Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin

Genre: Juvenile Fiction
Main characters: Rebecca Rowena Randall :)
Time and place: early 1900s; a small town in the US called Riverboro
First sentence:The old stage coach was rumbling along the dusty road that runs from Maplewood to Riverboro.
Verdict: Uncomplicated.

Rebecca Rowena Randall is the second of seven brothers, living with their mother in a small house that Rebecca likes to call Sunnybrook Farm. As the book opens, she is sent to live with her two spinster aunts, in hopes that this will be “the making of [her]“. Rebecca’s sunny disposition does not fit very well with the somber house of the aunts, but, by and by, she manages to soften any heart she encounters in her path.

General impression
I took up reading this on a whim, having found out about its existence from a list of books presumably read on the Titanic. I love this type of heroine (Rebecca belongs to the same league that Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna do), and as I was able to find it instantly both on Amazon (the Kindle version) and on Gutenberg Project I wasted no time and jumped straight into it. In the end, while I was right, and Rebecca did share the optimism an resourcefulness of both Anne and Pollyanna, her life struck me as a mere succession of events. Contemporary books have probably perverted my tastes and expectations, as I could not help finding only a very few of Rebecca’s adventures (while important for her, of course) important/interesting enough to be worth being mentioned in a book.

The setting is what I’ve come to think of as a typical small town, the kind where everyone knows everyone and no secrets can ever be kept from the nosy neighbors. There are a bunch of children too, more or less Rebecca’s age, so “Rebecky” is always surrounded by friends. Much as everyone loves gossip, there are no truly mean people in the village, and our heroine is liked by all.

Rebecca Rowena Randall is a rather extraordinary child. She has an intense personality, filled with artistic fervor and bursting at the seams with imagination. She takes great pleasure in the mere act of communicating (as one of the characters says, she’d more likely talk to herself than say nothing). She always has something interesting to say though (no small feat), which is I think one of the things that attract other people to her like moths around a flame. She’s written poetry all her life (clumsy worded at times, but correctly rhymed), she plays the piano, she is talented when it comes to drawing too — in a word, she is a very gifted young girl. All her intensity is mirrored into her large, dark eyes, the first thing that anyone noticed about her:

Rebecca’s eyes were like faith,–”the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Under her delicately etched brows they glowed like two stars, their dancing lights half hidden in lustrous darkness. Their glance was eager and full of interest, yet never satisfied; their steadfast gaze was brilliant and mysterious, and had the effect of looking directly through the obvious to something beyond, in the object, in the landscape, in you.

And then there’s Mr. Adam Ladd, a well-to-do thirty year old, who finds Rebecca fascinating, and who plays the part of a hidden benefactor for her more than once. When they first met Rebecca, not knowing his name, called him Mr. Aladdin, and she has been addressing him thusly ever since. While reading, I kept feeling that he has the potential to be a great character, to do something interesting, but, alas, he never did.

As for the aunts, I liked the way the author has chosen to draw them. The eldest is Mirandy, a stern old woman who likes being in control of everything and thinking herself too level-headed for sentimentalities. The quote that best describes her is “Miranda Sawyer had a heart, of course, but she had never used it for any other purpose than the pumping and circulating of blood“. She always tends to think the worst about people, and she is not particularly fond of Rebecca, seeing in her a beastly, disobedient child. The other sister, Jane, has a more peaceful nature, and is letting herself dominated by her elder sister. She did have a wild streak in her, though, and in her youth she ran away from home in order to be with her betrothed, wounded in war. Now however that spark is almost extinguished, as Jane is old and frail, but the very memory if it makes her far more understanding of Rebecca’s character than her sister will ever be.

The book is more of a series of vignettes out of Rebecca’s life growing up. To me they felt like simple preparations, paving the way for the real story, but alas, that intense, powerful moment I had expected never actually happened. Again, I have probably gotten way too used with the books written these days, fast paced and one twist following quickly on another’s footsteps. In comparison, Rebecca’s adventures feel rather subdued and quaint :)

What I liked most
My favorite adventure of Rebecca’s was the one with the pink parasol :)
At the time the book opens her most prized possession is a pink parasol that someone has brought her from Paris. She treasures it so much that she only uses it on cloudy days, taking great pains to always keep it away from the sun, as “pink fades awfully“. In Rebecca’s own words, “it’s the dearest thing in life to me, but it’s an awful care“. A few months later, Rebecca, inspired by a book she was reading, decides that she needs to punish herself for making mistakes (she often got caught in her inner world and forgot the outer one, so she always got into a scrape or another) as she saw this as a way of building character. When it came time to decide on a punishment, she chose for herself the harshest thing she could think of, giving up her cherished pink parasol:

That would do; she would fling her dearest possession into the depths of the water. Action followed quickly upon decision, as usual. She slipped down in the darkness, stole out the front door, approached the place of sacrifice, lifted the cover of the well, gave one unresigned shudder, and flung the parasol downward with all her force. At the crucial instant of renunciation she was greatly helped by the reflection that she closely resembled the heathen mothers who cast their babes to the crocodiles in the Ganges.

Alas, but then the little umbrella gets stuck somewhere inside the well and everyone wonders how come they cannot draw water anymore :)

Another quote of Rebecca’s, giving up the idea of becoming a missionary:

“Why, whatever God is, and wherever He is, He must always be there, ready and waiting. He can’t move about and miss people. It may take the heathen a little longer to find Him, but God will make allowances, of course. He knows if they live in such hot climates it must make them lazy and slow; and the parrots and tigers and snakes and bread-fruit trees distract their minds; and having no books, they can’t think as well; but they’ll find God somehow, some time.”

“What if they die first?” asked Emma Jane.

“Oh, well, they can’t be blamed for that; they don’t die on purpose,” said Rebecca, with a comfortable theology.

Last but not least, I found quite amusing that Rebecca’s father’s name was Lorenzo de Medici Randall, while his twin brother had been named Marquis de Lafayette Randall. Someone in that family must have liked history books :)

What I liked least
Other than the simplicity of the stories I have absolutely nothing to reproach it (but let us keep in mind it was written over 100 years ago, in a time where people’s lives were so much less eventful than ours today).

Thoughts on the ending
Quite a disappointment. The book ended way too soon!
show spoiler

Recommend it to?
Anyone who likes the enthusiastic-child-melts-everyone’s-hearts trope :)

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