Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Emily of Deep Valley is by far my favorite of all of Maud Hart Lovelace's books. Sure, I enjoy the Betsy-Tacy books for which she is best known, but Emily is a fictional girl after my own heart.

Emily wanted to go off to college, like the majority of the girls and boys in her high school class of 1912. She longs to learn, to see the world, to fill her mind...But it was not to be--instead she must stay home, in a little house on the outskirts of the small town of Deep Valley, looking after her old grandfather. At first she is deeply depressed, but as her first fall at home progresses, she girds her loins to the task of making a life for herself, both intellectually and socially. It is a tribute to her determination that, in spite of her natural shyness and reticence, she succeeds in both.

A large part of her new life concerns the settlement of Christian Syrians near her home--an enclave of foreign-ness, where the women speak only a few words of English, and the kids face prejudice in the local school. Emily is determined to help the Syrians assimilate--not to loose their own culture, but to become American enough to be truly part of Deep Valley. In the process, she finds love....(pleased sigh on my part).

I love this book not just for bookish, introverted, good-hearted Emily, with her social conscience, but for the lavish descriptions Lovelace pours into the book. The clothes, the customs, the old-fashioned parlor knickknacks, the dances, the ice-skating, the town's Decoration Day, when her grandfather proudly marches with the rest of the ancient veterans of the Civil War...it is a feast of description, and I eat it up.

I re-read this book yesterday, though, not because it is an old friend of mine, but because Mitali has organized a blog event she's calling Cuci Mata (which means "washing of the eyes" in Indonesian) As she describes it: "Once a month, we'll read a standalone novel written by a beloved author and tap into the power of communal vision. Let's ask ourselves:
  • When it comes to race, ethnicity, gender, and class, what stands the test of time?"
Emily as a character stands the test of time beautifully. There are girls today who still find themselves in Emily's shoes--with more ambition than easy opportunity. She is a lesson in determination to any reader who needs to be reminded that luck isn't just something that happens--it's something that can be created. And it is Emily's backbone, and the fact that she Does Something instead of just wringing her hands, that makes her a timeless heroine. Her romance is also rather nice, even from a modern perspective--it is a love that grows from shared interests and mutual respect.

Ethnicity-wise....it was very, very interesting to see Emily and her allies take on the narrow minded bigots in town who looked on the Syrian immigrants with dislike and distrust. Emily's dream of a tolerant America is a lot less cynical then mine, but that might be my loss...and her final argument for why the Syrians should be embraced, and made welcomed, is one that I could cheer for--Emily wants their differences celebrated, as something that can contribute positively to the whole of American culture. Yay Emily!

There was just one thing that has been vexing me. Early in the book, her aunt's house is described thus: "There was a fern in a brass bowl on the newel post, and an Indian head on the wall. Emily loved these bright modern touches." (page 8 of my edition). I have googled interior design of 1912 to death today, and not found anything that casts light on just what sort of Indian head is meant....and indeed, Lovelace, when she mentions Native Americans, which is seldom and in passing, shows no signs of awareness of the injustices and wrongs perpetrated by Emily's colonizing ancestors...

So that's the one thing I'd change. Otherwise, I think this is pretty much a perfect book! But it is really hard to think critically about a book one loves, and so now I shall go off and read what the other participants have to say....I wonder if I will be shown things that appall me!

The picture I show is the copy I have; however, the link takes you to the brand new edition, with an introduction by Mitali herself!


  1. *Sigh* I don't think I would have made it through high school without Lovelace. I remember reading Betsy books in the orchestra pit of many musicals. Love these, but they are a hard sell to the students. I always tell them that if they read the book and feel compelled to make fudge, they have to bring me some!

  2. I never noticed the "Indian head" before! I'm picturing some kind of artwork similar to the Indian head penny, or maybe like the decorations on this clock. Probably perfectly normal at the time, although it makes us wince now.

    In one of the Betsy-Tacy books she also mentions Grandma Slade telling about the "massacre." Which was actually a little more complicated than it sounds. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakota_War_of_1862

  3. I just read another older book, Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton Porter, and it was amazing to me how she could show recent immigrants in such a positive light, their children as valuable future Americans -- and yet have the (virtuous, upstanding) kids play Red Indians in the most offensive way possible. by today's standards. It must have been a huge cultural blind spot of the time.

  4. I remember Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill having Syrian immigrants in it too. Betsy and Tacy learned a valuable lesson about tolerance and kindness in that one too. They made the Syrian girl Queen of the May. I liked it when that happened.


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