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"New England Girlhood" (book discussion)

"A New England Girlhood", by Lucy Larcom (book discussion)

This thread is dedicated to a discussion of the book "A New England Girlhood" by Lucy Larcom, first published in 1889. This book is available as a free download at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2293/2293-h/2293-h.html..

The book is divided into 11 chapters of about equal length. This makes for an obvious and convenient schedule of one chapter (about 10 pages or so) per week. The first week's reading consists of the Preface and Chapter I ("Up and Down the Lane").

For those wishing for some background information, I have located the following on-line references:

"Proud to Be a Mill Girl", American Heritage, v 62, #1 (Spring 2012)
http://www.americanheritage.com/content/proud-be-mill-girl

Lucy Larcom biography at National Women's History Museum web site
http://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/lucy-larcom/

"Children of the Young Republic", American Heritage, April 1960
http://www.americanheritage.com/content/children-young-republic

Should someone wish to join or comment after the discussions have started, you are certainly welcome to do so. We would urge you to procure a copy of the book (free download) and catch up on the readings to that point and then continue with us the rest of the way.

The book should be an interesting look at childhood in the early American republic as well as the experience of one of the mill girls of Lowell, Massachusetts.
 
After reading the Preface and first chapter of the book, I am left with two overriding impressions.

First, I am left with a deep appreciation of the value of the reminiscences of this ordinary woman precisely because of her ordinariness. On account of that fact, we get a picture of the typical and usual lives and experiences of the time and, with that, a truer picture of the times themselves.

Secondly, what comes through in her description of her early childhood experiences is just how profoundly different her life, and the lives of those around her, is from our lives today, or our lives of 50 years ago when I was growing up. She stands midway between her Pilgrim ancestors and ourselves and yet she is a lot closer to her ancestors than we are to her in terms of experiences and general outlook on life.

If I were to sum up the difference between her life in the early 19th century and ours in late 20th / early 21st century, that one word would be - authenticity. And I would contrast the authenticity of her life and experiences to the superficiality of life today. What she (they) lacked in the way of material possessions and creature comforts was more than made up for in their direct and true relation to the world and the people around them. It is almost as if the wealth and comforts of today are not just a distraction, but a barrier to real experiential living.
 
I just finished reading the Preface and first chapter. You're right, her outlook is definitely closer to the Pilgrims than to us. I enjoyed the descriptions of the fireplace and how it drew the family together for stories.

One of the things I think is interesting is how she describes herself in terms of her habitat in growing up, essentially bookending the chapter: the Massachusetts coast and the lane that ran among the hills. I grew up in a place very different from hers (west Texas) but I can see her attachment. I haven't lived in west Texas in over 20 years, but I still think of the place as home and also can't see myself growing up anywhere else.

You mention the contrast between the authenticity of her life to the superficiality of life today. One thing I thought of was the way she described her dolls. The ones she played with everyday were poor, ragged things without features: a sharp contrast to what kids use to keep themselves amused today. What she said about being poor and pious also holds true here as well: "When there is very little of the seen and temporal to intercept spiritual vision, unseen and eternal realities are, or may be, more clearly beheld." When you have very little of the seen and temporal, the arts and creativity of the mind emerge.
 
The place of the chimney and fireplace in the home and in the lives of its inhabitants was one of the things which I found noteworthy and which I had in mind when I spoke of authenticity. So much different (and better, I assert) than interacting second hand via some electronic device.

I also noted the "coming of age" importance of kindling the fire with flint and steel, a skill apparently mastered by even the very young in those days.

The children of her time were "free range" in that they would go about on their own, or with other children, and engage in free-form childhood activities. We still did this as late as the 50s when I grew up, but any more, this is rare and, as evidenced by a recent very sad event around here, sometimes dangerous. Almost all youth activities today are formally stuctured or supervised.

Going back to her time, I would certainly miss things like friction matches, novocaine, and toilet paper. Nor am I unaware of what has been euphemistically called the "peculiar institution". Still, in so many respects, it does not appear that we are really to the good for all our increased wealth and creature comforts.
 
Just now I read of the apparent abduction of two young Amish girls, age 6 and 12:

"2 Amish girls' abduction from roadside farm stand sets off intensive search"
http://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2014/08/14/2-amish-girls-abducted-from-roadside-farm-stand

The contrast with Lucy Larcom's reminiscences of her own childhood, where she and her friends would routinely go out and run and play and generally engage freely and carefree in the kind of activities which should be any child's birthright, could not be more stark. The US News report concludes: "There are no kids outside anywhere today," Bissell said. "There are no kids on bikes, and that's unusual.".
 
Jumping in late. Just happened upon this thread and downloaded the Kindle version http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2293?msg=welcome_stranger.

Perhaps a helpful logistical note, the Kindle version on the gutenberg page is a .mobi file format. If you have a kindle, you can attach a .mobi file to an email and then email it to your kindle email address. It will be treated as a document.

I look forward to our conversation.
 
I was also struck by Larcom's descriptions of how free the children of her time were (especially illustrative is the part where she described the "gondola" rides into the estuary). That kind of freedom seems inconceivable today, where stories of things like the Amish girls' abduction are too frequent (here in Minnesota, there have been at least two reports of attempted abductions that I can think of in the last couple of years and the Jacob Wetterling disappearance is still talked about).

We have become a very large and mobile society. I live in a neighborhood where we know the neighbors, but we don't spend much time with them. Neighbors come and go from the neighborhood all the time. I know that we don't trust them in the same way that Lucy's parents trusted their neighbors. It sounds like she (and probably all of the other neighborhood children) spent a great deal of time in and out of neighbors' houses and yards. Larcom contrasted very nicely the descriptions of her "aunts" and the description of the "man with the backpack". I wonder how often the people in her area saw people they didn't know? We see dozens, if not hundreds, of strangers in passing every day, driving down the roads or in the aisles of our supermarkets.

I agree. There are certainly things I would miss a great deal if I were somehow transported to her time, but there are a great many things that I wish we had held onto, especially the values.
 
Jumping in late. Just happened upon this thread and downloaded the Kindle version http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2293?msg=welcome_stranger.

Perhaps a helpful logistical note, the Kindle version on the gutenberg page is a .mobi file format. If you have a kindle, you can attach a .mobi file to an email and then email it to your kindle email address. It will be treated as a document.

I look forward to our conversation.
Welcome to the party!
 
The Week 2 reading from Lucy Larcom's "New England Girlhood" is chapter 2: "Schoolroom and Meeting-House".
 
The dominant impression I got from this second chapter of Lucy Larcom's memoirs of her childhood is the pervasive presence of religion in the lives of people of those times.

Of course, we have all read, whether in textbooks or other history books, about the piety of the people of New England (and elsewhere) in those times, but such recitations have the force and create the impression of mere cold facts, like a mathematical multiplication table. Nothing can bring home the truth of the situation quite like reminiscences of the kind we just read here.

This pervasiveness even extends to the very essence of their education as we note in her recollections of learning to read where the child's first reading material, barely after learning the abc's, was the Testament.
 
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