“If the history of Polly’s girlish experiences suggests a hint or insinuates a lesson, I shall feel that, in spite of many obstacles, I have not entirely neglected my duty toward the little men and women, for whom it is an honor and a pleasure to write, since in them I have always found my kindest patrons, gentlest critics, and warmest friends.”

Louisa May Alcott wrote this paragraph in the preface to her book An Old-Fashioned Girl. The story is about young Polly Milton, who grew up in the country and visited her city friend, Fannie Shaw, from time to time. Alcott introduces the characters when they’re in their early teens and tells her readers about the differences of the two worlds. Polly is completely shocked at Fannie’s ideas of fun, while Fannie can’t seem to understand how Polly can bear to live without any finery or money.

Alcott then jumps ahead several years and brings Polly to the city to live near the Shaws in a quaint little boarding house run by Miss Mills. Teaching music to young girls keeps Polly busy, but throughout the next few years, both Fannie and Polly learn several different lessons, such as being true to yourself and standing by your friends through thick and thin.

Now, the reason I bring up Alcott’s book isn’t to talk about what a great read it is. I want to show how the author can easily become a reader’s best friend through the books that she writes. Alcott has that magical touch that helps her to relate to her readers, as well as becoming their trusted mentor by giving them advice within the pages of a well-written novel.

Alcott has always written in each of her books that she regards her readers as her dear friends and critics and I would say that I consider her to be one of my best friends and advisers from classic literature. An Old-Fashioned Girl is a great example of how Alcott has become a dearly loved friend to all of her readers in the way that she can make them laugh and give them advice at the same time.

For example:

Alcott apologizes for shocking her readers with the truths about the young people of America and says this:

“I feel bound to depict my honored patrons as faithfully as my limited powers permit; otherwise, I must expect the crushing criticism, ‘Well, I dare say it’s all very prim and proper, but it isn’t a bit like us,’ and never hope to arrive at the distinction of finding the covers of  ‘An Old-Fashioned Girl’ the dirtiest in the library” (pg. 203).

Not wanting to offend her young readers, Alcott slips in that small explanation of the reason why she depicted young adults in such a way. She felt obligated to write about life as she saw it and hoped her readers would benefit more from it; and it’s true! As she had hoped, her books are read over and over again and never seem to go out of style.

But there are also random spots throughout the book that catch you off your guard and leave you laughing until tears come trickling down your cheeks:

“She did not mean to flirt; but somehow ‘it flirted’ itself,’ and she couldn’t help it” (pg. 207).


“Her telltale face answered for her, as well as the impulse which made her hide her head in the sofa cushion, like a foolish ostrich when the hunters are after it” (pg. 307).

While these descriptions may seem like they were just put in for laughs, they tell the truth as well. Flirting with cute guys is in a young woman’s nature and it’s hard to resist it when the opportunity arises. And when someone discovers a secret love, our first instinct is to hide our “telltale faces.”

Alcott understood her audience well and knew how to get their attention. She told them the truth about themselves without being overly offensive or blunt. She just observed the society around her and wrote her characters accordingly.

Even though she lived over a hundred years ago, her books still hold truth for young girls today. Our society may have change and “modernized,” but girls still go through puberty and have little fantasies about the future. Alcott covers all those points in An Old-Fashioned Girl. She knows that we all want to be accepted and appreciated for who we are, but warns that putting on airs and striving to be fashionable is not the way to do it.

Just like Polly discovered in her life journey: working hard, becoming who you were meant to be, and being a friend is what will give every woman what they desire in the end: love.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather