Sunday, February 16, 2014

{review} dumps: a plain girl

L. T. Meade Dumps: A Plain Girl (1905)


I am going to tell the story of my life as far as I can; but before I begin I must say that I do wonder why girls, as a rule, have a harder time of it than boys, and why they learn quite early in life to be patient and to give up their own will.
I'm not sure this is a review; more of an extended laugh at one of the best book titles I've encountered for ages. I mean, REALLY, "Dumps: A Plain Girl"? One almost doesn't need to read the book - surely it is quite plain (ho ho) what happens in this one.
...but he said the true name for me ought not to be Rachel, but Dumps, and how could any girl expect to rule over either boys or girls with such a name as Dumps? I suppose I was a little stodgy in my build, but father said I might grow out of that, for my mother was tall.
This is my second read of an L. T. Meade book: I started with A Sweet Girl Graduate, because I am interested in the history of women's colleges (having attended one), and I was hooked on Meade's blend of sickly sentimentality and sober evangelism for educating girls. I chose Dumps because of the title, though I was tossing up about Polly: A New Fashioned Girl. Happily there are plenty of Meade titles out there to keep me going forever (she wrote over 300 books).

So, poor little Dumps. Yes, Dumps is a plain girl. And she lives a rather plain life with her widowed father, who is a genius, but quite poor --
He was also somewhat of a saving turn of mind, and he told me once that he was putting by money in order to help the boys to go to one of the ’varsities by-and-by. He was determined that they should be scholars and gentlemen; and of course I thought this a very praiseworthy ambition of his, and offered to do without a new summer dress. He did not even thank me; he said that he thought I could do quite well with my present clothes for some time to come, and after that I felt my sacrifice had fallen somewhat flat.
-- and her brothers and a faithful but slovenly servant.

Dumps' life is a lonely one:
"And a girl's little brain is meant to keep a house comfortable."
"But, father, I haven't such a little brain; and I think I could do something else."
"Could what?" said father, opening his eyes with horror. "What in the world is more necessary for a girl who is one day to be a woman than to know how to keep a house comfortable?"
"Yes, yes," I said; "I suppose so." I was very easily stopped when father spoke in that high key.
Given Meade's support of feminist causes, I was hopeful that he would be struck by lightning at this point, but no such luck.
I really was a very stranded sort of girl. Hitherto I had had no outlets of any sort; I was just Dumps, a squat, rather plain girl, who knew little or nothing of the world—a neglected sort of girl, I have no doubt; but then I had no mother.
And then... one day a mysterious lady comes to visit, then invites Dumps to stay with her for a holiday, and easily wins the poor girl over with nice clothes and plenty of food and gentle kindnesses. But what lies behind this kindly lady's unexpected generosity? I'm not going to tell you any more, but Dumps has her world-view considerably widened and learns some important lessons about life and herself. Also, we are happy to learn, getting enough to eat really helps with her looks.

And I don't think I can end without mentioning Dumps' first friend, the blue-stocking Augusta:
"Do let us walk about," I said, “and let us be chums, if you don’t mind."
"Chums?" said Augusta, turning her dreamy, wonderful eyes upon my face.
"Yes," I said.
"But chums have tastes in common," was her next remark.
"Well, you are very fond of books, are you not?" I said.
"Fond of books!" cried Augusta. "Fond of books! I love them. But that is not the right word: I reverence them; I have a passion for them." She looked hurriedly round her. "I shall never marry," she continued in a low whisper, "but I shall surround myself with books - the books of the great departed; their words, their thoughts, shall fill my brain and my heart. I shall be satisfied; nothing else will satisfy me but books, books, books!"
So, not great literature by any means, but an entertaining, often sad, rather sentimental bit of fiction. Dumps was a bit whingy (though she certainly had grounds for that!), and I didn't think it was as satisfying as A Sweet Girl Graduate - where there is also a lot of rather melodramatic and silly action but the theme of the importance of educating girls is never lost. 

Incidentally, Jane at fleur in her world has also recently reviewed another Meade title, A World of Girls. I have also been following a couple of blogs which constantly offer new lost wonders to explore, and I'd single out redeeming qualities and leaves and pages - there are so many great free e-treasures out there that I many never need to buy a book again. 

24 comments:

  1. Oh dear lord. I thought, no, I must be reading the title wrong - but no. I don't know how I've missed L.T. Meade all these years. And I'm wondering if she is an Alcott friend (or foe) - doesn't Polly A New Fashioned Girl suggest Alcott's book, updated - even the same heroine's name?

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    1. Silly me - I never even thought of the Alcott link, and I only read Old Fashioned Girl last year. Brains of a rabbit! I am going to investigate now. The Alcott is 19 years earlier than the Meade. I'm not sure I'd want that Polly to become all new.

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  2. Can you *imagine* a book coming out with that title nowadays? What fun though - I bet these books are a real hoot if you read them in the right frame of mind!

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    1. I keep thinking now of other characters who wouldn't make it these days: one of my favourites is 'Fatty' (aka Frederick) from the Enid Blyton 'Five Finder-Outers and Dog' series. Imagine the screams of horror!

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  3. Oh that title is just so sad! Poor little Dumps. I am very curious as to why the mysterious lady takes Dumps under her wing.

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    1. It isn't white slavery, you'll be happy to know!

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    2. Yes, not turning it into The Sheikh midway was a lost opportunity. (Only kidding - what a foul book that one is)

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  4. Hmm.....glad you enjoyed it Vicki, but I don't think it's for me TBH.

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    1. I'm not sure it's for anyone nowadays, but I just can't resist a silly title.

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  5. Seeing your post in my reader I was intrigued by the bad title, but now I'm wondering how it ends, in the way that there must be more to it than plainness, given what you've written. 300 books and I've never heard of the author; kind of worrying!

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    1. There is, among other things, better household heating, a finishing school in Paris where our heroine faces a test of her honour against a German minx, and an extremely polite young Dutch schoolboy who doesn't think she's plain because all Dutch girls are plain... ;-)

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  6. My goodness, the woman was prolific! Over 300 books! I looked her up on Ebay and found some affordable copies with gorgeous covers.

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    1. I guess it will be quality that's the problem (and perhaps lack of reviews) - this is why my strategy of reading the ones with the craziest titles is probably not recommended. (But fun!).

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  7. Awesome title! I think I'd like this kind of book - I loved things like this as a kid.

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    1. It does have the terrific sense of black and white morality that I love in younger people's books of that era: one knows one's duty, and so on.

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  8. There's something so charming about "old-fashioned" books. I admire the simplicity, and often moral values, they seem to represent, as to Dumps,more thing, at least she can surround herself with chums and books! Haven't yet read this author, thanks for the introduction!

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    1. It is nice to have a sort of mental clean-out with these sort of books -- I suspect they'd become rather cloyingly nauseous if one read too many at once, but I agree that there is a lot of value in thinking more simply.

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  9. Poor old Dumps. What a horrendous name. Love children's books of olde. They sure have changed over the years. I can't believe this is some of the stuff I would have read in the 50's. Wish I could go back and look at library books I got back then. I remember many tales such as this. Travellin Penguin

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    1. The expectation that the heroine will just hang around home keeping house is, thankfully, pretty alien to most of the children's book I loved as a youngster, with their go-getter heroines like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. Even good old Anne of Green Gables wants a bit more than Dumps seems likely to achieve. Poor Dumps, indeed.

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  10. Wow, I can certainly see how you couldn't go past Dumps as a title. Although I was glad to see that little colon there, Dumps a Plain Girl would perhaps be a totally different book! I hadn't heard of this author at all either, there's always so much that's new out there to discover.

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    1. I guess that colon-less 'Dumps a plain girl' could well sum up at least the first half of the book! I am wallowing in all these old free e-books though I do wish I could see the real editions as I suspect they will have the most wonderful plates and drawings of poor of Dumps & co.

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  11. Doesn't Harriet, or possibly the Dean, in Gaudy Night, object to a newspaper calling the women at the college "sweet girl-graduates"? I'm fairly sure that's the case. I had no idea that came from a literary source!

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    1. Oh, well spotted! *googles*: Harriet writes to correct a newspaper on the term "undergraduettes" - "The only result of this was to provoke a correspondence headed 'Lady Undergrads', and a reference to 'sweet-girl graduates'."

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