Books I Live With: The ‘Katy Did’ books

I did read a lot when I was a child but generally it was an odd selection, I didn’t read the ‘Little House on the Prarie’ books but I did read Anne of Green Gables (and I read all eight of those and I’ll talk about them another time). When I was younger, I read the books that my mother gave me and there is a row of books in the bookcases now that used to be hers.

They weren’t expensive books, they weren’t improving books (I suppose that you could make a case for Great Expectations – given to my 10 year old mother for her birthday!), to me they were fascinating, because my mum had read them and some of them had inscriptions in that put me in touch with people that I had heard about but never met (my grandmother, Iris, for instance)

Three of those books were What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next and I really loved those books. They just felt like a different world and although I can as an adult see the ‘message’ in them, Ma and I still talk about ‘Cousin Helen’ and being a gracious receiver, I didn’t really see it then. What did fascinate me was the food and the manners. Tinned oysters, the bathing issues that Katy had at school, what constituted good manners. What Katy Did, shows an out of control child in (by Victorian standards anyway) an out of control household. Katy has an accident and has to stay in bed, unable to walk and quite discontented about it. With the help of ‘Cousin Helen’ who will never walk (Katy will get better), Katy learns to become a nicer person and at the same time, takes the place of her deceased mother and in assuming that role everything is easier.

That there was way that young ladies should behave but at the same time these girls were expected to be independent too. Dr Carr worried that Katy is too responsible and grown up, sends Katy and Clover to the same school attended by her cousin Lily. Katy and Clover are more than a little shocked by school and Lily. If Katy is our model then Lily is what we don’t want to be. Lily is all affectation, she taps her folk on a glass to summon the waiter, she’s an airhead who isn’t a good sister and is far to interested in appearance and money.

Everyone always comes around to seeing Katy as better, in What Katy Did Next, she goes to Europe and manages awful seasickness, eats a English muffin and is disappointed (as well she might be, she should have had crumpets!), copes with her young charge catching fever and is generally lovely. She ends up married (of course) but not because she’s the prettiest but because she’s the nicest.

There were 2 more books, Clover and In the High Valley, which I didn’t read until I was older. They’re about Clover and Elsie, who get sent ‘out West’, to look after a convalescent brother, and I read those as well. For me, they don’t have the same charm as the first three but that’s more to do with when I read them but the themes are the same and they also are just like looking into another world.

I still reread them, I couldn’t be without them!




About nicdempsey

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