This week’s BotW is easily one of the most banana-pants books I have recently read. And I’ve read some strange stuff* in the not-too-distant past. I picked up The Girls of Dancy Dene from the local crazy vintage emporium for the princely sum of £1.50 (it also had a sticker for £5 on it, so I suspect it may have been tough to shift) in the hopes that it would be a proto-Girl’s Own story. And it sort of is. Except crazier and with more religion. My copy was given as a reward (not a prize) by the Primitive Methodist Sunday School in 1912, but I suspect it may have been written a couple of years before that, although that’s only guesswork because there’s no copyright date in the book.
It tells the story of two sisters, who are already orphans and at the start of the book have just lost the grandfather. Dora and Luce are 15 and 12 and are their grandfather’s heirs, but they’re not to be told this yet. Their aunt tells them that they’re being sent to Switzerland to learn a profession because they’ll have to work for a living when they’re older. This goes down like a lead ballon but soon the girls are on their way to the Alps. But on the train through France they’re involved in a train crash which leaves Dora with a broken leg which may or may not leave her lame and sees her laid up (on a stretcher for some time) while her sister goes off to school. And this is all in the first third of the book. It goes on to feature a fake mountain accident, a pet marmoset, a horse in a kitchen and running through the house after a (pet) parrot attack and a cart tour through Devon.
It’s utterly utterly nuts, and I laughed so hard reading it. It’s also got a strong strain of moralising – lots of stuff about beauty coming from your character not from your looks, the importance of girls doing what they are told by men and accepting their fate to help men do better and “Blessed be the Drudges” – which is a lot less fun. There are also plot holes galore, timeline issues – and an “old” maiden auntie who isn’t even 30 yet!
It’s not actually a book that I would recommend to anyone but the hardcore reader of early 20th century books for girls – but I had so much fun with it that I did a live read of it on a Facebook group dedicated to Girl’s Own fiction over the Easter weekend. They were all as bowled over by it as I was. I also doubt that you’ll be able to find a copy of this – Amazon don’t have any secondhand copies – but I suppose I might be willing to part with mine if someone made me an offer. The author, MB Manwell, has written other stories and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more of them because this was so utterly nuts I’d like to see what else they came up with!
*Including what turned out to be a stepdad and stepdaughter romance that I picked up (for free) on Kindle thinking it was a single dad romance. That’ll teach me not to read the descriptions properly.