When Patty Went to College (Patty #1)
By: Jean Webster
Grosset and Dunlap
When Patty Went To College is Jean Webster's first novel, published in 1903. It is a humourous look at life in an all girls college at the turn of the twentieth century. Patty Wyatt, the protagonist of this story is a bright, fun loving, imperturbable girl who does not like to conform. The book describes her many escapades on campus during her senior year at college. Patty enjoys life on campus and uses her energies in playing pranks and for the entertainment of herself and her friends. An intelligent girl, she uses creative methods to study only as much as she feels necessary. Patty is, however, a believer in causes and a champion of the weak. She goes out of her way to help a homesick freshman Olivia Copeland who believes she will be sent home when she fails four subjects in the examination.
The end of the book sees Patty reflecting on what her life after college might be like. She plays hooky from chapel and meets a bishop. In a chat with the Bishop, Patty realizes that being irresponsible and evasive at a young age could adversely affect her character as an adult and decides to try to be a more responsible person.
Patty Wyatt is still the same mischievous, somewhat lazy, inherently good girl and truly loyal friend in college as she was in her days at St. Ursula's boarding school. This book was actually written before Just Patty and was Webster's first novel. It is made up of a series of vignettes just as the other Patty book happens to be, chronicling a year in the life of Patty and her friends - with stories of all the mischief they get up to. There are some particularly amusing stories in this one, such as the time Patty tries to put on tea for the other girls and botches the whole thing, trying to get everyone else to do everything for her clandestinely. Or the one where Patty hosts an older English gentleman, Mr. Toddhunter, and goes out of her way to mess with his mind by acting very young for her age. Possibly my favorite is when the head of the college receives a telegram for Patty that "Robert" is dead, thinking he's a brother or a lover possibly. In reality, he's Patty's brother Thomas' dog whom everyone hates, as he was the terror of the family!
Some of the more serious stories include Patty trying to help a foreign scholarship student from Italy who's homesick, failing her classes and dreadfully lonely. Olivia also happens to be extremely brilliant and it's up to Patty to set things right before Olivia is kicked out of school. If only Patty can get the lonely, stern Miss Prescott to let her retake the Geometry examinations. I guess the story at the end of the book with Patty playing hooky from church and being lectured by a Bishop that she happens upon can also be considered as serious. To be honest though, it's the most jagged of the puzzle pieces that make up the stories in this book, as a whole. It's too moralizing and preachy to really fit in with the others and it kind of feels like it was slapped in at the last minute to add some sort of lesson to the book and Patty's 'bad' behavior. That said, it's like the Widow adopting Huck Finn and putting him in a suit. There are good intentions behind it, but you can't put a wild thing in a box and expect it to stay there of it's own accord. Overall, I did enjoy reading more about Patty and Priscilla (who ended up going to college with her friend), but it wasn't quite as good as Just Patty. A great first novel just the same though, better than many I've read before.
VERDICT: 3.5/5 Stars
**No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available mostly in used bookstores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**