Friday, October 9, 2009

Betsy And the Great World by Maud Hart Lovelace

321 pages
Harper Trophy
A Division of HarperCollins Publishers
First published 1952, reprinted 1996

Betsy And the Great World is the ninth book in the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. Betsy And the Great World is a little special as it has a completely different setting than the books preceding it in the series. The story is not set in Minnesota, but instead in Europe. The only Deep Valley/Minneapolis character that make an appearance is Joe Willard, albeit very briefly. The rest of Betsy's friends and family members only appear in the story through the form of letters to/from Betsy and her conversations with the people she meets and her own internal thoughts.

The Plot:
"It's the trip of a lifetime. Betsy Ray, 21 years old, is heading off for a solo tour of Europe. From the moment she casts off, her journey is filled with adventure--whether she's waltzing at the captain's ball, bartering for beads in Madeira, or sipping coffee at a bohemian cafe in Munich. It's rich fodder for a budding young writer, and Betsy's determined to make the most of the experience. If only she could stop thinking about her ex-sweetheart, Joe Willard... Then a handsome, romantic Italian goes overboard for Betsy, and she has a big decision to make. Marco Regali is passionate, fascinating, and cultured. Could it be that Betsy's heart belongs in Europe instead of Minnesota?" (Summary courtesy of the publisher.)

My Thoughts:
Of course I enjoyed Betsy And the Great World, why wouldn't I? It's a Betsy-Tacy book and I love the series! But I can't say it's my favorite in the series. To me it's a little like what Anne of Windy Poplars is to the other books in the Anne series. A story that is entertaining and interesting, but lacking something of the snap that the previous or forthcoming books contain. In the case of Anne of Windy Poplars I really missed Anne's interaction with Gilbert. In the case of Betsy and the Great World I really missed the Deep Valley crowd and her interaction with the Joe! I really missed Joe.

Still, I think Betsy And the Great World plays a vital role in the Betsy-Tacy series. Betsy has left her high school life and faces the "what next" moment that so many people similarly face. This book provides a bridge from her childhood and high school years to her adult life.

Like Emily Webster in another of Maud Hart Lovelace's books: Emily of Deep Valley, Betsy feels she must attend college after high school, after all everyone else is. But after starting college Betsy encounters some unforeseen difficulties that set her back a year. With her friends a year ahead of her she starts to lose focus of what she really wants and makes some foolish choices, including one that costs her the loss of Joe Willard. Thankfully Betsy's very sensible and loving father encourages her to learn from her mistakes and move on to something else rather than continue spending time and money doing something she isn't meant to do. This results in Betsy taking a tour of Europe where she learns that she doesn't have to study books to become a better writer. She can better herself and her writing through the experiences of one-on-one contact with historical sites, foreign languages, and the unique people and cultures of foreign countries.

Betsy And the Great World is a story filled with entertainment, adventure, and history. When the novel opens it is 1914 and Betsy is seeing ancient historical sites as well as modern (i.e. early 20th century) sites. She is seeing Germany pre-World War I. For a reader from the 21st century I find this absolutely fascinating! I love the depth of detail that Mrs. Lovelace includes in the story. It gives me, the reader, not just an understanding of what it was like, but the feeling of actually having been to Europe with Betsy.

And how very different it was to travel in 1914 than it is today! Not to mention the amount of luggage that Betsy can travel with (albeit by boat not plane). Then there's whole bath/shower aspect. At one point in the story Betsy has to go several weeks (or maybe it's a couple months) without a bath (and showers didn't exist). Eww! And on a lighter note, I couldn't help but laugh when towards the end of the book when someone asks Betsy if she has her passport with her and Betsy replies in the negative as "very few people bothered with passports for a mere trip to Europe." (Chpt. 21, pg. 313) Yes, how very different from today when you not only must have a passport to go from the USA to Europe, but also from the USA to Canada! I also noticed the amount of freedom that Betsy has in her travels. Traveling through Europe in 1914 appears to have been both simplistic and quietly beautiful. The cities still had their hustle and bustle, but not the noise and high-paced life that travelers of this century meet. No bumper-to-bumper traffic, no tourist traps, no cell phones, Web-cafes, and jumbo jets with hundreds of people cramped in tiny seats after paying a large sum of money to check their one bag. Of course, there was a downside to the lack of technology. When she was homesick Betsy couldn't just pick up a phone and call her family and a return trip to the United States took six days instead of the current six hours. Still, I think the experiences Betsy had are harder to come by as a traveler today and, in a way, that's a shame.

Another subject addressed briefly in the book is World War I, at least the beginnings of it. In the closing chapters of Betsy And the Great World war breaks out between Germany, Russia, France, and Belgium. Betsy faces the choice of staying in England experiencing things first-hand that she could write about or heading for the safety of her home back in Minneapolis. While keeping the story historically accurate, Mrs. Lovelace still manages to tactfully keep the grit of the war to a distance. For Betsy and her friends back in the United States the idea of a world-wide war was just not something they considered reality, at least not in 1914 even though it was quickly becoming a reality for people in Europe.

In Summary:
Betsy and the Great World is a wonderful mix of fiction and history. I am so glad I took the time to re-read it. On a scale of 1-5, 1 being horrible and 5 being excellent I would rate it a 4.5. I loved the book, it's a definite must read for the series, but the best (in my opinion) is yet to come. Stay tuned!

Want to read Betsy And the Great World? You can! If your library doesn't have a copy be sure to check out your local bookstore or shop online. HarperCollins Publishers has reprinted Betsy And the Great World along with Betsy's Wedding and they can be purchased in one paperback for $10-15.

Related Reads:
Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy series, 1897-1898)
Betsy, Tacy and Tib (BT, 1900-1901)
Winnona's Pony Cart (Deep Valley series, around 1900)
Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill (BT, 1902)
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (BT, 1904-1905)
Heavens to Betsy (BT, 1906-1907)
Betsy in Spite of Herself (BT, 1907-1908)
Betsy Was a Junior (BT, 1908-1909)
Betsy and Joe (BT, 1909-1910)
Carney's House Party (DV, 1911)
Emily of Deep Valley (DV, 1912-1913)
Betsy and the Great World (BT, 1914)
Betsy's Wedding (BT, 1914-1917) -- Review coming soon!


Stephanie said...

I love the Betsy books but I never liked this one-I always preferred Betsy and Joe and Betsy's Wedding (Yeah, I love Joe) But I think I may appreciate it more now-I read it when I was 10/11 and I was not particularly interested in traveling when she could be with Joe. I have the reissued books on my Christmas wishlist so hopefully I'll have the chance to read it.

Audrey said...

I feel the same way about this book: I love it, of course, because it's about Betsy but I kept missing the Deep Valley crowd and descriptions of life there. I do think it is a necessary volume in the series to show Betsy's maturation.