The five widdle Peppers and how they gwew
March 4, 2011 Leave a comment
I recently bought an e-reader, and I am loving it. While vacuuming up free ebooks on the Project Gutenberg website, I noticed Margaret Sidney’s “Five Little Peppers” books, and downloaded them, and am rereading them. If you have not read these –
Well, they defy description. But here goes anyway.
Their author, whose real name was Harriet Stone Lothrop, co-managed her husband’s publishing firm in the late 1800s. The Lothrops lived in “The Wayside,” a house in Concord, Massachusetts where the Alcotts (and the Hawthornes before them!) had lived. Harriet was evidently determined to outdo Louisa May Alcott in every category. There were four March girls; there are five Peppers. The March family is shabby genteel; the Peppers are destitute.
The March girls are energetic and personable and interesting. The Pepper children are little Pod People.
The boys – Ben, Joel, and Davie – are a little featureless; I always had a hard time distinguishing them. But the two girls – brrr.
Polly, the older Pepper girl, is especially fascinating in a horrible way. She mothers the other four children (which is odd, as they presumably already have a mother in residence). Polly cooks, and tends to everything, and even disciplines her brothers and sisters. She weeps over the old black kitchen stove, which fills the kitchen with smoke and drives her to despair. At the end of the first Peppers book, the kind local doctor surprises Polly with – can you guess? A pretty frock? A trip to Europe? No, a new stove! Polly nurses the other children when they get the measles, and when she catches the measles herself, she cries and cries, because she can’t keep house anymore!
Don’t you just want to kill her?
Then there’s the other Pepper daughter, Phronsie. (Yes, Phronsie. It’s short for “Sophronia.” The others all have Biblical names, but this one has the name of a Greek courtesan. Go figure.) Phronsie is a living Kewpie Doll. She charms everyone, from the Stepin Fetchit-type black servants to old Mister King, the grouchy millionaire. She lisps adorably. She often screams with excitement. (“’Oh! Oh! Oh!’ Phronsie screamed. ‘Take us to the little brown house, do!’”)
Don’t you just want to kill Phronsie too?
About five years ago, Partner and I were up in Concord. We strolled around Walden Pond, and felt transcendentally uplifted.
And then we visited “The Wayside.” And we came in through the kitchen, and I saw the old black stove, the one Harriet Lothrop wrote about, the one Polly suffered over for so long.
And, just like Phronsie, I screamed with joy.
Children: be careful what books you read. Good or bad, they will mark you for life.