An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott


Goodreads: An Old-Fashioned Girl
Series: None
Source: Owned
Published: 1869


Fourteen-year-old Polly Milton visits her friend Fanny Shaw in the city, where she is impressed by Fanny’s fashionable lifestyle. However, she also feels that Fanny and her friends judge her for her “countrified” manners and clothing. Over the next six years, Polly keeps visiting the Shaws, until the day she moves into the city to earn her living as a music teacher. She realizes that many of the Shaws’ old set will no longer speak to her, since she is now a working woman. But when the Shaws face financial adversity, Polly will be there to help teach them that a loving family is the greatest wealth of all.

Star Divider


Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl will feel familiar to fans of Little Women. Once again, Alcott chronicles the coming-of-age of a young woman who realizes that riches do not equal happiness, and who finds her own contentment in serving others and forming part of a loving family. Alcott’s vivid characters, however, with their many foibles, prevent the story from becoming sickeningly sweet or overly didactic. Instead, what readers get is one girl’s personal journey made utterly engrossing by the way in which Alcott tells it.

Even though centuries may separate readers and the protagonist Polly, Polly’s worries about wanting to fit in, wanting to be appreciated, and wanting to be admired, still ring true. Her journey thus becomes a journey that readers can not only go along with, but also one that they can use to reflect on their own. An Old-Fashioned Girl will appeal to fans of Alcott, but also readers who enjoy a good, old-fashioned story where the drama is limited, but the characters make everyday moments feel just as interesting and important.

Some readers may feel put off by Polly’s values. She remains dedicated to dressing and living simply even as she witnesses the extravagances of her rich friends. She also thinks it wrong to flirt for fun, because she could end up hurting a man who takes her advances seriously. She believes it is important to love and support her family, and she values those relationships more than she values her own comforts. For some modern readers, Polly may seem like nothing more than a prudish, subjugated girl who does not know how to have fun. Behind the outward gestures like simple clothes, however, is real conviction. Polly knows who she is and what she wants. She does not need her friends or high society to tell her how to be happy because she already is.

Alcott’s work makes it clear that, even in her day, there was some concern that outward appearances were taking precedence over true happiness and that people, worried about keeping up with their neighbors, were actually making themselves miserable. Even if readers do not agree with Polly that avoiding unnecessary expenses and keeping house for their brother can help them discern what they truly value, the main idea of looking inward for contentment instead of chasing the latest fads can still ring true. An Old-Fashioned Girl thus combines a delightful story with a thought-provoking question, “What really makes us happy? And do we have the courage to chase it, even when society will laugh at us for it?”

5 stars

4 thoughts on “An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

  1. mphtheatregirl says:

    Well, so far read only one Alcott book- I love Little Women. One of the things I could understand in Little Women belongs to the sisterhood- after all, I have an older sister, and I think that is what resonates with me the most

    Liked by 2 people

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