BoatGirl’s #CBR4 Review #53:A Colony of Girls by Kate Livingston Willard
A Colony of Girls was a Gutenberg Roulette book I downloaded before vacation after realizing I was spending way too much money purchasing new books for the trip. Published in 1892, it is an old fashioned but rather sweet story. The titular colony is the Long Island village of Hetherford in which live the Lawrence sisters, Helen, Jean and Nathalie, along with their Aunt Helen and 3 much younger siblings. Orphaned but wealthy, they are the center of a group of friends that spends summers in the village and has made a pact not to flirt or otherwise obsess about men, but to instead enjoy healthy pursuits such as tennis and swimming.
In the background is a small fly in the ointment: Helen, unofficial leader of the girls, has broken off an engagement to a longtime family friend and neighbor, Guy, due to his dislike of her new friend Lillian. Unbeknownst to her, Lillian did everything in her powers to break them up since he disapproved of her due to her behavior in Europe. He doesn’t explain this to Helen because it wouldn’t be polite, just as whenever Lillian visits, the other girls smilingly put up with her bad manners. Back in the day, polite manners meant that even though the other girls suspected she was causing problems, they couldn’t say anything and just had to hope she wouldn’t visit much.
During the summer of the novel, change comes along as young men come to visit due to the arrival of a US Coast Survey schooner as well as a pleasure yacht. Sister Jean quickly falls in love with Val Farr, a dashing and mysterious officer. All is going splendidly until Lillian turns up for a visit and it turns out that she and Val have a past. Now, yet another Lawrence girl’s happiness is in the hands of the selfish but beautiful Lillian as she schemes and meddles to pull the lovers apart.
I found two things interesting about this book. One, despite being 120 years old, the story is identical to so many teen comedies today. There’s the beautiful mean girl, who is clever at manipulating men, and the good girl who the reader is supposed to empathize with. The other was the manners themselves. I found it amazing that good manners would keep people from explaining their actions and that Lillian could count on that and use it to her advantage. The manners were so rigorous and scripted that there is no way to set things straight. I found it particularly funny when Lillian is leaving and Jean is saying goodbye and does so in what we would think a very cordial manner (hoping her stay was pleasant, etc) but the author notes that she can’t bring herself to say she was sorry to see her leave as she is supposed to. Overall, a light read that was interesting for showing the manners of an earlier time while also showing how little has changed.