I know I’ve waxed on before about how much I love the Betsy-Tacy books, and how excited I was that Harper Perennial has reissuing the series, but I’m even more excited that they’ve recently republished the three stand-alone books that accompany the series. All three books – Winona’s Pony Cart/Carney’s House Party (bound together) and Emily of Deep Valley – can be read without having any familiarity with the Betsy-Tacy canon, but for those who are familiar with the world of Deep Valley, the books are teeming with beloved characters and places from the original series.
Winona’s Pony Cart is the only title among the recently reissued that features one of the characters as a child. (This one really should be read with the first four books: Betsy-Tacy, Betsy-Tacy and Tib, Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown). It features Winona Root, Betsy’s irrepressibly messy and boisterous classmate. The book centers around Winona’s birthday, her desire both for a pony and to please her delicate mother, who wants her to be more like her ladylike sisters. In the end, Winona gets a pony (of sorts) and Winona’s mother learns a bit about her generous daughter.
Carney’s House Party, set roughly between Betsy and Joe and Betsy and the Great World, features Caroline Sibley back from Vassar College for the summer. She has returned for the vacation with her glamorous and wealthy Eastern roommate, Isobel, and a house party forms when Carney’s best friend, Bonnie, returns from Paris. There’s an extra surprise when former members of the Crowd show up, and Carney finally has to make the decision between her past and the future.
Rereading this for the first time in a few years, I was struck by how Lovelace placed so much importance on Carney’s opportunities at Vassar. Unlike Betsy, who always wanted to be an author and to work for a living, Carney was always very upfront about wanting to be married and a housewife. In spite of this, Lovelace shows that Carney’s college experience is a rare gift, and one many other girls might want to emulate.
But I have to admit, Emily of Deep Valley has always been my favorite book. Unlike all the other books, Emily is not one of the Crowd, and although Cab, Betsy, Alice, and Winona make a brief appearance, Emily spends most of the book on her own. Unlike the fun-loving and sociable Ray household, Emily is an orphan who lives with her grandfather, a Civil War veteran, at the edge of the slough. Separated physically from the town of Deep Valley, she’s also excluded in other ways, unable to go to college so she can stay home and take care of her family.
After her friends all go away, Emily finds herself slipping into a depression, living vicariously through letters from friends and visiting her old high school haunts. When she realizes what she’s doing, and how other people pity her, she finds the inspiration to “muster her wits and stand in her own defense”. Determined to create a life for herself, even if it’s not the one she had wanted, Emily fills her days with books, music lessons, reading to her grandfather, and befriending the Syrian boys who play near the slough. She ends up discovering not just a better life for herself, but that she doesn’t have to go to college to educate herself. Although she can’t study sociology, like Jane Addams, her work and friendship with the Syrian children results in a better understanding in the community, and the formation of English language classes.
As with all her other books, Emily Webster is based on a real friend, in this case, Marguerite Marsh. It was a wonderful thing to read the afterword and discover that Emily/Marguerite not only managed to get out of Deep Valley, but she served in France as a volunteer during WWI.