The Monkey Princess (stellanova) wrote,
The Monkey Princess

family ties

As you may know, my love for Sweet Valley High books knows no bounds. Which was why I was thrilled to find, while in Cork over Christmas, a copy of The Patmans of Sweet Valley. Yes! It was the story of Bruce Patman's ancestors, they who founded the famous canning factory which allowed their descendents to be so snooty about being, um, aristocrats (being well aquainted with the Nancy Mitford rules of snobbery, which I obviously didn't agree with, I thought it was rather odd that Bruce Patman was the Californian equivalent of the Duke of Devonshire because the family owned a canning factory - unlike the supposedly nouveau riche Fowlers, with their silicon chip empire!). Except it turns out that they really made their fortune from oil, and only went to Sweet Valley in the '40s and started the canning factory then! And! Bruce really IS of "noble" blood, because on his mother's side he is descended from (of course) the daughter of an earl! You see, the story starts in Regency England, where the beautiful Lady Sophie meets handsome stable lad Henry Patman. We can see in the family trees at the start of the book that both of Bruce's parents are descended from this duo, and that their descendents seem to keep bumping into each other over the centuries, but just as I thought that Bruce was going to turn out to be the product of six generations of incest (which would explain a lot), the star crossed lovers are separated by Lady Sophie's cruel parents - oh noes!

So basically we trace both Bruce's maternal and paternal line, members of which keep meeting but never getting together properly, until of course Bruce's parents fall in love and actually manage to get married to each other and produce their monstrous child. The whole thing was totally stupid and totally entertaining, and there was one rather good bit about Bruce's great-great-great-grandfather who leaves his pro-slavery family during the American civil war and goes off to help on the underground railroad. He falls in love with an escaped slave, and they get married in a secret Quaker ceremony. And then she gets pregnant, and just as I was thinking that we were going to uncover Bruce's African-American roots, which would have been pretty cool, she is KILLED by confederate soldiers, and the whole thing was actually quite moving CURSES WHAT AM I SAYING (tm molesworth).

Anyway, after that we can rest assured that Bruce, like the rest of the Aryan nation at Sweet Valley High, is 100% WASP. Seriously, Sweet Valley is the waspiest town in America. There are about ten students who aren't white (about five black students, one Chinese girl, and two Mexican-Americans. In SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA). There are no Jewish kids. There are no Irish-American kids. There are certainly no children with Arabic names. There is one kid with an Italian surname. In fact, there are hardly any students who don't have true blue English surnames. It's ridiculous. They try and make up for it in one of the last books, in which Annie Whitman's mother marries a black man who moves to SV with his daughter. And then the daughter starts seeing the Wakefield's brother. Around the same time there was a book in which the seldom-mentioned school bully starts a racist campaign against one of the two black students. But it's too little, too late after nearly 100 books without an O'Hanrahan or a Rosenberg or an anything non-WASPish in the surname line to be seen. I wish someone would write a thesis on race relations in Sweet Valley, because it would be a pretty damning indictment of the astonishing racism of either the publishing industry or the SVH editors.

But on Wednesday in Chapter's I found The Fowlers of Sweet Valley, billed as "the sweeping, romantic history of the men and women who made Lila Fowler who is today!" YES! And it turns out that Lila is not a WASP, because SHE IS DESCENDED FROM A FRENCH ARISTOCRAT! Not so nouveau riche now, eh, Patmans? Oh my God, it's hilarious. I am only on the first bit now, but so far Lili (for that is the name of the French aristocrat) has lost her family and her fortune. Because apparently in 1789, several days before the storming of the Bastille, run of the mill French peasants not only were besieging the houses of the local toffs, but THEY HAD THEIR OWN GUILLOTINE! In a field! In the Loire valley! Long before the reign of terror! Yes! Who knew? Not most historians, I'll be bound. Anyway, Lili is rescued at the last minute by a handsome stranger and taken off to Paris and dumped at the side of the road to seek her fortune. Now, of course, I thought that it was going to turn out that Lila was descended from a demi-mondaine as there were very few jobs that a penniliess woman with no home or family could do in 18th century, but alas it was not to be. SO FAR. Lili is currently working as a seamstress (which seems like a rather inaccurately jolly job) but who knows how far she'll fall? All I know is that it can't be far enough for me. I'll keep you all posted. And now I have to look for The Wakefields of Sweet Valley, which of course does exist, and which will doubtless tell us that the Wakefield Twins are descended from the sun god Ra or something. God knows, the stars of Sweet Valley can't be descended from plain old peasants like the rest of us...
Tags: sweet valley
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