Sunday, July 31, 2016

Bad Little Hannah - A Story for Girls

In a rather large antique mall in Georgia, just south of the Tennessee state line, I happened upon this humorously titled book, Bad Little Hannah.  At first I simply laughed and went on.  But, the more I thought about it, the more I began to make up these wondrous ideas that perhaps this book told the story of a young Hannah Gruen (everyone remembers Nancy Drew's housekeeper, right?).  Of course, I knew this wasn't the case, but seeing that the book was only $5.00 (with a sale of 20% off), I just couldn't resist.

At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about the book, nor the author, shown on the book as one "Mrs. L.T. Meade."  That name in and of itself was unique, as how many authors identify themselves by their marital status.  Turns out that Mrs. L.T. Meade is actually Elizabeth Thomasine Meade Smith, a rather prolific author, having written over 300 books during her lifetime.  Born in Ireland, she moved to London where she continued writing her numerous children's books.

Bad Little Hannah was published in 1897.  I am unsure the exact publishing date of my copy of the book, as the publication page has been removed from the book.  My copy was published by M.A. Donohue & Company and was apparently published prior to 1914, as there is an inscription on the front end-page indicating it was given to Nellie Mae Washburn for Christmas 1914.  I was not really sure what to expect when I sat down to read this, but nothing in the world could have prepared me for the story that I had in my hands!

As can be expected, the book tells the story of eight year old Hannah Cardigan.  She is the youngest of four siblings, and it is made quite clear early on that not only is she "decidedly plain" and as the author states, "It would have been difficult anywhere to see a more disreputable looking little girl."  Her older brother and two older sisters barely tolerate her, and her mother wants absolutely nothing to do with her.  She has an elderly nursemaid who adores her but is unable to handle her naughty nature.  It seems everything she does is troublesome and destructive (but, honestly, based on the way she is treated by her family in the first chapter alone, I can understand why she is so horrific).  However, things take an unexpected turn with the arrival of Margaret North, who was hired to be the tutor for Hannah's two older sisters.

Now, if you are wondering just how terrible things are in the house, let me share an example.  In the beginning, Hannah discovers that her little dog that she rescued and loves dearly is beginning to go mad (which I take to mean is in the early stages of rabies).  So disgusted with her mother is she that she takes the dog and lays him on her mother's bed, ties him to the bedpost, and leaves a note for her mother saying to be careful, as the dog is going mad.  When her mother finds the dog, she nearly loses all pretenses of being a lady, she is so angry with Hannah.  She tells Hannah that she is the most evil child she has ever known and that God does not love her.  She takes Hannah up to the highest room in a cold turret and locks her in there with no supper, no bed, no quilts to keep her warm, and no breakfast in the morning.  Miss North, however, finds her, and from the outside of the door, keeps the young girl company.  I immediately took to the character of Miss North, as she sees the truth of what is going on, and she confronts Hannah's mother, nearly at the cost of her own job, in order to save Hannah from that cold room.

The story follows Hannah's eighth year, as she is shipped off to a boarding school, where she is sure to hate everyone.  But having become so attached to Miss North, she promises to try and be good.  "Try" being the operative word.  She does manage to get into trouble again and again, but at the same time, she finds that the other children don't quite know how to take her.  While one teacher absolutely abhors her (Hannah ultimately slaps the teacher across the face!), the headmistress grows to see that Hannah has a very strong character that simply needs to be molded in the right direction.  There are plenty of misadventures (and there are a number of rather dragging moments in the storytelling that are somewhat tedious to read through), and the ending is not exactly a resolution or happy ending (although it's not completely bad either).

The author has a peculiar writing style - with Hannah's dialogue, there are times where she speaks normal and others where she speaks childish, using wrong verb tense and agreement.  And certainly a product of its time (remember, this was published back in 1897), it is comical almost to read these girls constantly kissing each other and telling each other how much they love each other, and want the love of other girls, and spurned feelings when they don't feel loved.  At 316 pages, I would be curious to know just what age market this was aimed at back when it was published, since it is a story about a very young girl, yet the age level at which it is written, when compared to today's books, seems to be a young adult novel.

And just in case you are wondering - there is absolutely no reference to this being the same Hannah from the Nancy Drew series (although, it should be noted that when Hannah is introduced to the headmistress at Cumnor West, the headmistress responds with, "Hannah!  I never heard of a lady being called Hannah; it is like the name of a cook or a servant of some sort." [p 137]).  Just saying...

One last note - I wasn't able to find a copy anywhere online that showed the same cover as the one that I bought.  I found numerous other cover variations, as well as a dust jacket, leaving me to guess that this book has been reprinted a number of times by various publishers throughout the years.

RATING:  5 postal orders out of 10 for peaking my interest just on the title alone!


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