How many times did you read The Swiss Family Robinson? Did you like Robinson Crusoe? Then you are probably the market L.T. Meade had in mind when she wrote this book, late in the last century.
Isabelle and Ferdinand,. aged 13 and 14, and their cousins Rachel and Tony, aged eleven and nine, English children living in Brazil, go for a picnic one day. Disobeying orders, they take their rowboat out too far and are caught by the tide, to be deposited much later on an uninhabited island. With a great deal of hard work, and at least as much good luck, they and their dog Mungo survive three months alone.
The subtitle of this volume reads "A book for the little folks," but apparently they are very literate little folks. The type is large and the text explicit, but no modern book at this level would use the vocabulary this one does, including phrases like "the effect surpassed their expectations."
L.T. Meade, like most women writers of her era, held strong opinions on feminine self-sufficiency. Although there is no question of education or careers here, her opinions show through anyway: Fernie, wanting to pay his sister a compliment, comments "What better could a girl do, than be able to produce a good dinner?! but Belle herself, a few pages further on, reflects
"What a good thing that I was always as much boy as girl. Oh, dear, oh, dear! my mistress at the old school in England used to prophesy all kinds of bad things of me because I would climb trees; and now -- if poor Miss Hodges could only see! Well, here goes! Give me the hatchet, please, Tony. I'm going to swarm up."
And, Fernie having sprained his ankle, Belle climbs up the pine tree, cuts off the limbs, and attaches the flag she and Rachel have constructed in hopes of attracting a passing vessel. Furthermore, she has "fired off many a gun" and is quite capable of using the shotgun they find (providentially, along with such medical supplies as brandy and quinine, in a wrecked sailing vessel) to rescue wounded Mungo from menacing land-crabs.
I like Meade's books and I liked this one. Are there any more L.T. Meade fans out there?
© 1993 Jo Anne Fatherly
This review first appeared in The Whispered Watchword, the newsletter of The Phantom Friends