Friday, November 9, 2012

Bobbsey Twins; Or, Merry Days Indoors and Out (The Bobbsey Twins #1)

Bobbsey Twins; Or, Merry Days Indoors and Out (The Bobbsey Twins #1)
Laura Lee Hope
Grosset & Dunlap, 1904

Genre: Realistic Fiction, “Tot” Series


The original Bobbsey Twins book is really nothing more than chapter vignettes telling little stories from the lives of the Bobbsey Twins—eight-year-old Bert and Nan and four-year-old Freddie and Flossie. While there is a clear passing of time, most of the chapters are singular events with only minor plot continuity.

The first chapter is the twins’ making shoe box houses followed by going outside to play football and jump rope in the second chapter. On the way to school, Danny, the neighborhood bully, throws powerful snowballs at Bert. After school Bert attacks him and Danny throws a shard of ice. Bert ducks, but the ice breaks a store window. Meanwhile, Freddie and Flossie make a snow house. When Freddie attempts to give the house a window he causes an avalanche and buries himself but he is rescued by Dinah, the cook. Freddie and Flossie get to go shopping for Christmas with Mrs. Bobbsey.  Their mother decides to go looking at rugs and tells them to stay where they are. Flossie gets distracted by dolls while Freddie decides to go back to the first floor by riding the elevator. He soon sees toys and gets distracted and ends up lost. Stuck in a storeroom, Freddie awakes from a nap and it is dark. Soon a security guard finds him. Meanwhile, the town has been frantic. Freddie is alright because he has found a tiny black kitten and is allowed to keep it who he has named Snoop. The family decides to go for a ride in the country. They stop at the home of a friend of Bert's, Bob. The boys decide to drive the horse carriage to see a hockey game. On the way home from a hockey game the boys start a horse race with another young boy and Bert doesn't like it much. They win but the horse doesn't stop running. They get thrown off into the sandpit. Soon it is springtime so the twins decide to fly a kite. Unfortunately, Snoop gets stuck on it. The cat ends up on top of the barn and Bert gets a ladder from Mr. Roscoe. Danny comes along and begins throwing rocks at Snoop. Roscoe sees Danny and comments that he is a very bad boy. At school the next day, Danny confronts Bert complaining that he told about the broken window. Bert denies it. It turns out that Mr. Roscoe had seen Danny break the window but didn't know who he was and after recognizing him the other day finally turned him in. In the end the Bobbsey’s plan their trip to visit their aunt and uncle in Meadow Brook which is a story that would be told in the Bobbsey Twins in the Country.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

The original 1904 edition of the Bobbsey Twins is much different from the 1950s revisions that most people grew up with. The original is actually longer (22 chapters compared to 18 and some 50 pages longer) than the revision and, quite frankly, a bit more boring. While the mystery series of the 1930s hit it big and the revision focused on the twins’ solving mysteries like their other series book pals (Nancy, the Hardys, etc.) the original was very much the originator of the “tot” form of series books—those that feature not teenagers but much younger children. It also reflects the time it was written in because it is a very family-orientated story and many books from the early 1900s focused around the home.

This book, because of its time period, is full of such awesomeness!

First, there is the issue of gender. Older twins, Bert and Nan, are described as having a dark complexion, brown hair and eyes, and Bert's voice is stronger than Nan's (for some reason that is an important character trait to mention!). Freddie and Flossie are described as “short and stout” – round, fair, and blue-eyed. Papa calls Flossie his “fat fairy” and Freddie his “fat fireman.” The whole family lives in the large town of Lakeport. Mr. Bobbsey, Richard, is a lumber merchant. Readers finally learn on page 133 that Mrs. Bobbsey's first name is Mary (how typical).

Early on (page 8!) there is an interesting gendered conversation that occurs when Dinah asks if Freddie if he is going to grow up to be fireman. Bert says he is going to grow up to be a soldier. Nan says, “I shouldn't want to be a soldier and kill folks.” Freddie replies with, “Girls can't be soldiers. They have to get married, or be dressmakers, or sten'graphers, or something like that” (stenographers). Good thing to know that these old books were teaching poor girls that they had no decisions in life for what they wanted to be—it’s either typist, wife, or mother.

Next comes what I call the infamous jump rope scene. It is too hilarious. Mrs. Bobbsey sends the kids outside to play. All the neighborhood boys play football while the girls skip rope. Nan jumps rope with Grace Lavine. Grace reaches 40 jumps when her mother calls out to her, “Grace, don't jump so much. You'll get sick.” Grace is described as “headstrong” and a girl who always wants her own way. She doesn't care if jump roping gives her a headache. Grace decides she's going to try to reach 100 jumps and at 97 she falls down “in a heap.” She is white as a sheet and has fainted dead away. The girls think she is dead and Mr. Bobbsey is fetched to call for a doctor. What follows is the best line of narration ever:

“Mr. Bobbsey was startled and with good reason, for he had heard of more than one little girl dying from too much jumping” (p. 14).

Jump rope can KILL you! That is the most important message learned from the first Bobbsey Twin book. The only remote medical explanation given is from Danny who says, “Rope jumping brings on heart disease” (p. 16). This is his reply to another girl who says that jumping rope is just as physically demanding as football. Clearly football, a sport for boys, is safe and jump roping, a girls’ hobby, is not. Clearly, girls should avoid strenuous activity.

Nan gets scolded for turning the rope for Grace when her mother told her not to jump. After the doctor comes it says, “Grace was resting quietly in an easy chair and the doctor had ordered that she be kept quiet for several days. She was very much frightened and had told her parents that she would never jump rope again” (p. 19). Later in chapter 16 the twins attend a party at Grace’s house and readers learn of her eventual fate: it was “now quite certain that when her mom told her to do a thing or to leave it alone it was always for her own good” (p. 127).

Other examples of gendered messages occur when walking home from church one day, the boys start a snowball fight while the girls act more dignified and wash each other's faces with fresh snow. When Bert has trouble sleeping because of his guilt at the broken window that Danny broke, he thinks he sees a white figure in his bedroom. He decides that he could call out to Nan but she might “call him a 'fraid cat—something he despised” (p. 38). Later on, when Nan admits to seeing Bert’s “ghost” she admits to being nervous but says that she tried to poke it with an umbrella. Bert laughs at her foolishness but Mr. Bobbsey, in an unprecedented way of standing up for girls, says, “It was more than you tried to do” (p. 154).

Gender is expressed in the tales of shopping. During the first trip to the mall, Freddie has $.25 and so does Flossie and they both want to pool their money to buy something for their mother. Flossie suggests a doll and Freddie suggests a car. However, Nan says that they should get her cologne and a handkerchief (p. 71)—more appropriate gifts for a woman and very gendered. Later when asked what they want for Christmas, Freddie wants a fire truck, a railroad track, blocks and picture books. Flossy wants dolls and clothes, the red trunk, slippers, and card games. Nan just wants a set of furs. Bert wants some books, games, a pocket knife, a wagon, and money (p. 115). The children all pool their money to buy presents for their mother, father, and Dinah and Sam. Mr. Bobbsey receives a cravat, Mrs. Bobbsey gets some flowers, Dinah gets an apron, and Sam get some gloves (p. 115).

Lastly, a few other instances include a story of one night before Christmas when the children are alone and decide to bake some cakes. The narration reads, “It was Burt who spoke about cake making first. Queer that a bully should think of it, wasn't it? But Burt was very fond of cake, and did quite some grumbling when none was to be had” (p. 106). In another story, with the latest snowfall the lake is iced over and everyone enjoys skating on it. Bert is a better skater than Nan. However, Bert would like to learn some fancy moves. Nan says that skating is like dancing, but Burt says it is actually better because he “did not care for dancing at all” (p. 67). Finally, when Freddie gets lost in the mall and Mrs. Bobbsey can’t find him we see a line of narration that describes how incompetent women must be just because they are women. Even though she’s supposed to be the one in charge of the household and the children she can’t even handle losing a child in a public place. The chapter ends with, “Almost frantic with fear, Mrs. Bobbsey telephone to her husband, telling him of what had occurred and asked him what had best be done” (p. 78). Clearly, losing her child has caused her brain to fry and she can’t think logically about what she should do.

The other important thing about this original Bobbsey Twins book is the fact that is it extremely racist. Dinah and Sam are the two main African-American characters in the story. Dinah is the family’s cook. She speaks in horrid vernacular and dialect: “Well, I declar' to gracious! If yo' chillum ain't gone an' mussed up de floah ag'in” (p. 6). (“Floah” in this case being “flour”.) When readers are introduced to Sam, he is described as the “man of all work.” He and Dinah live in “pleasant rooms” above the stable (p. 21). One of the few illustrations in the book (done in nice glossy format) depicts the scene of Dinah rescuing Freddie from his caved in snow house. She is drawn in a horribly racist way. One might confuse her for Aunt Jemima—she's wearing a dotted dress, a headscarf, and apron, and is depicted as having a very large nose and puffy lips.

The last form of racism is expressed in Flossie’s doll obsession. Flossie loves dolls. She has five of them, one good, one okay, two that are missing parts, and one called “Jujube, a colored boy, dressed in a fiery suit of red, with a blue cap and real rubber boots. This doll had come from Sam and Dinah and had been much admired at first but was now taken out only when all the others went too” (p. 57). When Flossie has friends over, she tells them, “He doesn't really belong to the [doll] family, you know. But I have to keep him, for Mama says, there is no colored orphan asylum for dolls. Besides I don't think Sam and Dinah would like to see their doll child in an asylum” (p. 57). Lastly, the poor Jujube’s home is described as: “The dolls were all kept in a row in a big bureau drawer at the top of the house, but Flossie always took pains to separate Jujube from the rest by placing the cover of the pasteboard box between them” (p. 57).

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