This is the first book I’ve ever chosen because of the publisher. When I saw that the 1886 novel Miss Elliot’s Girls, Stories of Beasts, Birds, and Butterflies was printed by the Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society I decided to read it to see how preachy it might be. It’s not too preachy, but the author made sure her readers learned a lot.
In the first chapter Miss Ruth Elliot, a lady who lives with her minister brother and his family, asks a boy to bring her a tobacco worm. Miss Ruth, who is crippled, enjoys obtaining caterpillars so that she can watch them turn into butterflies, and it was interesting to read about the transformation.
In chapter two Mrs. Elliot (Ruth’s sister-in-law) is disappointed over the small turnout at the sewing society. The church had promised a barrel of clothing and bed linens to the poor missionary out West, and she had hoped to include a bed quilt. Miss Ruth offered to host a Patchwork Quilt Society, consisting of her two nieces and four other girls, to make the needed quilt. They would meet in her room once a week. She would cut the fabric squares, and tell stories while the girls worked.
Most of the remaining chapters told a little about the girls and their minor disagreements (resolved with a reminder of a Bible lesson), but focused on Miss Ruth’s stories about cats, dogs and horses from her youth, as well more stories about butterflies, plus birds, and the industrious ants who live in a “model city”, with everyone working hard and helping each other.
In the tales from Miss Ruth’s childhood she told of being a healthy and active girl, and I was waiting to learn how she came to rely on a crutch, and to have days when she can barely walk at all. A couple of her stories mentioned her becoming ill, and towards the end of the book her nieces tell friends that their Papa said Aunt Ruth has an incurable disease, and that she is often in pain. The friends remark how cheerful and kind Miss Ruth is, so I suppose that part is “sneaking” preachy, giving a good example of how to behave when faced with troubles.
I was able to find out that the author, Mrs. Mary Spring Corning, had been the daughter of a Congregational minister and later married another Congregational minister, so I’m assuming faith was important to her. During the last chapter of the novel the Patchwork Quilt Society girls finish their quilt, and wished that they could send along the stories they were told as they sewed. It was decided that Miss Ruth would write down her stories so that others could learn the lessons connected to the tales.
I can’t claim that Miss Elliot’s Girls will now become a favorite book, but I enjoyed my time with the fictional Miss Ruth, and admired her for making the most of her limitations. I don’t plan to search out more books from the Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society, but I’m glad that I expanded my horizons a bit and sampled an offering from an obscure organization.
If you’d like to read Miss Elliot’s Girls it can be downloaded free of charge at: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14610