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Literature / Betsy-Tacy

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From the left: Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.

“It was difficult, later, to think of a time when Betsy and Tacy had not been friends.”

A historical, fictionalized autobiographical series, though far less well known than the Little House books. Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy series has a comparatively small, but extremely devoted, fanbase, complete with yearly conventions in Maud's hometown of Mankato, Minnesota.

The series begins in early 1899, and ends in the middle of 1917. The first four books in the series chronicle the childhood of Betsy Ray, and her two closest friends, Tacy Kelly and Tib Muller, from ages 5 to 12. The last six books take them through all four years of high school, follow Betsy on her Grand Tour of Europe right before the outbreak of WWI, and then follow all three young women into marriage on the eve of war. A good slice-of-life from the Edwardian period, with the added bonus of portraying female friendship as healthy, positive, and nurturing. Three other stories are set in the fictional Deep Valley, and all have a tangential link to Betsy.


     The books are: 

  • Betsy-Tacy: The first book in the series opens with the four-year-old Betsy Ray wishing she could make a friend her own age, and discovering that friend in the bashful new neighbor, Tacy Kelly, at her fifth birthday party. The story is basically a series of vignettes - the two girls play together, quarrel with their older sisters, go to school for the first time, and each deals with a family crisis: Betsy has a new sister born, and Tacy has a baby sister die. There's some foreshadowing for the rest of the series in Betsy's active imagination, and the stories she makes up about herself and Tacy having fabulous adventures. The book ends with the introduction of Tib Muller.
  • Betsy-Tacy and Tib: Two years have passed since meeting Tib, and all three girls are now seven. Betsy still tells stories, Tacy is still bashful with strangers and full of fun with close friends, and Tib turns out to be the pragmatic do-er of the group. They have such adventures as trying to learn how to fly, founding a secret club, going begging, punishing themselves for naughtiness (only to find out that the punishment is fun, encouraging them to be as naughty as possible), and cutting off their hair to make friendship lockets.
  • Betsy-Tacy Go Over the Big Hill: The first of the books to have an overarching plot, starting with the girl's focus on turning 10. They still have their wacky adventures, like all falling in love with the King of Spain and sending him a letter bemoaning the fact that Tib can't marry him because she's not a princess, singing a duet made entirely of 'meows' and caterwauls for the school exhibition, and trying out using their full names (it doesn't last long). However, a more serious theme develops as they discover that they can walk to the local settlement of displaced Syrians, and make friends with a little Syrian girl named Naifi. Racism is touched on, both overt - boys yelling at Naifi and pulling her hair - and more subtle, with Betsy's sister Julia being afraid that the Syrians would hurt Betsy. Most of the book is taken up by a quarrel between Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, and older sisters Julia and Katie over who is going to be the Queen of Summer, with a surprising resolution.
  • Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown: The first book that has Betsy explicitly state that she intends to be a writer. Much of the book has her writing down her stories, and telling them to her thrilling audience. A new friend is added in this book in the person of Winona Root, who introduces the girls to the theater.
  • Heaven to Betsy: The first of the High School and High Street books, Betsy moves from her childhood home on Hill Street further into town. Her family begins to be developed - big sister Julia's interest in opera, little sister Margaret's sober nature, and her energetic mother and benevolent father. Despite her family's support for her writing ambitions, Betsy begins to take writing for granted, especially since there's so much fun to be had with new high school friends and new boys.
  • Betsy in Spite of Herself: Sophomore year sees Betsy dissatisfied with herself and her level of popularity with boys. She complains to Tacy that boys "Like [her] so well they slap [her] on the back". A Christmas visit to Tib, who moved away in middle school, gives her the impetus to try out a new personality, and attract one of the most eligible boys in school.
  • Betsy Was a Junior: With Julia going off to college, Betsy tries to be a more dutiful daughter, but ends up shrugging off many responsibilities to have fun, especially when Julia brings back stories of glamorous sororities. Betsy founds her own sorority in the high school, not realizing at first how she's shutting out other people, including her little sister.
  • Betsy and Joe: Betsy met Joe at the beginning of her high school year, but somehow they never hit it off in school. Despite that, he has remained an ideal of hers throughout the years, even though he has won the Essay Cup points away from her every time they competed. Senior year looks like they're finally going to go together, until an old friend makes it clear he has fallen for Betsy as well.
  • Betsy and the Great World: The second to last book opens with a 20-year-old, newly single Betsy sailing off to Europe, to study, improve her writing, and hopefully forget old beau Joe Willard. Betsy spends most of the book in Germany, befriending a lonely young baroness, a singer, and a servant girl. Provides a good insight to student life right before WWI broke out - Betsy actually plots out a story after reading about Archduke Ferdinand's assassination. A chance encounter with a famous author gives her an excuse to write to Joe, but the cloud of war hangs over their imminent reunion.
  • Betsy's Wedding: Betsy and Joe are finally set to marry, after a single week of engagement. Their first two years of marriage are filled with ups and downs, but carried through by their genuine love and concern for each other. Betsy and Tacy, both happy in their own marriages, begin trying to matchmake Tib, with some unfortunate results. Just when Tib succeeds in finding her own perfect partner, WWI arrives for America, ending the series with the men preparing to leave.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Age-Appropriate Angst: Generally played straight, though the death of Tacy's baby sister in the first book may seem a bit shocking to a modern audience, or the worrying about dying in the second, after Tacy is quarantined with diphtheria.
  • All Guys Want Sorority Women: Subverted after the girls start a sorority in high school (though the sex and drinking are obviously not considered part of the bargain). Their usual escorts all start to wander, since the girls are too busy with their meetings to pay them any attention.
  • Always Someone Better: The Rays can never seem to live up to the McCloskeys, Anna's previous family.
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  • Art Shift: There's a noticeable change in the illustration style for the first four books versus the last six books. The first four features a simpler, more cartoony art style, which fits well for the books following the girls as children. The later illustrations have the characters drawn with in a realistic style with better proportions and more details.
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: The unshakeable friendship among Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.
  • Beautiful Singing Voice: Julia, Tacy, and Tony all qualify, with the first and last going on to make careers off of it.
  • Better as Friends: How Betsy comes to feel towards Tony, and eventually, Marco. Also, Carney towards Larry in spin-off book Carney's House Party.
  • Betty and Veronica: In Betsy and Joe, Joe is the Betty and Tony is the Veronica to Betsy.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: The very stout Mrs. Poppy is routinely described as being handsome, elegant, and graceful. Later on, Julia gains weight during her opera training, and is described as being even prettier. Betsy also begins gaining weight in Germany, and crows about how beautiful it's making her shoulders and arms.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Betsy (brunette), Tacy (redhead), and Tib (blonde). Plays with the hair types a bit: Tib is definitely not dumb — she's the most sensible and practical of the group, and Tacy, far from being fiery, is fun and charming with her friends, but suffers from crippling shyness. Betsy may be brainy in that she's a good writer, but she's generally average at school work. Also somewhat subverted as a cliche in that the three characters are based on three real women, who were a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead.
  • Boarding School: Tib attends one for her freshman and sophomore years, and she and Betsy tour the campus during the Christmas visit in Betsy in Spite of Herself. Phyllis Brandish attends the same school as well.
  • Bouquet Toss: In Betsy's Wedding, the bouquet is caught by the implied Expy of the author's future daughter.
  • Cute Bookworm: So much Betsy and Joe. She reminds him several times that the first moment she saw him, he was reading a book and eating an apple. Up until they're practically engaged, nearly all of their interactions involve books, writing, or English class.
  • Costume Porn: Not as much as there might be, but the high school books provide a good insight into Edwardian fashion by a clothes-conscious teenager.
  • Cool Big Sis: Julia develops into one of these, after being bossy through childhood.
  • Cool Car: Phil's bright red 1907 Buick.
  • Cool Old Guy: Emily's Grandpa Webster who's a civil war veteran and is super-kindhearted towards children. Naifi's grandfather also qualifies too.
  • Cool Old Lady: Anna the hired girl, and her bizarre ways of speaking don't keep her from being awesome. Also, Mrs. Poppy, and her drive to help the young women of Deep Valley with her training and experience in acting and music.
    • Joe's Aunt Ruth turns out to be this too.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: In ''Betsy~Tacy and Tib", the Trio makes Everything Pudding by tossing everything they find in the Ray kitchen into a saucepan and boiling it. They all end up with stomachaches.
  • Childhood Friends: One of the major points of the series - childhood friends Betsy, Tacy, and Tib remain close for life, with nothing coming among them and disrupting their friendship.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship: At the beginning of Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown, Winona is more of an antagonistic character towards the trio, especially in regards to the extra three play tickets. However, once Betsy, Tacy, and Tib manage to outsmart her, she does decide to to invite them to the play and becomes friends with them afterwards.
  • Delinquents: Tony shows signs of this later on in his High School years. However, he is a genuinely good person and has lots of friends, it's got more to do with his laissez-faire attitude to school, his dangerous habit of freighthopping and his shady, older poker buddies. At one point, it's said that he got suspended for drinking although it's never specified what.
  • The Edwardian Era: Takes place almost entirely in the Edwardian Era, the books going from 1899 to 1917, and Edward's reign going from 1901 to 1910. Absurd hats abound.
  • Family Versus Career: Brought up in Tib's case, as her father tells her she can't be an architect, because she will be busy being a little housewife. Later in life, she is working full-time as an advertising artist and showing no signs of settling down.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Every woman in Tib's family, with Tib and her Aunt Dolly being specifically mentioned as cooking as gracefully as they dance. However, Betsy isn't a tomboy, but she's the last girl in the Crowd to learn how to cook.
  • Food Porn: There's tons of delicious dinners, desserts, and drinks cooked and enjoyed throughout the books. There's even a cookbook available that has recipes for most of the foods featured in-series.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: The irresistible Irma fills this role for a book and a half, with the other girls unable to stand her because just about every boy in the entire school falls for her. However, they eventually realize they're being awful and catty, and find they do actually like her.
  • Friendship Moment: Too many to count, but the first one this troper remembers is 5-year-old Betsy climbing a tree to put her prettiest Easter egg in a nest for a bird to take to Tacy's baby sister in heaven.
  • Geeky Turn-On: Betsy and Joe (books and writing), Julia and Paige (music)
  • Girlish Pigtails: Worn by Betsy until she turns 14.
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Played with, as budding Fashionista, cook, dancer, and excellent back lot football player Tib has touches of purple in all of her clothes.
  • Gratuitous German: Tib sometimes does this. Her relatives do this as well since many of them are German/Austrian immigrants.
    • Milwaukee is described like this when Betsy goes to visit Tib due to most of it's citizens being German immigrants. Tib even comments that one would probably do better speaking only German there instead of English.
  • Grew a Spine: In one of the spin-off Deep Valley novels, Emily of Deep Valley, Emily realizes the boy she has been hung up on is a complete Jerkass, and gives him a fantastic brush-off.
  • Happily Married: Every married couple seems very happy. There are some hints of families that are not quite so happy, but a good deal of focus goes onto how to form a healthy, supportive relationship and turn it into a happy, healthy marriage.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: It's a series written in the 1940's about the 1900's - lots of people are described as being "gay" or doing things "gaily". Every single time, they mean happy and cheerful.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Joe is an older version of this.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Joked about with Mr. Ray and Mrs. Ray. Anna, the hired girl, is horrified, because she thinks Mrs. Ray's red hair is "a curse which was indelicate to mention". Also, Harry Kerr to Tacy.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Though each girl does marry, the three heroines basically fills this, especially between Betsy and Tacy.
  • High School: Five of the 13 books take place all or partially in Deep Valley High School.
  • High-School Sweethearts: Subverted: out of all the various couples that happen throughout high school, only three pairings end in marriage. Betsy and Joe, Dennie and Winona, Katie and Leo. Tacy marries a man she meets in her senior year, but he's not a high school student. In real life, Maud's younger sister married her high school sweetheart, where Maud didn't meet her husband until she was in her 20's.
    • Dennie and Winona don't start dating until after high school although it's implied that he has a crush on her.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Tib and Ralph Maddox.
  • I Don't Want to Ruin Our Friendship: Betsy to Tony in Betsy and Joe, and to Marco in Betsy and the Great World.
  • Intentional Heartbreaker: Julia says that she could do this to Mr. Gaston as revenge for mistreating Betsy in class, after she discovers his crush on her. Betsy is glad when she decides not to go through with it.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Tony who runs away to be on the stage when he realizes that Betsy truly loves Joe.
  • Jerkass: Surprisingly few for a series that has some bad relationships in it. Rocky in Betsy's Wedding and Don in Emily of Deep Valley both definitely qualify.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Betsy realizes that her relationship with Tony is like this after spending most of Heaven To Betsy crushing on him.
  • Likes Older Men: Tacy to Harry Kerr. It's even mentioned in-book, where it's discussed that the shy Tacy is more at ease with Harry, who's quieter and more mature than boys the girls are around in high school.
  • Lohengrin and Mendelssohn: Obvious choices for Betsy and Joe's wedding, given that her sister is an opera star.
  • Love Triangle: The major crux of Betsy and Joe.
  • Mary Sue: In-universe example. In her younger years, Betsy has a bad habit of writing these.
  • Meaningful Name: Tib's very beautiful and fashionable Aunt Dolly.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Maud's Expy, Betsy, is a writer, and her husband Delos's Expy, Joe, is also a dedicated writer.
  • Mum Looks Like a Sister: Mrs. Ray is described as looking more like the oldest daughter than the mother.
  • New Transfer Student: Tony's introduction to the books, and Joe to a certain extent (all of the other characters had gone to school together for years, while Joe had to go into town to go to high school).
  • Nice Hat: Maud does love describing the hats the various characters are wearing.
  • Old-Timey Bathing Suit: Considering that this was when they were in fashion, and the books take place in the "Land of 10,000 Lakes", the suits make occasional appearances.
  • One of the Boys: Sophomore Betsy, to her chagrin.
    • Winona also has shades of this.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Betsy, Tacy, and Tib always go by those names and almost never go by their actual ones (Elizabeth, Anastacia, and Thelma).
  • Pair the Spares: Surprisingly subverted. Almost every character marries outside The Crowd, with only three of the couples eventually marrying, and the rest meeting spouses outside of high school.
    • In-universe example: Betsy tries to matchmake her best friends with extra beaus - Tib with Tony, Tacy with Herbert. Tacy lampshades this by pointing out that beaus can't be passed around "as if they were pieces of cake".
  • Poirot Speak:
    • Tib's Grosspapa Hornik speaks in a mixture of heavily-accented, jumbled English and perfect German:
      "Vat tink you of diese Milvaukee?" he asked Betsy. "Es ist gemütlich, nicht wahr?"
  • The Power of Friendship: Major theme of the series, that healthy friendships are vital, between girls, boys, girls and boys, and family members.
  • Precocious Crush: The trio gain one briefly on the teenage Alfonso the Thirteenth, when they read about him becoming the king of Spain in the newspaper.
  • Purple Prose: It's mentioned that Betsy's writing style is a bit like this, as she enjoys adding in lots of descriptions and flowery details. It's even the reason given as to why her technically-minded English teacher, Mr. Gaston, dislikes her writing so much.
  • Put on a Bus: Tib's family moves back to Milwaukee before her her Freshman year, although she does keeps in contact with her friends and Betsy goes to visit her for her sophomore Christmas break. She returns by Betsy Was a Junior.
  • Sadist Teacher: Mr. Gaston, although it's mostly featured in Betsy in Spite of Herself. It's explained that he studied to be a science teacher but got stuck teaching English, and can't stand Betsy's flowery writing style, which he finds too hungup on details. It's even mentioned that he was alright to Betsy during her freshman year, but after a song she wrote for a school assembly becomes popular and is constantly sung in the school halls, he begins going out of his way to antagonize her in class and mock her work in front of the other students.
  • Single Girl Seeks Most Popular Guy: Betsy to Phil in Betsy in Spite of Herself. Subverted in that Phil is just a bit of a stiff and a bore, not an outright jerk, and Betsy was hardly a nerdy social pariah. But the message "Don't change yourself for a guy, because the right guy will like you just the way you are" hold true.
  • Shipper on Deck: Margaret lets Betsy know that she is elated about her and Tony possibly getting together.
  • Student Council President: Joe in his senior year is given this "highest honor his class had to bestow".
  • Stylistic Suck: Exaggerated in Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown with the over-dramatic melodrama Betsy writes after she's stuck in bed with a twisted ankle for a few days. It involves a girl named Flossie, whose head is cut off during a sledding accident, but she herself isn't harmed whatsoever. She is kicked out by her parents and is ostracized by everyone she meets so she wanders from place-to-place carrying her head, all while wearing a white fur coat that never gets dirty. Eventually she ends up in Greece where she meets a man who falls in love with her at first sight and magically reattaches her head. They then marry and have ten children. It's made even funnier by Tacy and Tib proclaiming the story to be "the best one they've ever heard".
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: When the trio loses hope of Winona giving them the extra three tickets to Uncle Tom's Cabin, they decide to put on a play themselves. When they describe it to her later while still working on the script, they keep adding in scenes and special effects that she previously told them would be in the show.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Tony, to a certain extent, especially in Heaven to Betsy.
  • Tastes Like Friendship: The picnic with Naifi.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: A rare female example: the "Russian step" is the grand finale of Tib's Baby Dance.
  • Theme Twin Naming: Phil and Phyllis Brandish.
  • Through His Stomach: Played with frequently. Betsy declares to Tib that her cooking is not an asset in finding a boyfriend, since her dainty and delicate appearance is at odds with her stolid German cooking. Subverted with Betsy herself, as she can not cook, and Joe can. He seems to still like her just fine.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Winona is the tomboy and her best friend Irma is the girly girl.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Betsy spends most of her freshman year infatuated with Tony and upset that he doesn't return her feelings. Three years later, he's interested in her but she's dating Joe and is not interested. She ends up with Joe.
  • Wanted a Son Instead: A gender-swapped, lighthearted version. While in Germany, Betsy buys a doll and hopes that the then-pregnant Tacy will have a daughter that she can give it to. One book and another child later, Tacy has still only given birth to boys.
  • Wartime Wedding: Tib and Jack Dunhill.
  • Wedding Episode: Betsy and Joe marry in Betsy's Wedding.
  • Wedding Finale: The series ends with Tib's wedding.
  • With This Ring: Betsy does not have an engagement ring - when Joe said he was going to buy her a ring, and buy it at Tiffany's, she suggested he buy her wedding ring.
  • Write What You Know: Many of Betsy's early stories were sensationalist, crime-filled dramas because she begun reading cheap dime novels at the time.