Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

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Reviewed by Jodie

One of the children’s classics I didn’t read when I was a child was Pollyanna. It had been described to me as a story about a pious little girl who was always finding reasons to be glad – it sounded absolutely sickening and I vowed to avoid it at all costs; after all, I was an Anne of Green Gables girl! I had it firmly fixed in my head, Anne was the fun one, Pollyanna was a prissy little miss. However, when the admirable Hesperus Press offered me a copy, I decided it was time to see if my preconceptions had been right – and, at the risk of sounding a bit Pollyanna-ish myself, I’m very glad I did!

Arriving in Beldingsville after the death of her missionary father, Pollyanna meets Aunt Polly, a sour spinster who has agreed to take on the little girl only because she knows her duty. Aunt Polly is a good woman, but a child in the house is unwelcome – consigned to a disappointingly bare attic, however, the first thing Pollyanna does is shin down the tree outside her window in order to explore her surroundings. And she continues in this irrepressible vein, thereafter, talking nineteen-to-the-dozen and being so busily glad that she carries the people she meets along with her.

Does that sound unbearable? Truly, it’s not – because even though Pollyanna could talk the hind legs off a donkey, she can listen, too, and she tailors the reasons to be glad to the circumstances of the person she’s persuading to join her in the Being Glad Game. She tells her game to all and sundry – the only person she doesn’t tell is Aunt Polly, because that would mean explaining that her father had invented it, and Aunt Polly has forbidden talk of her father, who married Pollyanna’s mother against the wishes of her family. Pollyanna, who has opened her heart to Aunt Polly, despite the disapproval with which all her actions are met, sees this ruling as being intended to save her from painful reminders that she’s now an orphan: “It’ll be easier, maybe – if I don’t talk about him. Probably, anyhow, that is why she told me not to talk about him.”

The charm, and what stops it being unbearably smug, is that Pollyanna has discovered for herself the Aristotelian “good life”, and her living of it is exemplary. Her resolute cheerfulness is full of bravery and goodheartedness, and she wins over townsfolk and reader equally. There’s nothing prissy or goody-goody about her – she’s exuberant, candid, full of imagination and compassion, and, above all, lovable. She knows it isn’t easy to see occasions for gladness in everything that life throws at people and, indeed, even her indomitable spirit wavers heartbreakingly when she faces her greatest adversity.

The writing is a surprise, too, in a book first published in 1913. Porter has a lovely direct style with none of the prosiness that characterises many children’s classics. The dialogue is lively, the other characters memorable, and the plot really zings along. I read it over two evenings, looking forward to it all the second day and quite determined that I wasn’t going to stop reading before the end. The Hesperus edition is lovely too, with an attractive cover and a real feel of quality – I did appreciate the binding that makes it easy to hold the book open comfortably. This is a book that really deserves its classic status, and equally deserves to find a whole new readership. Rejoice greatly, and welcome Pollyanna into your lives (and onto your bookshelves)!

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Eleanor H. Porter, Pollyanna (Hesperus Minor, 2014), 240pp..

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