Saturday, September 12, 2009

Trixie Belden and the Class Snobbery

In Trixie's fourth adventure, The Mysterious Visitor, she delves into the unexplored world of social classes. She learns that there are poor people in Sleepyside. And the nouveaux riches? Well, you just can't expect real warmth or taste.

This book marks the first appearance of Bob-White Diana Lynch, whom Trixie introduces like so:
"Next to you, Honey, she's the prettiest girl in our class. She doesn't get very good marks, but neither do I. She's got two sets of twins for brothers and sisters, and her father made a million dollars a couple of years ago. They have a huge place that's as gorgeous as yours, high on a hill that's even higher than your hill, with a marvelous view of the river."
Aren't those the details you want as soon as you meet someone?

As a 'surprise' for Diana, he had persuaded Mrs. Lynch to order caterers, a five-piece orchestra, and even decorators from New York.
Diana's bedroom:
It was a decorator's dream of a room, done in royal blue and gold. There were twin beds in it, a huge sofa, two comfortable chairs, a desk, and even a love seat. The gold silk curtains matched the bedspreads, which were monogrammed in royal blue.
But there's a cure for all that, because old money always knows best:
"It's really quite simple," Miss Trask put in. "I'm sure, Honey, that Mrs. Wheeler would like very much to invite Di's parents to the dinner she's giving next Friday night. When she telephones Mrs. Lynch tomorrow morning, she could suggest at the same time that Di's friends would have much more fun if the party Di gives is simply an informal affair."
(Side note: Old money also understands noblesse oblige. The Wheelers are giving a cottage to their soon-to-be-married chauffeur and maid. But it's not just out of altruism:
"If they set up housekeeping in the village, they'll lose their jobs because Dad and Mother have to have a maid and a chauffeur who live on the premises."
Ah, the difficulties of maintaining a country estate.)

Oh, and this:
"Listen, Di," Trixie said seriously, "you've got to stop hating being rich."
And then there's the other side of town, a street Trixie has never heard of until the Wheelers' chauffeur sets her straight:
"Anyway, he says Hawthorne Street is the worst street in town. Most people call it Skid Row. Nothing but ramshackle houses where bums live when they're not in jail."
Our heroine is a little concerned about her foray into this new world. The solution? Dehumanize the residents!
"There's nothing to be afraid of," Trixie said to herself firmly. "This used to be a cowpath once. I'm going to pretend that all these strange-looking people are harmless cows."...

The women, in their bright shawls and full skirts, looked like gypsies, and the men, when they moved at all, shuffled as though their feet hurt. Even the children moved slowly and stared suspiciously at Trixie as she passed by.
And once she moves onto Hawthorne Street itself, in all its underclass glory:
They were no worse than the dilapidated buildings in the alley, but there was something evil about them. The accumulated dirt of years clung to them, and there wasn't a single solitary soul in sight... There were no porches or stoops here.
I don't know what else to say about the rampant class bias. Is it Julie Campbell's perspective, or did she just think it would be appropriate for the characters?

Thus endeth the rant. Let's move onto other details.

No, one more minor rant first. Feel free to count the instances of stupid in the following sentence:
"But he couldn't have been one of the first settlers [of Arizona]. They were mostly killed off by the Indians before the Revolution."
Okay, back to being frivolous. The Mysterious Visitor includes some good bits of dialogue, including this:
"I guess you're right," Trixie said again. "I was just thinking -"

"Don't," Reagan interrupted. "Don't think. Every time you do, this place is swarming with state troopers and G-men."
And this:
Trixie shrugged. "Do you know what 'casing the joint' means, Honey?"
"No, I don't," Honey said crossly.

"You should read more detective stories," Trixie said.
And then there's an exchange that's of interest primarily because it ties into the plot of a Cherry Ames book written by the same author (writing as Julie Tatham):
Jim patted Honey's hand. "You're too young and innocent to understand the nature of shady characters like Olyfant. They make it their business to know all there is to know about rich or famous people like the Lynches."

"I still don't understand," Honey said. "Newspapers and county clerks* don't give information to just anyone, especially not to shady characters."

"But crooked politicians do," Jim said, grinning.

"That's right," Mart said. "I've been looking into Olyfant. He's been arrested dozens of times but never convicted of anything. That spells a crooked political connection in capital letters."
I don't believe we've started keeping track of books in which Trixie gets tied up, so let's consider this Item #1. Like the "bracelets" list, it's going to grow.

*Today, at least, the second half of Honey's assumption is patently false. County clerks and other municipal employees are governed by the state or local version of the Freedom of Information Act. It's an important piece of legislation - even if I did grumble about making copies for FOIA requests back when I worked for a municipal agency.


Colleen said...

Wow. I hardly know where to begin. I loved Trixie when I was a kid (way more than Nancy Drew) but I don't remember any of this at all. I was probably so blinded with envy that I missed the rest. Great stuff, though - thanks!

Sarah Rettger said...

I don't know that I would have caught that stuff - or thought of it through a sociological perspective - if privilege hadn't become such a big topic in the Kidlitosphere of late. One of the virtues of rereading, I suppose!

Edward said...
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Edward said...
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