Over the last sixteen months, I have marveled at the way that my book club for young readers has grown and changed. All of this has been a grand experiment, and I have learned so much about what works well for us and what could be improved. One of the things I always wanted to try was a tea party-style book club for young ladies. Thanks to my dear friend Giovanna and her hospitality, we did just that for Louisa May Alcott’s An Old Fashioned Girl and we had a Young Ladies Literary Tea. Giovanna opened her home and took care of all of the table service, freeing me to lead the club discussion. It was marvelous!
An Old Fashioned Girl isn’t my favorite Alcott book, but it is near the top. (My favorite Alcott story is the Rose Campbell series.) Diane had her American Literature Course girls read An Old-Fashioned Girl last winter and it got me thinking about how lovely it would be to host a book club with my own old-fashioned girls. The young ladies in my club are tender souls with old-fashioned values, and I thought this book would be a lovely coming-of-age story to do together. And, it was.
Giovanna laid out a beautiful table cloth and elegant plates in anticipation of our tea. Most of the girls came dressed up. Some of the young ladies came in silk gloves and fancy hats. One of the girls made a raisin cake like Polly’s, and another brought lemonade. Everyone came with enthusiasm and at least one new literary friend from Alcott’s world. We gathered around the table for two hours and talked about which characters we loved most, why Polly was or was not relatable, and why this story endures as a girlhood classic. It was a lovely book club and left me feeling deeply encouraged to keep offering the occasional ladies literary tea.
During this club, I took the opportunity to show the girls how much of a feminist Alcott was. While we discussed the young women in Polly’s society, however, we also discussed how different our modern understanding of the word “feminist” is. Using the text to see into Alcott’s mindset, we talked about how whole and healthy Alcott’s view of womanhood was. We also talked about her penny thriller novels from early in her career. I asked the girls to remember the scene in Little Women in which Professor Bhaer and Jo March discuss what it is like to write things of substance. I knew that we would be reading Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom in September and I wanted them to watch for Alcott’s comments in both of those books about bad books and what they do to our souls. I went so far as to caution them that some professor in college or some social media rant may try to persuade them that Alcott wanted our modern form of feminism. I can’t be convinced that she did. Her novels are too clear on this point. I wanted the girls to cling to the real Alcott and, maybe, God-willing, remember these comments someday when someone tries to color their view of this most excellent author.
Some of our most successful literary discussion questions included these:
- What did you like most about this book?
- What did you like least about this book?
- Does this book remind you of any other books, if so, how?
- Are these characters believable?
- How would this book be different if it were told from the point of view of one of the other characters?
- Why do you think the Grandmother, with all of her sage advice, was unable to raise old-fashioned children or grandchildren?
- How does our faith lens affect how we read this book?
- What item would you have put in the hands of the sculpted woman, and why?
- Which character do think you are most like? Which one would you most wish to be like?
We have an entire series on the Young Ladies Literary Teas. You can find them here.