Friday 6 December 2013

Read in 2013 - 47: Polly and the Princess

Sounds like a children's book, and is one; not for small children, but quite clearly aimed at girls of about 10 - 12 years of age. "Polly and the Princess" was written by Emma C. Dowd and published in 1917. 

I could not find out anything about the author, apart from that she died in 1938. This book is part of a "Polly" series, but I shall leave it at that and won't go looking for the others.

In this book, Polly is 13 years old. She is a physician's daughter and lives with her family near the hospital where her father practises. In the grounds, there is a home for elderly ladies (what went for "elderly" in 1917 is not necessary the same as today: some of the residents are described at being in their 40s, which would make me eligible for the home, too).
From the outside, people have the impression that the "June Holiday Home" (so named after its foundress, one June Holiday) is like paradise on earth for the ladies allowed to live there, and that they do have fun all day long, sumptuous meals and not a care in the world.

Polly knows better, though, because she is a frequent visitor, especially to one lady she has struck up a close friendship with: The head of the home rules with an iron rod. Everything is regulated, from talking (or rather not talking) in the hallways to walking only on the carpet when using the stairs (which means that one nearly blind lady almost falls, because she is not allowed to walk with her hands on the rail), to visiting times (only on Wednesdays from 2.00 to 4.00 pm) and very, very meagre meals (no dessert, stale bread, and the weakest of tea).
Things get really nasty when Polly finds out that the headmistress intercepts mail and does not pass on messages received by phone.

She does what she can to brighten the lives of the ill-treated women, who are all afraid of being turned out of the home, should they dare to rebel, and have nowhere else to go. One of them indeed flees the home and marries the milkman out of sheer desperation! 

Finally, Polly manages to make the president of the committee responsible for the running of the home see what is going on, and action is taken. Not only do the happy ladies end up with each having their own telephone installed in their rooms, but Polly also acts as something of a matchmaker for her best friend.

This was sometimes really funny to read, but more often than not, it was just a bit too sickly sweet with Polly being soooo innocent and gold-hearted like nobody ever is in real life, and the lovestory being so predictable.
As always with books written in times past, this one offers a glimpse into everyday life from back then, when telephones were still brand new, and motor cars a luxury very few could afford.


  1. Never heard of this book before and yet the story rings alarmingly familiar... Actually I was watching a documentary on Swedish television that just seemed to be a modern-day version of this, focusing on a quite famous Swedish lady, now old and suffering from dementia and having been put under guardianship and (some of her friends claim) no longer allowed to do what she wants or receive visits from her friends etc. There was a phone interview with the lady herself, and also interviews with the guardian, and with friends, and the way it was put together, it really seems outrageous... But there were no interviews with immediate family, and it probably wasn't quite the whole picture that was presented - so I don't really know what to think. But the general impression from the TV program alone was that she could certainly do with a Polly to fight for her human rights, though...

    1. Yes, I thought about how the elderly are treated nowadays in homes, too, when I read the story. Every now and then, incidents make it into the news about abuse and suffering inflicted on the residents who are too weak to take care of themselves, and their relatives often not believing them because on the outside, everything looks so well.

  2. While i've heard of the Polly books, i haven't read any, and now i don't believe i'll look for them.

    1. You won't miss out on much. It was a free ebook and alright to accompany on my train rides to and from work, but that's about it.