Monday, June 24, 2013


Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Grosset & Dunlap Publishers, 1916, 213 pp


Understood Betsy is another book I read many times as a child. I have been rereading those favorite books to help me remember what I was like then as an aid to the memoir I am writing.

Betsy is an orphan being raised by relatives in St Louis, MO. Her Great-Aunt Harriet and cousin Frances are over-protective worriers. The effect of all Frances's sympathy has made Elizabeth Ann into a thin, pale, and timid nine-year-old.

Then Aunt Harriet becomes deathly ill. Betsy must be sent to a Vermont farm where the dreaded Putney relatives live so that Frances can devote all her time to caring for Aunt Harriet. It is the Putneys who give Elizabeth Ann her nickname.

In Vermont, Betsy has chores, she learns to cook, gets a kitten, walks to a one-room schoolhouse by herself, and no one worries about her one bit. She finds out that she can rely on herself, becomes robust and happy. 

By the time Cousin Frances comes to take her home, Betsy doesn't want to leave but of course feels guilty. She is saved by a nice plot twist which reading it this time I saw was an obvious deus-ex-machina. As a child I only knew I was so relieved that Betsy could stay where she was so happy.

I was an over-protected kid, though it made me rebellious in spite of my fears. For me this book was part of my fantasy about having a different mother who understood me better. It fit in nicely with Heidi, The Secret Garden, and other books where misfortune turns out to be favorable for the child heroine.

Despite being able to see through the plot and the ideas behind it, I still felt all the old feelings I used to get when I was nine, ten, and even probably eleven. I don't see how Dorothy Canfield (her maiden name when she wrote it) could have done a better job because she so completely captured the nine-year-old viewpoint.

(Understood Betsy is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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