sab: (un >> the patchwork girl of oz)
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Or: Betsy Warrington Ray Willard and Maud Palmer Hart Lovelace, two girls, the same, born 1n 1892 in Deep Valley/Mankato, MN.

Wiki: Maud Hart Lovelace
Wiki: Betsy-Tacy Books

1. All stories are true stories, some truer than most

Maud Hart Lovelace (hereafter MHL) began this series of books because she was telling her daughter tales of her childhood, and decided to adapt the stories for childrens' books. That said, she used her many diaries (MHL being the same rabid diarist and correspondent that Betsy Ray is -- paper evidence exists) to carefully recreate her authentic childhood in Mankato, MN, in the guise of fiction. Tacy, for example, who meets Betsy at her fifth birthday party in 1897, is really Bick Kenney, who met MHL in much the same way. Their adventures, along with Midge Gerlach (Tib) are rendered faithfully in the first four books, centered on Hill Street and the wonders of Mankato.

2. Under a tree hung with rosy apple blossoms, or, High School, The Essay Contest and Joe Willard

Then Betsy started high school and she, like MHL, kept a journal for each high school year. Through reading her own journals from the time, MHL was able to craft, almost to the letter, Betsy's high school experience. The introduction of Carney Sibley, a new highschool friend, is Marney Willard, high school friend of MHL. In fact, all the new characters in high school in Deep Valley mimic MHL's own high school friends. The Humphrey brothers Betsy went to parties with, are the Andrews brothers in Mankato. Betsy's good friend Cab Edwards was MHL's good friend Jab Alvin Lloyd. Tony Markham, the other-side-of-the-tracks mystery lover turned friend turned freight-hopper, is MHL's friend Clarence Lindon Parker.

And then of course comes Joe Willard, possibly the most important fictiona addition to this book -- retconning history to allow Maud to meet Delos (her husband) far earlier than they do in real life. Here Betsy meets Joe (Delos) in 1906, Betsy's first year in high school. Delos's high school attitude (for Maud had Delos describe, in detail, what he was like in school and in his youth before creating the character of Joe Willard to represent Delos in the books) mirror's Joe's, so it's a fair retcon even though Maud and Delos actually met after Betsy's trip to Europe, and before WWI called Delos up for service. The fictional material around Joe is some of the best romance in the book; the Betsy/Joe love story throughout high school and after, is epic romance to the nth deegree. Which brings in the Essay Contest, one of the most fascinating parts of the high school era. Though there was no Joe to compete against in Mankato High, MHL did enter two essay contests there and, like Betsy, lost the contests she should have won by, instead of preparing for the contest, partying with her friends, fussing over the latest clothes and hats, and going on drives and adventures with the Crowd.

The Ray family, like the Hart family, was soundly middle-class, the sort of family that could afford nice clothes and a trip to Europe in the early 1900s. Stella Hart is Jule Ray to the letter, and Tom Hart is Bob Ray in the flesh. Maud's older sister Kathleen, an opera singer, was the embodiment of Julia Ray, and even Helen Hart, the little sister, is represented faithfully in the books by Betsy's younger sister Margaret.

3. Let's fleet the time carelessly as they did in the golden world, or, Betsy and the Great World

Betsy's trip to Europe mirrors a trip of Maud's own -- Maud even had a college friend, Russell McCord, who stands in for Betsy's college friend Bob Barhydt. Maud and Russell were once engaged, but Betsy, even when proposed to, could not keep her mind off Joe. Yet another reason to introduce Joe early! Even then, Maud knew who her soulmate was to be, and it wasn't Russell McCord.

In Europe, Betsy has an Italian lover, Marco, who also proposes marriage and is refused. When MHL was in Venice, she too had a lover, Paolo, who proposes and is rejected. Both Betsy and Maud are holding out for something better: Joe/Delos.

And when Betsy returns from Europe at the beginning of WWI, she meets Joe at the docks and he promptly proposes marriage at the Ray home, within the week. For Maud, who met Delos in 1917, it would be a slightly longer delay for the marriage, but both Betsy and Joe, and Maud and Delos, married in 1917 and moved into a little apartment to start their lives together. Then, like the book, Delos is sent off to fight, as is Joe, leaving Maud and Betsy in the bosoms of their families to get them through the anguished wait.

4. Betsy Warrington Ray

These books are good books because Maud, as Betsy, is a delightful narrator, humble and with whimsy, boy-crazy and obsessed with the latest fashions, the latest music, and a Crowd of friends to call her own.

Betsy wants to be a writer, and from her cigar box nailed into a crook of a tree branch to her desk on Uncle Keith's trunk, she is. Throughout the books Betsy is writing, novels, poems, her journal, her essays, just as Maud did throughout her life. As a toddler, Maud asked her mother how to spell "going down the street" just as Betsy does. And so the things that are awkward or dated about these books can be chalked up to the era (all that fuss over a horseless carriage! Above-the-ankle skirts!) or can be chalked up to Maud herself. Maud obsessed over beauty, like Betsy, and so the pages and pages that describe Betsy's outfits, and hats, and waistcoats probably mimic Maud's own fashion-conscious demeanor. Betsy, also, is profoundly religious, and a republican like her father (Bob Ray/Tom Hart) and though we don't see too much biblical business in the books, religion has its place, from the Bible Betsy always kept in her desk to her and Julia's conversion to Episcopalian after attending services there. Maud, to, converted to the Episcopal church during high school, probably for much the same reasons. Julia liked the songs, Betsy liked the calm sanctuary, the conversations with a genial god.

The love between Betsy and Tacy is as real as the love between Maud and Bick -- in the mid 60s Maud and Bick went to Europe together, as Betsy and Tacy had always planned. And in high school, Tacy was always described as "not interested in boys" -- a theory which lends itself, in postmodern interpretation, to suggest that Bick may have been a gay woman. Stigma of the time as it was, Bick married a much older man and had some babies, and seemed to live a fine life, if closeted. Tacy married Harry Kerr in much the same whirlwind way, but I believe Betsy remained the dearest to Tacy's heart. But Betsy's heart belonged to Joe, and so...

Throughout high school and on into her married years (both Betsy and Maud dropped out of college to go to Europe) Betsy and Maud continued to write stories and novels, some published in magazines. Joe/Delos, a newspaper reporter, would read Betsy/Maud's stories, give advice, and eventually the two found themselves working together on projects, co-writing and publishing stories in both their names. Maud and Delos published several novels with both their names, as well as some books about Minnesota history.

I read these books as soon as I was old enough to lift one, and immediately found a kindred spirit in Betsy, a girl with one dream only, confident that she would be a paid writer some day. A century past, the same holds true, and I go back and read and reread the series several times a year, to remind me. When Betsy realizes she's spent most of her high school year hanging out with her friends instead of writing, she makes a vow to herself not to let her writing slip away. What would she be without her writing? What if it went away and never came back? The same fears, a hundred years past, I'm feeling now, in Betsy's far future. Some things never change.
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