What Katy Did

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For the song by The Libertines, see The Libertines (album).
What Katy Did
Cover of the Roberts Brothers edition, 1872
First edition cover
Author Susan Coolidge
Country United States
Language English
Series The Katy Books
Genre Children's literature
Coming of Age
Publisher Roberts Brothers
Publication date
1872
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 277 (Little, Brown edition, 1925)
Followed by What Katy Did at School

What Katy Did is an 1872 children's book written by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey under her pen name Susan Coolidge. It follows the adventures of a twelve-year-old American girl, Katy Carr, and her family who live in the fictional lakeside Ohio town of Burnet in the 1860s. Katy is a tall untidy tomboy, forever getting into scrapes but wishing to be beautiful and beloved. When a terrible accident makes her an invalid, her illness and four-year recovery gradually teach her to be as good and kind as she has always wanted.

Two sequels follow Katy as she grows up—What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next. Two further sequels relating the adventures of Katy's younger siblings were also published—Clover and In the High Valley. Although these were long out of print, they have now been reprinted and are available online.

Coolidge modeled Katy on her own childhood self, and the other 'Little Carrs' on her brothers and sisters.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

12-year-old Katy Carr lives with her widowed father and her 5 brothers and sisters in Burnet, a small midwestern town. Her father is a very busy doctor who works long hours; the children are mostly in the care of his sister Aunt Izzie, who is very particular and something of a scold. Bright, headstrong Katy can hardly avoid getting into mischief almost daily under these circumstances, but she's unfailingly remorseful afterward. She dreams of someday doing something "grand" with her life: painting famous pictures, saving the lives of drowning people, or leading a crusade on a white horse. She also wants to be "beautiful, of course, and good if I can." When her mother died 4 years earlier, Katy promised to be a little mother to her siblings, but mainly she's the kind of big sister who is sometimes impatient or cross with them, but leads them into all sorts of exciting adventures.

When Cousin Helen, an invalid, comes to visit, Katy is so enchanted by her beauty and kindness that on the day of Helen's departure she resolves to model herself on Helen ever afterward. The very next day, however, Katy wakes in an ill humour, quarrels with her aunt and pushes her little sister so hard that she falls down half a dozen steps. Afterwards, sulky and miserable, Katy decides to try out the new swing in the woodshed although Aunt Izzie has forbidden it. Had she actually explained that the swing was unsafe because one of the staples supporting it had cracked, "all would have been right," but she believes that children should unquestioningly obey their elders. Katy swings as high as she can and then, as she tries to graze the roof with her toes, the staple gives way. She falls hard, bruising her spine.

The lively Katy is now bedridden and suffering terrible pain and bitterness. Her room is dark, dreary, and cluttered with medicine bottles; when her siblings try to comfort her, she usually drives them away. However, a visit from Cousin Helen shows her that she must either learn to make the best of her situation or risk losing her family's love. Helen tells Katy that she is now a student in the "School of Pain" where she will learn lessons in patience, cheerfulness, hopefulness, neatness, and making the best of things.

With Cousin Helen's help she makes her room tidy and nice to visit and gradually all the children gravitate to it, always coming in to see Katy whenever they can. She becomes the heart of the home, beloved by her family for her unfailing kindness and good cheer. After two years Aunt Izzie dies and Katy takes over the running of the household. At the end of four years, in a chapter called "At Last", she learns to walk again.

The book includes several poems.

Characters[edit]

Katy Carr: the eldest of the Carr children and the novel's protagonist. At the beginning of the book she is a twelve-year-old tomboy who much prefers running around outdoors to quiet 'ladylike' pursuits and so tears her clothes and is always untidy; however, she longs to be good.

Clover Carr: the second-eldest sister adores Katy and follows her in everything she does. Clover is pretty and clever with a sunny disposition; she is described as loving everyone and is loved by everyone in return.

Elsie Carr: the third sister, an awkward child at the beginning of the book, too old to play with the 'babies' and too young to be included in Katy and Clover's games. She tries her hardest to join in, but is usually ignored; instead, she whines. After Katy is injured Elsie proves very helpful and considerate, and she and Katy finally grow close.

Dorry Carr: a stolid boy and great eater, the fourth Carr is the eldest son. He develops a certain mechanical skill over time.

Johnnie Carr (short for Joanna): the fifth child, a tomboy. She and Dorry are great friends.

Phil Carr: the baby of the family, who is only 4 years old at the book's beginning.

Cecy Hall: a pretty and tidy girl, the daughter of a nearby neighbour.

Imogen Clark: a classmate of Katy and Clover; a silly, affected girl. Initially she enthralls Katy with her romantic imagination, but she proves dishonest and self-centered and, as her father predicted, Katy grows disillusioned with her.

Papa (Dr Philip Carr): the children's father, a very busy doctor who has been a single parent, firm but understanding, since his wife's death when Katy was 8.

Aunt Izzie: Papa's sister, an old-fashioned woman who raises the children after their mother dies. She is very particular and scolds a lot because she does not understand the children's ways, although she has a heart of gold. Her death results in Katy taking over the domestic management of the household.

Cousin Helen: Papa's niece; she cannot walk because of an accident years ago. Despite her suffering she is amusing, cheerful, and kind; just what Katy wants to be. After Katy's accident, Cousin Helen helps her adjust to her illness.

Themes[edit]

Susan Coolidge shared her publisher, Roberts Brothers, with Louisa May Alcott, and What Katy Did helped satisfy the demand for naturalistic novels about girlhood that followed the 1868 success of Little Women. Like Alcott, Coolidge heightened the realism of her novel by drawing on her own childhood memories.[1]

What Katy Did also illustrates social shifts. First the novel depicts the treatment of fun in the 19th century. After her accident, young Katy is given lots of love and care however, she is sad confined to an upstairs room and, although she has a wheelchair, she never goes further than her bedroom window. The possibility that she could leave her room is barely considered and no-one thinks of moving her to the ground floor. She copes by making herself and her room so pleasant that everyone comes to her. Early on, she goes out in a carriage, but finds the experience so painful that she never tries it again. Thereafter, she lives in her bedroom, makes the best of things and waits, hoping to outgrow her injury. There is no physical therapy instead Katy is warned to avoid too much movement lest she "set herself back". Cousin Helen manages to travel a little, and even goes for a Hydrotherapy Water Cure at one point however it is made clear that she has no hope of ever walking again.

Extract[edit]

Adaptations[edit]

Two TV movies and a brief TV series have been based on What Katy Did. The most recent film (1999) starred Alison Pill as Katy, with Michael Cera as Dorry and Dean Stockwell as "Tramp". A 1972 UK movie adaptation, Katy, starred Clare Walker, and the 1962 eight-part TV series made in the UK, also called Katy, featured rising star Susan Hampshire in the title role.

Sequels[edit]

What Katy Did was followed by four sequels: What Katy Did at School in which Katy and Clover attend the fictional Hillsover School (set in Hanover, New Hampshire); What Katy Did Next, in which a new friend of Katy's takes her on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe; Clover, in which Katy is married and Clover accompanies her brother Phil to Colorado after he falls ill; and In the High Valley, which shows the lives of a handful of young people living in the High Valley in Colorado, including Clover, Elsie and their husbands.

References in popular culture[edit]

  • "What Katie Did" is the name of a song by The Libertines that may have been inspired by the book. The lyrics refer to the characters, e.g. "Hurry up Mrs. Brown". The group Babyshambles later released a song entitled "What Katy Did Next". Both were written by former Libertines and current Babyshambles frontman Pete Doherty.
  • Idahoan songwriter Josh Ritter includes a reference to What Katy Did in his song "Monster Ballads" on his penultimate album The Animal Years.
  • The protagonist of Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle introduces her own story by saying "This is no 'Story of a Bad Boy,' no 'What Katy Did,'" to indicate that she is not remorseful for her unladylike behavior.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Susan Coolidge: Introduction". Bibliomania (Full Text). Accessed 2/7/07.

External links[edit]