The Bent Twig by Dorothy Canfield (Fisher)

The Bent Twig

The Bent Twig by Dorothy Canfield (Fisher) was first published in 1915. I had only read one book by her before this one and that was Home Fires in France about her experiences in France in World War 1, and The Bent Twig is very different from that. The setting is mainly La Chance, Vermont.

The Marshall family is an unusual one. The father is a college professor and the mother works the land in her large productive garden, they’re an unconventional lot, having no servants, being determined to do their own dirty work. But their home is a popular meeting place for all the more interesting teachers and professors, which is an advantage for the children although they don’t know it.

Sylvia Marshall is the eldest daughter, she has a younger sister Judith and a much younger brother Lawrence. The beginning of the book reminded me so much of Louisa M. Alcott’s books, maybe it was just because it’s about a US family and it’s now historical, but when this book was written it must have been quite revolutionary as Canfield makes it plain that she is dead against separate schools for black and white children. She’s not at all happy about the way that her friends are treated when it gets to be known that they have a teeny amount of black blood in them.

The Bent Twig is about the importance of education for young girls and also the redistribution of wealth, with one very wealthy character feeling seriously uncomfortable about all the money which is earned for him by coalminers.

I really enjoyed this book although I felt it palled a bit towards the end, it wasn’t quite as interesting after the girls had grown up. Canfield was obviously keen to point out what she saw as unhealthy aspects of Edwardian society as far as women were concerned. A time when for a certain section of society money was all and some people, men as well as women were marrying for money and status. What changes?!

Sylvia has always been drawn to clothes and high society but in her heart she knows there’s more to life, but can she pass up the chance to marry for money rather than for love? With that and the subjects of equality for women and people of a different ancestry/colour, The Bent Twig must have been quite a shock for some people when it was first published.

For me it was interesting to see that colleges in the US were way ahead when it came to female education as they were giving degrees to women at a time when women students in the UK were not awarded degrees, although they were allowed to sit the exams.

I read this one for the Classics Club Women’s Classic Literature Event 2016.

4 thoughts on “The Bent Twig by Dorothy Canfield (Fisher)

  1. I read The Home-maker last year (and went on the walking book club in Hampstead to discuss it) and thought it was fantastic. I’d really like to read more of Canfield’s novels and I’ve heard The Brimming Cup is good – and this one sounds intriguing also. I do wonder what people made of her books at the time!

    • Anbolyn,
      I remember you blogged about that walking book club, it seems a bizarre concept to me, multi tasking I suppose! I plan to read Her Son’s Wife soonish as that’s the only other Canfield book I have at the moment. I suspect people thought she was a bit crazy in her day, she was certainly ahead of the times!

  2. I agree with you about the palling toward the end. I didn’t think so at the time, I suppose because I was so caught up in the story.

    I think this may be the book that gets her labeled – and sometimes dismissed – as a socialist. The idea of giving up that profitable mine might have shocked her readers at the time most of all!

    Is the picture of the edition you have? If so, it’s much nicer than mine.

    • Lisa,
      I think it was really quite brave of her to write this book, in America anyway. Socialism isn’t quite such a dirty word in the UK. Mind you I think that instead of giving up the mine he should have been like Andrew Carnegie and become a philanthropist using the profits from the mine, after all, people need work.
      Yes the picture is of my book, you can just see the carpet I placed it on to take the photo. It is a nice cover.

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