- Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna: A Children’s Classic at 100 ed. by Roxanne Harde, Lydia Kokkola
Eleanor H. Porter’s Pollyanna, like so many Disneyified works, has been relegated to the shadows of children’s literature. Porter’s 1913 novel and 1915 sequel were the basis for films, cartoons, television programs, and even sequels written by other authors. Although Pollyanna and all of its inspirations have had a lasting influence on many cultures, as editors Roxanne Harde and Lydia Kokkola note in their introduction, there has been little scholarship focused specifically on Porter’s novel. With their book, Harde and Kokkola bring together a collection of essays that provide the foundation for a long-needed critical discourse about Pollyanna.
In thirteen essays divided into three parts, Harde and Kokkola’s collection looks at both Porter’s novels and their sphere of influence. Part 1, “Pollyanna’s World,” is the strongest section of the book. It includes five essays that consider Pollyanna’s impact on individuals and expectations in Beldingsville. Through these studies, Pollyanna, often thought of as little more than sugary sentimentalism, is revealed to be a complex and sometimes subversive novel. Harde’s own essay, “‘Then just being glad isn’t pro-fi-ta-ble?’: Mourning, Class and Benevolence in Pollyanna,” considers upper-class attitudes toward mourning and benevolence. Harde highlights the juxtaposition of Aunt Polly’s and Pollyanna’s attitudes toward both benevolence and grief, revealing a criticism of upper-class detachment and emphasis on appearance that results in benevolence that is motivated only by duty. Anthony Pavlik also examines the contrasting positions of Pollyanna and Aunt Polly in “‘Matter Out of Place’: Dirt, Disorder, and Ecophobia.” Pavlik does an ecocritical reading of Pollyanna as he positions Aunt Polly as ecophobic in her need for order and control in her environment. He sees Pollyanna herself as a transformative presence who helps Aunt Polly to begin to move away from her ecophobic tendencies.
Indeed, Pollyanna as a transformative presence is the dominant recurring theme in the essays in this section. The five chapters come together to argue that she is a subversive figure who affects Beldingsville in both subtle and obvious ways. Yet while Pollyanna functions at times as a subversive character, Laura M. Robinson notes in “‘Aggressive Femininity’: The Ambiguous Heteronormativity of Pollyanna” that she also reinforces certain societal expectations. Robinson effectively argues that Pollyanna’s power comes from her “aggressively perform[ing] traditional femininity to a degree that is discomfiting and which reveals the expectations of submission” (54). Through her performance, Pollyanna is able to make patriarchal constraints visible, but ultimately she often conforms to expectation. Monika Elbert brings together aspects of both Pavlik and Robinson in her chapter, “At Home in Nature: Negotiating Ecofeminist Politics in Heidi and Pollyanna.” Elbert sees strength in Pollyanna because of [End Page 413] her “allegiance with nature, and her ability to cure others through her vital connection to nature” (106); she views the novel as “a cautionary tale” urging readers to maintain ties to the natural world and to each other (112). Samantha Christensen’s contribution to this section, “‘Ice-cream Sundays’: Food and the Liminal Spaces of Class in Pollyanna,” also sees Pollyanna as powerful in her ability to create connections. Like Harde, Christensen sees class as the major barrier that Pollyanna is able to transcend and argues that “food functions as an emancipator, blurring the class boundaries” (86).
While the first group of essays examines Porter’s use of Pollyanna to challenge prevailing attitudes, part 2, “Ideological Pollyanna,” considers the novel in the context of broader issues and attitudes of the earlier twentieth century. Ashley N. Reese’s “The ‘veritable bugle-call’: An Examination of Pollyanna through the Lens of Twentieth-Century Protestantism” argues that Pollyanna is an explicitly religious novel that illustrates the shift “from Puritanical religious judgments to that of a more socially aware faith” (123). Reese sees the 1960 Disney adaptation working in the same way in order to forge a strong connection between “religion...