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In praise of Ballet Shoes

So far, I have one niece, and she is not reading yet. When she does, and hits the age of seven or so, Auntie Staps will be buying her Ballet Shoes.
It is not really about ballet – well, it is, but it is as much about Shakespeare, and Meccano, and family, and hard work and ambition. It is about women who just get on with things. It is about girls who are trying to get their names into the history books. Streatfeild shows a society where men – and, particularly, fathers - are conspicuously absent, an unconventional family of three girls and their guardian, in a household that is similarly female-dominated (of the five lodgers, Mr Simpson is the only man), and where this is not a matter of remark (after all, the First World War is not long past), but just the way things are.
With one foot in the age of service (aside from Nana, whose own role is peculiarly ‘betwixt and between’, there are Cook and Clara on the staff) and one in the age of liberation (“Can girls be chauffeurs?” “Lots are”) it’s a quietly feminist book, one that you can sneak into the girliest girl's bookshelf without incurring so much as a disapproving glance from the patriarchy.
In Streatfeild’s world, refreshingly, success is as much about hard work as it is about natural talent and luck, and ballet is not just an art but a means of paying the gas bill. Sometimes sheer wish-fulfilment, often brutally honest about the realities of life on the stage (poor Winifred!), always engaging - I can read it again and again.

And the women, and the girls, of Ballet Shoes... I love them all: long-suffering Sylvia, coping uncomplainingly with her uncle's fossil-hunting and child-collecting habits; Nana, more devoted than even most fictional nannies; the Doctors (are they a couple?); Theo, Madame... And then, particularly, the three girls themselves: responsible Pauline and determined Petrova and single-minded Posy; they are so delightfully human, selfish, mistake-prone, but fundamentally admirable. Three sisters out to prove that they can do anything they put their minds to.

We Vow - a Petrova ficlet.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 7th, 2013 01:03 am (UTC)
Whenever my cousins' kids, or any girls I have an excuse to buy a book, reach about 7 or 8 they get Ballet Shoes :D
Feb. 7th, 2013 02:03 am (UTC)
This is such a great pimp for this fandom - I've loved the book since I was very young, but had never articulated to myself why it seemed so different from the other books I was reading.
Feb. 10th, 2013 06:34 pm (UTC)
Ballet Shoes was one of my favourite books as a child. I agree with all you said about it, though I hadn't really thought that closely about it before.

Most of what I read as a child was pretty feminist, now that I come to think about it. Maybe I should be grateful to my parents for introducing me to so many novels/series with strong, well-written, independent female characters.
Jul. 26th, 2015 04:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, one always felt that Streatfeild grounded the wish fulfilment elements and was realistic about the work required in this, and her other books, in the performing arts. The variety of her girls and women here are great, too.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


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