By the Light of the Candles and Fireplace

We lost power during the snowstorm over Halloween weekend (it still feels weird typing that), and since I was the only one home it was the perfect excuse to curl up with some Dana Girls books. Lately some discussion group members have been reading together, which reminded me of how much I love these. Nothing says comfort quite like old series books! I built a roaring fire, lined the mantle with candles, and pulled up a blanket-laden armchair to read By the Light of the Study Lamp.

Jean suggested that they notify the police station, but Louise would not hear of it. “I like mysteries, she declared, “and this is something of a mystery. We’ll handle it ourselves. If I find the man who drove that car, I’ll give him a piece of my mind.”

It’s been a while since I last read these, but I was still surprised how much I remembered. The book begins when Louise and Jean receive a beautiful antique study lamp from their Uncle Ned, to adorn the new study they will have this year at Starhurst School for Girls. When they leave the room for a few minutes, however, they come back to find that the lamp has been stolen. They rush outside to see a car pulling away and quickly follow it into Oak Falls, where they find it parked outside of a secondhand shop. The owner, Jake Garbone, turns nasty when Jean confronts him, and sends her away.

On their way home the girls rescue a man who has fallen into the river near the rapids and been knocked unconscious. The man, Franklin Starr, turns out to have been on his way to the Dana house to visit Captain Ned. He is also the older brother of one of the girls’ classmates, Evelyn Starr. The Starr family used to own the property and buildings now used by Starhurst, until their parents died and money got tight. Evelyn may no longer be able to afford tuition, though Franklin is convinced that his father left something behind for them.

The girls head for Starhurst the next day, and on the train they spy Jake Garbone’s gypsy-like assistant. They manage to stop her from stealing the luggage of wealthy Mrs. Grantland, though she does make away with the woman’s pearl ring. Mrs. Grantland is eternally grateful, asks the girls to work on finding the ring, and promises the loan of her car whenever they need it.

Over the course of the book the girls try to track down their lamp, Mrs. Grantland’s ring, Jake Garbone and the gypsy Fay Violette, and later Franklin Starr when he disappears. There is also a subplot involving a mysterious plumber at the school; the girls’ nemesis Lettie Briggs links his name with Jean’s in a malicious rumor. Oh, and it would be nice if they could manage to restore the Starr family fortune in the process. Needless to say, they are successful on all counts.

“I daresay we could solve the mystery of this lamp quite as well as any man,” declared Jean. “I think we’d make good detectives if we had a chance.”

Two of my favorite things about old series books are the over-the-top contrivances and coincidences, and the glimpses into everyday 1930s life (I hesitate to say the girls’ lives are “normal”). As I read I found myself marking all the spots that stood out, and it’s easier to list them than write in detail:

  • The lamp arrives in a box–but one that needs to be opened with a hammer and chisel, and is packed full with newspaper and excelsior (which also used to be used to stuff teddy bears)
  • The girls having a going away party with their neighborhood friends who attend Oak Falls High, including Sally and Sam Gray, but I don’t recall these friends being mentioned in any other books. We do see more of their school friends later: Nell Carson, Doris Harland, Ann Freeman, and Margaret Glenn
  • As far as I can tell, the Starr financial troubles are the only hardship that could be in any way traced to the depression. Every other character seems to live comfortably.
  • Pranks: Lettie steals the girls’ lamp and gives it to the cook, Amanda, so Jean gives Lettie and Ina red-pepper-filled cream puffs.
  • “Carolyn Keene” is big on skull fractures; that is the big fear when Franklin is rescued from the rapids and when Fay Violette hits her head on a stone.
  • Louise seems to be the designated driver for the duo, and is quite skilled at it–including driving an out-of-gas car downhill all the way to Penfield without using the brake to get to the police station. Luckily there was no cross-traffic!
  • Jean does such a horrible job recounting events to headmistress Mrs. Crandall that she is assigned extra writing exercises and admonished that “one fact must lead directly to the next.”

My old copies of the books used to belong to my grandmother and are starting to fall apart. I need to look into finding some facsimile dust jackets I can use to protect the covers.

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Published in: on November 2, 2011 at 7:22 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] with the previous books in the series, it’s easier to give short reactions than to try to write a formal […]


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