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1886

WHAT GIRLS READ,

Girls, like boys, in recent years have been remarkably favoured in the matter of their reading. They cannot complain, with any justice, that they are ignored in the piles of juvenile literature laid annually upon the booksellers' shelves. Boys boast a literature of their very own,' as they would call it. So do girls. If the son has enlisted in his service such able pens as those of Reid, Henty, Verne, Kingston, Aimard, Hughes, Hopes, Hodgetts, Ballantyne, Frith, Fenn, Reed, Stables, Blake, Hutcheson, Edgar and others, the daughter may claim allegiance from a band scarcely less numerous and not less brilliant and worthy. Among them may be mentioned Mesdames Alcott, Dodge, Marshall, Banks, Browne, Beale, Symington, Owen, Sewell, Wetherell, Holmes, Meade, and Yonge. These ladies have endeavoured to do for girls what has now for some years been done for boys. To a considerable extent they have succeeded. But to write for girls is very different to writing for boys. Girls' literature would be much more successful than it is if it were less goody-goody. Girls will tolerate preaching just as little as boys, and to hit the happy medium between the story of philistine purity and the novel of Pandæmoniacal vice is not apparently always easy. Girls' literature, properly so called, contains much really good writing, much that is beautiful and ennobling. It appeals in the main to the highest instincts of honour and truth of which humanity is capable. But with all its merits, it frequently lacks the peculiar qualities which can alone make girls' books as palatable to girls as boys' books are to boys.

This deficiency is not quite the fault of those who aspire to write for girls, but is of the essence of the subjects which offer themselves for treatment. "Go'-a monosyllable signifying startling situations and unflagging movement-characterises boys' books, and girls' books will never be as successful as are boys' books until the characteristic is imported into them. “Slow and sure' is not the motto of either reader or writer in these days. Public and publicist are acceptable to each other in proportion as they are ready to conform to the electric influences of the times. When books were few and far between, an author might indulge in long-winded dissertations almost to his heart's content. Now, if he has a moral to point, he must point it in the facts of his narrative: not in a sermon, which plays the part of rearguard to every incident. Girl-life does not lend itself to vigorous and stirring treatment in the manner that boy-life does. It is far more difficult to enlist the reader's interest in domestic contretemps and daily affairs than in fierce combats between nations, or in the accidents of all kinds into which boys and men, by the very nature of their callings, are for ever being led. In the ranks of girls and women it may be conceded are centred the greatest heroism, the noblest devotion, the highest purpose, the longest suffering the harshest and cruellest of human trials. The courage which meets privation or ignores self for the sake of those near and dear is woman's. It is courage of the first order. The courage which makes a man face boldly an enemy on the field of battle or fing himself into the boiling surf to rescue a fellow-creature is, too, deserving of all honour, but it is, nevertheless, courage of a secondary order and is primarily man's. Heroines like Grace Darling are few. Heroes like Robert Clive are many. It requires to face fever in a loathsome alley, or to minister to the needs of the wounded soldier, a courage dissimilar in all respects to that called forth by the necessity of spiking a gun or swimming out to a wreck. The one is devotion, human, spiritual, Christian; the other is pluck, animal-like in its character, desperate in its instincts. The former is noted by God and lauded by man, but requires an uncommon power to treat adequately from the point of view of the story reader; the latter is easily susceptible of a treatment, feverish and romantic, which may be expected to appeal to the dullest of imaginations. The gore of the battle-field and the flames of the burning building are facts more readily grasped by, and hence more interesting to, the majority of youthful readers than the sick room and injured heart.

These considerations indicate the forces which militate against the popularity of the works deemed suitable for girls. At the same time there are many ladies who have become really famous in this particular branch of literature. At the head of them probably stands Miss Louisa M. Alcott. That Miss Alcott should be able to write the kind of story most likely to interest the young mind, is not surprising to those who have any knowledge of the incidents of her life. The scenes of suffering and resignation, of patriotism, devotion, and love, which she, in conjunction with most of her countrywomen, witnessed during the American Civil War, gave her genius that fillip which enabled her in Little Women and many other works to produce stories whose success is said to have yielded her the good round sum of 20,0001. in the course of a couple of decades. Miss Alcott has a power almost unrivalled in its exquisite simplicity of making one interested in the most prosaic of matters. The fate of a plum

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pudding boiled by the untrained hands of a girl of fourteen becomes under Miss Alcott's pen an affair of nearly as great moment as some of the wildest of situations under other pens. After reading Miss Alcott, it is impossible not to feel that one has learnt a great deal of the susceptibilities and trials of young life, and gained an idea of the surest means of moulding a child's future.

Neither Miss C. M. Yonge nor Miss E. M. Sewell is as much read now as formerly by young ladies on the road from the Nursery to Society. The maiden of fifteen a quarter of a century since was a very different person from the maiden of fifteen to-day in many important particulars. Mothers who, as girls, read Miss Sewell or Miss Yonge, now consent to their daughters studying .Ouida' and Miss Braddon. Miss Yonge and Miss Sewell have much in common. They were born in the same decade, they aim at inculcating love of the same Church, some passages of their works are not unlike, and in one case they collaborated in the production of a series of readings from the best authorities entitled Historical Sketches. Miss Yonge has, however, been more versatile than Miss Sewell. She has written or compiled all sorts of histories, as well as stories and novels. She aims chiefly at imparting instruction, and frequently it is to be feared becomes wearisome in so doing. Her best and most popular work is The Heir of Redclyffe, a simple story told with equal simplicity and excellence. Another of her works is Daisy Chain, which is considerably spoiled as a book for girls by the minuteness of the discussions on the advantages of certain methods of learning. Ethel May's flights ' from hic, hæc, hoc, up to Alcaics and beta Thukidides’are not likely to secure much sympathetic enthusiasm.

If any complaint is to be made against Miss Sewell, it is that she is too exhaustive. Almost every one of her books would bear cutting down by a third at least, and would in the process gain alike in worth and attractiveness. Miss Sewell's works, however, ought to be much more widely disseminated among girls than tbey have been recently, and the enterprise of Messrs. Longmans,

reen & Co. in producing an entirely new and cheaper edition of her Tales and Stories is deserving of a word of grateful recog. nition. A thousand and one moral precepts, admirably put and beautifully illustrated, might be culled from Miss Sewell's pages. She is for ever battling with the misery and the wickedness of the scenes wherein we play in. She aims at holding evil up to the contempt and horror of her audience by placing it in the light of surpassing goodness. Virtue is the white sheet on which she turns her magic-lantern-like art, and shows vice in terrible, if sometimes exaggerated, proportions. Contrast is her means of exemplification ; she strives to bring home the advantages of method, moral rectitude, resolution, self-reliance, self-sacrifice, purity, justice, charity, and a hundred other ethical adjuncts by dwelling on their antitheses. To keep young people unspotted from the world is Vol. XX.-No. 116.

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the absorbing purpose of her work. She implores them to live uprightly in the sight of their Maker, not only with their lips but with their hearts. Only one who feels what she writes could have given us Amy Herbert, The Earl's Daughter, Laneton Parsonage, The Experience of Life, or, indeed, any of her stories. Religion is Miss Sewell's rock of refuge, and her teaching could not be better defined than in the words of George Crabbe, in his melodious and suggestive poem on 'The Library':

To thee DIVINITY! to thee, the light
And guide of mortals, through their mental night;
By whom we learn our hopes and fears to guide,
To bear with pain and to contend with pride ;
When grieved, to pray; when injured, to forgive;
And with the world in charity to live.

In a minor degree these lines would also describe Miss Sarah Doudney. Miss Doudney seems to me to occupy, as a writer for girls, a position analogous in some respects to that of Miss Austen among novelists. Her stories have little plot. Character and nature constitute her chief stock-in-trade. Michaelmas Daisy, for instance, as a narrative contains many passages and incidents suggestive of Pride and Prejudice. The loving characteristics of Daisy Garnett, and the mean and unkindly prejudices which moved her cousins to persecute her, are brought home to the reader quite as vividly as are the position and disposition of Miss Bennett and the jealousies of Miss Bingley in Miss Austen's work. Miss Doudney, however, is pre-eminently a devotee of nature, and the moral which she strives to inculcate is that which she discerns in nature. She brings home in many ways the truths which the observant may find in the trees and the flowers of the earth. Thus she concludes Michaelmas Daisy with an exposition of the story which she conceives may be read in the Michaelmas Daisy after which her heroine, is named and likened: “It is,' she writes, no new tale which the flowers have to tell each other as they stand grouped together in the autumn sunshine; it is only the old story that will never have an end while the earth endures. And yet what a beautiful tale it is, the tale of patience and long-suffering and steadfastness. In all the world perhaps there is hardly any nobler thing than the fortitude which is lovely amid unloveliness and fresh in the midst of decay.' Miss Doudney sees more in the autumn than the mere waning of summer into winter; to her it is an emblem of life's advance, of its decay and repose, when earthly existence is about to be exchanged for that other existence beyond the grave of which we can know little, when,' as she writes in Marion's Three Crowns, the wheat is gathered into garner, the work is accomplished, and the eternal resting time is nigh.' In Fallen Leaves, again, Miss Doudney takes the vagaries of nature as symbolic of human fortunes. The story is one protracted inquiry whether individual life is to be characterised merely by leafy profusion, or is to bear golden fruit.

At first sight there may seem to be some likeness between the work of Miss Sarah Doudney and that of Miss Anne Beale. In reality there is none. Miss Beale is also a lover of nature. But whilst Miss Doudney sees far into the inner purpose of the Great Goddess, and reads there as in an open book a divine story, Miss Beale recognises only its external beauty and attractiveness. It is the elements of the surface which particularly inspire her enthusiasm. In Miss Beale’s works you perceive the brilliancy of the sunset, and the sparkling dew on the grass in the early morning. You have not, as with Miss Doudney, the very heart of nature exposed before you. Miss Beale, on the other hand, is an equally apt delineator of character, and there is not one of her heroes or heroines whom with a little care one may not know intimately. She understands, too, how to weave a plot. Pathos seems to be her strong point. Her works are full of gentleness and generosity, and it requires a very stout heart to repress the tears which are wont to rise, albeit one hardly can say why, in many passages in Miss Beale's books. She has the knack of securing one's sympathy without allowing one to be conscious of the fact, until the crisis she has in view is realised. Miss Beale's stories deal largely with Wales. Gladys the Reaper is an effective combination of Welsh farm and country life and London misery, told with an admirable admixture of pathos and dry humour.

Few better things have been written for young people than this. The loves of Owen and Gladys and of Rowland and Freda, Gladys's self-abnegation until she knew what her parentage was, Freda's regret for the harsh words used to Rowland, when he, a farmer's son, ventured first to tell of his love, Owen's constancy to the girl who was originally a beggar at his parents' door, and Rowland's dignity and sincerity of heart, are one side of a very instructive picture; the relations of Colonel Vaughan and his wife, showing the humdrumness, to give it no harsher title, of married life to two worldly people who have married for lucre rather than love, and of Howell and Netta, which depict the miseries of disobedience and extravagance, as well as the part loving woman may play in reclaiming a scoundrel whose affection for his wife is the one white spot of his black career, form the other side. A book which contains all this is far from superficial. Miss Beale's works are all more or less full to overflowing of powerful character-sketching and moral influence, not so much by direct sermons as by hard facts. Miss Beale's most energetic, if it is not her best, work is The Pennant Family. This stirring story of the Welsh coast the author assures her readers is founded on fact, and may be read in the history of Glamorganshire under the heading Dunraven Castle.'

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