When this novel begins, Elizabeth Ann is a thin, little girl of nine living with her Aunt Harriet and Aunt Francis who coddle and fuss over her. She is a fearful, dull child prone to tears. But then Aunt Harriet gets sick and Elizabeth Ann is sent to live with her Vermont relatives, Uncle Henry, Aunt Abigail, and Cousin Ann, at Putney Farm. They dub her Betsy and teach her to do things like drive a team of horses and make butter, as well as to act and think for herself. Betsy blossoms under the care of her Vermont relatives. She gets a kitten, gains some independence, makes new friends, has some adventures, and soon discovers that while "Not a thing had happened the way she had planned...it seemed to her she had never been so happy in her life."
One hundred years after it was first written, Understood Betsy has a definite old-fashioned feel to it, with chapter headings like "Elizabeth Ann Fails in an Examination" and "Betsy Has a Birthday". Fisher is generous with her authorial comments throughout the novel, and Betsy learns many life lessons while at Putney Farm like, "A dim notion was growing in her mind that the fact that she had never done a thing was no proof that she couldn't." Wholesome would be a good word to describe this book, but I think that's why I like it. Understood Betsy transports you back to a more innocent time where life moves at a slower pace, hard work is valued, children don't grow up too fast, and happiness is found within the walls of a humble but loving home. It reminded me of both Pollyanna and Little Women, which isn't bad company to be in.
So, Happy Birthday, Dorothy Canfield Fisher!
(And Happy Reading!)