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Jean K. Baird

Autor/a de Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall

13 obres 29 Membres 12 Ressenyes

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Inclou aquests noms: Jean K. Baird, Jean Katherine Baird

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Obres de Jean K. Baird

Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall (1907) 7 exemplars, 1 ressenya
Sixty-Five On Time (1909) 2 exemplars, 1 ressenya
The Girl Beautiful (1917) 1 exemplars
Cash Three (1906) 1 exemplars, 1 ressenya
Danny (1906) 1 exemplars, 1 ressenya
The Heir of Barachah (1911) 1 exemplars, 1 ressenya
The Honor Girl (1907) 1 exemplars, 1 ressenya
Little Rhody (1907) 1 exemplars, 1 ressenya
The Boy Next Door (1910) 1 exemplars, 1 ressenya
The Coming of Hester (1909) 1 exemplars, 1 ressenya
Hester's Wage-Earning (1912) 1 exemplars, 1 ressenya

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Nom normalitzat
Baird, Jean K.
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female

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Ressenyes

Jean K. Baird shifts her focus somewhat, in this third and final entry in her trilogy of juvenile novels about the adventures of young foundling, Hester Alden - the first installment of the series, The Coming of Hester, chronicled the events which led to the infant Hester being adopted by the upright (and rather rigid) farm-woman, Debby Alden, and the effect that Hester's upbringing had on them both; while the second, Hester's Counterpart, set out Hester's experiences away at boarding school, where she met a young woman remarkably like herself in appearance - moving away from her preoccupation with her eponymous heroine's racial heritage, and concentrating more on the threat posed by an unscrupulous woman, masquerading as Aunt Debby's long-lost sister-in-law, to the Alden homestead.

Returned home after the tumultuous events that concluded Hester's Counterpart - the flooding of Lockport, and the retreat of many of the pupils from Dickinson Seminary to surrounding upland estates - Hester and her Aunt Debby settle back into the Alden place for the summer in Hester's Wage Earning. But when a pushy, loud-mouthed woman, with bleached hair and vulgar dress, descends upon them (timid daughter in tow), and they learn that she is none other than the widow of Debby's elder brother Ezra, dead these many years, it seems that their home isn't really theirs after all - at least not in whole. As Debby seeks the advice of the family lawyers, Hendig and Hintner, who are determined to sift the case to the bottom, Hester, worried that she will now be a burden, decides to find a job, and help out with the home finances. And so she finds herself, at the young age of seventeen, a first-time wage-earner, taking a position as a beginning journalist, with a local newspaper.

The resolution of the crisis involving "Alice Alden," and her claims on Debby's property, is telegraphed to the reader almost from the moment it is introduced, but for fans of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century popular fiction, the process whereby the plot is exposed will still make for moderately enjoyable reading (and hence my two stars, rather than the one that I have awarded each of the previous two installments of the Hester series). The issue of Hester's true identity, which is the over-riding concern of the first two books - through a misunderstanding, Debby Alden had believed, all these years, that her adopted daughter was part African-American, and it had been her quest to undo any 'damage' caused by this blood 'taint,' and to hide it from the world - is, oddly enough, almost completely absent from the story. Through Helen Lorraine's visit, at the close of the novel, the long-awaited revelation about Hester's parentage - something the reader has been aware of throughout the series - unfolds almost naturally, and rather like an afterthought. When Mrs. Vail is revealed as Hester's true mother, Debby mentions, quite casually, that she had assumed that Hester's Mammy was in fact her mother, quietly and noncommittally dispatching of the narrative theme that had provided her with hours of hand-wringing and obsessive fear, in earlier stories.

I found Hester's Wage Earning to be unexpectedly engaging, after the rather distasteful experience of reading the first two installments of Baird's series, partly because I was able to identity a number of plot devices common in the sentimental children's fiction of the time (ca. 1912). The 'Alice Alden' character reminded me, for instance, of the charlatan who claims to be the mother of the real Lord Fauntleroy, in Frances Hodgson Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy, and since I enjoy making those kinds of connections, my read was improved. It probably helped that the nauseating racism of the earlier books wasn't as pronounced here, although it was certainly still lurking in the background. Still, I don't want to overstate - this is not a book I would really recommend to fellow readers, unless they had a particular interest in vintage American children's literature, and the handling of issues of race in same, although I myself found it fascinating - if also rather horrifying
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AbigailAdams26 | Aug 7, 2016 |
The racialist hand-wringing continues apace in this second young adult novel devoted to the doings of foundling Hester Alden - published in 1910, Hester's Counterpart is a sequel to The Coming of Hester, which establishes how Hester first came into the care of Pennsylvania farm woman Debby Alden, who adopted her and raised her as her own, despite her secret belief that the orphaned infant was "tainted" by the African blood of her light-skinned mulatto mother - as our heroine is sent to Dickinson Seminary, a girls' boarding school in the river town of Lockport. Here Hester, rooming with Helen Loraine - a young girl of approximately her own age, whose striking resemblance to Hester frequently leads to mix-ups and misunderstandings - is soon at home, and involved in the life of the school, from the all-important game of basketball, at which she soon excels, to the many social activities like evening fudge-making (de rigueur in the American school story and college novel, apparently). But when Hester is spotted wearing a distinctive pin - an exact duplicate of one that Helen is known to have lost - rumor and false accusation are soon rife at Dickinson Seminary, and a wedge is driven between Hester and her counterpart, her erstwhile friend, Helen.

I began this three-volume series about Hester (the third title, as yet unread, is Hester's Wage Earning) in order to read this book specifically, which was of interest to me as an example of an American school story - a genre of which I have only recently become aware, and with which I am trying to familiarize myself. It was fascinating to see many of the standard themes of that genre - the midnight feasts (here "spreads") and fudge-making, the false accusation against the heroine, the two girls who are clearly meant to be friends, but temporarily quarrel, and the high conception of honor amongst schoolgirls - at play in Hester's Counterpart. The last of these, in particular, was noteworthy, as I think it reveals quite a bit about Victorian notions of ladylike behavior and morality, that would have been abroad in the culture at the time. The discussion of faith in friends - the notion that one must believe the best, even in the face of evidence to the contrary - was really quite interesting. I was also struck by the inclusion of a minor character (Emma Chase) who is said to have read many stories about boarding school, before attending Dickinson, as this points to the popularity of the genre at the time, despite its almost total disappearance from the American scene. Finally, I noticed that mention was made, in the section devoted to Dickinson Seminary's basketball program, to a rival school named Exeter Hall, making me wonder whether this were a reference to another of the author's works, the (seemingly?) unrelated Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall (1907).

The school story interest in this title was sufficient reward, speaking as someone interested in the history of the genre, for me, in reading these Hester books, which are otherwise noteworthy only for their extremely repugnant preoccupation with racial heritage (something also of interest to scholars, I imagine), and the unintentional commentary they offer on the subject of people "passing" as white. As mentioned in my review of the first book in the series, The Coming of Hester, Debby Alden's obsession with Hester's possible racial background (and through her, the author's obsession with the issue) is really quite perverse. Although she comes to genuinely love her adopted daughter (or niece, as Hester calls her "Aunt"), Debby cannot look past what she believes to be the blood "taint" in Hester, whom she intends to raise to be a spinster, in order to prevent that taint from being passed on. Her anguished ruminations on the subject, clearly meant by the author as evidence of her high and noble thinking, and strong moral character, read today as horrifying evidence of the strong influence of the "single drop" idea - the notion that a person was black if they had a single drop of African blood in them - on American culture, and the suffering that it caused. Consider the following passages, which are sprinkled throughout:

"Debby, who believed firmly that tendencies are inherited, had always the fear that Hester would show the tendencies of an alien race. Her one consolation was that much may be overcome by training, and too, perhaps, there was in Hester's veins only a drop of darker blood."

"She would keep the child far removed from any influence which would tend to the strengthening of those traits which are supposed rightly to belong to the race of slaves."

"You know that there are conditions of blood and family which bear a stain which generations cannot eradicate. Poor Hester, innocent and brilliant as she is, bears that mark."


That Debby is incorrect, in her belief regarding Hester's parentage - something that the author is careful to foreground, in her story, leaving the reader in no doubt as to the true family to which her heroine belongs - makes the racial obsession all the more repugnant to contemporary readers. It is as if Baird were reassuring us that, although she will be spending three books exploring this issue, she wants to spare us the discomfort of thinking Hester might actually, in reality, have some of that "darker blood." The wildly improbable means by which she extends the "mystery" - it cannot be to build suspense, since the reader knows the truth from the very beginning of the first book - grow even more tiresome here, as Hester is continually just missing a meeting with her true mother, and her quarrel with Helen is resolved without a discussion of its cause, thereby forestalling any revelation about why they have such similar pins. Clearly, Hester's racial identity functions, less as a mystery, than as a "trial by fire" for Debby Alden - a testing of her character - and for Hester, who believes, given Debby's silence on the topic, that she must be from "poor stock."

Clearly, matters will only be resolved in Hester's Wage Earning, the third and concluding installment of the sordid saga. These books are not light reading, so I recommend them primarily to scholars with an interest in the American school story, and/or the issue of race in vintage children's fiction.
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AbigailAdams26 | Aug 7, 2016 |
Originally published in 1909, this young adult novel from that earlier era is the first of three books to follow the life story of the eponymous Hester, an orphan adopted, as an infant, by upright Pennsylvania farm-woman Debby Alden. As the title suggests, it sets out the "coming of Hester" - how her 'mother' (more on this anon) stopped to rest at Debby Alden's farmhouse, on her way to catch a train; how that same woman was killed in a train accident, for which Debby felt responsible (having given the woman directions on how to cross the tracks); how Debby adopted the young child, despite what she 'knew' (again, more anon) about her heritage; and how the childhood and youth of her adopted daughter brought unexpected blessings, both for Debby and for Hester. The story moves rather quickly through Hester's younger years, and focuses on her early adolescence: her schooling, the friends and enemies she makes, and her home life with her Aunt Debby. Running throughout is Aunt Debby's constant worry about who Hester really is, something she keeps secret, and hopes to "counteract," through her training.

This is really quite a perverted book, and I don't mean in a sexual sense - although who one can have sex with does come into it, despite the Victorian trappings - and I had to wait a few days before reviewing it, to let the themes digest, and to come to a more even temperament, in considering its ugliness. At its heart, this seemingly sweet, sentimental orphan story - one of so many penned at this time, for younger readers - is a narrative of race in America. It is not a critical, or thoughtful narrative, but rather, opens a window into how race was perceived and enacted in that time and place, and it draws heavily on all manner of racialist thinking, from the idea that those of African blood were inherently fit for slavery, to the notion that such blood was a 'taint,' in the heritage of otherwise upstanding individuals. Rarely have I seen a story which brings home more strongly, through its record of Aunt Debby's obsession with Hester's racial background, the perfidious nature of the "one drop" idea - that curious notion that one was black if one had a single drop of African blood.

The perversity of the tale, I think, and what makes it more difficult to stomach, than many of the overtly racist vintage children's books I have read over the years (think titles like The Little Colonel), is that Aunt Debby, while desperately trying to undo whatever "damage" may have been caused to Hester, by her light-skinned mulatto mother, genuinely comes to love the charge she had initially taken on through a sense of duty. That love, however, is not enough to conquer what to people of the time must have seemed the immutable laws of ancestry (there's plenty of talk here of family, and blood), a fact that speaks more strongly than many a historical work I have read, to the ubiquity of such thinking in the culture, and its incredible power over the minds of the people. This is not, in the end, a story about the triumph of love, although I think Jean K. Baird obviously meant it to be, but rather, ironically, a story of the weakness of love, its impotence, in the face of ignorance and bigotry.

Of course, the reader is never left in any doubt of the truth - that the mulatto woman in charge of Hester, when Debby Alden first encountered her, is not the young girl's true mother, but a Mammy (a word the woman uses, in describing herself) of some kind - a reassurance that only added to my feelings of distaste, while reading. It's as if the author is making sure the reader knows that this worthy young woman isn't really African, Heaven forbid! The secret of Hester's true identity - hinted at in the sub-plot involving the scheming Abner Stout (what, didn't I mention the outright classist ideas here, about the grasping merchant class, as opposed to the salt-of-the-earth farmer types?) - remains unresolved at the close of the book, as Debby Alden, with the blessings of Dr. Heins, in whom she has confided the terrible secret, informs Hester that she must never marry. Imagine if this young woman, raised as a white person, married another white person, passing on the taint!

Knowing nothing about the story, I decided to read this one because I am interested in its sequel, Hester's Counterpart: A Story of Boarding School Life, as an example of an American school story. I'll probably still read the sequel, out of morbid curiosity, but I'm rather dreading the experience. This is definitely one book I recommend ONLY to scholars researching issues of race in vintage children's fiction. Everyone else should do themselves a favor, and spare themselves the sickening spectacle.

NOTE: in the story, Debby Alden recognizes the mulatto woman, whom she initially takes for white, based upon the shape and size of her fingers. I'm familiar with the pseudo-science of physiognomy, but do not know of similar racialist ideas based on fingers. Does anyone else?
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AbigailAdams26 | Aug 7, 2016 |
Part school story and part family tale, this brief and rather sentimental novella for young people, first published in 1907, concerns the social and cultural reformation of Mary O'Brien, a young girl from the working class Fifth Ward - colloquially known as "The Bloody Fifth" - who, although the brightest student at the Jackson Avenue High School, could never seem to make any headway with the 'better' set - the girls from Congress and Kennedy Streets - amongst the pupils. Opening on a day when Mary, having missed the trolley-car home, unexpectedly receives a midday dinner invitation from Sally Platte, the leader of the "Congress Street set," the story follows her as she becomes aware of the many things, both large and small, that have prevented her from becoming the social success she would like to be. Having unconsciously adopted the idea that money brings status, Mary had attempted to outshine all the other girls in matters of dress, wearing stylish but cheap clothing that set her apart. Aware from the beginning that she was different, she had insisted upon being known as Marie O'Brean, a "new pronunciation ... pleasing to the girl," but which, despite its 'patrician' sound, "failed to work the change she coveted." Ignorant of the proper way to behave, whether to a teacher, or as a guest in someone's home for a meal, she covered her insecurity with a rather rude, brazen way of speaking - forceful, but not terribly informed.

Things were no better at her home on Stump Street, where Mrs. O'Brien, unaided by her elder daughter in the housework, had given up on any of the niceties, whether eating in the dining room rather than around the kitchen table, and dressing for dinner, or keeping Mary's younger sister Gladys clean, and away from the gutter children. Gladys herself, always eager to imitate her idolized elder sister, had taken to singing the "low" coon songs that Mary and her neighborhood friends had always enjoyed performing during evening visits to one another. Mary's father, a talented and hard-working machinist who had risen through the ranks to become the foreman of hundreds of workers, was a gentle and loving husband and father, but had taken to spending his evenings at Jack's Place, a drinking spot where men eventually went "to the bad." After a series of disastrous encounters, and an overheard conversation, Mary's eyes are opened, and the girl, who is lacking in neither intelligence nor proper spirit, sets out to see what she can do to mend matters. Her uplift in habit of dress and manner is soon accompanied by an uplift in sentiment, and she finishes her high school career by making a sacrifice for a new friend, thereby becoming the unsung "honor girl" of her school.

Although not terribly successful as a story - the social transformation of Mary and her family is effected in under one hundred pages, and none of the characters are fully realized - The Honor Girl does offer a fascinating glimpse of ideas of class and gender in early twentieth-century America. Mary O'Brien is the perfect example of the "social climber" type - a working class person who either gains some extra income, or who attends school with pupils of middle and upper class backgrounds, but who has no idea how to go on in this new environment - in the children's literature of the day, but while she would undoubtedly have been either the villain or buffoon, if this were a British book, here she is the protagonist and heroine, and the aim of the author is to show how she overcomes her background, rather than remaining defined by it. As odd as it is, given how egregiously classist the story appears to the contemporary reader, Baird is presenting a more progressive view of class - the idea that it is not immutable or inherent, but something situational, that can be changed through hard work and imitation of one's 'betters' - than many of her contemporaries. The desirability of that change is taken as a given, and nowhere is there a sense that the inequality between the classes has anything to do with economic factors, or with the behavior of middle and upper class people. There is no hint in the story that any of the Congress or Kennedy Street girls have ever had so much as a snobby thought - when Mary changes, they are immediately willing to embrace her as an equal - or that ethnicity plays any role at all. This latter is particularly interesting, as it points to possible changes at this time in the wider culture's ideas about Irish Americans. Seen as irretrievably "other" in the mid nineteenth century, have they now become acceptable as full equals, providing they behave "just like us" ("us" being White Anglo Saxon Protestant Americans)?

Just as Mary must change in dress and manner, learning by observation some of the complicated social behaviors of the middle class into which she is trying to enter (and with her, her family), so she must also attend to deeper matters of taste and culture, and this draws heavily upon notions of gender abroad at the time. As a young girl, she must reject the unladylike in conduct - the loud voice, the showy but rather messy clothing - but also the unladylike in spirit - the coon songs, the assessment of others by wealth alone - embracing more refined and cultured ideas. In the end, by sacrificing her own chances of being the top student at the high school, she has fulfilled the ultimate ideal of Victorian femininity - self sacrifice - and earned her titular status as "The Honor Girl." She also, by involving her entire family in her project of uplift - she begins to help more at home, becoming a better role-model for Gladys, and guiding her away from the unladylike; she is instrumental in convincing her mother that she is still loved, with electrifying results; and she even manages to influence her father away from Jack's Place (and the implicit dangers of alcohol), by making home a more attractive place - has become a shining example of that classic nineteenth and early twentieth century woman's occupation: the social reformer.

There's quite a bit to unpack in this one-hundred-page story - more than enough for a paper, I would say - but since I picked it up largely to get an idea of Jean K. Baird's work, as I am working on a piece about a trilogy of children's/young adult novels she wrote, I'll leave it at that. I don't think there's much here to attract the casual reader - it is a deservedly obscure book - so I would recommend it primarily to other readers researching early twentieth-century American girls' fiction.
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AbigailAdams26 | Aug 7, 2016 |

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Estadístiques

Obres
13
Membres
29
Popularitat
#460,290
Valoració
2.1
Ressenyes
12
ISBN
7