|Pretty cover that I like, as the|
ebook I read didn't have a cover...
New York: L.C. Page, c1913
I read this classic novel as an ebook (thanks again, OpenLibrary), and I found it quite a delight, actually! Of course, as everyone does, I knew about the story and Pollyanna's optimistic "Glad Game", through the use of Pollyanna's very name as a synonym for someone who is naively optimistic or cheerful. But upon reading the actual novel, I think that she has been maligned by this association.
Pollyanna is indeed cheerful, always looking for the good in any situation. However, she does this in recognition of the difficulties involved, not by pretending all is well. She's basically reframing any difficult moment, deciding to change perspective and see any positive elements that can be found. This seems to me to be very modern, a philosophy that is reflected in many, many current self-help books and even modern therapeutic practice. What you expect to find, you will find, whether that is negativity or beneficence. Pollyanna's "Glad Game" reminds me of some catchphrases I've heard a lot lately -- "fake it til you make it", "act like you want to feel", "what you focus on grows", and so on. It makes some sense as a way to face the problems in life, certainly a more useful coping strategy than doom and gloom and catastrophizing all the time.
So I did enjoy the read, and found it didn't date itself too badly. The basic storyline is that Pollyanna Whittier, newly orphaned, is returning East to live with her strict Aunt Polly. Pollyanna lost her mother when she was young, and has now lost her minister father as well. Fortunately for her, she has a resilient nature, and added to that, a habit of looking for the good in everything -- it was her father who originated the Glad Game, one Christmas when Pollyanna had been hoping for a doll in the missionary barrel, and got a pair of crutches instead. They decided that the good in that situation was that Pollyanna didn't need the crutches.
Pollyanna's relentless optimism begins to affect the people she encounters in her new home of Beldingsville, Vermont. She befriends housekeepers, sickly invalids, orphan boys, rich recluses, and even softens Aunt Polly's heart. She attempts to understand and improve people's outlooks; but she is not trying to be Lady Bountiful -- she acts this way because she is sincerely interested, and because it's in her nature to do so. I think that this is what saves the book from syrupy melodrama. Pollyanna isn't some golden child, unlikely and saccharine, she is simply an outward-looking people person.
The story comes to a head when Pollyanna has an accident and is invalided herself. She loses her ability to play the Glad Game, with housekeeper Nancy reporting that she's saying "it's easy to tell lifelong invalids how ter be glad, but 'tain't the same thing when you're the lifelong invalid yerself an' have ter try ter do it."
At this, the townspeople rally, and come to tell Aunt Polly how Pollyanna has changed their lives for the better through her positive outlook. It's a bit treacly overall, but it is rescued by the fact that Pollyanna herself recognizes how hard it is to be Glad in the midst of personal tragedy. I think it shows that the Glad Game has to be a conscious choice, and that it's not always easy, a message that still resonates today.
The setting and the main characters are quite developed, making this more than a moral fable. I can't speak to any of the multitudes of sequels (though I have my doubts about those) but this original tale is fairly entertaining, and yes, even uplifting in some ways. While much of the story is definitely of its time, the message is surprisingly modern, and it does hold up. Pollyanna is not entirely the obnoxiously optimistic idiot for whom her name has unfortunately become a synonym.