Harriet M. Welsch is a female protagonist for all the pre-teen girls who are faced with popular culture’s unrealistic body images, highly sexualized clothing, and stereotypical “girl” roles. Yes, Harriet is for some parents the antithesis of the obedient, cautious, feminine young girl (11-14) they are nurturing toward womanhood. But hooray for Harriet! HARRIET THE SPY, written in 1964, when I was already a young mother and before I became a high school English teacher, was a book I had heard about, but never read. I always wanted to know what made Harriet such a popular and sometimes controversial character. Well, I soon found out, after a marathon reading in two days of this 300-page funny, touching, and altogether fascinating book that I absolutely loved! Thanks, Jerry, for this opportunity.
How could the spunky Harriet, an aspiring spy, be controversial? That’s easy. She talks back to her parents, even swears (mildly) at times. Always writing in her ever-present notebook, candid and often cruel comments about her friends, classmates, and teachers, she prefers pants to dresses, and wandering throughout her upper East Side New York neighborhood to the comfort of her home. She soon finds that candor can be cruel, especially when directed at those you profess to be your friends. Dishonesty, Harriet learns, is occasionally useful and even necessary to keep the social fabric intact. Harriet’s realization comes, not only from being ostracized by the friends who read her cruel comments in the journal she mistakenly leaves behind, but also from her beloved nanny Ole Golly who helps her put her life back together with this sage advice: “ 1: You have to apologize. 2: You have to lie. Otherwise you are going to lose a friend.”
I hope you will join with me on May 3 for Plan-B Theatre Company’s AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON as I read from Louise Fitzhugh’s HARRIET THE SPY.
Click here for tickets and info.