An Old-Fashioned Girl, by Louisa May Alcott – Book Review

In An Old-Fashioned Girl, by Louisa May Alcott, Polly Milton visits her wealthy cousins in the city over the holidays and stays over the course of a few months.  A country girl, her mother has raised her with many simple and wholesome virtues, preparing the girl to become  a woman who cares about not only her family, but also about the plight of others.  Polly laments the fact that she doesn’t see the same depth of character and goodness in her cousins, Tom and Fanny.  Tom mostly harasses others and is careless of anyone but himself, and Fanny is not only shallow, but runs with a fast crowd – often deceiving her parents about her activities.

Her cousins’ relationships with their families are strained – the father distant, the mother nervous and strange, and the grandmother ignored and shoved up in a room upstairs.  Polly sets about cultivating relationships with each of the family members and restores the adults in part to the children.   The first half of the book ends when Polly returns home after brightening all the lives that she touches.  The novel resumes when Polly returns to make her own living by giving music lessons, and once again this old-fashioned girl sets out to make changes in big city lives.

Have you ever read a book that you frustrated you so much and that you disliked so much that it calls into question everything you have ever felt about other works of the same author?  An author you thought you loved?  This is that book for me and it is totally unexpected. I’ve read quite  a few of Louisa May Alcott’s books growing up.  I loved Little WomenLittle Men and Eight Cousins. The heroines have never ended up marrying whom I wanted them to, but I have found a way to make peace with that. I’ve read Little Women as recently as college and still enjoyed it, but An Old-Fashioned Girl, which in all honesty probably isn’t that much different from the books I’ve mentioned loving, made me want to throw things.

It is so preachy and full of moralizing that I couldn’t even take it.  And that goody two shoes Polly, is a thousand times worse than Melanie in Gone With The Wind.  She’s not just good herself, but hopes and dreams for others to be good.  I wanted to beat her up.

“I don’t know much, and that’s the reason why I’m grateful for your kindness to Will.  I don’t care what stories they tell about you, I’m sure you won’t lead him to trouble, but keep him straight, for my sake.  You know I have lost one brother, and Will takes Jimmy’s place to me now.”

The tears in Polly’s eyes as she said that made Tom vow a tremendous vow to himself to stand by Will through thick and thin and “keep him straight for Polly’s sake,” feeling all the time how ill-fitted he was for such a task.”

“I’ll do my best, he said heartily as he pressed the hand Polly gave him with a look that assured her that he felt the appeal to his honor, and that thenceforth the country lad was safe from all the temptations Tom could have offered him.

Gag me!

I really don’t have that much to say.   I suffered through a whole book full of quotes like the ones above, and far from inspiring goodness and kindness in my heart, they put me in one of the foulest reading moods I’ve ever experienced in a lifetime of reading. I rolled my eyes so much that I gave myself a headache – several times a page sometimes.  I think I even caught myself grinding my teeth, and I definitely had to make myself relax my jaw.

A morality tale that I might have been been enamored of as a child strikes me as treacly and annoying as an adult.  Don’t read past the age of twelve.

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Book Information: An Old Fashioned Girl, by Louisa May Alcott
Publisher, Publication Date & Other Info: Puffin Books – Reissued November 1, 1996 – Paperback – 345 miserable pages
Book’s Source: From my personal library collection.

Read More Reviews At: Books Love Me

Reading Challenges: Shelf Discovery

Related Reading From My Library: Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott – Little Men, by Louisa May Alcott – March, by Geraldine Brooks – Louisa May Alcott, by Harriet Reisen – The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, by Kelly O’Connor McKnees

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Blogger Unplugged! December 23,  2009   Jan 2, 2010


  1. Kay

    Nicole, I laughed out loud when I read your review. I think you are probably right about the moralizing angle. It's funny to me because I highlighted this book last week as one of my favorites from the age of 10. Let me admit that I have not read it since probably my late teens. At that time, it seemed sweet and touching. I wonder now how I might react to it at the age of 52. Or maybe it's just the time of your life or where you are in your life at this moment. I think sometimes we need the comfort, the stickiness of sentiment, and at other times, we roll our eyes. Such are the journeys we all take with books. I'm so pleased you shared your thoughts on this book. Louisa May Alcott is definitely the classic author of the moment I think.
    My recent post I'm wondering, do you review every book you read?

  2. Oh my! I'm sorry this book left such a terrible impression on you, but I have to admit to chuckling as I read your review. I've felt that way about Joan Dideon's The Year of Magical Thinking a few years ago, but I am surprised that Alcott did it to you. I LOVED Little Women and was hoping to re-read it this year for the fun of it.
    My recent post On My Wishlist #1

  3. Valerie

    I think that Alcott's books (except maybe her gothic novels) all have some degree of preaching and moralizing in them, even Little Women. Seems like An Old Fashioned Girl has more of it than usual!
    My recent post The Winner of “Emotional Geology”!

  4. I recently reread this book as well and was super-bored by it…I think later in her career LMA felt a lot of pressure to continue the "wholesome books for girls" thang and OFG was just another stop on the road to Moralsville.
    My recent post What’s Heroic About Libraries?

  5. I have never read a book by Alcott except Little Women because I was so disheartened by the way that one ended. I don't think I could read her again, but maybe I should give her another try. I've never heard of this book, though, and the quote you shared made ME want to gag, too. So… maybe not! 🙂

    • I have always been infuriated by the end of Little Women. To this day, I am still not over it. She di the same thing in Eight Cousins when she killed off the lead romantic character and then had the main marry the boring a safe choice. Gah! I think that this one is worse than Little Women with the moralizing because this girl never had a bad thought and was always good. I think Little Men is the only Alcott that I have read without something questionable happening, but then it's a little boring.
      My recent post Outside the Zone: 8 Bloggers Share The Reads They Love From Outside Their Comfort Zone – A Bookworms Carnival

    • It probably won't kill your love for Little Women. Jo struggles so much with her behavior that she is never a good two shoes, and like we said on Twitter, they kill off Beth. The problem with this book is that Polly is just so eternally good and kind and annoying. There is no balance in this one.
      My recent post Outside the Zone: 8 Bloggers Share The Reads They Love From Outside Their Comfort Zone – A Bookworms Carnival

  6. Amy

    I don't do preachy well either. For as much as I loved Little Women, it seems she's not overly fond of happy endings (OK, she doesn't seem to like them at all), but I still enjoyed the relationships of the sisters. I think I will be skipping this one though.
    My recent post The Sunday Salon

  7. I read practically every LMA novel for girls multiple times when I was young, but my recollection is that this one wasn't one of my favorites, and I doubt I'd go back to it now. It's always interesting to see how time and maturity affect our view of these old favorites, though.

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  9. Hi Nicole! LOL. I read this book about three years ago and I had to laugh when I read your review. Didn’t realise the book was that preachy. Well, I hope to read more of Louisa May Alcott’s books too, the unabridged versions though. I enjoyed the Little Men book too. 🙂 Thanks for linking to my review, though it’s mostly a summary of this book!

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  12. yo

    i actually loved this book and little women was also super preachy so i dont mind.

  13. yo

    i actually loved this book, i thought it was really sweet, and i even cried in one part. but i’m only 15 and you sound older.

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