Thursday, 19 July 2007

Wealth in pony books - again

I've had a very interesting email on pony books, heroines and wealth, and I'm going to quote from it directly - it was in response to my earlier post about a poor but nasty pony book heroine:
... an impoverished pony-owner being resentful and bitter and never reforming is the obnoxious Charlie Dewhurst in Three Ponies and Shannan. This seems to me to be the exact opposite of the classic pony book. Charlie Dewhurst should be the heroine; she has a lot in common with other pony book heroines. Like Misty in Jackie won a Pony, Jingle used to pull a cart before taking up a career as a riding pony. Charlie is the daughter of a country parson, and they are always poor, although the families are generally happy (as in A Stable for Jill and any number of Lorna Hill novels). In a traditional pony book, the fifteen pound Jingle would triumph over the three hundred pound Serenade. Although Christina does not win the jumping she does prove herself to be as good as any poor groomless child as she wins The Best Turned Out Pony Class. Charlie never reforms, but perhaps Christina is allowed to be the heroine because she is humble and resents her father's wealth? In a pony book, it seems a character is allowed to be wealthy, provided they do not enjoy it and instead treat it as something shameful.
I had thought when making the original post about Christina, but had not thought as far as Charlie, who is the complete opposite of the same author's Augusta, heroine of I Wanted a Pony, the book written immediately before Three Ponies and Shannan. Augusta is poor, has vile, rich cousins, who, with their expensive ponies, she defeats on her cheap Daybreak. It's interesting that DPT turned the convention on its head with her next book.

I wondered as I was writing that last sentence just how much of a convention had emerged by the point DPT was writing. Of course, her mother, Joanna Cannan, had Jean, newly poor with wealthy, though not wholly unsympathetic, cousins, and her heroes in We Met Our Cousins soon realise the error of their fussy ways born of the rigidly correct upbringing of a wealthy London child. MM Oliver's Sea Ponies is concerned with rescuing the ramshackle farm from a dastardly landlord, and of course Black Beauty has its own examples of the misery caused by the exercise of fashionable money without sympathy, so I suppose it's true to say that the idea of wealth untempered by understanding was alive and well by the 1940s.

I'm not sure, though, about wealth being only acceptable if it's treated as something shameful. Christina is indeed embarrassed about her wealth and how easy it makes things for her. The Esmonds in Plenty of Ponies aren't ashamed of their money, but do see that although money has made their lives easier, it hasn't had much of an effect on their characters. The Holbrooks (although adults Major and Mrs appear in the Noel and Henry series) I think are noblesse oblige personified: they are obviously extremely well off, but not concerned with status; they want to help people, but not in an obtrusive or smothering way. Captain Cholly-Sawcutt in Jill is out of the same mould.

8 comments:

Gillian said...

It's a very good point about Charlie being poor but unreformed. The Christina/Charlie relationship really does turn the usual pony book story around.

Wealth appears to be acceptable in pony books, so long as it is not abused. Wealthy children who expect to win just because they've been bought the best pony, will invariably fail.

Christine has expensive ponies, but realizes that success is as much due to their trainers as to her own ability, and she feels guilty for 'pot-hunting' at the local show. She knows that even a well-trained pony still has to be properly ridden, which is where Charlie fails. She rides Serenade (I think it is) badly, and he plays up, causing her to fall off.

It's remarkable though, how many 'poor' children in pony books still go to private schools, even if as day pupils, rather than borders.

Jane said...

Yes, I think poverty is relative, isn't it?!

Vanessa said...

As you both say, 'poor' is a relative term. In Olivia FitxRoy's Orders to Poach the Stewart family are described as 'the poorest family in Scotland'. This would have no doubt raised some eyebrows with crofters and those living in the Glasgow slums given that the eldest son is at Eton and the eldest daughter enjoying her London Season where she is 'the most popular debutante'!

Gillian said...

That would be 'the poorest upper-class family in Scotland', then.

*boggles faintly at the sheer insensitivity of the author*

Birte said...

Susan Pyke in Jill is also well-off and often has a new and expensive pony but is usually not very succesful in the shows. Susan is also immaculate dressed!

Jane said...

Hi Birte! It's interesting that Susan's portrayal in the books changes. She starts off being the golden girl who has every success, and then it all goes wrong. I can't remember offhand how Susan's portrayed at the end of the series - must go and look!

yaeli said...

Two other examples:

Amanda Applewood from "Jill and the Perfect Pony" is pretty much the epitome of the rich pony owner portrayed in a poor light. She mistreats her "perfect" pony, Plum, and plays a mean trick on Jill. Still, in the end, she is not damned completely as Jill finds it impossible to dislike her totally.

In "Show Jumping Secret" (one of the Pullein Thompsons?), the hero, Charles, is poorer and less fortunate (he is slightly disabled from polio) than his richer and rather obnoxious cousins, who mock his choice of "cheap" pony. The rich cousins don't do too well in shows, however, whilst Charles ends up triumphing.

Jane said...

Yaeli - yes, I do know what you mean about Amanda. I think she really does show Ruby Ferguson's excellence as a writer, as you can't quite dislike Amanda, who has a certain charm.