What Patty Fairfield Taught Me About Proportion

By Alison June 15, 2011 5 Comments 4 Min Read

Dear little Patty Fairfield. What a darling precocious, charming, endearing little cutie pie  you are, and oh what huge big lessons on life your handsome, clever, generous, wise Daddy rather insisted that you learn!
Imagine if you will the Vintage Housekeepers version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and what you will conjure up, no doubt would not be dissimilair to the year long journey around the homes of various mysterious relatives that little fourteen year old Patty is sent on by her ever wise Father, in an effort to teach her the benefits of “proportion” in homemaking so that upon her return she can set about keeping house in the style he is clearly accustomed to…
And so off she goes, with all the good cheer of Anne of Green Gables tucked in her trunk, to experience how other people live and along the way form her own opinions of the right way to live a life balanced by the correct proportions of good humour, chaos, literary pursuits, excellence in housekeeping and the kind of artless carelessness that rather ensures that one ends up having a jolly good time even when the stairs burn down and an entire family spends the summer using ladders to reach the first floor of their holiday cottage!
It’s terribly good fun. Dear little Patty hops from the home of the St Clairs who are too extravagant and fancy, to the Flemings who are by far, too literary and set in their ways, then onward to the rather lovely Barlow’s who live a disproportionately casual life and cause themselves no end of crises along the way, until finally, breathing a huge sigh of happy relief, Patty finds herself amongst the Elliot’s who are of course, in every way it is possible to be, just right.
I truly loved it. And I cannot recommend Carolyn Well’s gorgeous little romps through the rest of Patty’s coming of age series highly enough if you enjoy the kind of giddy, domestic, happy writing prevalent amongst much vintage fiction written for girls. Patty might be relentlessly cheerful, but each of the books are abundant with lessons to be learned, and I can’t help but want to confess that Patty’s assessment of the each family’s attitude to “proportion” had me wondering what she would make of my completely out of whack approach to everything from blogging to biscuits, and whingeing to wining and dining.
You see I saw myself in every family: in the St Clairs attitude to keeping up with the Jones’s and Uncle Tom’s ability to lose himself in bookish oblivion. and I am almost ashamed to admit that it was at the Barlow’s that I think I would find myself most at home, recognising as I did, their natural inclination to always put pleasure before the sensible things in life: like food and taxes!
Mine is a life I suspect, of dubious proportions by Patty’s standards. I eat too much and read too much and talk too much and drink too much and thrust my opinions down unsuspecting throats and spend the food budget on red wine and the red wine budget on books and sometimes (mostly at book club) I combine all my vices and behave in a disproportionate fashion left right and centre, eating cake, drinking wine and waxing lyrical non-stop for a good four hours.
I swear it is a miracle they keep on inviting me back.
I do so wish I could reign oneself in. That I were not quite so given to being too much. Too big, too greedy for words and writers and dreams and donuts and sex and ideas. When I am eating I eat and eat and eat. When I was dating I dated not just a few men, but oooh, hundreds of peculiar specimens. When I go magazine shopping I am not content with one magazine but have to leave the shop with an armful. More is more is more is more. Until I decide that less is the way forward and then I’m all theory and forcing those who don’t give a damn to listen to my latest faddy nonsense. And don’t get me started on keeping house: if it’s pretty I’m there polishing and preening and fussing and cleaning and if it’s not, well then, I’m not. This house is either a palace or a pigsty and sometimes it’s both at the same time but there is no in-between. Look, look and now look away!
Also, I rather wish that I could look dispassionately at the disproportionate way I shuffle my work/life balance and get a grip so that one week I wasn’t all don’t talk to me, I’m writing and the next I am lounging around as though I haven’t a care in the world or indeed, bills coming out of my nearly deaf ears…
Proportion has always been a problem for me. Patty would, quite frankly, be appalled with my all or nothing approach to life. Her Father would surely have me over his knee! And yet though I am plainly thoroughly aware that I am not quite normal, I am not sure I would have it any other way either : you see there is much to be said from a life of indulgence. A life in which one avoids the dull stuff and drowns herself in pleasure. Much to be gotten from procastrination and lots to be gained from a way of life in which self-discipline takes a back seat to joy!
Dear, Darling Patty, as you are destined now to always be known around these parts, I do believe you made the right decision: the Elliots are terribly good people who live a life of disciplined, gentle pleasures but I can’t help feeling that life would have been more fun at the Barlow’s…
Life is short my Sweet! Daddy should have told you that…
(Read the Patty books online at Project Gutenberg, buy on Amazon or download to your Kindle here...)


  1. Jessmarie says:

    Ohhh, time management is my namesis too. Love the way you put it, "self-discipline takes a back seat to joy." Wonderful. Guilt be gone! 🙂

    1. brocantehome says:

      And in a flash of my twinkly happy wand gone it is! Have a lovely day Sweetie!x

  2. Hausfrau says:

    You aren't the only one…
    I've already put the first "Patty" book on my Kindle–can't wait to start it!

    1. brocantehome says:

      Lighthearted gentle vintage reading perfect for long Summer afternoons Diane… if we ever see the sun!

  3. Polly says:

    Thank you for these wonderful reminders. I just downloaded the kindle to my phone and three Patty books. It really pains me that lovely books like these ( and my beloved Cherry Ames and Sue Barton!) have been removed from our library shelves and replaced with Young Adult Vampire graphic novels – bleh.

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