when I first read the series, so unless I manage to find the still-in-copyright stuff somewhere (and this is not a series I feel the need to buy) I’ll only be covering ground you’ve already one over.

      As for the confirmed bachelor thing, this is going to sound simplistic after your detailed analysis, but I think a) it’s a euphemism for homosexuality and b) a lot of the people who used it didn’t get that. And, you know, sometimes people use the wrong term. Calling someone who’s been married any kind of bachelor is lazy writing, at best.

  2. That seems plausible as a reason I stopped reading the series, although sometimes I do just lose interest at a certain point in series like these…

    I’m not 100% sure on the ranges of “bachelor” back then. Today, divorced men can definitely live in a bachelor pad, etc. (probably even be on The Bachelor or Bachelorette, although having not watched it, I can’t actually say). But I would definitely not accuse the Polly of Pebbly Pit series of… whatever the opposite of lazy writing is. :-)

    Do you happen to know what convinces you that it *is* inherently a euphemism? I agree that many people can use terms incorrectly (see: the entire internet and things like discreet/discrete, palate/pallet/palette, could/couldn’t care less), and there *is* for those things a right/wrong definition, or an original definition, anyway. At some point, however, if most of a culture is using a term in a generalized way and only a small segment is using it more precisely, it becomes progressively less accurate to assert “this culture uses this term in this way.” …But I don’t know what the percentages might be for this term (of “very likely asserting homosexuality”, “highly unlikely to be asserting homosexuality”, or “can’t tell one way or another which way the author is using it from context” – which last would, I expect, be the most normal, unfortunately…) I’m thinking about doing a site:gutenberg.org “confirmed bachelor” search and seeing what it pulls up, though, as my reading selection almost certainly filters the use of the term. (not that “being on Project Gutenberg” would have no inherent selection bias for the term, but… a lot less of a selection bias than “mostly happy-ending, largely low-drama fiction”, especially as happy-ending, largely low-drama fiction tends to also have lots of weddings in it)

    And something of an opposite issue from the “potential specific term made very general” problem, which I read yesterday in The Story Girl:
    “What does ‘it never rains but it pours’ mean?”

    “Oh, it means if anything happens something else is sure to happen,” said the Story Girl. “I’ll illustrate. There’s Mrs. Murphy. She never had a proposal in her life till she was forty, and then she had three in the one week, and she was so flustered she took the wrong one and has been sorry ever since. Do you see what it means now?”

    “Yes, I guess so,” said Cecily somewhat doubtfully. Later on we heard her imparting her newly acquired knowledge to Felicity in the pantry.

    “‘It never rains but it pours’ means that nobody wants to marry you for ever so long, and then lots of people do.”

  3. Happy belated 12th blogiversary! Thank you so much for writing this blog. I really enjoy your breakdowns, and you’ve helped me discover so many authors and books I would never have found out about otherwise. Happy reading!

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