Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What Can she Do?


"What Can she Do?" was originally published in 1873 by E. P. Roe, a Presbyterian pastor and an author. About a month ago I picked up this edition of the book, printed in 1901, and when I brought it home, I ended up doing something with it that I don't often do with my old books: I read it.

And I ended up really liking it!

Usually my older books are displayed on my shelves, protected from damage, and I'll occasionally flip through them and read a few pages here and there. But this book was different. It sat on the dining room table by my laptop for about a week and, whenever I was waiting for a game to load, I would pick it up and read.


From the title, I had no idea what to expect; I had never heard of the book or the author before. Well, after reading only the dedication I had a pretty good grasp on Mr. Roe's view of helpless, simpering women. Haha.

The plot centers around the Allen family which consists of Mr. and Mrs. Allen and their three daughters, Laura, Edith, and Zell. Mr. Allen is a wealthy businessman prone to taking risks and his ailing wife spends her time at home, relaxing and recuperating (until the next social event rolls around - then she's never too ill to get out of bed). Left largely to their own devices, the three girl spend their nights lavishly entertaining their beaux. Laura, the eldest, is being courted by Mr. Goulden, an attentive, somewhat dull businessman. Edith has Gus Elliot, a man easily-controlled, and Zell is being seen by the rakish Mr. Van Dam.

The family's hopes for a bright future are dashed when the conniving Mr. Fox utterly destroys Mr. Allen's business and the family loses their fortune. To top it all off, Mr. Allen suffers from an attack of apoplexy and dies. Suddenly the girls are thrust out into the world, penniless, jobless, and without skill. Moving to the country, the girls must find a way to support themselves despite never having been trained to do a single day of honest work in their entire lives. Can they rally together and make the best of the situation? What about the three men? Are they still willing to pursue marriage now that the girls haven't any money?

I won't give away any more of the plot so you can read it for yourself (hey, it's even a free ebook!).

One of the things I liked best about my edition of the book were the illustrations!

Mr. Allen and Edith.

Mr. Allen at head of table; Mrs. Allen to his right; Laura to Mrs. Allen's right; Zell across from Laura; Hannibal behind her; Edith to Mr. Allen's left.

Edith (standing) and Laura (sitting).

So, in the end, I wound up enjoying the book much more than I had anticipated. It had a nice plot and interesting characters and I found it a pleasing read.

There were only a few things I didn't like. Namely, Mr. Roe was very thorough in getting his message across. Understandable, though at times a bit repetitive.

Also, some of the dialogue was hard to follow since some of the characters' speech was spelled as it should be pronounced. Take, for example, the Scottish gardener, Malcom McTrump, has a very thick accent.
"Weel, noo, ye're a canny lass to coom and filch all old Malcom's secrets to set oop opposition to him But then sin' ye do it sae openly I'll tell ye all I know. The big wourld ought to be wide enought for a binnie lassie like yoursel to ha' a chance in it, and though I'm a little mon, I would na be sae mean a one as to hinder ye. Mairover the gardener's craft be a gentle one, and I see na reason why, if a whilte lily like yoursel must toil and spin, it should na be oot in God's sunshine, where the flowers bloom, instead o' pricking the bluid oot o' yer body, and the hope oot o' yer heart, wi' the needle's point, as I ha' seen sae mony o' my ain coontry lassies do. Gude-by, and may the roses in yer cheeks bloom a' the year round." (p. 160-161)
Needless to say, I read his dialogue twice.