Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'm glad I read this book

Pollyanna, Eleanor H. Porter

I heard the term "Pollyanna" growing up, sometimes in reference to my mother, but I never knew its origin.  I came across the 2003 TV version during an infatuation with the actor Aden Gillett (after binge-watching all three series of "The House of Eliott").  That was my introduction to the story, but I didn't know it was based on a book until I came across a copy on the library sale shelves.  That's also when I discovered that the story is actually set not in England, but in Vermont.  I've had it on my "Mid-Century of Books" list, and then a recent review by Melanie at The Indextrious Reader (and comments from Vicki) moved it up the list.  I came home yesterday on a cold rainy evening, after a frustrating afternoon at work and a horrendous commute, and all I wanted was a cup of tea, a hot bath, and a comforting book.  Pollyanna fit the bill perfectly. And I was glad that I hadn't read it earlier.

I remembered something of the plot from the TV version.  The orphaned Pollyanna is sent to live with her only surviving relative, her mother's sister Polly, who accepts her much like Marilla Cuthbert did Anne Shirley - from a sense of duty, at heart unwillingly.  There is no Matthew to welcome her, but Pollyanna makes friends wherever she goes, starting with Nancy, the young maid of all work.  Pollyanna goes everywhere, and everyone she meets is invited to play "the glad game," of finding something to be glad about no matter what the circumstances.  Pollyanna and her widowed father, a minister poor as the proverbial church mice, began playing the game one day when the regular missionary barrel arrived (which reminded me of Polly's family, in An Old-Fashioned Girl, unpacking theirs, and the Little House family theirs).  Pollyanna had been praying for a doll, her father had even requested one for her, and naturally she was disappointed when her father fished out a little pair of crutches instead (I'd like to think some Ladies' Aid societies re-thought their donation policies after reading this).  Anyway, Pollyanna's father tried to distract and comfort her with the idea that at least she could be glad that she didn't need the crutches!  And that was the start of the game. As she tells Nancy,
"I was playing the game - but that's one of the times I just did it without thinking, I reckon.  You see, you do, lots of times; you get so used to it - looking for something to be glad about, you know.  And most generally there is something about everything that you can be glad about, if you keep hunting long enough to find it."
Maybe, Nancy replies, "with open doubt."  But she is soon playing the game too, along with the crotchety invalid Mrs. Snow.  Pollyanna also befriends the town's miserly recluse, John Pendleton, though he is too cranky really to play the game.  Aunt Polly isn't playing either, because she doesn't know about the game - though she gives her niece lots of scope for practicing, starting with the hot bare attic room she assigns to her.

In the wrong hands, this could have been an awful book, one of those treacly pious morality manuals for producing saintly children (often by sending them to heaven early).  But while Eleanor Porter has moral lessons to impart, she weaves them into an entertaining story with interesting characters, many of whom need some kind of lesson, including the adults.  Pollyanna is energetic and exuberant, and I found her foot-in-mouth tendencies really entertaining.  She is a chatterbox, with a fund of slyly funny stories about the Ladies' Aid Society in her old home-town, who helped care for her after her parents' deaths.  But they come off better than the Ladies' Aid Society in Beldingsville, who would rather give to the foreign missions, with their contributions published in an annual report, than help a small orphan boy that Pollyanna finds by the side of the road (not in a basket - Jimmy is willing to work for his keep).

That sort of sharp-eyed social commentary, with the Vermont setting, reminded me of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's books.  And Pollyanna's friendship with John Pendleton reminded me of another wealthy man with an interest in orphans, Jervis Pendleton of Daddy-Long-Legs.  I took it off the shelf this morning to check something on "Master Jervie," and almost broke the Triple-Dog-Dare to re-read it then and there.

My copy of Pollyanna is a 1947 reprint (with rough paper that is browning and crumbling).  It was a gift to Margaret, from "Daddy and Mother,"  On the cover, the title is followed by the words "Trade Mark," as is another phrase, "The Glad Book."  I see from the back cover that there is a series of "Pollyanna" books, only the second of which was written by Eleanor Porter before her death in 1920, Pollyanna Grows Up (1915).  The titles of the others, the "Glad Books" (all Trade Marked), fill me with dread: Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms, Pollyanna's Jewels, Pollyanna's Western Adventure [my eye started twitching], Pollyanna in Hollywood [shudder], Pollyanna's Castle in Mexico [a distinct tremor], and finally, Pollyanna's Golden Horseshoe. Not to judge a book by its title, but I don't think you could pay me to read them.  Maybe these books explain why calling someone a "Pollyanna" is not a compliment.

Today was another miserable day at work, and I did find myself trying to play the game.  The best I could come up with was, "Well, I'm glad it's 4.30 and I can go home."  Maybe I'll get better with practice.  And maybe I'll look for Pollyanna Grows Up.  It involves a trip to Europe, and a mysterious "Jamie."  Has anyone else read it?

N.B. Pollyanna was originally published in 1912 as a serial, in The Christian Herald - an interesting choice, since despite the two ministers and those Ladies' Aiders, it isn't what I'd consider a real church story.  It was published in book form in 1913, so I'm using that date for my list.


  1. I'm 'glad' to hear that between us we convinced you to read this! :)
    A perfect choice for the end of a dreary day, for sure. Though the sequels...I'm with you on those titles...I can't imagine they'd be able to avoid the sentimentality that Porter was so good at counteracting herself.

  2. That is very spooky about the Pendleton men -- I hadn't remembered that at all. My work week has been similarly trying, and I hope yours will either improve or be over soon. I think a comfort read is in order. I saw a terrible Pollyanna sequel cover in a shop somewhere - I shall dig out my photo and tweet it. ;-)

  3. Melanie, I just checked Wikipedia, and there were even more sequels, one written as late as 1997! I bet "Pollyanna and the Secret Mission" is a WWII story. I do wonder what Eleanor Porter would think of them.

    vicki, today looks to be a Jonah day as well, but TGIF and it's off to a good start with that awful cover :) I do wonder if that natty gent in a bowtie is Jimmy, all grown up!

  4. I'm surprised you hadn't read this before but so pleased you enjoyed it now! I read it over and over as a child and my copy of both it and Pollyanna Grows Up still have pride of place on my adult bookshelf. Did not know about the non-Porter sequels though. They sound horrific!

  5. My introduction to Pollyanna was via the Hayley Mills film that I think must have come out in the 60s. I'm afraid that after that the book didn't really appeal to me. Maybe I've been missing something though. If I come across a copy in one of our charity shops I shall have to buy it and see.

  6. I know I read this as a child, but I've also seen the Hayley Mills film so now I'm not sure how much of what I'm remembering is from the book and how much from the film!

  7. I've never read the book of this, and I didn't know there was a movie so recently. You should watch the Hayley Mills movie! I am terribly, terribly fond of it -- it's a rare week that goes by without someone in my family quoting it. It's got Karl Malden in it!

  8. I have a copy of Pollyanna on my Kindle and have started it several times, but feared it would be too sappy for me. I'm glad to hear it's not! The sequels scream 'franchise' to me. Shudder.
    I hope you have a great weekend!

  9. Claire, I was nearly sold on the sequel, just from the reference to a a European trip, and now you've tipped the balance!

    Alex, you'll have to make sure it's one of the Porter books :) though I admit I'm a little curious now about the Hollywood sequel.

    Helen, I don't know how I missed reading this when I was younger. I know I'd have loved it, especially since Pollyanna is an orphan.

    Jenny, as soon as I finish typing this, I am off to iMDB to find out which character Karl Malden played! I'll keep an eye out for it - I bet TCM plays it regularly.

    Anbolyn, there are some sentimental bits, like remembering the mother as an angel in heaven - but generally there's a bracing kind of acerbic tone that keeps it from sappiness.

  10. I reread Pollyanna recently and thought it was much less sentimental than I remembered! But even though I misremembered it, I've often played the glad game, or at least tried to.

  11. elizabeth, the glad game fits in with a lot of what I've been reading lately about practicing gratitude. And I think it's psychologically healthy, because it gets you thinking about a difficult situation, trying to find the "glad" angle, so stepping back a bit from the emotion of it.


Thank you for taking the time to read, and to comment. I always enjoy hearing different points of view about the books I am reading, even if we disagree!