Sunday 18 December 2011

Twelve Days of Christmas 6: What Katy Did

What Katy Did is one of those books in the genre of Victorian children's literature that can be a bit too cloyingly moralistic for some people's tastes, and certainly I do feel that loveable, careless tomboy Katy is not so much improved through her trials and tribulations, as made into a perfect and dull paragon of what a young lady should be. Certainly, as the story progresses, the character of Katy holds less interest for me, but what keeps me reading these books are the details. The details of the games children play, the schemes they concoct, and the little things they do to amuse each other.

When Katy is bedridden after her accident on the swing, she and her Aunt Izzie concoct a plan for "St Nicholas" to visit and bring presents for all of her many brothers, sisters and friends. Some items are handmade, others recycled items of Katy's own, coveted by her siblings, while others still are bought fresh: including a sled for one sister and a writing desk for another. With a grand sum of seven dollars and a quarter, I wondered just how great the rate of inflation must have been since the book was written - seven dollars equalling something over four pounds today.

"I'd like the sled to be green," went on Katy, "and to have a nice name. Sky-Scraper would be nice if there was one. Johnny saw a sled once called Sky-Scraper, and she said it was splendid. And if there's money enough left, Aunty, won't you buy me a real nice book for Dorry, and another for Cecy, and a silver thimble for Mary? Her old one is full of holes. Oh! and some candy. And something for Debby and Bridget - some little thing, you know. I think that's all."

As a girl I quite missed the narrator's ironic observation - Was ever seven dollars and a quarter expected to do so much? Aunt Izzie must have been a wtich indeed to make it hold out - and thought wistfully of the days long ago when such a small amount of money could buy so many gifts.

The other Christmassy highlight comes in the second book in the series: What Katy Did At School. Spending Christmas in their boarding school, Katy and her sister Clover receive two parcels of tasty goodies from home, and from the description these boxes must have been veritable Tardises, packed with enough sweet treats to feed an entire school.

The top of the box was mostly taken up with four square paper boxes, round which parcels of all shapes and sizes were wedged and fitted [...] Each box held a different kind of cake. One was full of jumbles, another of ginger-snaps, a third of crullers , and the fourth containe a big square loaf of frosted plum-cake, with a circle of sugar almonds set in the frosting [...] Never was such a wonderful box. It appeared to have no bottom whatever. Under the presents were parcels of figs, prumes, almonds, raisins, candy; under those, apples and pears. There seemed no end to the surprises."

Those Christmas boxes must have been a remarkable gift, and the description never fails to make my mouth water.


  1. I'm not familiar with these I'll have to look them up.

  2. It's strange, you know - I can't remember the slightest part of the plot of any of the Katy books, but I remember a paragraph from one of them almost verbatim - it's where she's talking about how she doesn't refer to Izzie as 'Aunty' and everybody knows what THAT means!

    I don't even remember there being a Christmas in there, haha! This has made me want to reread it though - I liked it when it was younger and didn't even notice the preachiness.


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