Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Betsy Hale

I could make excuses and promises related to the extended absence, but why not just jump back in?

One of the series that I set about acquiring when I discovered Pemberton Ginther is Betsy Hale. There's not a lot of information about the series out there, so much of this is my own speculation. It seems to have been released in three volumes in 1923 as a breeder set of sorts by John C. Winston and Co., who also published her more popular Miss Pat series.

While the books are somewhat scarce in dust jacket (it took me about a year and a half to get all three), there's little demand. I believe I paid less than $5 for the first title (Betsy Hale), $7.50 for the second (Betsy Hale Tries), and $8.00 for the third (Betsy Hale Succeeds). For me, it was hardest to find the last title, but right now it's the only one to be found on eBay. One book is dated 1924 and another 1928, which indicates they might have been in print for at least a few years. However, the dust jackets are all identical except for the titles, with the exact same ads and lists on each one, so maybe there was one printing which took awhile to sell?

The books have green and gold boards, and the dust jacket art is the same for all three volumes. I'm uncertain as to who did the dust jacket artwork, but Pem herself did the frontispiece and three internal illustrations for each book. The paper quality is quite good, and the stories range from 254-269 pages each. I will note that the frontispiece for my copy of Betsy Hale seems to be incorrect--it's one of the internal illustrations for Betsy Hale Succeeds.

At the beginning of Betsy Hale, Betsy is an imaginative and earnest 13 year old girl who has just moved with her widowed mother to Wee Corners, a small cottage that they've inherited in rural New England. Her mother is an author, in the vein of Jess's mother in the Girls of Central High series. In other words, they have no money, and Betsy is often left to assume household duties, financial worries, and generally fend for herself. Her primary friends are Emma Clara, Selma, and Philip, who is groomed, in my opinion, to be the future love interest of the series. The central conflicts in the book center around Mrs. Hale regaining her health, publishing a novel, and becoming financially stable.

In Betsy Hale Tries, the plot is based around trying to raise funds to establish a hospital in their small community, a venture spearheaded by Betsy and Philip. Along the way, Betsy makes a friend of Miss Willie, an eccentric older woman, and the family acquires Lucy as cook/housekeeper. Lots of themes of post WWI patriotism in this book, and there's a side plot involving a traveling circus.

I have no idea why the third book is titled Betsy Hale Succeeds. The plans of the last book have already succeeded, and this book is about how Betsy and her mother take in an alleged war orphan from France, Aimee. Of course, Aimee's parents are both alive in the end, her mother somehow ending up in some nearby town (from France. Really.), while her father had amnesia and a couple of amputations (final tally: one hand and one leg). The series ends with no references to phantom titles or future plans.
  • I really didn't care for the character of Mrs. Hale. She's clueless about household chores and is one of those people in old stories that has to have complete rest and no worry or she'll have a breakdown. Wonder why the non-genteel poor never get those orders? Beyond that, she offers no emotional support to Betsy.
  • Her mother has gotten them involved with a League of Truth and Simplicity after Betsy's father's death. So Elizabeth is now Betsy and has to wear brown sack dresses. I may be misreading, but I also think that Mommy Clueless loses a lot of money to them.
  • Luckily, friends take pity on Betsy and gift her with a "lovely limp yellow frock" and a pink lawn dress.
  • I really love Philip's character. His father is really sick in the first book (he eventually dies), and Betsy finds him crying hidden in the woods. She doesn't reveal herself, just has more sympathy and respect.
  • Betsy can't get Philip to come visit another girl with her, because, "I don't play with girls." When she reminds him that they've gone off in the woods twice that week, he says, "You're different." Aw.
  • Betsy is almost 15 at the end of the series. I think I would have enjoyed a continuation of the series, with more grown up themes. The target audience is probably about 12 for the books that were written.

I have mixed feelings about this series as a whole. I think it's well-written for a pre-teen age group, and Betsy is a likeable heroine. She has negative emotions and needs help to pull off schemes. She's not perfect. That said, I think I'd prefer an older heroine, stronger plotlines, and snappier/funnier dialogue. I'm building collections of the Hilda and Miss Pat series, which I'm hoping will be more to my liking. I've also tracked down the Macrae editions of The 13th Spoon and The Jade Necklace to share with you.

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