Bad Children of History #16: The Recalcitrant Tomboy

I’ve been trudging my way through Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, a book about which I can’t articulate anything positive or negative that hasn’t already been said more thoroughly and eloquently than one could manage in an introductory paragraph to a blog post. However, in light of discussions around the book, I’ve been thinking about girls and women who defy society’s rigid expectations, those truly wonderful spinsters of fiction and their tomboyish counterparts— including, of course, “Romping Polly”, the free-spirited star of this week’s Bad Children of History.

Romping Polly is another of the ill-fated children from the classic Struwwelpeter, a book last featured in our first-ever Bad Children of History post. The illustrations of Polly below are again taken from the 1890 English translation of the book, published in Philadelphia by Porter & Coates.

IMG_1980

At the very beginning of “The Story of Romping Polly”, we see her receiving a stern warning about her inappropriately-feminine styles of play:

I know that you will often see
Rude boys push, drive, and hurry;
But little girls should never be
All in a heat and flurry.

Nodding her tomboy-ish head, Polly acknowledges her aunt’s lecture, and then promptly scurries down some sort of decorative border and leaps toward her jumping and running playmates. Looks like fun, right?

IMG_1983

WRONG! There’s nothing fun about falling down such that your leg detaches like a lizard’s tail. (Mind you, the text simply says that “her poor leg was broken”, but the illustration leads me to believe that it was something infinitely more drastic.)

Polly is carried away on a makeshift stretcher, while her detached leg (or should I say “the limb all wet and gory”) is carried away by her tearful brother.

IMG_1984

Let’s choose to ignore the butcher’s knives in the lower left of that illustration, shall we?

What happened to poor, rough-playing, enthusiastically-frolicking Polly? How did her life turn out, in the wake of her inattention to compulsory 19th century feminine behavior?

IMG_1987

Full many a week, screwed up in bed,
She lingered sad and weary;
And went on crutches, it is said,
Ev’n to the grave so dreary.

Yep. Little ladies, don’t try to play with the boys, or else you may end up a hunched woman in an unflattering bonnet walking with crutches toward your own gravesite. You wouldn’t want that, would you?

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