January’s free read is Gertrude’s Diary, a novella first published in 1885.
Isabella wrote the book in the “diary style” she often used. In the story, twelve-year-old Gertrude and her friends are given a set of Bible verses for each month of the year, along with journals in which the girls are to record their experiences as they try to live by the verses.
Isabella often incorporated her own life experiences into her stories (see last week’s post for an example) and Gertrude’s Diary is no exception. Isabella was very candid about the fact that she had a temper that often got her in trouble when she was young. It isn’t hard to imagine as you read Gertrude’s Diary that some of Gertrude’s temper-induced predicaments might be based on episodes in Isabella’s own life.
In the final chapter of the book Isabella gives a very real nod to one of her favorite places on earth when she reveals that Gertrude’s home town is called Locust Shade.
Locust Shade was a place Isabella knew well; in “real life” it was the name of the Toll family farm in Verona, New York. Isabella’s best friend Theodosia Toll Foster was raised at Locust Shade and Isabella spent many wonderful weekends and school vacations at Locust Shade with Theodosia and her family. You can read more about their friendship and Locust Shade here.
Gertrude’s Diary is available to read for free. Just click on the cover to begin reading.
For most of her young life, Isabella Alden was educated at home by her parents and an occasional tutor. But all that changed when she was about fourteen years old. That’s when her parents enrolled her in Oneida Seminary in Oneida, New York.
The school was almost 80 miles away from her family’s home in Johnstown, New York; but that didn’t mean Isabella would be at the school alone.
Her older sister Marcia and Marcia’s husband Charles Livingston were also at Oneida Seminary. Marcia and Charles lived in apartments on the campus because Charles was a professor at the school; so Isabella had family close by.
At Oneida Seminary the male and female students were separated in their classrooms, study areas and living quarters; so making strong friendships with other female students would have been natural for Isabella. She often crossed paths with Theodosia Toll, who was called Docia. Docia was one of the most popular girls at Oneida Seminary. Her family owned a large farm called Locust Shade about 7 miles away in nearby Verona, New York.
Docia was three years older than Isabella. She was a better scholar, too. She had a reputation for being keen and quick-witted, good-humored and kindly. Everyone thought well of her.
Knowing Isabella was far from her family home, Docia invited her to spend her weekends at Locust Shade but Isabella always refused the invitation. Isabella wrote in “Memories of Yesterdays”:
“I had taken a great dislike to that girl in the earliest days of our acquaintance. . . I avoided her on every occasion possible and declined her invitations for the weekends so haughtily that I wonder she ever asked me again.”
One day Isabella went out of her way to avoid Docia by visiting her sister Marcia in her apartments. She didn’t hold back in complaining to Marcia about “that insufferable girl,” Docia.
“If she ever asks me again to go home with her for over Sunday, I’m going to tell her that it takes all the skill I have to invent ways of escaping her society here, and I can’t be expected to follow her home, even though it would be a treat under pleasanter conditions to have a ride.”
Charles had been in the next room and overheard everything Isabella said.
“What a foolish girl you are,” he said almost sadly. “I was saying to Marcia this morning that I could not imagine why you had taken such a dislike to Docia. She is the best scholar in her class, and every teacher in the school speaks highly of her. Certainly her character is above reproach. As for her family, if you knew them you would consider it an honor to be invited to their home. I should.”
After Charles’s scolding—and much prayer and soul searching—Isabella realized why she disliked Docia . . . she was jealous of her!
“My aroused conscience showed me just where I stood. Faint and faulty as were the proofs of it in my life, I knew even then that I belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ; and He came graciously to my help at that hour and showed me plainly not only how offensive in his sight had been my attitude, but also how I had misjudged the other girl.”
The next time Docia invited Isabella to go home with her for the weekend, Isabella accepted. Three weeks later she drove in the Toll family carriage with her new friend Docia to Locust Shade, where she was made a welcome addition to the family. After that first visit, Isabella spent many weekends and school vacations at Locust Shade.
That was the beginning of Isabella’s lifelong friendship with Docia Toll. In later years they would both marry, have families of their own, and move away to different parts of the country; but they remained fast friends and confidants who loved each other and collaborated in creating short stories and novels that bore witness to God and their Christian faith.