Not the first to come this way…

I was procrastinating from job applications and article-writing and general end-of-degree freaking-out-edness yesterday by re-reading Mary Stolz’s Who Wants Music on Monday. (I’m allowed; it’s for an article). Everything was fine and normal and Stolz-like until I reached chapter four, where Stolz managed to somehow encapsulate my entire undergrad experience (and a bit of grad school too) between pages 75 and 86. I was particularly surprised by the passages that seem to be verbatim transcriptions of conversations I experienced during my undergrad years.

(A little context: while the novel mostly focuses on two sisters, Lotta and Cassie, every so often the narrator flips over to describe Vincent, their older brother, who is away at college).

A wee sample of Vincent’s world:

In the second semester of his second year at college Vincent Dunne had only fitful, insubstantial ideas of what it was he wished to do or to be, of what he wanted from life, except to be happy–a sensible, reasonable desire, condoned even by Samuel Johnson, no casual condoner. (75)

Right, so, typical Stolz. A long sentence, lots of punctuation, a little name dropping, and some big words. LOVE it. But that’s only the introduction. Let’s move on.

If my recollection serves,” Mr. Dunne had gone on that day, “you have now been a geneticist, an oil engineer, a metallurgist, a doctor, a psychologist, and a trial lawyer. All pretty high-sounding, all right. But what I want to know is, what are you going to be when you get your nose out of the air? And when’s that going to be? Do you think you have the rest of time to decide in? Or maybe you think I’m going to [send] you to graduate school? Seems to me you fellows go to school longer and longer, and if you ask me, it’s just to put off getting out and actually making your way. A bunch of ostriches calling yourselves scholars. You make me laugh.”

There was enough truth in that to make Vincent uncomfortable. Graduate school seemed to be becoming not the exception but the rule, and though he dared not mention it around home, Vince was pretty sure he’d have a go at one himself if he could figure out which one and if he could earn the money. That last he could probably do. Lab jobs, tutoring, summer work. He already, with his scholarship, earned part of his way just working summers. If he dug in and made a real go of zoo, some foundation or industry might even pick him up and see him through another two or four years of research. Dr. Vincent Dunne, the eminent zoologist. Or even Dr. Dunne, a zoologist. Was that what he wanted? (77-78)

Oh, Vincent. I know your dilemma well. (I think we all know your dilemma well). But it gets even better. Now Vincent’s friends, David and Enoch, get in on the action:

“I’m not sure I even know what college is for anymore. A corridor to graduate school? Doing what? Wasting more time? A plain B.A. doesn’t give you much of a leg up–and don’t ask me a leg up where because I don’t known–than a high-school diploma. And if it’s just a question of money, why not be a plumber or an electrician? Twenty-five hours a week and a pay scale like a Brink’s robbery. Half the time I think we’re going to college to work our way up to the lower-income groups.”

“Will you say that over again in different words, Professor?” said Enoch. “Your meaning got away from me.”

“If,” said David, “I were a professor, I’d be making less than a plumber. Clear now?”

“Unhappily, yes.”

“And you’re the guy,” Vincent said to David, “who said last week that you love college because where else would it be perfectly right and acceptable to read Plato in the morning?”

David shrugged. “I believe that. I’m being honest. You want me to be consistent too?” (86)

Ahhhhh EpicStolzLove.

And the kicker to all of this? Who Wants Music on Monday was published in 1963.

Well, as they say in the Norway ride at Epcot, “you are not the first to come this way…”


"Well, darling, you and your gold lame"

I’m back to thinking about one of my favourite topics in relation to teen girl romance novels: clothing.

I’ve noticed that many of these novels employ daughters as the family dress-up dolls. In Amelia Elizabeth Walden’s A Boy to Remember, Karin moves to live with her grandparents and, in supposed celebration, her grandfather buys her a whole new wardrobe, purchasing

with a lavish hand that first amazed, then startled her. Everything she tried on, that was becoming and fit well, he wanted to buy for her. In less time than most people would take to select one good dress, he had bought her a navy broadcloth suit and a heathery tweed, a half dozen school dresses in the finest woolens Karin had ever touched, four skirts with cashmere sweaters to match, shoes, handbags, gloves, stockings. (27)

(Seriously: skirts with cashmere sweaters to match? I live in the wrong decade… and possess the wrong socioeconomic status!)

While Karen’s grandmother tells her that “it’s a long time since we’ve had someone young to fuss over” (27), it’s a salesclerk who reveals another intention behind the wardrobe:

Then, as the head of the department stood by, smiling at Karin and holding her grandfather’s check in her hands, she said a disturbing thing to Karin.
“You look charming in it, Miss Berglund. You’re fortunate to be the granddaughter of Mr. Berglund.” (28)

Karin realizes that her new clothing is not simply for her; she is also part of a show intended to demonstrate her grandfather’s status in the community.

Just as Karin’s wardrobe is as much for her grandfather as it is for her, so too Dody Jenks’ election as Snow Queen in Mary Stolz’s Pray Love, Remember is, for her mother, as much her own election as it is Dody’s. While Dody’s various family members congratulate her, Mrs. Jenks gloats “‘And think what Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Gates will say….Oh my, wouldn’t I just like to see their faces— ’” (114). Dody’s election is a conquest not only for Dody, but for Mrs. Jenks herself, who feels as if

she’d been, too often, overlooked by Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Gates when they’d passed on the street or met in the school at meetings and things. Not snubbed, she realized dully, but unrecognized. This was heart’s ease, this triumph of Dody’s…. Bosom lifting, Mrs. Jenks said to them, “Oh yes, we’re definitely moving a step up in this town’s society, let me tell you—” (114-115).

Dody’s Snow Queen dress becomes a family affair. The family cannot afford a new dress, but Dody’s older sister-in-law, Joyce, purchases material and makes one for her, while “in an access of proud confusion… Mr. Jenks contributed money for a cheap but dazzling pair of rhinestone earrings” (118). The family’s collective pride in Dody is thus demonstrated not in what she has done, but, on the night of the Winter Ball, in how she looks:

when she went down and stood in the living room door, her assembled family looked up in stunned silence. Then Larry, scratching his head, said hoarsely, “Cripes!” Marjorie said over and over, “She’s beautiful. She’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw.” Mr. Jenks blew his nose, and Mrs. Jenks put her hands to her face and sobbed. (118)

Like Karin, Dody is not only a member of the family, but also the emblem of that family’s social status within their community.

(Random aside: I LOVE Marjorie’s response. It’s so perfectly Marjorie. I always picture her crying after that statement, like Daisy staring at Gatsby’s shirts.)

As emblems, however, these girls are not without their own consumer agency. Although female protagonists like Dody and Karin fulfill the role of family status symbol, they are still in charge of the actual clothing that is purchased/made for them. Joyce may provide the idea and labour for Dody’s dress, but it is still Dody who designs it. Similarly, although Mindy’s shop-owner cousin Alix in Betty Cavanna’s The Country Cousin (1967) must slowly teach Mindy how to emulate the more sophisticated styles of Philadelphia girls, by the end of the novel it is Mindy whose hand-made dress design is purchased by a large New York clothing manufacturer, and whose future at Parsons School of Design consecrates her status as taste-maker.

There’s much more work to be done here, of course, particularly in regard to this taste-maker agency/ status symbol lack of agency dichotomy happening. For now, however, I’ll admit that the main reason I used to love these books –okay, the main reason I still love these books –is because you can’t get any better than their descriptions of clothes. I’ll finish this little post with my all-time favourite description, from Mary Stolz’s The Sea Gulls Woke Me:

(scene: the high school dance. Jean, having fled her hideous date, is now hiding out in a bathroom stall. The popular girls have entered the washroom).

“Did you see that Jean whatsis here with whoosis Coyne?”
Did I. I must get the recipe for that dress.”
Jean shuddered. This was a classic predicament, but she couldn’t recall the classic reaction.
“Well, darling, you and your gold lame. What I say is, after gold lame, what is there?”
“There’s always the platinum-studded cardigan.”

Gold lame? Platinum-studded cardigan? Hiding out in the bathroom? LOVE IT!

That Tender-Minded Feminine Control Again…

A little history in place of long-weekend fun:

In 1939, UC Berkeley hosted the Institute on Library Work with Children, an ALA preconference sponsored by ALA’s Section on Library Work with Children. Four hundred youth services librarians attended the institute, which eventually became known as the “Sayers Institute,” after its leader and moderator, Frances Clarke Sayers. The opening talk was made by Howard Pease, a prolific author whose books were edited by May Massee (aside: let’s hear a little SQUEE for the awesomeness that was May Massee!). Technically, Pease’s talk was about the absence of realistic fiction for young readers, but his rhetoric suggested a very different topic: the isolation of the female junior novel network.

By 1939, the network had started to enter its second generation. It had grown immensely during the 1920s and 1930s as more and more women attained jobs as children’s book librarians, editors, booksellers, and critics. With that expansion, however, had come an accompanying ghettoization. Children’s departments in both libraries and publishing houses slowly became the norm rather than the oddity, but although collaboration across disciplines still formed the basis of the network, the early collaboration outside the network (such as the organization of the early Children’s Book Weeks) had slowed dramatically. As Anne Scott MacLeod suggests,

“children’s literature became an enclave. All the creative activity, all the knowledgeable producing and reviewing and purveying of children’s books, took place a little apart from the larger world of literature” (MacLeod 125).

Thus when Howard Pease announced in 1939 that the children’s book world was “‘wholly and solely a woman’s world—a completely feminine world’” (qtd. in Jenkins “Women” 821), he was not embellishing the gendering of the professions involved. As children’s services historian Christine Jenkins summarizes Pease’s argument:

According to Pease, children’s books were being written, edited, reviewed, sold, selected, and promoted almost entirely by women, and the results of this female domination was uniformly negative. Women’s “tender-minded feminine control” of the field was responsible for the lack of male juvenile book authors. The identification of the field with women made it generally unattractive to men, plus the fact that a male breadwinner could not work for the same depressed wages as an “amateur housewife writer.” (821-822)

Oh, my. Boo hoo.

The predominantly female population attending the Sayers Institute responded pretty negatively to Pease’s statements. Sayers herself stepped in immediately, stating that

“‘Mr. Pease is a very brave man. Mr. Pease, I have to admit that as an ardent feminist I rather enjoy this world that is so completely controlled by women’” (qtd. in Jenkins 823).

May Massee, by 1939 easily the most influential figure in children’s book publishing, responded to her own author by reminding both him and the audience that

“it was women who had ‘rescued [the field] from mediocrity…and not without a struggle’” (qtd. in Jenkins “Women” 824).

Still, Pease’s accusation regarding the feminization of the field remained, and the members of the second generation of the female junior novel network found themselves facing the same charges that had been leveled at their counterparts, the first children’s services librarians, roughly twenty-five years earlier. Gah.

Pease’s accusations were further exacerbated by ongoing editorials in the Elementary English Review, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) that was founded in 1924 by C.C. Certain, an English teacher and school library supervisor, and aimed at elementary school teachers and school and public youth services librarians. Certain’s opening editorial of the October 1939 issue, titled “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” attacked the winner of the 1939 Newbery Medal on the grounds that it had no appeal to “the average tousle-headed American boy” (qtd. in Jenkins 828). He suggested that the main problem with how the Newbery was awarded was that it was selected by librarians, not by teachers, and that librarians were responsible for thus awarding the medal to books written by female authors, and which featured female protagonists. In the next issue of Elementary English Review, Certain followed up his attack by claiming that recent Newbery winners were “highly sentimental,” and would

“most assuredly lead his tousle-headed American (male) child reader to regard all literature as ‘sissy,’ and either drive him to ‘ten-cent thrillers’ or away from reading all together” (Jenkins “Women” 828).

Lesley Newton, the Chair of the ALA’s Section for Library Work with Children and a member of the 1940 Newbery Committee, replied that

“It is perhaps unfortunate that so many of the books chosen recently have been feminine in appeal, but we must not forget that there are little girl children, too” (“Newbery Award: Open” 162).

Similarly, Betty Hamilton, a children’s librarian at the Carnegie Library in Atlanta, asked

“why do the editor and others complain when a good book for girls wins the Medal? Why shouldn’t a girl’s book win? Don’t girls read?” (“Newbery Award again” 193).

The Newbery controversy within the pages of the Elementary English Review came to an abrupt end when C.C. Certain died in 1940. His wife, Julia L. Certain, took over the editorship of the journal, shifting the tone of the journal to a less antagonistic stance. Although the controversy surrounding the medal appeared to die down, Christine Jenkins suggests that the struggle over the composition of the Newbery Committee—all librarians—was “a serious challenge to the professional authority of ALA children’s librarians” (“Women 835). While Pease’s original concern regarding the medal was about the lack of realistic fiction available to children, his focus on the “tender-minded female control” of the children’s publishing and librarianship realms eventually served to highlight the predominantly female composition of those realms and, once again, the concern regarding the “feminization” of children through books.

Gah gah gah.


Jenkins, Christine.“Women of the ALA Youth Services and Professional Jurisdiction: Of Nightingales, Newberies, Realism, and the Right Books, 1937-1945.” Library Trends 44.4 (Spring 1996): 813-839. Print.

MacLeod, Anne Scott. American Childhood: Essays on Children’s Literature of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Athens: University of Georgia P., 1994.]

Photo: Frances Clarke Sayers